Posts Tagged ‘Murder My Love’

I Confess About Perry Mason, Plus Quarry!

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2020

Photos: Everett Collection; Illustration: Dillen Phelps

Perry Mason is back!

What great news for mystery fans! Just think of it – the crackling courtroom scenes with their dramatic on-the-witness-stand confessions. The shrewd defense attorney willing to make the law jump through hoops to clear an innocent client. His tough P.I. associate who tracks down every lead and takes every risk. The loyal beautiful secretary who may, or may not, be having an offstage affair with her boss. The veteran police detective who this time has the goods on the lawyer’s client. The dogged D.A. who is convinced that, finally, he will definitely send Perry Mason’s client to the big house or perhaps even the chair.

And that TV cast – Raymond Burr, understated but smoldering; Barbara Hale, professional but so lovely; William Hopper, handsome and wry; Ray Collins, the Orson Welles player who made something lovable out of crusty Lt. Tragg; and William Talman, the bulldog D.A. who survived even his own marijuana conviction. Nine glorious years it ran (and 22 TV movies with Burr and Hale years later!), and it runs still, entertaining little noirs about love and business and justice.

The best ones were always based on the novels by Erle Stanley Gardner, that self-taught lawyer who cut his teeth in the pulps and went on to rule the slicks and the paperback racks, outsold only by Spillane and Christie, and – like them – under-valued by critics who didn’t know great storytelling when it bit them where they sat. But even those not based on Gardner novels were entertaining, and those scripted by mystery writer Jonathan Latimer were always terrific.

And now he’s back! Perry is back on HBO and he’s not your grandfather’s Perry Mason, boy, or your father’s or your mother’s or…anybody’s.

Look, I believe in taking film and TV adaptations of fiction on their own terms. You may be aware that I am a Spillane fan, yet Kiss Me Deadly (set in L.A., not New York, and designed to make a monkey out of Mickey) is my favorite Mike Hammer movie. I find Road to Perdition in some ways an improvement on my original. I didn’t mind the Quarry series on Cinemax moving my stories from the Midwest to Memphis, and even put up with the humor being drained out of my guy – it wasn’t my version. But they caught the spirit of what I was up to. (And sent checks.) Cool.

However.

This new Perry Mason is a private eye, not a lawyer (at least not yet). He is also a blackmailer and a drunk and a divorced father and generally a depressed sad sack in a studiously rumpled trench coat and shapeless fedora, as well as a tie that we’re reminded several times has an egg stain on it. He exists in a gloomy world where his activities include taking photos of an obese man performing cunnilingus on a starlet (pumpkin pie is involved), and doesn’t that seem right out of Erle Stanley Gardner!

It’s a series that is 50% art direction, 40% cinematography and 10% actors trying not to embarrass themselves. Oh, and there’s a score that consists of random piano chords and jazz-style dirge licks. The first episode establishes that Mason gets along okay with one police detective and exchanges insults with that detective’s partner – you know, like The Maltese Falcon, if The Maltese Falcon sucked.

And who needs Raymond Burr when you have Matthew Rhys to shuffle around feeling sorry for himself, exhibiting all the charisma of a wet sock. Remember how Perry lived on his dead folks’ rundown farm? You don’t? I guess I’m a little fuzzy on that myself. I can tell you the HBO show is set during the Depression, and, brother, does it put the depress in Depression. Of course, if you like dead babies with their eyes sewn shut, you’ve come to the right place.

But there’s diversity the old Perry Mason lacked. Paul Drake (not in the first episode) is an African-American uniformed cop. Mason’s girl friend is an Hispanic airplane pilot who doesn’t seem to like him much (can’t blame her). No, she’s not Della Street – that character is a different lawyer’s secretary. That lawyer is played by John Lithgow who seems to be a man who woke up in somebody else’s dream and is just trying to fit in.

Spare me the news that this is an origin story, and that Mason will evolve into the character we know and once loved. That much evolving even Darwin couldn’t sell.

It’s enough to make me long for Monte Markham.

Do I sound irritated? Well, I feel certain this series will be every bit as popular as the David Soul-starring Casablanca show. Current efforts by a lot of smart people to get Nathan Heller and Mike Hammer on TV will be crippled by this pathetic misfire. All HBO’s Perry Mason will accomplish is to convince TV execs that traditional tough detective shows, particularly, especially, set if in period, are home box-office poison.

