Posts Tagged ‘New Releases’

Sidekicks

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020

Hardcover:
E-Book: Google Play Kobo

Digital Audiobook: Google Play Kobo

The day this update appears (May 26) is the pub date for the new Caleb York western novel, Hot Lead, Cold Justice.

Unlike the other Spillane co-bylined books in the Mike Hammer series (and other crime novels), these westerns are mostly by me, working with characters and situations from Mickey’s various drafts of his screenplay, The Saga of Calli York, written for John Wayne but never produced. I have endeavored in these novels – I just completed another – to bring either a strong mystery or crime novel element into the proceedings. Even if you don’t usually read westerns, I think you will have a good time – assuming you are reading my other work, in particular the Spillane material.

I am not a voluminous reader of westerns myself, though I have long been a fan of western films. I can talk John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Joel McCrea and Audie Murphy with the best of ‘em; same goes for directors like Sam Peckinpah, Budd Boeticher, Anthony Mann, John Ford and Howard Hawks. The early seasons of Maverick are mid-century TV at its best. Probably my favorite western novel (and there’s a certain irony about this – see if you can catch it) is the novelization of Howard Hawks’ movie Rio Bravo by its screenwriter, Leigh Brackett, the woman who shared screenplay credit with William Faulkner on the same director’s film of The Big Sleep.

I’ve never been a big Faulkner fan, but there are two stories about him that I love.

One is that a frustrated reader told him how much trouble he was having understanding what Faulkner had written in The Sound and the Fury. Faulkner told him, “Have you tried reading it drunk? That’s how I wrote the thing.”

Another is that Faulkner was paid big money to fly to a college campus to talk to a creative writing seminar as their keynote speaker. When his turn came, Faulkner went to the dias and asked how many of the college students wanted to be writers. They all raised their hands. Then Faulkner said, “Then why the hell aren’t you home writing?” And sat back down.

I don’t know if either of those stories are true, and I don’t care. Somebody already mentioned here once said, “Print the legend,” and I agree with that.

Getting back to Hot Lead, Cold Justice – a title I suggested as a joke that was immediately embraced (mine was The Big Die-up) – a lovely review has appeared at that great book review site, Bookgasm, and rather than put you to the trouble of chasing a link, here it is (written by Mark Rose):

Max Allan Collins has entered my reading list once again, this time in a genre with which I’m mostly unfamiliar: the Western. Hot Lead, Cold Justice is listed as by Mickey Spillane and Collins, and this is the fifth book in the series featuring Spillane’s character Caleb York.

For those who don’t know, Spillane and Collins were friends, and upon the former’s death, he entrusted his literary property such as his characters (Mike Hammer) and unpublished screenplays (where the character Caleb York originated) to Collins. So Collins has written a number of Mike Hammer stories and now explores the world of late 19th-century New Mexico.

It’s a tough frontier world but the little oasis of Trinidad, New Mexico seems just fine for Sheriff Caleb York. Until his deputy is shot twice and left to die. York had just given the man his long coat and hat, and he’s convinced that the gunmen were aiming for York and not the deputy. Luckily, the deputy survives. But York knows he’s got men after him now.

These men are a rough and brutal lot. Their leader rode with Quantrill, the notorious Missouri raider who massacred the men in the free state town of Lawrence, Kansas during the Civil War. They’ll stop at nothing as they attempt to rob banks in the area in order to set up a stake for themselves and eventually go live on a beach in Mexico. And while they do that, they can find time to ambush York and bring his do-gooder life to an end.

This is a short (just over 200 pages), rip-roaring read with the fast pacing and smooth style that characterizes all of Collins’ work. Characters are simply described, but set up with credible backstories and behaviors. The scenery is all well-described. Dialogue is spot-on, except perhaps for the unfortunate dialect awarded to the deputy’s voice.

If you want a movie-style Western and you’ve read all your Louis L’Amours, I think it would be a place to start with Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane’s books featuring Caleb York. Here are the titles in order: The Legend of Caleb York, The Big Showdown, The Bloody Spur, Last Stage to Hell Junction, and Hot Lead, Cold Justice.

Wow. That’s an overwhelmingly positive review, huh? But of course that doesn’t stop me from having a bone to pick.

