Posts Tagged ‘Mike Hammer’

Good News and Bad News Is No Mystery….

Tuesday, November 1st, 2022

There’s good news and bad news this week, starting with this stellar review for the new Mike Hammer book (Kill Me If You Can) from Mystery Scene courtesy of private-eye guru, Kevin Burton Smith, mastermind behind the Thrilling Detective web site (https://thrillingdetective.com/).

Kill Me If You Can cover
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Digital Audiobook: Google Play Audiobook Store
Audiobook MP3 CD:
Audiobook CD:
Kill Me If You Can
by Max Allan Collins
Titan Books, September 2022, $24.95

By now Max Allan Collins’ name has appeared on more than half of the Mike Hammer novels, whether you regard them as canon or not. But Collins wasn’t one of those pens-for-hire parachuted in to keep a corporate cash cow mooing—he was handpicked by Spillane himself, who left behind a treasure trove of unfinished manuscripts, rough notes, and story ideas. He told his wife shortly before his death that “Max will know what to do.”

It’s clear, after 14 cowritten novels (plus a handful of short stories and non-Hammer material gleaned from Spillane’s leftovers) that Collins knew exactly what to do—he “gets” Spillane in a way much of the mystery establishment still doesn’t.

You need look no further than his latest, the bruising Kill Me If You Can, which takes place somewhere in the mid-fifties lost years of the Hammerverse between Kiss Me, Deadly (1952) and The Girl Hunters (1962). Never the most stable of detectives, Mike’s particularly unchained now—the love of his life, Velda Sterling, is gone, maybe kidnapped, maybe dead, and he’s responding the only way he knows. By drinking too much, wallowing in self-pity, guilt and rage, and vowing revenge—or at least violence. And plenty of it.

The first line, “I had nothing to keep me company but my .45 and an itch to use it,” pretty much sums it up, and the action never really lets up. Mike is in free fall, cut loose from anything (i.e., Velda) that tethered him to a world of laws, and the result is an alcohol-fueled fury that eventually costs him his PI ticket, his only real friend (NYPD homicide dick Pat Chambers), and even his beloved .45, as he tries to set a trap, with the help of former bootlegger turned nightclub owner Packy Paragon, for a burglary crew he suspects may have had a hand in the disappearance of Velda. The trap, though, goes horribly, violently awry.

Those more familiar with Collins’ other work (particularly his masterful Nate Heller series, a string of complex, richly detailed and nuanced tales of a fictional private eye thrust into the maelstrom of some of the twentieth century’s most notorious true crimes) may not at first recognize Collins’ style here. But the coauthor has no problem serving up Hammer the same way Spillane did, with plenty of mayhem, violence, and sex, dished out in straight-ahead, no-frills prose, right on target, so direct, with no room for sissy stuff like digressions, detours, or doubts. Hammer is a shark that needs to keep swimming to survive, and Collins tosses plenty of chum into these waters.

Like the murder of his old pal Packy Paragon, who may—or may not—have been killed for trying to help Mike. Or was it the ledger of mob secrets Packy supposedly possessed? Or an overly ambitious rival? An old grudge? Hammer isn’t sure, but he’ll follow the clues to the savage, bloody end—whatever it takes—to avenge Packy.

It’s the real deal, folks: primo, primal detective fiction. Pass the peanuts.

(If that’s not enough, there are five bonus stories included by Spillane, curated and tweaked by Collins, two of which feature Hammer. You know, just in case…)
Kevin Burton Smith

The bad news? Mystery Scene is assembling its final issue right now. This valuable – make that invaluable – part of the mystery scene has been with us since 1985 when Ed Gorman and Bob Randisi began publishing it. I was in on the ground floor with these two top writers, and wrote the movie review column in the magazine for ten-plus years. (I stepped down when I began making indie films myself and thought expressing my opinions about other people’s work in a high-profile magazine was lacking in grace.)

The exceptionally able Kate Stine has been at the helm since 2002. She has been supportive of long-established mystery writers but, more importantly, of new writers in the field. It’s a crushing blow to writers both new and old and in between to have this source of intelligent reviews disappear, as well as in-depth coverage of the field past and present. It’s really a gut punch to the mystery-fiction industry to lose this publication.