Excuse me. I feel the urge to put on my studiously rumpled raincoat and shapeless fedora and go for a walk in the rain. Where did I put my egg-stained tie?

* * *

Now I’d like to share with you an essay by Kieran Fisher at Film School Rejects about the Quarry TV show.

There Was More Moral Ambiguity
to Explore For Cinemax’s ‘Quarry’

The Cinemax series brought Max Allan Collins’ iconic pulpy crime institution to the screen in 2016, but viewers didn’t pay attention to its brilliance at the time.

Most people live boring and mundane lives, meaning that they’ll never become willing participants in the criminal underworld. However, if pop culture’s fascination with crime stories reveals anything, it’s that people are drawn to the dark side when it comes to the entertainment they consume. The allure of this type of storytelling is multifaceted and complex, but sometimes it’s as simple as enjoying the thrills it provides.

Crime-centric entertainment often presents a more nuanced take on criminals as well. How many movies and shows have you watched where you root for protagonists who engage in some very questionable acts? That’s because these characters aren’t always evil to the core. They sometimes have justifiable or understandable reasons for their bad behavior. Such is the nature of Quarry.

Based on Max Allan Collins’ long-running pulp novels of the same name, and created for television by Graham Gordy and Michael D. Fuller, Quarry revolves around Mac (Logan Marshall-Green), a marine who returns to Memphis following the Vietnam War to find that he’s been shunned by society. His wife is having an affair, he can’t find gainful employment, and the press hates him due to his involvement in a village massacre while on duty. Mac then gets into debt with a man called The Broker (Peter Mullan), which leads to him becoming a contract killer.

Needless to say, Mac is a character who can’t catch a break. He just wants a fresh start and a regular life, but he’s forced into an unlawful situation that he doesn’t want to be a part of. Furthermore, he’s haunted by the guilt of his war crimes, having caused the deaths of several innocent women and children. He joined the army to become a hero and left a villain.

One of the most compelling elements of Quarry is Mac’s struggle to figure out who he is, morally and emotionally. He’s a flawed human being who wants to be a better person, but he makes some bad decisions along the way. But his propensity for killing comes naturally. Violence and killing make sense to Mac because he’s good at both, causing him to feel conflicted.

Marshall-Green brings the character to life with aplomb, straddling a fine line between sympathetic antihero and homicidal monster. He boasts the swagger to play a convincing tough guy, but he also displays the emotional range of someone who’s struggling to cope with repressed emotions. He’s also quite charming, which makes for a very layered and well-rounded performance. His charm also makes the character likable, even though you wouldn’t want to bump into this guy on the street.

Of course, another reason why Mac is easy to root for is that his enemies are worse than him. In one episode, a man called Suggs (Kurt Yaeger) — a murderer/potential rapist with a prosthetic leg — kidnaps Mac’s wife in an effort to lure the contract killer to him. Mac’s wife doesn’t deserve his drama, though there’s an argument to be made that her husband’s to blame for all the bad that comes their way. The Broker is also pretty rotten, as he’s essentially forcing Mac to murder people.

Quarry doesn’t hold back when it comes to the violence either. One standout scene sees some poor shmuck get crushed by a car. There are also some gruesome war flashbacks that depict pure horror and brutality. That’s unsurprising considering that the showrunners also wrote some episodes of Rectify, which contains its own fair share of violent moments. And like that show, Quarry is all about that Southern Gothic neo-noir style that’s absolutely intoxicating. The South’s landscapes make for a stunning backdrop to Quarry‘s world of death and mayhem.

The Quarry novels debuted in 1976 and continue to be published to this day. In recent years, Mac’s exploits have even branched off into comic books. There’s an abundance of interesting stories to bring to the screen, and Cinemax canceling this show after eight episodes is a hard pill to swallow. Despite being a constant presence in crime fiction, Quarry screen adaptations are severely lacking.

The books are all over the place and don’t adhere to any set chronological order. However, the general story is that he takes assignments for The Broker before breaking free of his duties. Then he becomes his own man, defending targets from other hitmen (for a small fee, of course). He eventually retires, but he can’t stay out of the game. If the audiences turned up for Quarry when it mattered, it could have lasted for multiple seasons without growing stale.

The series could have taken the chronological approach. The novels haven’t always been released that way, but you can read them in a certain order for a structured approach to the character’s life story. That makes sense for television, too. Still, I love the idea of a Quarry show where seasons bounce around all different timelines.

