Posts Tagged ‘Murder Never Knocks’

The Grand Master Speaketh

Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017

According to Otto Penzler, the Grand Master Speaketh too long, actually, in accepting his “Edgar” at the banquet last Thursday at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York. I told Otto that maybe I should have dropped the thank you that I gave him for publishing the Mike Hammer short story collection recently.

The banquet found me dressed in my James Bond Halloween costume. I was in great company – not only Barb, but my agent Dominick Abel, Barbara Allan’s editor Michaela Hamilton (whose guests we were), Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman of Brash Books, and Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime, among others. We had ringside seats, and were right there to helplessly watch M.C. Jeffrey Deaver, MWA president, drop to the stage floor in a dead faint, apparently caused by dehydration. We’re told he’s doing fine, but it was a suspenseful half hour we all could have done without. The EMT and police response was incredibly quick, by the way – something like five minutes.

I went on fairly deep into the night, after a nice video that showed off both my work and that of the year’s other Grand Master, Ellen Hart. As anyone who’s ever heard me speak probably would guess, I never prepare – I just have a vague idea of what I want to say, and go. In this instance, however, I prepared a list of people I wanted to thank, mostly editors and publishers. But when I got up there, I found myself blinded by bright lights, at a podium not lighted at all. I could barely make out anything on my sheet of paper with the thank you’s.

So I forgot some people (Otto I remembered). Who, you ask? How about the MWA itself, and the organizer of the event (and heart and soul of the organization), Margery Flax. I did give Barb a nice shout-out, and my agent Dominick Abel, but I forgot Brash Books altogether, though they had generously bought an ad in the program book and provided free copies to attendees of the uncut Road to Perdition prose novel.

I did manage to talk about the three key mentors of my early professional career – two of whom were MWA Grand Masters themselves, Donald E. Westlake and Mickey Spillane. I mentioned that Don had given his blessing when Bait Money sold, and generated sequels, even though they were outrageously imitative of his work. And I shared some writing advice Mickey gave me – “Take your wallet out of your back pocket before you sit down to write.” To which I said to Mickey, “Mick, I’m pretty sure your wallet is fatter than mine.”

Mostly I talked about Richard Yates, the great mainstream writer. I’ll share with you the story I told at the Edgars, with a few extra touches, since Otto isn’t handy to berate me.

As I began trying to write fiction, I was well-aware of the Writers Workshop in Iowa City, just 35 miles from my house, and I always assumed I’d go there. Never thought I’d have to do anything but just enroll. The Workshop was (and is) a graduate program, but they had a single undergraduate section of about a dozen junior and senior students. In August 1968, two months or so after Barb and I got married, I was due to start at the U of Iowa as a junior (after two years at Muscatine Community College) and thought I better go up there and submit my manuscript, as I’d learned was required.


Richard Yates

Richard Yates was the instructor. I found him in his office where he was straightening things in preparation for the coming semester. A lot of skinny little manuscripts were arrayed on his desk. Short stories. Amateurs! Me, I had a novel tucked under my arm (MOURN THE LIVING).

Yates had a full-face beard and looked like a benevolent version of John Brown, the abolitionist. His eyes were always a little sad and that first day was no exception. I began enthusiastically talking about how I’d been writing mystery and suspense stories, including four novels, since junior high – that my heroes were Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain…I left out Spillane, knowing he was frowned upon. When I stopped bubbling over like a shaken bottle of pop, Yates took the novel from my hands and regard me with pity.

“I will take a look at this,” he said, “but I hold out no false hope to you. This kind of thing is not what we do here. We are serious writers at the Workshop, writing serious fiction.”

I went home with my tail tucked between my legs, my very dejection a cliche, my world shattered.

A few days later the phone rang. Barb, who’d endured my bleak self-pitying jag, answered, then looked at me with surprise, covering the mouthpiece, and said, “It’s that Richard Yates….”

I took the phone, wondering what abuse waited.

