Posts Tagged ‘Reviews’

A 99-Cent Sale, A Podcast, A Ness Book Review, and More

Tuesday, June 30th, 2020
Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher cover
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The Thomas & Mercer has eight of my titles as part of its Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle book deals starting 7/1/2020 and running through 7/31/2020. These e-books are only 99 cents USD during the promotion period:

The Lusitania Murders
The Pearl Harbor Murders
The Titanic Murders
The Hindenburg Murders
The London Blitz Murders
The War of the Worlds Murder
Midnight Haul
What Doesn’t Kill Her

My pal, writer Paul Bishop – a remarkable guy and the Renaissance man some people claim me to be – has a great podcast called Six-Gun Justice. As an adjunct, he interviews writers, and he did one with me. For the few of you who may not be sick of hearing my voice yet, here’s your chance to do so. Seriously, Paul did a great job with his questions and his editing. My interview and several others can be accessed here. [Note: The M.A.C. Interview podcast is dated 6/17/2020.]

Also, here is a great review of the soon-to-be-published Eliot Ness & the Mad Butcher by A. Brad Schwartz and me, from Library Journal:

Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher: Hunting America’s Deadliest Unidentified Serial Killer at the Dawn of Modern Criminology

Collins and Schwartz (Scarface and the Untouchable) reunite to continue the story of law enforcement agent Eliot Ness, known for leading the Untouchables, the group famous for bringing down Al Capone. Ness moved on to serve as Cleveland’s public safety director during a tumultuous time in the city’s history following the Great Depression. He confronted various crime and political challenges, which are detailed within the book. The story is anchored by Ness’s efforts to identify the Mad Butcher, a serial killer who terrorized Cleveland and whose actions followed Ness until the end of his career. The book is thoroughly researched and well paced, a feat considering the breadth of Ness’s work.

VERDICT: A successful blend of history and suspense, this volume will appeal to readers interested in true crime and law enforcement.
Reviewed by Kate Bellody

Because I am wrapping up a novel that I haven’t told you about, because it is frankly under wraps until the publisher gives me the go-ahead to talk about it in public, the update this week is chiefly an article about me that ran a few days ago (as I write this).

I will be back sharing more of my thoughts than I should next week.

This is probably the most in-depth article ever written about me and my work. It was put together from various sources and interviews with me by Sean Leary, a successful (and terrific) writer of regional bestsellers in the Quad Cities. This appeared over the weekend at QuadCities.com as part of their regular Saturday in the Arts feature.

A few inaccuracies are included, due to my sloppiness being interviewed, and I am correcting those parenthetically in boldface. [From Nate: The article on QuadCities.com includes a nice selection of pictures, so I recommend checking out the article there as well.]

Scribe Award-Nominated Max Collins Still Having A Killer Time As A Best-Selling Author

Max Allan Collins’ success is no mystery.

The man in black has proven to be a maestro at making people’s lives full of stress, misery and murder — and people love him for it.

It helps that the people are fictional, characters in the canon of the Muscatine-based author, who, this month, was nominated for a Scribe Award for his 2019 novel, Murder, My Love. The awards winners will be announced July 15.

It’s only the latest honor for the longtime penman, who saw his novel Road To Perdition turned into an Oscar-nominated film, his novel series Quarry made into a series on Cinemax, his band Crusin enter the Iowa Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2018, and who was given the 2017 Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement as a fictional murderer, a maestro of mystery novels, for over four decades.

MWA’s Grand Master Award represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as for a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality. Collins certainly fits both categories.

“The Mystery Writers of America is the primary professional group of mystery and suspense writers, and getting its lifetime achievement award, the Grand Master ‘Edgar,’ is about as good as it gets,” Collins said. “The list of Grand Masters includes many of my personal favorites, Mickey Spillane, Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, and Erle Stanley Gardner, among many others. It’s a thrill to be in their presence. The award comes at a time when I’ve battled my way back from some nasty health issues, so it feels like really, really, good medicine. And, yes, it’s something I’ve dreamed of receiving, though didn’t know if I ever would.”

But how does it feel to be at that point in his career when he’s received a lifetime achievement award?

“It’s a mixed bag,” Collins said. “I’ve received several others, notably the Eye from the Private Eye Writers of America, and it’s nice to see your body of work recognized, but sobering knowing that nobody gets this kind of honor until their third act.”

His first two acts have been pretty impressive, and his debut was at a young age.