Fans of Breaking Bad, Banshee, True Detective, and shows of that ilk will enjoy Quarry. It’s pulpier than those shows, but it boasts enough similar sensibilities and stylistic similarities to hang out with them in its own way. It’s just a shame that it never received the opportunity to make a long-lasting impression on viewers.

* * *

The great magazine True West has reviewed the new Caleb York, Hot Lead, Cold Justice, right here.

This link is to the definitive interview with me on the subject of the Dick Tracy movie novelization.

Finally, the Mike Hammer mystery, Murder, My Love, has been nominated for the Best Original Novel “Scribe” award. Here is the complete list of nominees.

M.A.C.

Mistake for Murder – Hammer Time

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes
Digital Audiobook:

Turns out I make mistakes now and then. Who’d have thunk it.

A reader tells me I mangled an entry in the bibliographic essay at the conclusion of Do No Harm, for example. I will try to correct it in the ebook, when things settle down, but for now it’s all I’ll think about when I look at that book. A small continuity error in Killing Quarry is all I see when I look at the cover of that one (the e-book has been corrected).

For those caring enough to read this weekly update, I made another mistake, although it was not exactly my (or anybody’s) fault. Turns out the new Mike Hammer, Masquerade for Murder, was published on March 17, the original announced date, and not April 7, having supposedly been postponed to that date. The audio is available, too, read by the great Stefan Rudnicki.

Now, here’s the surprise Spillane ending: the novel’s release really has been postponed till April 7…in the UK. Which sort of lessens my error, because after all the publisher is Titan, which is a British publishing house.

The bottom line is you lucky Americans can rush out and buy it now…well, you can order it online, anyway. Corona virus is doing nobody any favors – not even Smith Corona Virus. I may or may not do a book giveaway to help promote the book – I need to discuss the logistics of that with Barb.

Let me take this opportunity to discuss the new Hammer book a bit. The title of Masquerade for Murder is in line with the Stacy Keach TV movies of the ‘80s, all of which had “Murder” in their titles. This is fitting because the synopsis Mickey wrote, from which I developed the novel, was likely written for the Keach series, as was the case with Murder, My Love (the previous Hammer novel).

These two novels have in common something uncommon in Mike Hammer novels – the detective has a client in both of them. In Mickey’s famous novels, starting with I, the Jury, Hammer almost always is on a personal crusade, a vengeance hunt usually (a girl hunt in, well, The Girl Hunters). But with a TV series, Hammer couldn’t play vigilante every episode – the Darren McGavin version only has a handful of revenge plots, for example – so it’s natural Mickey might have developed these synopses with TV in mind.

The only TV synopses he wrote that became a novel written solely by him was The Killing Man, and it had Hammer personally motivated. Mickey did not submit that synopsis, by the way, considering the story “too good for TV.” (He apparently developed a synopsis for the terrible Keach-less Hammer TV movie, Come Die With Me, but only his ending was utilized.)

If Mickey was writing these synopses with television in mind, what am I doing developing novels out of them, in the case of Masquerade for Murder and the previous Murder, My Love?

Let me discuss what my procedure has been in creating novels where my famous co-author is deceased.

As I’ve reported numerous times, Mickey’s wife Jane and my wife Barb and I went on a treasure hunt – following Mickey’s directive shortly before his passing – for unfinished material in his three offices at his South Carolina home.

Our discoveries included half a dozen Mike Hammer manuscripts that represented works well in progress. These were usually 100 pages or a little more (double-spaced) and often had character and plot notes, and in a few cases endings.

Mickey had been racing to finish what he intended to be the last Mike Hammer novel, chronologically, The Goliath Bone, all but a few chapters of which were unfinished, and a roughed-out ending was there, too. But because of the terrible ticking clock he was working under, Mickey’s nearly complete draft was much shorter than usual and required fleshing out. Also, the novel had no murder mystery aspect. I provided the latter (his ending is the basis of the second to the last chapter).

A non-Hammer novel, Dead Street, existed in a nearly complete draft, a little rougher than usual but with almost everything there. Dead Street had been written in a stop-and-start fashion, however, and had some inconsistencies due to being written over a longer span of time than usual. I smoothed things out, and wrote the last several (missing) chapters.

The other five Hammers-in-progress – The Big Bang; Kiss Her Goodbye; Lady, Go Die!; Complex 90; King of the Weeds – all had individual issues for me to deal with. The Big Bang consisted of about a third of the novel in finished form, and Mickey had told me the ending; but no plot and character notes turned up. Kiss Her Goodbye existed in two substantial manuscripts that went in two different directions (different mysteries developing); a lot of plot and character notes existed. I combined the two manuscripts – removing the redundant material – and used both mysteries, weaving them together.