“Mr. Collins,” he said, “I owe you an apology. I’ve read your novel. You’re very serious about what you do, and you’re writing at a professional level above anything else that’s been submitted to me. I would be very pleased to have you in my class.”

Then, after a long pause filled by my stuttering non-response, he said, “You know, my wife and I watch Carol Burnett every week, and we laugh and laugh, and have such a good time. And I was reminded of your novel.”

I could just see the blurb – “In the Tradition of Hammett, Chandler and Carol Burnett!”

“And it occurred to me,” he said, “that there’s no shame in creating entertainment.”

Thereafter Dick Yates was my champion, even in the instances when he wasn’t my instructor, throughout the rest of my years at the Workshop. He worked with me at his home, had Barb and me over for dinner, and he landed me my first agent (Knox Burger).

First ironic postscript: I had to submit all over again to get into the graduate Workshop. But when I went to pick up my submission at the Workshop office, I was told I’d been declined, and the manuscript of Bait Money was handed back to me. By a quirk of fate, my evaluation was accidentally left in the manuscript, showing I’d been rejected by a grad student whose job was to thin the pile. And I was rejected for the same reasons that Yates had once given me before he read my manuscript.

“If the applicant wants to write this kind of thing,” the grad student wrote, “he doesn’t need to go to the Workshop to do it.”

I took this immediately to Yates – Bait Money had been written under his guidance and supervision – and he went to the top guy at the Workshop. The book was given to three instructors (not grad students) and received the highest rating possible. I was in.

Second ironic postscript: my graphic novel Road to Perdition into a film directed by Sam Mendes. Yates’ great novel Revolutionary Road was made into a film directed by Sam Mendes. Of course, Richard Yates didn’t live to see either.

We lose people along the way. My producing partner Ken Levin lost his wife Mary recently. My friend Ed Keenan, who Matt Clemens, Ed’s wife Steph and I so often played poker with, died while I was in NYC. At the Edgars, I sat watching an “in memoriam” video, and got blindsided by the smiling faces of Ed Gorman and Miguel Ferrer.

That’s why I write these pieces from time to time. To remind myself, and share with you, some of these wonderful people, who stay with us long after they’re gone.

* * *

A nice if brief write-up about the Edgars event, with pics not seen elsewhere, is here.

And a nice write-up about the night can be seen here.

Here’s a nice Executive Order review.

Here’s one for Murder Never Knocks, just out in paper.

Check out this review of the new Hammer, The Will to Kill.

And you can get a signed copy of Will to Kill here (and even see a pic of me signing it) from Otto Penzler’s Mysterious Bookshop. The description says it’s a collection (and they do have copies of Long Time Dead that I signed as well), but Will to Kill is a novel.

M.A.C.

A Gig, a Walk-Out, and More

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

Saturday night Crusin’ played for a benefit at the River Music Experience in Davenport. The cause was music education in the Muscatine school system. This was our first gig of the year (by choice), having last played in September for my high school 50th class reunion.

It was just an hour but felt good – nice to be back on stage with the guys, and our guitarist Jim Van Winkle’s son, Teddy, played trombone with us on a couple of songs. Teddy is a music major at the University of Iowa and really tore it up. This my first time performing since lung surgery, and I was of course concerned, but had no problems with either stamina or singing.

We have about half a dozen gigs lined up through the summer and fall.

* * *

I am rather astonished to report that Barb and I walked out of a movie again, one we had been looking forward to all week. Kong – Skull Island has a high Rotten Tomatoes rating, and my pal Leonard Maltin loved it. We didn’t. The script was terrible – cringe-worthy dialogue and a ponderous set-up, and a cast that couldn’t overcome either. Tom Hiddleson, with his narrow face and slight build, is presented as some kind of bar brawler, which is unbelievable even without the notion that this makes him vital to a team going out to track monsters. John Goodman has lost so much weight, he looks ill, as if he’s wearing a baggy skin suit, and Samuel Jackson glowering at Kong and Kong glowering back has an uncomfortable racist tinge. Your results may vary, but we gave it fifty minutes before it got so stupid we couldn’t even stay to watch a bunch of characters we hated get killed.