Of course it’s no surprise that making it with a magazine in this digital age is tough, and I am hopeful that Mystery Scene will stick around on line. But it ain’t gonna be the same.

And I never will get that Mystery Scene cover….

* * *

Here’s a great Booklist review of Kill Me If You Can:

Kill Me if You Can.
By Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
2022. 288p. Titan, $24.95 (9781789097641)

Collins, the literary executor of Mickey Spillane’s estate, continues to do fine work in completing the Mike Hammer novels left unfinished when the iconic crime writer died in 2006. Celebrating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the first appearance of Hammer in I, the Jury (1947), this tale finds the quintessential hard-boiled private eye still reeling from the disappearance of his secretary, Velda, at the end of Kiss Me Deadly (1952). The action takes place in the mid-fifties with Hammer in full revenge mode, searching for Velda and her abductors, but also trying to find the killer of another close friend, nightclub owner and former gangster Packy Paragon.

Hammer’s over-the-top blood lust is in full cry here, and while that’s not a personality trait endearing to most of today’s crime-fiction audience, it’s an essential part of the Hammer persona, and it helped define the hard-boiled hero in the postwar era of paperback originals. Always rough around the edges (in terms of content and style), Spillane was nevertheless the best-selling mystery writer of the twentieth century, exceeding both Chandler and Hammett. Collins, a first-rate storyteller who started his own career with paperback originals, adds some narrative finesse to what he calls the “Hammerverse” but remains true to Spillane’s essence. This volume also includes five previously unpublished Hammer stories, adding extra pizzazz to what is a fitting celebration of a genre giant.

— Bill Ott

Here is ClassicFlix’s new trailer for their Blu-ray of Mike Hammer in I, the Jury.

Three giveaway copies of the final Caleb York, Shoot-out at Sugar Creek, are still available. [All copies have now been claimed. Thank you! –Nate]

* * *

Recovery from my A-fib bout continues. I am on the upward move – would put myself at about 75% right now. I run out of steam around late afternoon and am spent by mid-evening. Next morning, rarin’ to go.

I’m getting good work days in, and Too Many Bullets continues to grow pages. It will take to the end of the year, I’m afraid; but it’s happening.

I’m told that a strike on the dock in the UK will delay delivery of The Big Bundle till sometime in January. The e-book will be available very early December, however. I will be doing a book giveaway soon on this book designed specifically to get Heller off to a good start at Hard Case Crime.

Heller has now been at TOR, Bantam, Dutton, Forge and, now, Hard Case Crime. This is unusual to say the least, but it reflects my dogged determination to tell Heller’s entire story. Publishers do not like to pick up a “busted” series. But the reviews have supported me. Even the sales for the series are up over one million copies now.

Last night (well, early morning) I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and knew at once I needed to do some replotting, as I head into the final third of the book. I was back in bed at 5:30, content I’d fixed it, removing two story threads. Then at 8:30 a.m. I awoke again and put them back in…but smoothed ‘em out.

Heller never gets any easier.

* * *

Here are some really good reviews of The Big Bundle at Goodreads.

Ron Fortier reviews Kill Me If You Can here. He finds the novel (novella?) okay, but really likes the five short stories.

Here’s a review of the I, the Jury Blu-ray/4K/3-D disc. Let me again say that if you don’t have the ability to play 3-D discs, the Blu-ray and 4K discs make this well worth the price.

And another.

This will lead you to the British Blu-ray release of I, the Jury, which does not include the 3-D disc. It’s Region B.

The top 12 (this write-up says) of comics-adapted movies. Road to Perdition is one of them.

M.A.C.

Poetry Slam: Terry B. & M.A.C. Plus Ms. Tree On TV!