Lady, Go Die! was an early manuscript, an unfinished follow-up to I, the Jury which had a good chunk of manuscript – about sixty pages – but was missing the first chapter. I had set this manuscript aside until I’d completed the first three Hammers, so that I felt comfortable enough to write the first chapter of one without Spillane input – I’d been intimidated, because nobody wrote better first chapters than Mickey Spillane. And I had a Spillane first chapter for another Hammer that seemed to be a 1970s reworking of the much-earlier story, and this I was able to use about half-way through the novel, to put more Spillane content in.

Complex 90 ran around 100 pages, very polished, but also had an issue: in the opening chapter, Hammer reports his harrowing adventures in Russia to some government spooks. I decided to turn that exposition into a flashback taking Hammer to Russia and experiencing all of his exploits first-hand. So that novel is unusual because it’s mostly the middle third that represents Mickey’s work.

King of the Weeds was the most challenging, and I had held it off for last, since my initial goal was to get these six substantial Hammer novels completed (and to complete Dead Street). Mickey conceived King of the Weeds as the final Hammer (changing his mind after the Twin Towers attack, which sparked Goliath Bone). At some point he misplaced the manuscript and – this is typically Mickey – just started over.

So I had two manuscripts to combine, including two very different opening chapters (the ending he had shared with me in a late-night gab session). The other difficult aspect was that Mickey was doing a direct sequel to Black Alley, a book that at that time was out of print. I almost threw out the Black Alley sequel material, but ultimately couldn’t bring myself not to follow Mickey’s wishes. Ironically, King of the Weeds became one of the strongest of the novels.

There was more material in Mickey’s files. I had done Dead Street for Charles Ardai at Hard Case Crime, and now completed for HCC the sequel to The Delta Factor, another 100-page Spillane novel-in-progress that gave the world a second Morgan the Raider yarn.

Titan was anxious for me to continue Hammer. I had about forty or fifty pages of the novel Mickey began after Kiss Me, Deadly – a false start for The Girl Hunters with gangsters not Russian spies as the bad guys. It included Hammer traveling to Miami for an unusual change of scene and I felt had great potential. That became Kill Me, Darling.

A strong opening chapter by Mickey, plus some plot notes and his terrific ending became Murder Never Knocks. Two detailed opening chapters by Mickey became The Will to Kill. And – with Mickey’s 100th birthday in mind – I had held back about sixty pages of Mickey’s first, pre-I, the Jury (unfinished) Mike Hammer novel, Killing Town.

Mickey’s last completed novel, The Last Stand, a non-Mike Hammer, was wonderful but somewhat atypical, and rather short. So I revised an unpublished, very typical early novella, “A Bullet for Satisfaction,” and it became a sort of preamble to Mickey’s final novel, published by Hard Case Crime. Interestingly, The Last Stand is a modern-day western, and another Spillane project of mine has been to develop a novel and then series of books from an unproduced screenplay he wrote for his buddy John Wayne – the script that became The Legend of Caleb York.

And there’s been a collection of eight Hammer short stories (A Long Time Dead) developed from shorter fragments. I have also sold a handful of non-Hammer short stories, which may someday be collected.

Which brings us up to the latest Hammer novels, last year’s Murder, My Love and Masquerade for Murder. Murder, My Love is the only Hammer novel so far with no Spillane prose stirred in – strictly Mickey’s basic plot. The new book, Masquerade for Murder, came from a rather detailed synopsis, and the opening description of NYC is mostly Mickey’s, with a mini-sequence between Pat Chambers and Mike (about Hammer’s propensity for low-tech armament) that is Mickey’s as well. I feel good about how smoothly this material stirred in.

Where to now?

I have proposed three more Hammer novels, all from Spillane material. One combines two non-Hammer (but Hammer-ish) fragments, including a very different take on Dead Street; another will utilize a Hammer story Mickey developed for radio and again for TV, unproduced; and finally another synopsis apparently for a Keach-era Hammer episode.

I know some of you know all of this, but I thought it might be a good idea to get this recorded and in one place. Also, maybe it will inspire you to get hold of Masquerade for Murder, which I think is a damn good entry in this series.