“I decided to be a writer in junior high and began submitting novels soon after,” Collins said. “I went to the University of Iowa Writers Workshop and sold two novels while I was there, Bait Money and Blood Money. (Blood Money came later – No Cure for Death was the other book I sold while at the Workshop.) I never looked back. I taught briefly, part-time, at Muscatine Community College, but I’ve never had a fulltime job except freelance writing. That was made possible in part because I landed the Dick Tracy strip, which gave me a nice income for fifteen years, by which time my novel-writing career was established. I stayed afloat by not being afraid to try different kinds of storytelling. I’ve done comic books, comic strips, novels, short stories, non-fiction books, trading cards, movie scripts, TV scripts, jigsaw puzzles and video games. I took on a lot of movie and TV novels, and put my name on them when others said I should hide behind a pseudonym. I felt using my own byline kept me honest, and it built an audience because many of my media projects were high-profile, movies like Saving Private Ryan and American Gangster, and TV properties like CSI and Criminal Minds—Matt (Clemens) worked on the latter two with me. I am proud to be a professional writer.”

Getting His Start With A Four-Color Fan Favorite

To many fans, Collins’ name is synonymous with a two-fisted, four-color counterpart — which is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its celluloid incarnation this year. Although his resume includes such hard-boiled characters as Mike Danger and Ms. Tree, to comics aficionados, he’s best known for his run as writer of the Dick Tracy newspaper strip from 1977 to 1993. Collins would go on to pen the novel for the film version of Tracy, and that novel would end up being the driving force for the screenplay for the Oscar-nominated film starring Warren Beatty in 1990. (The incredible story of that can be found on Collins’ blog.) The job was the realization of a childhood dream.

“It sounds corny, but it really did all begin for me with Dick Tracy, because I started reading that when I was a little kid — 7, 8 years old,” he says. “Most kids read Dick Tracyand wanted to be Dick Tracy when they grew up. But I read it, and I saw this signature on the strips, Chester Gould, and I was just fascinated by it, by the idea of someone writing it. I thought there was very little chance I could grow up and be Dick Tracy, but I could be Chester Gould. And by God, I was for about 15 years.

“The whole fascination with crime fiction really does go back to my childhood. Dick Tracy, The Untouchables TV show … those were things that I loved. That was partly because my father would tell me about stories in the paper about John Dillinger when he was a kid. He would talk about how he and his family would go out and see crime scenes afterwards. So at a very early age, I got this picture that behind this noir genre, there were real events and real characters, and that very much appealed to me.”

Sharing his work with friends was also a spur to his development.

“Just to get that encouragement, to have my friends say, `Oh, you wrote this? This is really cool,’ was a big deal for me and helped me to keep going,” Collins says. “The other thing that was important was having encouraging teachers. I had several good teachers throughout growing up that nurtured and encouraged me, and I was fortunate to have them helping me along.

“Talent is a relatively small part of it. It’s really enthusiasm and having those flames fanned by people in that educational support system. A good teacher can have such an impact on a young mind.”

After graduating from the University of Iowa with a degree in creative writing, Collins taught at Muscatine Community College and spent almost three years sending out manuscripts in hope of landing his first book deal. (This is a little wrong – I sent the novels out while I was at the Workshop starting in ‘68. I sold them right about the time I started teaching at MCC in 1972.)

“I was very discouraged,” he says. “I remember I had a manuscript come back around ’72, and it was really discouraging, and I thought, `Maybe this isn’t for me; maybe I’m not going to make it. And then, sometimes God decides to act like O. Henry. I got on Christmas Eve 1972 the letter saying that my first book, Bait Money, had been sold. And a year later it came out in time for Christmas the next year, and I’ve been going ever since.”

A Renaissance Man

In the ensuing four-plus decades, Collins has proven to be a Renaissance man of the genre. He’s tackled everything from comics to films to documentaries to novelizations of films and TV shows. He’s also been a regular on local music stages with his band Crusin, which was inaugurated into the Iowa Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame two years back.

All told, he’s placed over 100 novels on bookshelves — many featuring his most famous character, Nate Heller. His locally produced independent films, including the cable hits Mommy and Mommy’s Day were released as a DVD set called The Black Box. (And now are on Blu-ray.) To top that off, he also has several other writing projects on his plate and is busy knocking out novels with his wife, Barbara, and his other co-writer Matthew Clemens.