Tuesday, October 11th, 2022

I am still dealing with my A-fib (going in for a jump-start next week) and am slowed down by the condition as well as some heavy meds I’m on in prep for the procedure. So this week the update here is represented by this interview with Terry Beatty and me by the best pop culture interviewer on the planet, Andrew Sumner. Terry and I have rarely done joint interviews, so this is something of a rarity:

Ms. Tree: Deadline cover; Ms. Tree seated on a table pointing a smoking gun toward the viewer.
Paperback: Bookshop Purchase Link
(Or at your local or online comic book store!)
E-Book: Google Play
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Shoot-Out At Sugar Creek Cover
Paperback: Indiebound Bookshop.org Amazon Books-A-Million (BAM) Barnes & Noble (B&N) Powell's

What is possibly the final Caleb York western (of six) will soon be published in paperback, Shoot-out at Sugar Creek. (Tuesday, October 25)

This is a review of the hardcover of Sugar Creek that appeared last year, and it’s a very good, smart one that’s worth reading for the first time or revisiting it.

I loved doing these westerns, and it’s unfortunate Kensington didn’t ask for more. But what had been an unproduced screenplay (for John Wayne) by Mickey Spillane has generated six fun books, so I have nothing to complain about.

This is a really nice write-up about the new Mike Hammer novel, Kill Me If You Can, at the lively, fun site Jerry’s House of Everything.

And the similarly fun Borg site has a discussion of Tough Tender, the two-fer of Nolan novels, Hard Cash and Scratch Fever, the final two novels of the original Nolan run. Available from Hard Case Crime, my lifeline to readers!

M.A.C.

No Book Today, No Antiques Giveaway (Sung to the Tune of “No Milk Today” by Herman’s Hermits)

Tuesday, October 4th, 2022
Antiques Liquidation Cover
Hardcover:
E-Book: Kobo

We would have liked on this update to announce a book giveaway for the Barbara Allan mystery, Antiques Liquidation, from Severn, the publication date of which is…today. But the copies we requested for the promotion have not yet arrived, so that will have to wait.

You may have more difficulty than usual finding this new novel about the comic misadventures of Brandy and Vivian Borne, because the last two books don’t seem to have made it into the Barnes & Noble buying system, at least not in any major way. Or BAM! either. That may change, and the handsome trade paperback of the previous one, Antiques Carry On, may be easier to find. (The return policy of our UK-based publisher is kinder on the trade paperbacks than the hardcovers.)

The focus of Severn (not exclusively, but their main market) is libraries, where the Trash ‘n’ Treasures mysteries have always been strong.

Barb is working on her draft of the next one, Antiques Foe (pun on “faux”) while I work on the Nate Heller RFK book, Too Many Bullets. We have another book on the Severn contract so there will be at least one more of those. Barb is making noises about wrapping up the series, and she may be serious, but she has been making that threat for the last several books. They read fast and are fun, but they are hard books to write.

A long-running series has its delights and pitfalls, which are sometimes the same thing, like the pleasure of spending time with old friends (Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe are too of my favorite people even though they never really existed) and the nagging feeling you’re repeating yourself.

Probably the best (and hardest) thing about writing the Nate Heller novels is that each real crime/mystery I deal with is so different from the others that I never fall into the trap so many mystery writers have in their series – writing the same book again and again. Chandler is as good they come and yet he worked a very small patch of farmland over and over and never even bothered to rotate the crops.

Even when a Heller has a similar crime – the forthcoming The Big Bundle, like Stolen Away, is about a kidnapping – the difference in eras and personalities involved as well as the circumstances of the crimes keeps thing nicely different.

Barb is endlessly inventive in ways to get the girls into trouble, and I hope she’ll do at least three or four more of ‘em.

* * *

I hesitate to talk about my health issues because it only gets people writing me with concern even as I come across alarmist and whiny. But just about everybody my age has health issues, and lately mine has been A-fib. I had the cardioversion procedure not long ago – the third or fourth I’ve had since my 2016 heart adventures began – but it didn’t take (this is where I am jump-started like an old Buick). I have to go back in to repeat the procedure later this month.

Prepping for it, I was put on a really strong medication that set me on my ass (a medical condition, obviously) whereby my shortness of breath and wheezing, related to the A-fib, got much, much worse. Last night was an utterly sleepless one. Obviously, a bad reaction to the meds.

So I have stopped taking that particular medication and am close to normal (as if I ever was) but I tire easily and will be lucky just to keep up with my work till I get this behind me.