I can’t express what it means to me to look over at the shelf and see Mickey’s Hammer novels residing next to the ones I’ve completed for him…and for me, the teenager in Iowa who wanted more, more, more Mike Hammer.

* * *

Speaking of short stories, Barb and I – writing as Barbara Allan, of course – have sold a short story to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine – “What’s Wrong with Harley Quinn?” It’s not an Antiques story, but rather harks back to the kind of nasty little tale my beautiful and talented wife concocted when she was specializing in short stories.

It’s a very big deal to get published in EQMM, and we are thrilled.

* * *

With Masquerade for Murder the subject of today’s update, I am pleased to share with you this terrific review of that very novel.

The word is out about Nolan’s somewhat imminent return in Skim Deep. Read about it here.

Also, my friends at Paperback Warrior have a podcast, always interesting, which this week includes some commentary on the Nolan series.

Here’s a wonderful Ron Fortier review of the Brash Books edition of Black Hats.

Guess who’s an Irish comic book character? Michael O’Sullivan, that’s who! Check it out here.

Both yrs truly and Barbara Allan get good play on this discussion of Quad Cities area authors. Hey, what about Matthew V. Clemens?

M.A.C.

Shine On, Shine On

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019

I was thrilled to see the great Crime Fiction Lover site has named Killing Quarry one of the best five books of 2019 – it comes in number four (just above someone named Elroy).

And the Borg site has named Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother the Best Comic Reprint Anthology of the year.

The same site calls Murder, My Love as the Best Retro Read of the year.

* * *

In preparation for the 4K Blu-ray release of Doctor Sleep, I decided to watch the 1997 TV mini-series, Stephen King’s The Shining. I did this over a two-day period (it’s three 90-minute episodes). I hadn’t looked at the new 4K disc of The Shining yet, and hadn’t seen the film since its original release, although back then I’d gone several times. So I revisited it after taking in the mini-series.

King famously dislikes (and that’s a mild way of putting it) the Stanley Kubrick film, and used his superstardom as a writer to script and executive produce the mini-series. The history of that mini-series rivals the Overlook Hotel in weirdness. Initially it was well-received – highly rated, getting ten out of ten from TV Guide, winning Emmy awards, and generally considered a big success. But over the years its reputation has fallen and it’s even been rated the worst Stephen King adaptation and termed a “crapfest.” Meanwhile, the Kubrick film has only grown in stature.

Twenty-some years on, the mini-series – directed by frequent King screen adapter Mick Garris – strikes me as a decent job with strong performances from its leads, Steven Weber, Rebecca DeMornay and Courtland Mead. Weber has the unenviable job of taking on what had in ‘97 already become a signature Jack Nicholson performance – sort of like starring in a remake of White Heat in the Cagney role – and he is generally very good, suggesting his character’s gradual breakdown and underlying love for his family that King felt (rightly) had been largely lost from the chilly Kubrick version. DeMornay, cast specifically to be worlds apart from Shelly Duval’s abused wife and mother, is excellent, probably the best thing in the film, exuding strength and of course sex appeal. A lot of people seem to despise cute kid Mead, but he does well, delivering lines credibly that many actors of any age would stumble over.

The first two episodes are quite good, but the final one finds King’s dialogue writing (not always a strong suit in his screenplays) making the tasks of all the actors much more difficult, and the harrowing climax of the Kubrick film haunts the mini-series like another nasty ghost in the Overlook, filmed for TV in the real hotel that had inspired King. The limitations of budget and ‘90s CGI make some of the effects – particularly the poor idea of reverting from Kubrick’s hedge maze back to topiary, with shrubbery beasts coming to life (cue Count Floyd) – a big problem.

Returning to the theatrical Shining, I encountered a film whose surface story – including dialogue, although little or none of the clumsy stuff – right out of King. What differs was the motivation of the Jack Torrance character, who (and King hated this) is clearly at the outset a disturbed human who is a parent at least mildly disgusted by his wife and kid. He’s a rather classic abusive father and husband. Duval is often characterized as whiny and weak, even by fans of the film, but really she never whines and eventually grows a spine in defense of herself and her child. She seems right – just the sort of victim of a wife a prick like Nicholson’s Torrance would choose. Torrance is an alcoholic who, enraged, hurt his son and has been on the wagon for five months, and resents his family for that.