Barb passed on Logan, but I saw it with Nate a weekend ago, and found it okay, with the trio of actors at its center (Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Dafne Keen) strong. Self-importantly dark and almost entirely humorless, Logan also suffers from underwhelming villains in actors Boyd Holbrook and Richard E. Grant, the former silly in his villainy, the latter hammy as an evil scientist. No Ian McKellan or Michael Fassbender in sight.

Some of you are suspecting I don’t like anything any more. But I like lots of things, mostly on TV, including lately Rowan Atkinson’s Maigret (and Michael Gambon’s and Bruno Cremer’s), the fourth season of Endeavor (the Morse prequel) and the Victoria series, though I wish it didn’t want to be Downton Abbey so bad.

* * *

My editor at Hard Case Crime, Charles Ardai, is so fast and efficient I sometimes think I’m hallucinating. Less than a week after I turned in Quarry’s Climax, he gave me edits and then galley proofs, and the book is put to bed.

No sign of a second Quarry TV season, though there’s been no official cancellation.

I am working on the non-fiction book Scarface & the Untouchable, the joint Capone/Ness bio. It promises to be major, but brother is it tough. My co-author Brad Schwartz and our research associate have written their rough draft material and gathered research, and now I’m up to bat.

Looks like the manuscript could be in the 1200 – 1500 page range. Like we say in the funnies, gulp.

* * *

Now in Paperback!

If you are going to Bouchercon this year, and have been sent an Anthony ballot, and like my work enough to be reading this, here’s a reminder of what’s eligible:

Road to Perdition: The New Expanded Version, paperback original.
The Nate Heller novel, Better Dead, hardcover.
Quarry in the Black, paperback.
Murder Never Knocks, hardcover.
Antiques Fate, hardcover.
A Dangerous Cat,” Hammer short story in the Strand.

* * *

The Will to Kill is out and I hope some of you have already bought this new Mike Hammer by Mickey and me, and that the rest of you will do so soon. We need reviews at Amazon and elsewhere, including blogs, and your participation would be much appreciated.

Michael Carlson has done a most interesting Will to Kill review in his UK column, Irresistible Targets.

Also out in (mass-market paperback) is Hammer’s last year’s performance, Murder Never Knocks. Here’s a great Ron Fortier review of it.

Finally, here’s a Quarry’s Choice audio review, very nice.

M.A.C.

New Mike Hammer Novel

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

Hardcover:
E-Book:

Available March 14, The Will to Kill is the ninth Mike Hammer novel I’ve completed from material in Mickey Spillane’s files.

Most people taking the time to read this weekly update already know that Mickey, in the last weeks of his life, asked me to complete his final Hammer novel in progress, The Goliath Bone, and that he told his wife Jane to round up everything in his files that wasn’t completed and give it to me – that “Max would know what to do.”

No greater honor has ever been paid me. Mickey’s work, which I discovered at age 13, was what made me transfer my enthusiasm for becoming a cartoonist to an obsession with becoming a writer…specifically, a writer of tough mystery fiction. Ironically, Mickey had been a comic book writer before the Mike Hammer novels turned him into a superstar, and one of the major projects we did together was a comic book – a science fiction variation on Hammer called Mike Danger (the original name for Hammer in the unsold comic book Mickey created right after the war that he turned into the novel I, the Jury).

I had six substantial Hammer manuscripts to deal with – usually around 100 pages (of 300) and sometimes notes on plot and character, and even roughed-out endings. In some cases Mickey had told me what ending he had in mind for an uncompleted book. (Mickey’s shocking surprise endings were his trademark, or anyway one of them.)

A number of very short (two to five page) fragments became short stories, published in various magazines, and were collected last year as A Long Time Dead: A Mike Hammer Casebook. If you’ve never read a Hammer story, that’s a great place to start.