Well, not really. I get it – I understand how somebody entering the serious, relatively realistic world of Caleb York could have difficulty with Deputy Jonathan P. Tulley’s “dialect.” But the thing is, Tulley isn’t speaking a dialect at all. Nobody ever spoke like that. I have no idea where I’m pulling that patois out of, unless I’m sitting on it.

We are in the territory of a character who is great fun to write because he can say or do just about anything, and I don’t have to apologize (even though I seem to be right now.)

Tulley has much in common with Mother (aka Vivian Borne) in the Antiques novels, because there doesn’t seem to be any behavior or train of thought or speech that she can’t get away with. Whenever I think I’ve gone too far with Mother, I run it past Barb and she always says the same thing, “There’s no way you can go too far with Mother.”

That’s because, at least in part, Vivian Borne was conceived as the comedy relief – the sidekick to her amateur sleuth daughter, Brandy. The problem is that Vivian (not surprisingly) didn’t behave. She insisted on having equal footing with Brandy, and began pushing for first-person chapters of her own. She has also developed into a hell of a detective, or (as we say in the cozy world) a heck of a detective. For a long time the girls argued over who was Holmes and who was Watson. But, really, it didn’t take long for Brandy to realize she was Archie Goodwin to Mother’s Nero Wolfe – only Mother is not at all a stay at home detective.

By the way, Antiques Fire Sale was published just a month ago, and is a good place to see what it is I’m talking about.

Sidekicks often become more popular than the more recognizably human heroes they hang around with. Does anyone really think Roy Rogers, for all his charm and his lovely singing voice, was more memorable than Gabby Hayes? What was Marshal Dillon without Chester? When Dennis Weaver left his Good name behind to be a full-fledged hero himself, Festus had to be called in off the bench.

It’s the Kirk and Spock effect.

As for that pesky dialect of Tulley’s, I have written him in a long tradition of characters like Dick Tracy cast members B.O. Plenty and Vitamin Flintheart. No hillbilly ever spoke like B.O., but that didn’t stop Chester Gould from letting him talk, or me from letting him devolve into a babbling source of malapropisms. And John Barrymore, the model for Vitamin, never spoke in the bewildering flowery way of the great Flintheart.

Speaking of hillbillies, no real hillbilly ever had a thing to do with Al Capp’s creations, either. As a kid, I was a Li’l Abner fan for years before somebody pointed out to me that Capp was doing hillbillies. In my college days, a leftist pal of mine complained that Capp was ridiculing poverty-stricken Appalachian mountaineers. I replied that the last time I looked, Capp was ridiculing everybody (just not as well, in his later years, as in his heyday).

Mickey created the way Tulley talks and I ran with it. I realize for some a cartoonish character like Tulley, in the midst of an otherwise straight story, may be bewildering or off-putting. But beyond his peculiar way of speaking, Tulley has grown and evolved from town drunk to sheriff’s deputy, and revealed himself as a good man to have at your side in a gunfight.

I think it was the late, great Bill Crider who said, “Every western ought to have a character in it that could be played by Gabby Hayes.” Or maybe it was the great but not late James Reasoner. Sure, there are loners without sidekicks – Shane, Paladin, late-period Randolph Scott, probably a bunch of others. For many a hero, though, a Pat Buttram or Fuzzy Knight or Walter Brennan is de rigueur. For the more serious-minded, Jay Silverheels or (in The Searchers) Jeffrey Hunter would have to do.

But, goldurnit, even Hondo had a dog. And I think Gabby Hayes could have played that hound right fine.

* * *

Speaking of sidekicks, I am happy to play Gabby Hayes to my lovely wife, Barbara Collins, to whom I was married on June 1, 1968. She would probably prefer Jeffrey Hunter, though.

Fifty-two years, and it really does seem like yesterday. Anyone who doubts that I am a very lucky man just isn’t paying attention.

* * *

Digital Audiobook: Google Play

Somebody in Australia (home of Wentworth!) put together a list of my “oeuvre.” Check it out.

This list of Memorial Day mysteries includes my story, “Flowers for Bill O’Reilly.” I wrote it long ago, before I knew who the ex-Fox commentator was. I’ll change the name next time it’s reprinted.

Journalstone has put out an audio of The Last Stand, the last book Mickey completed in his lifetime, edited by me and with a novella I co-wrote, also included on the audio. I haven’t heard it yet, but it’s read by that wonderful narrator, Dan John Miller.