The problem with Kubrick’s version, for me, has always been the puzzling response to it, and not just by King. That response has been characterized by numerous interpretations of what the film means (including a feature-length documentary, Room 237), and what Kubrick is up to. Yet it’s one of the most straightforward horror films imaginable – it’s a deal-with-the-devil yarn, obviously so. Alcoholic Torrance, in a big empty ballroom, seated at the bar, says out loud that he would sell his soul for a drink. A ghostly bartender in a red vest with lapels suggestive of devil horns pops up and pours him a drink. From then on, Jack is both drunk and drinking on the house – “Your money is no good here, Mr. Torrance.”

There is even a suggestion that the contract was signed much earlier, when Torrance agrees to become caretaker of the Outlook, after a conversation with the manager – a guy in red pants. Later Torrance has a conversation with the ghost of the prior caretaker – now a waiter in the Overlook – in a strikingly Kubrick-ian restroom that is wildly, predominantly red.

Red. Get it?

And at the end we see Jack (Nicholson/Torrance) in a photo at a New Year’s Eve party taken in 1921, where he has obviously joined the lost souls in the Hell (or perhaps Purgatory) of the Overlook. Oops – I guess I was supposed to say, “Spoiler Alert.” (In case you missed it, Damn Yankees is also a deal-with-the-devil movie.)

Nicholson’s performance is over the top throughout, but waaaay over once he’s taken that devilish drink. He becomes, at that point, the monster in a monster movie. He is right out of a Nightmare on Elm Street-style horror flick, complete with Freddy Krueger-ish quips – though in fairness, Nightmare came out four years later, so the inspiration probably flowed from the Overlook to Elm Street. In any case, Torrance, chasing his family around the haunted house of a hotel, is right in tune with the slasher craze just then perking.

And I’m fine with that. It seems a valid take on the material, and it demonstrates that movies taken from successful novels don’t have to mirror their subject matter, even thematically, to be good. Would Kiss Me Deadly have been a better movie if it had been rigorously faithful to Mickey Spillane? Absolutely not. I love The Girl Hunters, Mickey’s controlled film of a book of his, in which he himself played Mike Hammer. But no one seriously, credibly, considers The Girl Hunters a better film than Kiss Me Deadly – even though Kiss Me Deadly set out to make a monkey out of Mike Hammer.

Do I wish the film of Road to Perdition had used more of my dialogue, and in particular my ending? You bet. But it’s a great film and I am thrilled and grateful for its existence. Had Stanley Kubrick made a movie out of one of my books and peopled it with sock puppets, I would’ve felt honored.

But Kubrick, who had his faults (much of King’s criticism of the theatrical film is understandable and even correct), is relatively faithful to the source material, even surprisingly so. It’s his take on Torrance that differs. It’s no accident that the most memorable things about the film are not in King – the spooky twins, the tike on a trike going down corridors in pioneering Steadi-cam shots, the elevator cascading blood, the hedge maze, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” and even “Here’s Johnny” (which post-Johnny Carson is not working as well as it used to, but…).

Nicholson may have been set loose by Kubrick, who was not an actor-oriented director. Kubrick liked to cast really strong actors – Peter Sellers, Malcolm McDowell, James Mason – and let them go for it. And his best films often benefit from that. Nobody thinks the acting of the leads in 2001 and Barry Lyndon is worthy of high praise.

But Nicholson wasn’t always a ham – his work as Jake Gittes in Chinatown alone is incredibly nuanced. As uncomfortable as it might have made Stephen King, Nicholson in The Shining is right in there with Freddie Krueger, Michael Meyers and Jason Vorhees, though none of them were ever at the center of a film so accomplished. And assuming Kubrick left Nicholson to his own manic devices, the director surely did so knowingly.

Circling back to Doctor Sleep, which I’ve discussed here before, what director/writer Mike Flanagan pulls off is something damn near magical: a film that works well as a sequel to both Kubrick and King (who has reportedly warmed to the theatrical film in the context of this one).

But remember – if you are really, really thirsty, and a ghostly bartender in a red jacket with horn lapels shows up, right after you say you’d sell your soul for a drink? Take a pass.

Drinking on New Year’s is for amateurs, anyway.

* * *

This was our first Christmas with our son Nate, his wife Abby and our two grandkids, Sam and Lucy, here in Muscatine, living just up the street. We had a wonderful time and Barb cooked a fine Thanksgiving-style turkey dinner on Christmas Eve that she swears will be her swan song as a holiday chef. We’ll see.

We had the week before gone to visit Barb’s mother (and sister Cindy) in Bowling Brook, Illinois. While in that part of the world, we dined at one of our favorite restaurants, White Fence Farm, who really deck out their already wonderfully eccentric venue for Christmas.