There is a very good chance that stress is responsible, and of course that I am responsible for that stress. I am a rave and ranter. My wife, in her first-floor office, hears coming from above blistering flurries of obscenities and rage that would bring tears to the gentle eyes
of any United States Marine. I am trying to keep in mind the mantra from Bill Murray in Meatballs – “It just doesn’t matter, it just doesn’t matter….”

And it really doesn’t. But everything I’ve accomplished in my career has come out of enthusiasm and intensity, by caring more about my work than I logically should. My biggest concern right now is that I don’t die before finishing Too Many Bullets. Which is a dumb-ass thing to be thinking, particularly from a guy who has been finishing one Mickey Spillane novel after another.

The punchline of this self-pitying soliloquy is that that’s why his week’s update is so damn short.

* * *
A Long Time Dead Cover
Softcover:
E-Book: Amazon Nook Kobo iTunes

Some very nice reviews for Kill Me If You Can, the 75th anniversary Mike Hammer novel, at Amazon. Here’s a link where you can read them (and order the book!).

A very nice review of the Hammer short story “Skin” appears at the essential site, Paperback Warrior. [“Skin” can be found in the short story collection A Long Time Dead. The e-book is currently only $2.99 at Amazon and B&N. –Nate]

Here’s an interesting look at the locations used shooting the film version of Road to Perdition.

* * *
M.A.C.

New Mike Hammer Book Giveaway & Encore For Murder

Tuesday, September 20th, 2022
Kill Me If You Can cover
Hardcover: Target Purchase Link
E-Book: Google Play Kobo
Digital Audiobook: Google Play Audiobook Store
Audiobook MP3 CD:
Audiobook CD:

As our celebration of 75 years of Mike Hammer rolls on, the new Hammer novel, Kill Me If You Can, is about to be published by Titan today (September 20).

We have ten copies of the book for the first ten who write me in exchange for a review on Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble and other review-friendly sites. Kill Me If You Can comes chronologically after Velda’s disappearance and charts (among much else) Hammer’s descent into depression and the bottle…and yet it’s a rousing good time! I promise. As a bonus I have included five short stories (two of them Hammer tales, significant additions to the canon) taking place in the “Hammer-verse.”

[All copies have been claimed. Thank you for your support! –Nate]

* * *

I’m involved in many things to celebrate this 75th anniversary of the publication of the novel I, the Jury (1947), including this December the ClassicFlix release of the film I, the Jury (1953), with a 4K Disc as well as a regular and a 3-D Blu-ray. I’ve done a commentary for the film and also included a remaster of the Brian Keith/Blake Edwards 1954 Mike Hammer pilot film (with an on-camera wraparound). Wolfpack has already published The Menace by Mickey and me (a novelization of an unproduced horror screenplay), a collection of his three Young Adult adventure novels, including the previously unpublished title yarn, The Shrinking Island; and a terrific anthology of novelettes and short stories, Stand Up and Die!, which includes a Spillane/Collins “Hammer” story.

Still to come are an expanded, updated version of my 1999 documentary, Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane and the definitive biography, Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction by Jim Traylor and me coming out from Mysterious Press in January 2023.

The most quirky and (for me at least) particularly fun iteration of the Hammer celebration has been the local (Muscatine, Iowa) presentation of my Hammer play (from a one-page Spillane synopsis), Encore for Murder. We presented the one-time only performance on Saturday, September 17.

A generous array of photos accompany this update, and I will share some thoughts and memories about it. However, first I’ll mention that we recorded the production and will, at the least, be excerpting scenes (and a few cast interviews) from it in the expanded Spillane documentary.

Noted radio announcer Max Allan Collins introduces the play.
Noted radio announcer Max Allan Collins introduces the play.

It began with a phone call from local theater maven Karen Cooney, who wanted to mount a play in the style of an old radio show as a fund-raiser for the local Art Center. She thought doing a Dick Tracy radio show would be fun and I, of course, was the logical person to provide the script and participate generally. I turned her down flat, saying I had no interest in promoting Dick Tracy, a property I was fired off of in 1993.

A few days later I called Karen back and said, “However – I have an existing Mike Hammer script in the radio style that you could use.” I explained that this was the 75th anniversary of Mike Hammer’s debut and I was looking for ways to promote that – particularly fun ways.