This is an insightful review of my Batman prose short story, “What is The Sound of One Hand Clapping.”

And, finally, here’s a smart review of Mickey’s novel The Girl Hunters, from the anthology of three Hammer novels I edited and introduced. Complex 90, of course, is the sequel.

M.A.C.

Another Book Giveaway!

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020

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

The day this update appears, Antiques Fire Sale– the latest Trash ‘n’ Treasures mystery by Barbara Allan (Barb and me) – will go on sale.

To help (Amazon) prime the pump, we are offering free copies to the first ten of you who respond. As usual, we can accept no entrants outside the United States, and you must include your snail mail address (even if you’ve won before). Send your request to macphilms@hotmail.com. We will sign all of the books (Barb signs “Barbara” and I sign “Allan”). You are expected to write a review for Amazon and/or similar web sites, like Barnes & Noble and personal blogs. If you hate the book you can bail, but even a tepid review is better than no review at all.

Barb and I wrote a fun interview in the voices of Brandy and Vivian Borne (our Antiques sleuths) that will appear here starting on Thursday the 30th.

Again, I can’t emphasize enough how important these reviews are. Even if you didn’t get any of the recent books free (Do No Harm, Antiques Fire Sale, Girl Can’t Help It, Masquerade for Murder), please take the time to write a brief review at Amazon – just a couple of lines will do, but if you are inspired…go for it!

All of the titles listed above have sort of stalled out, where reviews are concerned, so all of you bored sheltering-in-place M.A.C. readers, get to reviewing, please. Yes, I am groveling. Yes, I have no shame. No, I am not embarrassed about my behavior.

Right now I am working on a sixth Caleb York novel. The fifth Caleb – Hot Lead, Cold Justice – comes out in about a month. We had a very nice advance review for the Hot Lead, which I’ll share with you now:

Hot Lead, Cold Justice

Spillane befriended Collins and, shortly before dying of cancer, gave him his blessing to complete any unfinished manuscripts. Since 2007, Collins has completed 26 Spillane novels.

This is the fifth in the Caleb York series (e,g, Last Stage to Hell Junction, 2019). In New Mexico during the “Great Die Up” blizzard of 1887, Caleb York is settling into his role as sheriff, but he’s thrown off his game when his deputy is shot in an act of mistaken identity. York quickly learns that Luke “Burn ‘Em” Burnham is out of prison, 10 years after York put him in for bank robbery. Burnham is looking for a quick heist and revenge. Under ordinary circumstances, York would have been two steps ahead, but the blizzard puts York and Burnham on an even playing field.

It’s an exciting game of cat-and-mouse with an entertaining love triangle thrown in for good measure. Accurate details of the historical blizzard are a meticulous touch, and readers looking for more information will appreciate the informal bibliography.

— Sarah Steers

One of the things I really like about that review is that the reviewer is a woman. Mickey always claimed that a good portion of his readership was female, and my editor at Kensington has insisted that a sizeable number of readers of westerns are women. I have always taken that advice seriously, coming from reliable sources as it did, in the writing of the books.

So I have made sure to include strong female characters in the novels – something Mickey always did, too – and a portion of romance. The original Caleb York screenplay I worked from on the first novel, The Legend of Caleb York, had two strong women in Willa Cullen and Lola Filley. Since Lola (SPOILER ALERT!)does not make it out of the narrative alive (END SPOILER ALERT!), I introduced her younger sister in The Big Showdown to essentially take over Lola’s role.

Okay, they’re essentially the same character. You caught me.

There’s a thing in the Broken Lizard film Beer Fest where a loveable character is killed and later his twin brother (obviously played by the same actor, Kevin Heffernan) turns up to take his place in the ensemble, and the convenience of that is brazenly made into a wonderful joke.

Back in the days when we left our house for more than groceries and pharmaceuticals, Barb and I saw Broken Lizard at the Englert Theater in Iowa City. We spent some quality time with the boys afterward, and they were the nicest, most regular guys you could imagine.

So I suppose their shameless Beer Fest resurrection of a character inspired me to replace Lola with Rita.