Asked about the constant movement, Collins chats breezily about his diverse interests and passions. His gesticulations and the rising timbre of his voice spark the image of him as a junior-high kid, bursting to share his action-jammed tales with his friends. However, his work ethic also seems driven by the memory of his early career struggles. Talking about them, his demeanor slumps.

“Even today, I think one of the hardest things about this profession is how long publishers sit on books,” he says. “It’s so crushing to go to that mailbox and wait to see that manuscript sticking out with that rejection letter.”

Collins hasn’t gotten many of those lately. (Actually, I have.)

Looking back on his career, of what is he most proud?

“Probably just having a career — being able to make a living at fiction writing without a day job, which I’ve been doing since 1977,” he said. “Career highs include landing the writing of the Dick Tracy strip back in ’77; winning the PWA Shamus Best Novel, True Detective, in 1984; directing and writing five independent features, with Mommy airing on Lifetime; and having my graphic novel, Road to Perdition made into an Academy Award-winning film with Tom Hanks. I’m also proud of what my wife (Barbara Collins) and I have achieved with our humorous ‘Antiques’ mystery series.”

The road to Road to Perdition

Undeniably, Collins’ most well-known achievement to the general public has been Road To Perdition, the graphic novel which led to an Oscar-winning film starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Jude Law and various other heavy hitters.

“As I’ve gone down the suspense and mystery path, it has fascinated me to see how history feeds into the popular culture,” Collins says as he begins to talk about his most famous achievement. “The fact that there was a real Al Capone and an Eliot Ness and a John Looney, and that their traits ended up influencing these fictional characters like Dick Tracy or Vito Corleone, is very interesting to me.”

In 1998, Collins’ graphic novel Road to Perdition, based in part on Quad-Cities gangland history, smashed out of the gates to become a best seller. It almost immediately drew interest from Hollywood, and in 2002, it hit screens nationwide as a critically acclaimed — eventually Oscar-nominated — film starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman.

The national notice also brought the Muscatine author a large dose of recognition on the local scene. One book-signing session at Borders in Davenport featured a line of fans snaking out the door and into the parking lot. “It was very rewarding,” Collins says, quietly.

Perdition generated a prequel, Road to Perdition 2, as well as two sequels, Road to Purgatory and Road to Paradise, the last of which was released in December 2005. (The three can be found as a trilogy for sale on Amazon Kindle now.)

Ironically, the origin of the story of hit man Michael Sullivan and his son, Michael Jr., lies in part in the bonding between Collins and his son, Nate, over their mutual love of the Japanese comics series Lone Wolf and Cub. The tale of a renegade samurai’s vengeance-stained travels with his infant boy provided the template for Perdition.

“I loved the image of this warrior with a baby carriage,” Collins says. “That combination of tender and tough has always fascinated me.”

Collins’ research for another novel, 1983’s True Detective, helped provide the characters and setting for the epic.

“I came across this guy, John Looney, who had been a gangster in the Quad-Cities in the ’30s. I couldn’t use him at the time, but I kept him on my shelf. So when it came time later that I wanted to pursue that idea of the Godfather-style executioner in the mode of Lone Wolf and Cub, I remembered that character of Looney. I thought it would be really cool to center the story around this local gangster. So I merged the two ideas, and that’s how Road to Perdition was born.”

(Looney operated in the teens and twenties – I couldn’t use the material in True Detective because it took place in the early thirties, although he is mentioned. When I did Road to Perdition as a graphic novel, I took the liberty of moving Looney up a decade or so, to take advantage of the Capone and Nitti era about which I wrote in the Heller novels – Looney had been aligned with the Chicago Outfit but under Johnny Torrio’s reign.)

Although at this point, the story has reached a satisfactory end, Collins hasn’t ruled out the possibility of revisiting the characters. “If you talk to most writers, they’re not inclined to sequels,” he says. “But I grew up reading serials, so I guess I always thought if I liked these characters and I think there’s something left to be said, I’ll want to write more about them.”

Following His Quarry, Continuing His Legacy

Speaking of series, Collins’ series Quarry, one of the first novel series to feature a hit man as its central character, was developed into a series by Cinemax that aired for one season in 2016, and continues to enjoy success as a literary endeavor. Collins has also continued his series of mystery novels with his wife, Barbara, his Nathan Heller series, the Reeder and Rogers suspense novel series he co-writes with Matthew Clemens, and more.

He’s also an active figure on the area writing festival scene, often giving classes and seminars for aspiring writers.