I told her that Gary Sandy of WKRP in Cincinnati fame had played Hammer in this play, Encore for Murder, at a mystery festival in Owensboro, Kentucky, in 2012, and again in 2018 at the prestigious Ruth Ekherd Hall in Clearwater, Florida. Gary’s involvement, and mine, grew out of his co-starring with Patty McCormack in my indie feature, Mommy’s Day.

Encore for Murder was originally recorded in 2011 for Blackstone Audio (in a longer version) by the great Stacy Keach and a full cast including Mike Cornelison and Tim Kazurinsky.

Rene Mauck as Velda with Gary Sandy as Mike.
Rene Mauck as Velda with Gary Sandy as Mike.

Initially for this local presentation, I was going to read Hammer, and the production would be much like the Owensboro one, which was strictly actors at microphones with a sound-effects table in the orchestra pit. Karen wondered if Gary Sandy might consider coming to Muscatine to appear in our production. Somewhat reluctantly, not wanting to put a friend on the spot, I agreed to ask Gary and find out what it might cost to bring him in, because that would be a fund-raising effort unto itself.

I thought getting Gary to do this was a very long shot, but he not only immediately said yes, he refused any compensation (beyond expenses and lodging, which I insisted upon). This began to get me thinking about the more hybrid presentation we’d done in Clearwater, with costumes and more stage action, as well as a giant screen with scene-setting slides and musical cues, and a foley table right on stage to invoke the feel for a studio audience in the days of Golden Age radio.

Still, with a local amateur cast, I didn’t want to get carried away.

My role was co-director, basically letting co-director Cooney cast it (she knew local dramatic talent and I didn’t) and get the play on its feet. When Gary arrived, I would step in and fine-tune. When I went to the first table read of the script, I was pleasantly surprised by the level of the cast.

I went home and said to Barb, who was keeping her distance from this project, “Am I crazy, or could this cast actually be pretty good?” Her answers were “Yes…and maybe.” I begged her to go the second table read and give me her opinion. I read Hammer myself. Afterward, Barb said, “Yes, they’re good.”

From then on I went to all the rehearsals and read the Hammer role, to give the cast a sense of pace and tone. Karen wanted a table read with Gary on the phone, a conference call. Again, somewhat reluctantly as I hated to impose on him, I asked….and Gary wound up doing two table reads.

Gary Sandy does not do anything half-way.

We rehearsed initially in a small black-box theater at Muscatine Community College (where Barb and I had gone in 1966 – 1968, and I taught from 1972 – 1977). We were not able to get into the rather impressive Muscatine High School auditorium until the Tuesday before the Saturday show. Five days to mount and perform it.

Oh…kay….

Gary was coming in Wednesday, traveling during that day, and might stop by and say hi to the cast (all our rehearsals began at 6 p.m. as the school was using the theater till then – we would have to strike the set every time). We’d only have him Thursday and Friday before the Saturday performance. Making this truly problematic was our foley artist, Chad Bishop – studio manager of Muscatine Access Channel Nine – would be controlling the live action sound effects and the prerecorded ones too, as well as the audio mix and musical cues…all from on stage!

(I provided the Stan Purdy music from Mickey’s 1954 Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer Story LP, and from Chris Christensen’s score for the 1999 documentary.)

The pre-recorded sound-effect cues included things like tire squeals, crashing glass through a skylight, and a plethora of gun shots. Gary would have to conform to these prerecorded cues or unintentional hilarity would ensue.

Gary Sandy as Mike Hammer. Foley artist Chad Bishop at right, the full cast on stage throughout.
Gary Sandy as Mike Hammer. Foley artist Chad Bishop at right, the full cast on stage throughout.

So I got very involved in the directing that first Tuesday night in the real theater space. I was on stage talking to Chad about his foley work and the difficulties they created, when I turned and found myself nose to nose with a grinning Gary Sandy.

After a six-hour drive, the unannounced Gary stepped right in and we ran the full first act, sound effects and music cues and all. The next night we ran the second act the same way. Much of this had to do with Gary coordinating with Chad. But it was thrilling, really was, to see this already very good cast get pulled up at least a notch by Gary’s performance level. I was already impressed by the way every single cast member took direction – because my experience is in features, I work on tweaks not broad strokes, and you might think local talent would have difficulty with nuance. In this case, at least, you’d be wrong.