As I write Shoot-out at Sugar Creek, Barb is working on her draft of Antiques Carry On. Plotting required really putting our heads together, so this time – first time ever – I did my draft on the first third of the book before she pressed on. Speaking of Fire Sale, we had a lovely if odd review of that, as well, from Bookgasm. Take a look:

Antiques Fire Sale

They’re all the same.

You think that would be a terrible critique. But actually, the familiarity, the comfort, works very well. I’m talking about the antiques-themed mystery series of Barbara Allan, a pseudonym for the husband and wife team of Barbara and Max Allan Collins.

With Antiques Fire Sale, we’re now on the 18th book (including three e-books), of an antiques-themed mystery series that features Vivian Borne (now the Sheriff of Serenity, Iowa), her long-suffering daughter Brandy, and their sweet and smart Shih-Tzu, Sushi.

They are all the same, even though there is some dynamism in the characters and their interactions. For instance, Mom Vivian is a strong-willed force of nature, an excellent detective, someone who doesn’t care for rules or protocol, and she generally gets her way. In early books, she’s just a director at the local theater, but all of a sudden, she ends up as the elected Sheriff of Serenity, Iowa. This doesn’t please her daughter Brandy, who tries to rein in her mother, but generally fails. Brandy has moved from one relationship to a much stronger one with a local law enforcement colleague, but she still feels on the edge. Only the dog Sushi seems to be the most well-adjusted.

The series has grown, but the formula of the books remains the same. It’s an American humorous cozy, with recipes, interpolations between the writers and their editor, and even chapters written from different characters’ points of view. The books shift between chapters written by Brandy and some by Vivian. This particular tale includes one chapter written by 14-year-old Jake, Brandy’s son (who lives with his father elsewhere), who has been seduced into the investigation by Vivian. His chapter seems remarkably true to a teenager’s style and shows the character off to his best advantage.

Plots in these stories are actually pretty interesting. In this one, a caretaker for a mansion that is filled with valuable antiques is found dead when the mansion burns down. But Vivian (Sheriff Borne, excuse me) realizes that at least one of the valuable antiques was stolen before the fire. And it turns out the man burned in the fire is not the caretaker. Later on, they find the real caretaker’s corpse in the woods. That’s at least two deaths (with one more to go).

The whole thing is handled admirably by the author(s). Here’s the thing. The stories are pretty good. The character interactions are fun (especially between mother and daughter). But there are things that may grate: the editorial comments between the writers of whatever chapter and the off-screen editor, the constant craziness of Vivian Borne, even the shifting chapter POVs may grate on some.

It’s the kind of series that if you like one of the books, you’ll like them all and read them with pleasure. If you read one and are irritated, then these won’t work for you. Still, I find them charming and worth the day or two it will take you to try one out. Highly entertaining.

—Mark Rose

Okay, and while Mark doesn’t seem to be quite sure whether Barb and I are great or grate, I should point out that he is a male. Which I find to be very cool. Just as it may surprise some that the Caleb York novels appeal to females, so may some be surprised that the Antiques novels appeal to males.

Now, I’m not really surprised at all about Antiques and male readers – at least those of you men secure enough in your masculinity to read a cozy about two “girls” – because a very smart guy named Bill Crider used to love these books.

How I wish you were still around reading them, my friend.

* * *

Here’s a particularly well done interview with me on Mike Hammer and Masquerade for Murder.

Here’s Part One of a very good article about me, with quotes from an interview I did with the writer. Again, the focus is on Mike Hammer, but there’s a lot more.

Check out this fun review of Masquerade for Murder (by “Mike” Spillane and me!).

Here’s an interesting if condescending review of the movie version of Road to Perdition. I was amused to see a reference to Dave Thomas, who is now a friend and collaborator (I am thrilled and proud to say).

And now here is a podcast review of the Road to Perdition film, which is described as a “nice, awesome movie.”

Finally, this really good podcast actually compares the book to the movie, and discusses the plot holes in the great film that to this day drive me crazy.

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.

Do No Harm, Even if the Girl Can’t Help It

Tuesday, March 10th, 2020

As I write this, on March 9, 2020, it’s Mickey Spillane’s 102nd birthday – a reminder of how lucky I was to encounter his books at an impressionable age, and eventually have an unlikely friendship and collaborative association with this key figure not only in mystery/crime fiction, but popular culture, worldwide.