(I am semi-retired at this kind of thing – very rare now, once quite a major part of what I did.)

What kind of advice would he give to aspiring mystery writers?

“It’s a steady learning process,” he said. “There are writing schools, and I attended the best at the Writers Workshop in Iowa City. And there are seminars, and I’ve taught my share. But writing is chiefly self-taught. It comes from reading analytically, learning to edit your own work, and staying at it. I don’t think I’ve ever made any quantum leaps in my writing, but I’ve gotten incrementally better all along the way. I’m much better now than I was when I first published…but I wasn’t bad then.”

What has he most enjoyed about the process?

“Oddly, collaboration has been one of my biggest joys,” Collins said. “I say `oddly’ because writing is largely solitary. But I loved making films, most of them with my terrific collaborator Phil Dingeldein, and the whole collaborative experience, from movie set through editing, was the best. I also enjoy collaborating with my wife Barb on the ‘Antiques’ novels — that’s special, being able to co-author works with your spouse and stay happily married. Matt Clemens and I also have collaborated on a score of books, and I’m collaborating posthumously with Mickey Spillane, completing his unfinished manuscripts. Making new Mike Hammer novels happen is a delight to the thirteen year-old me, who travels with me everywhere.”

Collins is hardly resting on his laurels, lifetime achievement-wise or otherwise. He’s got a number of deadly projects on his bullseye for the coming years, and his latest Caleb York western novel, Hot Lead, Cold Justice, was released just a few weeks ago, on May 26.

As Collins said of the new novel on his blog, “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.”

No matter what your literary interests, you’re sure to have a killer time reading any of Collins’ books.

The author of this piece:
Sean Leary

Sean Leary is an author, director, artist, musician, producer and entrepreneur who has been writing professionally since debuting at age 11 in the pages of the Comics Buyers Guide. An honors graduate of the University of Southern California masters program, he has written over 50 books including the best-sellers The Arimathean, Every Number is Lucky to Someone and We Are All Characters.

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.

52 Cards and a Joker

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2020

Today, as I write this (June 1, 2020), is the 52nd wedding anniversary of Max Allan Collins and Barbara Jane Mull, aka Al and Barb Collins, aka Barbara Allan.

Fifty-two cards in the deck and one joker.

We are celebrating almost not at all, as we continue to shelter in place. Our splurge is a bottle of champagne, some wine-cheese spread, and crackers. This evening we plan to watch The Billion-Dollar Brain (a film we saw together on its initial release) as the third entry in our Michael Caine as Harry Palmer Blu-ray festival, having watched The Ipcress File and Funeral in Berlin on the preceding two evenings.

In recent years we’ve spent our anniversary in Galena, Illinois, at the Irish Cottage hotel, with two days of dining and shopping and doing touristy stuff. It’s something we enjoy very much and hope to do again one day. But going on such an excursion before there’s a Covid-19 vaccine is highly doubtful.

I try to stay away from politics here, though it does creep in. Forgive me, but it’s going to be unavoidable today.

You see, fifty-two years ago was 1968. Barb and I went to Chicago on our honeymoon. We ate at George Diamond’s and Augustino’s, restaurants that would eventually find their way into Nate Heller novels. We saw a bunch of movies, including (if memory serves and it often doesn’t) 2001: A Space Odyssey and a re-release of Gone With the Wind. We went to the Museum of Science and Industry. I also somehow got Barb to accompany me to countless old bookstores, all around the city, looking for the two Richard Stark “Parker” books I lacked, one of which was The Mourner. Not sure what the other one was. All I know for sure is I probably endangered our lives.

At the tail end of the honeymoon, we watched in our room at the Bismarck Hotel the coverage of the murder of Bobby Kennedy. We were both Bobby supporters and it hit us hard. The rest of the trip had been so much fun that even this tragedy wasn’t enough to taint the experience. But it was certainly a strange, haunting way to complete it.

But the year itself brings so much to mind. Barb was working fulltime at the First National Bank, where she would rise to an officer’s position. I was playing in the Daybreakers – our record “Psychedelic Siren” came out early in 1968 and we did many gigs promoting it – and starting at the University of Iowa where Richard Yates became my mentor at the Writers Workshop. I had several hard years of rejection slips ahead, but would sell both Bait Money and No Cure For Death before graduating with my MFA.