Another half dozen significant unfinished manuscripts remained, and so far they have become the novels Kill Me, Darling; Murder Never Knocks; and now The Will to Kill. Both Darling and Knocks are out in mass-market paperback now – Knocks came out in that format about a week ago. (I am contracted to do three more.)

The Will to Kill is an unusual Hammer, as Bill Crider’s review indicates. (See link below.) Before the success of I, the Jury, featuring what was then a shocking amount of sex and violence, Mickey appeared to have in mind for his private detective a more traditional approach. But the vengeance aspect of the surprise bestseller-list response to I, the Jury sent him down a path of Hammer rarely taking a client, and usually being on a mission of I’ll-find-the-killer-and-kill-him (or her).

I had only the first couple of chapters of The Will to Kill to deal with from Mickey, and while the opening is shocking, the set-up is like something out of Agatha Christie – a bunch of spoiled rich grown kids chasing their late daddy’s fortune in the mansion they share. In about thirty pages, Mickey set up the entire book and its characters. There are aspects that aren’t anything you’d find in Poirot or Miss Marple – a serial killer targeting young women who are on vacation in the Catskills (the setting of the story) – but Hammer is doing a favor for his cop pal, Pat Chambers, looking into the wealthy man’s “accidental death”…not seeking vengeance for a murdered friend (tip: don’t be Mike Hammer’s friend in a Mickey Spillane novel, unless you’re Pat Chambers).

I like the book a lot. It was fun and somewhat challenging to keep the novel and its main character feeling right in a story unusual for them. This is not to say that a bad guy or two don’t get bumped off by the impetuous hero, who also thumps some nasties who deserve it, here and there. And beautiful women come along, too, so…so it’s still Mike Hammer, and I hope you’ll also think it’s a lot of fun.

By the way, the murder victim that starts the story up is the rich man’s butler. So this may be an old-fashioned mystery, but the butler definitely did not do it.

* * *

The new Quarry novel – Quarry’s Climax – has been delivered to editor Charles Ardai at Hard Case Crime. Charles is crazy fast and has already read, and approved, the book.

Usually I take a few weeks off between projects, but because of my various health issues last year, I fell desperately behind, and now must move immediately from one project to another, until I catch up.

Well, I still plan to take a few days off between finishing one project and starting another. We spent the weekend – my 69th birthday weekend (!) – with our son Nate and grandson Sam and daughter-in-law Abby. A lovely time. Sam is the cutest child I’ve ever seen, and I’m sure his resemblance to me hasn’t colored my opinion.

This week I start Scarface and the Untouchable, the massive dual bio of Al Capone and Eliot Ness. My co-author A. Brad Schwartz and our research associate have delivered a rough draft reflecting incredible, groundbreaking research on both their parts. My job: not screw it up.


Nate and Sam Collins
* * *

Here’s Bill Crider’s lovely Will to Kill review.

Check out this nice review of the early Quarry novel, Quarry’s Deal, from the UK.

Here’s an article about fifteen people other than Bruce Wayne who have been Batman – and wait till you see who’s number one! Hint: more late-coming unexpected love for my Batman work.

Finally, more nice words about the Quarry TV series.

M.A.C.

3 Movies We Made it Through

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

Now that Barb and I are feeling a little better after our bout with pertussis – and are not contagious – we’ve started going out to movies again. As regular readers of these updates should recall, she and I have walked out of an inordinate number of movies this year – on one occasion, two in one day.

So I am pleased – make that relieved – that the last three movies we’ve seen found us making it through the entire presentation, even when the pop, popcorn, and Milk Duds had run out. Here’s a brief rundown:

MASTERMINDS is an odd one that has left some reviewers cold, but both of us liked this one quite a bit. It’s a true-crime film that is also an over-the-top comedy. Here’s the cast: Zach Galifianakis; Kristen Wiig; Kate McKinnon; Jason Sudeikis; Owen Wilson; Leslie Jones; and Ken Marino. With four of the principals veterans of Saturday Night Live (Wiig, McKinnon, Sudeikis, Jones), and another from The State (Marino), and with SNL’s Lorne Michaels one of the producers, you should have some sense of how this differs from, say, IN COLD BLOOD.