As you read this, if you’re one of those who catch up with these updates as they first emerge, it’s March 10, 2020, the publication date of two of my novels (by two different publishers): Do No Harm, the new Nathan Heller thriller, and Girl Can’t Help It, the second Krista Larson mystery.

If you are one of the regular readers here, you may recall that the new Mike Hammer, Masquerade for Murder – written by me from a Spillane synopsis – was to be published a week later. That pub date has, I’m not sorry to announce, been moved to April 7, which at least puts a purchase of that third new Collins novel on a separate paycheck for loyal readers.

Do No Harm is a novel based on a real-life mystery that has fascinated me since 1961 when I read The Sheppard Murder Case by Paul Holmes – I would have been 13. And of course the television series The Fugitive, which began in 1963, only fueled that interest. And I did love that series – David Janssen’s charismatic, melancholy performance was something new in a TV hero, with a tragic depth unusual for the day. I watched every episode, and later – during my community college years – Barb and I would watch a syndicated episode over lunch at my parents’ house.

Like a lot of TV actors, Janssen had a shrewd if limited bag of tricks. My late actor friend Michael Cornelison told me that actor Robert Lansing (star of 87th Precinct and 12 O’Clock High) had advised him – should one of several TV pilots Mike starred in get picked up – to develop a characterization that would stay consistent and require few strokes, and allow the guest actors to carry the water. I gathered the same thing from Raymond Burr, when I worked on a project with him in Denver during the Perry Mason TV-movie days – he spoke of having to sleep in his dressing room at night because of the demands of being in so many scenes of his series.

I recently watched a Blu-ray of Superdome, a TV movie starring Janssen and a strong cast of its era. The actor was just two years away from his premature death at 48, and looked much older. Reportedly a hard drinker, Janssen – in a rather wretchedly written TV movie – brought along the same tics and tricks, and yet despite the rote feel of it still conveyed a humanity and sadness little seen in TV leads of his era. Sam Sheppard died at 47.

I waited a long time before bringing my detective Nate Heller to this case, even though it had been on my true-crime short list since the ‘80s. The murder of Sam Sheppard’s wife was not an easy fit for Heller. I have always attempted to bring Nate into a case in a natural fashion – that is, to fill in for a real-life participant (a cop, reporter, insurance investigator, actual P.I.) or combination thereof, as in Blood and Thunder where in Part One Heller is a Huey Long bodyguard and in Part Two he returns to Louisiana a year later on an insurance investigation into Long’s assassination.

Figuring out how to put Heller at the crime scene in Marilyn Sheppard’s murder seemed necessary to me, dramatically, as was determining how to narratively span a case that included Sheppard’s conviction, long struggle for justice from behind bars, and ultimate re-trial. Many other wrinkles made the case a tough one for my approach, including a particularly involved number of alternate theories for what really happened. I like to develop my own theories – or I should say Heller does.

Ironically, it was the project I was working on prior to starting Do No Harm – which I had contracted to write but was still struggling with what my approach would be – that finally gave me a window onto the case. In working with A. Brad Schwartz on the non-fiction book Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher, I discovered that Eliot Ness had essentially lived next door to Sam Sheppard. Nobody had noticed this before, probably because Ness lived there in the ‘30s and Sheppard in the ‘50s. But nonetheless the coincidence struck me as irresistible – two of the most famous figures in not just Cleveland crime but American jurisprudence lived next-door.

Additionally, a latterday victim indicating the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run might have struck again in 1954 was the perfect reason for Ness to (a) call Heller back to Cleveland for consultation, and (b) to check out the crime scene of a brutal murder in Ness’s old neighborhood.

The other solution to involving Heller was Perry Mason creator Erle Stanley Gardner’s interest and involvement in the Sam Sheppard case. I had already established that Heller knew Gardner (in Carnal Hours) and had done some investigating for Gardner’s Court of Last Resort. That brought Heller into the effort to find out the truth about Sam Sheppard’s guilt or innocence in 1957, when Gardner’s activity in the case came to a head. Further, newspaper columnist/TV personality Dorothy Kilgallen – basis of Flo Kilgore, a recurring character in the Heller saga – was also a key figure in the Sheppard case.

Everything was coming together. Part Two would jump to 1966 and a role for Heller working for Sheppard’s new lawyer, F. Lee Bailey.