No New Year’s Eve gig this year for Crusin’. First of all, we rarely play during the winter, and second, what had once been a regular gig for musicians is now much less of a one. I will not be sorry to be home with Barbie having champagne while we watch It’s a Wonderful Life.

Next year will be a big one – half a dozen books are coming out, and I’ll get into that next time. I am today writing the introductory essay to The Complete Dick Tracy Volume 28 – one volume left to go, meaning I will have written about the entire Gould run. No word yet whether IDW will continue on with Gould/Fletcher/Collins (and after that Locher/Collins).

I will be starting the new Nolan (!) novel in a few days. First I have to put finishing touches on the Eliot Ness/Butcher non-fiction tome by A. Brad Schwartz and myself. We delivered it a while back but the editor had notes and suggestions. The announced title, The Untouchable and the Butcher, with various subtitles but probably Eliot Ness, the Torso Killer and American Justice, is suddenly in question. We are still lobbying for that, but are also considering (with the same subtitle) Knight in the Dark City and Shadow of the Butcher.

Opinions?

See you next year.

M.A.C.

Killing Quarry (Again), Doctor Sleep and More

Tuesday, November 26th, 2019

I spoke too soon.

Last week I mentioned that – while reviews have been uniformly splendid for Killing Quarry on the web – none of the publishing industry’s trade publications had weighed in on the latest Quarry novel. As you may recall, I said I was not surprised, because entries in long-running series are often overlooked by PW, Kirkus, Booklist and Library Journal.

But I was wrong, and am delighted to be. I am providing excerpts because links to the full reviews would probably require you to subscribe to the services.

Anyway, this is from Publisher’s Weekly:

“Irresistible … It’s Lu’s presence, and the dash of romance she brings, that really energizes this entry … Collins maintains a tension between the two that’s resolved only on the final page. One of the book’s great pleasures is the humorless Quarry’s deadpan narration, whether he’s describing a pragmatic sexual encounter or exactly how a carefully planned hit can suddenly go off the rails. Newcomers and established fans alike will be happily drawn into Quarry’s cold-blooded criminal world.”

Okay, actually I’d read this earlier and forgotten about it; it’s a fine review but for the bewildering “humorless Quarry” reference, since the book is pretty much wall-to-wall sick humor, most of it tumbling from Quarry’s (yes) dead-pan lips.

On to Booklist and that fine reviewer, Bill Ott (I define “fine reviewer” as any critic with the sense to like my stuff):

“A thoroughly entertaining pas de deux, evoking Richard Condon’s classic Prizzi’s Honor (1982), in which Quarry and Lu come together as lovers and co-conspirators, despite neither one being sure who will try to kill the other first. The seventies backdrop, complete with cavorting and bloodletting at a former Playboy resort, only adds to the time-capsule ambience of this pulpy pleasure trip.”

For you less worldly readers, a pas de deux is a dance between a man and a woman (all right, I admit it – I had to look it up…je m’excuse.)


Cover Art for Killing Quarry
by Paul Mann

Last week I also hyped the audio of Killing Quarry read by Stefan Rudnicki even though I hadn’t heard it yet. Since then Barb and I took a day trip to Des Moines for shopping and food and maintaining our sanity, and the five-hour round trip allowed us to listen to Stefan narrating Killing Quarry (the new Quarry novel – have I mentioned that?).

Stefan does a fantastic job on the book. I will admit that the first time I heard him read a Quarry I wondered if his deep, resonant voice, that of a mature male, was right for my eternally boyish killer. I was soon won over, because Stefan gets every nuance of what I’m up to. He has lately been narrating the Mike Hammer novels (Murder, My Love and the forthcoming Masquerade for Murder), and stepping in for Stacy Keach in that regard is a daunting task, but what a fine job Stefan’s doing of it.

Dan John Miller has become, for me (and for Barb), the voice of Nate Heller. He has done all of the Heller novels including Better Dead, as well as the novellas (Triple Play) and short stories (Chicago Lightning), and I hope (if I land an audio book) he’ll read Do No Harm. In just that way, Stefan has become the voice of Quarry for me, and the male maturity he brings indicates that the notion of Quarry writing these memoirs later in life (much as Nate Heller does) is the right one.

Quarry is on hiatus at the moment, because the next novel for Hard Case Crime will be a Nolan – Skim Deep. More about that later.