The odd thing of it for us is that as we watched, we began to slowly realize the true incident being loosely depicted was one Barb and I had considered turning into a novel ourselves, a few years ago (the clipped newspaper articles remain in our story files); we just couldn’t figure out how to handle this unlikely, goofy story of a crew of trailer-park “masterminds” who pulled off a $17 million Loomis Fargo robbery. The slapstick nature of the real crime makes great fodder for the improv style of the cast, though (as I say) some found this marriage of true-crime and comedy off-putting. We howled.

HELL OR HIGH WATER – I almost passed on this one, since the screenplay was by Taylor Sheridan, whose SICARIO I despised. But the high Rotten Tomatoes rating got us there, and both Barb and I loved this throwback to the character-driven crime films of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, with its strong nod toward BONNIE AND CLYDE. Sheridan and director David Mackenzie follow two sympathetic pairs – Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham, Texas Rangers, and Chris Pine and Ben Foster, bank robbers – on a course of inevitable, tragic confrontation. Criminal Pine comes across as an antihero of sorts, and Foster pulls off the very tricky role of Pine’s somewhat unhinged, borderline sociopathic brother, bringing to it unlikely charm. Bridges is the almost crotchety Texas Ranger just days from retirement who needles his Native American partner unmercifully in politically incorrect ways that create nervous laughter. The points of view of both sides of these teams are understandable, and it’s increasingly uncomfortable knowing collision is coming. When it does, no punches are pulled. The cinematography is striking in its depiction of a barren, even ravaged modernday Texas, and echoes of the Wild West past of outlaws and lawmen lurk on the fringes of this melancholy but always entertaining film. Best of the year so far.

GIRL ON THE TRAIN – We didn’t walk out of it, but this one barely eked out our attention. For a more compelling melodrama, try watching a snail crawl across a patio. All of the characters are unsympathetic, and – possibly explaining the sleep-inducing pace – there’s about a short story’s worth of plot here, stretched out and arranged in two hours of pointless flashbacks that don’t announce when they’re over (including some flashbacks within flashbacks, depictions of false memories, and flashbacks remembered by people who weren’t there). The screenwriter is female and so is the author of the novel, and if a man wrote a novel hating women as much as this film hates men, he would be dismissed as a sexist boor. Worst movie we didn’t walk out of in recent memory. Slight compensation: the performances of Emily Blunt (though she’s mostly playing drunk) and Allison Janney as a cop (who ought to be more on top of things).

* * *

Stacy Keach is a nominee for best narrator of a crime & thriller audiobook for MURDER NEVER KNOCKS by Spillane & Collins. Stacy does a fantastic job on his readings of the novels, and if you’re a Mike Hammer fan, you shouldn’t miss any of them.

Another top narrator, Stefan Rudnicki, has done QUARRY IN THE BLACK on audio. I’ve not heard this yet, but Stefan always does a good job. He has a deep voice that suggests the older Quarry (of, say, THE LAST QUARRY) ruminating about the adventures of his younger days.

Speaking of QUARRY IN THE BLACK, the positive reviews keep coming, like this one from Criminal Element.

And this one from the San Francisco Book Review.

From Australia comes this great review of the QUARRY TV show, with lots of references to the original books.

Here’s a review of the early novel in the series, QUARRY’S DEAL.

And finally, in German (but you may have a Google translator or something), is a career piece on me the likes of which nobody in the USA has ever done. It comes from the very knowledgeable Martin Compart, who was my editor at several publishing houses in Germany. Martin, the epitome of cool, was an early advocate of both Quarry and Nate Heller. Scroll down the article and you’ll see a great picture of him, next to some young punk.

M.A.C.