That lay ahead. In 1968 assassinations and racial turmoil and general political turbulence had the country by the throat. June 1, 2020, seems uncomfortably familiar. We seem to have made precious little progress, and it’s disheartening.

The only good thing about this familiarity is the woman I’m married to, who remains lovely in just about every way imaginable.

I never dreamed another time as troubling as the one we lived through would come around for Barb and me to experience. I am hopeful, guardedly, that things will change in November. That the cruelty and stupidity around us lessens, and that the partisan divide decreases in intensity. That the absurdity of white supremacy and racial prejudice can finally be overcome. And that Americans, politicians included, will learn the lesson that a pandemic is not red versus blue. That a virus doesn’t give a good goddamn who you voted for.

* * *

The excellent book review podcast, The Inside Flap, has nice things to say about Girl Can’t Help It and includes a long interview with me on that novel and on Nate Heller, as well as excursions into Dick Tracy, Nolan and the Antiques series. The Girl/MAC stuff starts at the 24-minute point.

Jerry’s House of Everything is a wonderful blog by Jerry House, who has been a big booster of my work. As a generous postscript to a look at the IAMTW, the organization for writers of tie-ins that Lee Goldberg and I founded, he has written a very nice piece on Girl Can’t Help It, with You Tube links to performances by the Daybreakers, Crusin’ and Seduction of the Innocent.

I’m taking the liberty of reprinting the Girl Can’t Help It review here.

MAC ‘n’ Roll: Mention of Max Allan Collins above allows me to segue ever so briefly to one of his latest novels, Girl Can’t Help It, the second in his series about Galena, Iowa, sheriff Krista Larson (a highly recommended book; pick it up now!). {I’ve made no secret that I am a Max Allan Collins fan-boy; well, fan-geezer, really.) In addition to having a number of best-selling and award-winning series, Collins has had a long career as a comic strip/book writer (Dick Tracy, Batman, Road to Perdition), tie-in writer (CSI, Bones, Saving Private Ryan), film writer/director (Mommy, Mommy’s Day, Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life), and cultural historian (The History of Mystery, Men’s Adventure Magazines, For the Boys: The Racy Pin-Ups of World War II). Collins has also authored trading card sets, video games, mystery jigsaw puzzles, and Lord knows what else. If all this wasn’t enough, he has also been a professional rock and roll musician since 1966. His bands the Daybreakers and Crusin’ have both been inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. He also was part of a “comic con band,” Seduction of the Innocent, with actors Bill Mumy and Miguel Ferrer, comics artist Steve Leialoha, and comics fan John Christensen.

Girl Can’t Help It is the first novel by Collins that made use of his rock and roll background. Regional band Hot Rod & the Pistons is inducted into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and murder begins striking the band members. It’s a well-crafted mystery that seamlessly blends a lot of that state’s rock and roll history — something I was not fully aware of until now.

Here’s some of Collins’ music, beginning with the Daybreakers’ regional hit “Psychedelic Siren”:

And here’s 60’s retro band Crusin’ playing “Incense and Peppermints” at the St. Louis Bouchercon:

And here’s Seduction of the Innocent doing a set at the 1988 San Diego Comic Con:

For those of you who’d like to read Jerry’s piece on the International Association of Media and Tie-in Writers, it’s right here.

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Yet another of these movies-you-didn’t-know-were-based-on-comic-books articles features Road to Perdition.

Finally, the Seattle Mystery Bookshop blog has a nice write-up by “JB” on Do No Harm. The reviewer, like several others looking at this novel, suggests I leave certain things unresolved that the novel really does clarify at least in terms of what happens in Heller’s world. I think the problem (and this is on me) is that part of what I wanted to do was examine every major theory about what happened in the Sam Sheppard case, and that seems to have muddied the waters for some readers. This is a long blog entry about a lot of things, so you may want to scroll down till you come to the Do No Harm cover image.

M.A.C.

It’s Another Book Giveaway, Cowboys and Girls!

Tuesday, May 19th, 2020

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

I have ten hardcover copies of the forthcoming Hot Lead, Cold Justice – the new Caleb York western, due to be published on May 26.

As usual, the deal is (if you receive one of the free copies) you agree to write a review for Amazon, with reviews at Barnes & Noble and blogs also appreciated. If you hate the book, you are excused from this mission; but otherwise, let ‘er rip.

Reviews are encouraged from those of you who actually bought any of the current books. No new Amazon reviews have appeared lately for Girl Can’t Help It, Antiques Fire Sale, Masquerade for Murder and Do No Harm, so your help in that regard would be much appreciated.