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While in Des Moines I caught the film Doctor Sleep, which seems not to be staying in theaters long. That’s a pity because it’s a fine Stephen King adaptation, and director/screenwriter Mike Flanagan pulls off a feat that I would have thought impossible – managing to make the film simultaneously an effective sequel to Kubrick’s The Shining and King’s The Shining. To do this, he had to get past both Stanley Kubrick’s estate and Stephen King, who notoriously hates the Kubrick film (he’s wrong) to the annoyance of the late director’s estate (they’re right, unless King didn’t cash the check).

I have a lot of respect for Stephen King, by the way. I discovered him via the novel Carrie, a copy of which my wife’s then-teenage sister was reading. It’s a great book, and I followed his work for a while, but couldn’t keep up with his output (look who’s talking) and also found his prose increasingly self-indulgent, after he got so famous he could no longer be edited. Was anybody really looking forward to a longer “cut” of The Stand?

But the guy is a hell of a storyteller, with a wonderful imagination and a devotion to exploring his own obsessions and concerns via prose fiction. Good for him. Who else do you know, who is still walking the planet, who created a section of every bookstore to accommodate the genre he popularized? “Horror” didn’t get its own shelves till King came along.

So I usually go to the movies based on his work and this is a good one, rivaling the two It films. As someone who’s written his share of sequels, I was impressed by how both the filmmaker and the source material explored a wholly different tale but then wound back up at the Overlook Hotel to tie a bloody bow on the proceedings. I particularly relished the bad guys, hippies living in a caravan of Winnebagos, riding under the radar of the world – deadly Dead Heads.

Star Ewan McGregor is fine as the adult Danny Torrance and a very good Kyliegh Curran is the preteen gifted (and plagued by) a “shining” of psychic abilities. An astonishing Rebecca Ferguson is the chief evil hippie woman, and if you’re wondering who might be able to play Ms. Tree effectively, take a look at her.

I’d also like to recommend several ongoing TV series I’ve seen of late, the kind of eight-or-ten-episodes-per-season unfolding novels-on-screen that make binge-watching such a delirious drug.

Danny McBride has already done two of my favorite examples of that form by way of Eastbound & Down and Vice Principals, both among the best dark comedies I’ve ever seen. McBride is relentless in making the characters he plays un-self-aware assholes, and yet somehow appealing and even displaying unlikely redemptive moments. He has topped himself in the epic Righteous Gemstones, an acid yet oddly affectionate look at a family who have taken right-wing Christianity to ridiculous yet believable low heights of show biz carnyism. McBride’s trick (and that word is not really fair) is exposing his characters, and this time the whole family surrounding his character, as fairly terrible human beings, then gradually revealing their humanity, which – damnit – makes us care about them. This is my favorite American drama, although really it’s a satirical melodrama, but let’s not carp. An HBO show.

A close second is Goliath, the Billy Bob Thorton drama (again, it’s melodrama, but nobody but me seems to make that distinction anymore) about a lawyer who rose and fell and (sort of) rose again. He’s the David who battles one Goliath per season, fighting the powers of political and economic corruption. The first season is among the best of its kind, the second season slightly faltering by going over the top sexually (and that’s me complaining, remember) but mostly by failing to show Billy Bob in court – part of the effectiveness of the series is its depiction of the main character as something of a shambling alcoholic with a seemingly inexplicable big reputation, the reason for which is only revealed in the courtroom. The third season, which is kind of a sideways modernday take on Chinatown, is back on point, with Billy Bob back in court, alienating a crooked judge. It streams on Amazon Prime.

I would also recommend Wentworth, the re-imagining of the classic Prisoner Cell Block H. Barb and I just watched season seven of this terrific women-in-prison show, which is very much a soap opera but an incredible one, with a primarily female cast who just kill it. This streams on Netflix, but we watched it on a Blu-ray from the UK.

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For those of you wanting signed copies of Killing Quarry, VJ Books has it on sale here at around 40% off.

The unstoppable J. Kingston Pierce has listed (by year) the best books of the decade, and two are mine (Quarry’s Choice and Better Dead).

Charles Ardai, bless him, has given Geeks A Go Go (love it) a great interview about Quarry in general and Killing Quarry in particular.

Another fine Killing Quarry review is here from Criminal Element.

Crime Fiction Lover loves it, too.

But enough about Quarry. Here’s somebody who considers Road to Perdition one of the great gangster films.

M.A.C.