Gary was not happy with the fedoras we had for him, and neither was I. I decided to try something very special. I have one of Mickey’s Miller Lite-era porkpie Stetsons that his wife Jane gave me – in a hat box with Mickey’s own writing on it. Gary’s mouth dropped open when I presented it to him in his dressing room and said, “If this fits, it’s yours…until after the performance.” Each time he wore it at rehearsal, he returned it to me in the hat box and I brought it again the next day. He only wears it at the open and close of the show…but for the play’s final lines, when he steps out very close to the audience, he looked amazingly like Mickey.

Mike Hammer (Gary Sandy) about to make his exit.
Mike Hammer (Gary Sandy) about to make his exit.

We had two dress rehearsals – Friday night and Saturday afternoon, with only a couple of hours between dress and the Saturday night performance. These were intense and I was tweaking the cast performances and my script throughout it all – some changes were made after the final dress rehearsal!

That dress rehearsal had gone well but not flawlessly, and I left wondering whether this was going to be a bullet train or just a train wreck. I was also concerned because we were up against a televised University of Iowa football game. I knew, from playing band jobs on such nights, audience size would be negatively impacted.

But the turnout was very good – three-hundred souls when we’d been under two hundred on advance sales. The silver lining was a V.I.P. After Party, meet-and-greet/Q and A at the great Merrill Hotel, which had sold out at fifty bucks a pop.

My longtime film/video collaborator Phil Dingeldein joined with Chad and his assistant Jeremy Ferguson in positioning stationary cameras around unobtrusively. Phil shot the dress rehearsals (often roving) and the live performance. He had not been to any of the other rehearsals and he, like Barb, was surprised by the cast and the level of this local production, done under tight, unforgiving circumstances, not to mention a nonexistent budget.

The audience loved it, laughing in the right places, drawing in breath at the tough action – our record was a standing ovation, or I should say Gary and the cast (including hilarious on-stage foley artist Chad Bishop) received a standing ovation.

Where do we go from here? I know we obtained footage that will give us some interesting new moments for the expanded documentary. Having Gary and his Velda (Rene Mauck) and Pat Chambers (Chris Causey) talking about playing these iconic roles alone is a big plus.

Phil, Chad and I will edit the performance together and then there will be hard thinking to do. On the positive side, we have a lot of footage, or “coverage” as we say in the feature film game. I would love to share Gary’s charismatic performance as Hammer, as to date he’s the only actor to perform as the character in a stage play; his take in Encore is amusing without being campy, able to spoof one moment and slide into genuine tough-guy menace the next. One thing I’m considering, if Gary gives his blessing, is including it as a bonus feature on the Blu-ray of the expanded Spillane documentary.

Obviously we have to see how well it comes together as a video presentation (it’s high-def and I already know Phil shot it well). Perhaps if people understand the context, and the small miracle of this local production (Muscatine is a town of 24,000 after all), they will find the experience entertaining and even worthwhile…particularly with a pro like Gary Sandy at its center.

Phil Dingeledin on the camera at ENCORE FOR MURDER, with Max looking on.
Phil Dingeledin on the camera at ENCORE FOR MURDER, with Max looking on.

But can we, as filmmakers, capture the excitement and enjoyment of those in the theater that night?

Stay, as they say, tuned.

M.A.C.

* * *
Fans who made the trip to Muscatine for ENCORE FOR MURDER: Mike and Jackie White.
Fans who made the trip to Muscatine for ENCORE FOR MURDER: Mike and Jackie White.
Max, co-director Karen Cooney, and Gary Sandy at the V.I.P. after party.
Max, co-director Karen Cooney, and Gary Sandy at the V.I.P. after party.
The cast of ENCORE FOR MURDER hams it up at the after party.
The cast of ENCORE FOR MURDER hams it up at the after party.
Max, Gary and filmmaker Phil Dingeldein at the after party.
Max, Gary and filmmaker Phil Dingeldein at the after party.