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Janet Rudolph, of the great site Mystery Fanfare, has provided a ballot for the Macavity Awards. Among other things, Janet is the editor of The Mystery Readers Journal, to which I have on occasion contributed.

Here it is:

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Macavity Awards categories:

Best Mystery Novel:

Best Mystery First Novel:

Best Mystery Nonfiction:

Best Mystery Short Story:

Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery:

Deadline for Nominations: June 1, 2020

Books and stories must have been published in 2019.

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To nominate, copy and paste the ballot into an e-mail, fill it out, and send to janet@mysteryreaders.org. Nominations must be received by June 1.

Books of mine that are eligible include Girl Most Likely, Killing Quarry, Antiques Ravin’, and Murder, My Love. Neither Barb nor I had short stories out last year. Of the novels, I would say Murder, My Love would best qualify under historical.

Speaking of Deadly Anniversaries, that fine anthology in celebration of the Mystery Writers of America’s 75th anniversary, is out now. My story, “Amazing Grace,” is in my opinion the best short story I’ve ever written.

I owe that to Barb, who suggested I develop a story out of an experience from my distant past that I had shared with her. It was a natural, and that it took Barb to suggest it, without me making the connection with an actual significant anniversary from my childhood – one important enough for me to share with her, and make enough of an impression that came immediately to her mind, if not mine – shows how writing fiction draws from numerous sources other than sheer imagination…no matter what Willy Wonka (and Anthony Newley) might think. Similarly…

One of the joys of writing historical fiction, for me at least, is having the research essentially present the story to you. I’m not talking about the broad strokes story (who really kidnapped the Lindbergh baby?), but story elements and possibilities – things you didn’t know about when the research began.

I am right now researching the Rosie the Riveter period of women working in defense plants during WW 2. I pitched a basic story and got the go-ahead from a publisher, but in reality didn’t have much more in mind than a mystery with that setting and time frame.

But as soon as I dug into the research, facts I’d not been aware of got up on their hind legs and barked. Right now, as the research winds down, I am almost giddy with anticipation of telling a story that has seemingly presented itself to me, like a gift.

An exaggeration? To be sure. What has come together is much more than broad strokes, but has not yet been hammered out into something approaching an actual story worth telling.

There is much riveting yet to do.

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Thomas McNulty has a great blog called Dispatches from the Last Outlaw. He also has a fun You Tube show called McNulty’s Book Corral. I loved his episode about Mickey Spillane (and he was kind to me, as well).

To give you the flavor of Tom’s writing, here’s what he had to say about Masquerade for Murder:

Once again Max Allan Collins proves his incredible talent with another entry in Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer series. Often working from a sparse outline, Collins has crafted a remarkable series that not only pays tribute to Spillane, but advances the tough guy world he so brilliantly embodied. Masquerade for Murder is a hardboiled lunch, served up with a cold beer in a tall, chilled glass. It’s perfect. The characterizations are spot-on, the suspense is like a delicate soufflé, ripe with tension but delightful for readers to experience. There’s a solid mystery that needs solving, and while I suspected a few things, I was pleasantly surprised that I hadn’t figured it all out. That’s okay, that’s Mike Hammer’s job anyway, and he does so with the usual tough guy attitude. The story takes place in the late 1980s, and Hammer might be older, but he’s still a contender as several bad guys quickly find out. I’m quite the fan of both Spillane and Collins and I never get tired of these “collaborations.” Collins is a bit nostalgic this time around, or should I say that Hammer is a bit nostalgic. The New York of post-war America is gone, but Mike Hammer is still a rough and tumble tiger roaming the mean streets of Manhattan. Velda is here, too, older but still sexy. A few other kittens show up, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what happens. Masquerade for Murder is a great, fun book, and it arrived as if by a providential hand to brighten my day. Highly recommended!

Your check is in the mail, Tom!

Here’s a review (from the stellar site, The Stiletto Gumshoe) of Vengeance Is Hers, the 1997 anthology Mickey Spillane and I edited. It’s all women writers – except for one by a man (Mickey Spillane). Obviously it plays off the title of Mickey’s classic Hammer novel, Vengeance Is Mine!

This look at Elseworlds Batman tales includes a nice write-up on Scar of the Bat, my Eliot Ness/Batman graphic novel.

This annotated list of Road novels includes the graphic novel version of Perdition.

M.A.C.