The novel was a challenging one, because of the jumps in time – while Book One is 1957 and Book Two is 1966, there are flashbacks within each. From a creative standpoint, however, I found that interesting and even fun, because the difference in decades – in Heller’s life and in America itself – provided a contrast I could play with.

And I have come up with a theory of my own, although oddly some reviewers (positive ones, by the way) have somehow thought I was leaving the story unresolved. I think that may possibly be because I have changed more names than usual, not wanting to cause trouble for the real people and their families who various alternative theories touch upon. I had already developed this theory when new evidence came to light, in an updated version of one my source books, that seemed to confirm my take on the case. My longtime research associate, George Hagenauer, has long said I have an almost psychic ability to suss out the truth of these crimes, and sometimes I almost agree with him.

The story behind Girl Can’t Help It is even more directly personal. Regular visitors here know of my rock ‘n’ roll connection, and that my bands The Daybreakers and Crusin’ are both in the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. That’s an honor that some snicker at but which I take with a genuine measure of pride. I began playing with a short-lived group in 1965 with the Daybreakers forming in ‘66 while I was still in high school. Singing lead and playing “combo organ” have been a big part of my life for a long time.

We had our brush with fame when “Psychedelic Siren” was issued by Dial, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records, a single produced by Joe Tex’s producer, Buddy Killen. We had a regional hit and in subsequent years, unlikely as it might seem, that track became a part of numerous national vinyl and CD collections of ‘60s garage band rock. In more recent years the song has been covered by bands all over the place – not all of them in the USA. Several versions can found on You Tube.

Both the Daybreakers and Crusin’ opened for such acts as the the Buckinghams, the Turtles, the Strawberry Alarm Clock, the Grass Roots, Del Shannon, and Peter Noone, among quite a few others. In early 1968 we did a brief Midwestern tour opening for the Rascals and Gary Puckett & the Union Gap when “Psychedelic Siren” was charting at Davenport’s KSTT.

So I was on the fringes of success in that field. Also, in the ‘80s, when I briefly dropped out of playing music to focus on a particularly heavy writing load, Crusin’ became the Ones, a New Wave-oriented version of the band that mixed originals with classic rock and became a big act on the Midwestern college circuit, particularly popular in Iowa City, where their LP got lots of airplay. When we re-grouped for reunions, the band would appear as the Ones some places, and as Crusin’ others. Later versions reverted exclusively to the Crusin’ name.

What does that have to do with Girl Can’t Help It? Well, the novel begins with a New Wave act from Dubuque, Iowa, who had some national success “back in the day,” years later (when the novel opens) getting into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. In a much more direct way than ever before, I am dealing with rock as a major aspect of a mystery novel. I also dig into the darker side of being in bands in those days, although I want to be clear the group in the novel is not meant to be either the Daybreakers or Crusin’ or any of its members. But as part of that world, I saw things, not all of which were pleasant, even if I didn’t experience them. And I certainly saw – and experienced – the conflicts between members in such bands.

I will be interested to see how readers react to the second Krista and Keith Larson novel. I know a few readers – let’s call them a vocal minority – don’t like finding me dealing with lead characters who are not overtly larger-than-life in the manner of Quarry, Nate Heller, Ms. Tree, Mike Hammer, or even Vivian Borne. I set out in the Krista and Keith books to do people who are more real, and to do a father-and-daughter relationship that wasn’t built on snarky sarcasm (even though I think you all know that I can do sarcasm). The larger-than-life aspect comes by way of the crimes and the killer.

I admit to being surprised that any reader would have trouble with this approach. I only know that I like this new book a lot, rather relishing the rock aspect, and intend to write at least one more Krista Larson novel.

Girl Can’t Help It has inspired a particularly good review (as well as one of Girl Most Likely) at Atomic Junkshop, including something of an overview of my work in general, a very interesting take on it. I’m gratified to see someone whose favorite series is Quarry finding Krista Larson equally compelling.

As for Do No Harm, Publisher’s Weekly has chosen it one of its books of the week (running their rave, starred review a second time).

The Tor/Forge blog honors Do No Harm with a look at the Sheppard court case and other courtroom biggies of the ‘50s.

The Stiletto Gumshoe celebrates Mickey Spillane’s 102nd birthday here.

And the great western writer James Reasoner has very nice things to say about the forthcoming Caleb York, Hot Lead, Cold Justice.

M.A.C.