Posts Tagged ‘Road to Perdition’

Celebrating the Release of the Mad Butcher

Tuesday, August 4th, 2020
Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher
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Today is the publication date of the non-fiction tome Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher by A. Brad Schwartz and myself. I am celebrating this by giving away ten copies.

As usual, write me directly at macphilms@hotmail.com. United States only, and you must include your snail mail address, even if you’ve won books in these giveaways before. The book is in exchange for a review at Amazon with reviews encouraged at Barnes & Noble and your own blogs or review sites as well.

The four Eliot Ness novels covering his Cleveland years – a quartet that eventually led to both the play/film Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life and the two non-fiction works, Scarface and the Untouchable and the new Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher – are available at Amazon from Wolfpack as An Eliot Ness Mystery Omnibus for $2.99. Even with my meager math skills, I can tell that’s a penny under three bucks for four novels.

While we hope to offer new print versions of the novels (perhaps in two-novels-to-a-volume form), right now they are Kindle e-books only. So no giveaways are in the cards for now. But if you have already read the novels – any of them – and liked them, reviews of the Eliot Ness Omnibus would be much appreciated. Right now we have a paltry two reviews at Amazon and that doesn’t go very far at getting the Omnibus noticed. Even if you haven’t bought the books in this new form, don’t hesitate about reviewing them under the Omnibus listing.

Since I’ll be talking about Eliot Ness this week, I’ll remind you that Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life is available on Blu-ray now at Amazon.

It’s also available on DVD for $9.99.

Reviews for Untouchable Life at Amazon are also appreciated. We only have two at the moment, and no one has specifically talked about the Blu-ray.

Also, the entire five-book Mallory series will be available for 99-cents each as Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle book deals from now through the end of August. Included in the sale will be the thriller Regeneration by Barb and me (as “Barbara Allan”), also at 99-cents.

The Mallory titles are: No Cure for Death; The Baby Blue Rip-off; Kill Your Darlings; A Shroud for Aquarius; and Nice Weekend for a Murder.

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Is it undignified to celebrate the career of a law enforcement icon who could not be bribed by offering a giveaway, and hawking various titles pertaining to him? I don’t really care, since I never claimed to be untouchable myself.

But Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher (it has a subtitle but I decline to use it, because I dislike it intensely) marks the final stage of an interest in the real-life lawman that reaches back into my childhood. My interest in such things begins even before the first Untouchables of two installments on Desilu Playhouse aired on April 20, 1959. The Dick Tracy comic strip (by way of comic book reprints) had ignited that interest; but, in fairness, since Ness was the real-life basis of Chester Gould’s Tracy, the Untouchable was already in the mix.

There’s no question that Tracy and Ness got me interested in stories about detectives, but more significantly The Untouchables TV series (and the autobiographical book that spawned it) got me interested in the factual material that generated so much of the guns-and-gangster pulp fiction I adored. My novel True Detective (1983), after all, deals with the same crime – the assassination of Mayor Cermak – as a two-part Untouchables episode I saw as a kid. Granted, that two-parter only nodded at history, but that nod was enough to get my attention.

Ness became the Pat Chambers to Nathan Heller’s Mike Hammer in a number of the Heller novels. At the request of an editor at Bantam, I spun Ness off into the four novels that dealt with his Cleveland years (previously explored, somewhat inaccurately, in Oscar Fraley’s Untouchables follow-up, Four Against the Mob, but otherwise little written about).

Two things are, I think, significant about those novels, including that they represent the first time actual cases of this real-life American detective had been the basis of stories about him (excluding the initial two-part telefilm). More importantly, the writing of the books led to research by myself and George Hagenauer that uncovered new (or at least forgotten) information about Ness.

In addition to his occasional role in the Nathan Heller saga, Ness appeared in my graphic novel Road to Perdition (drawn by the great Richard Piers Rayner) and in my prose sequel, Road to Purgatory (available from Brash Books). The latter, to some degree, dealt with Ness’s little-known role in fighting venereal disease on military bases and elsewhere during World War II.

For unknown reasons, Ness was not depicted in the film version of Road to Perdition, but that nonetheless led to the play (and 2007 video production of) Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life. Initially, actor Michael Cornelison and I were planning to do a one-man show about Perdition antagonist John Looney. We intended to mount it in Rock Island (where Looney had been the local crime boss in the early Twentieth Century) and shoot the film in one of the two existing houses were Looney had lived.

Somewhere along the line, one of us – it may have been Mike – suggested that Ness would have greater appeal to a wider national audience. Also, over the years I had heard from editors and readers that I should do a non-fiction treatment of Ness, since I had done so much research into and about him. Much of what George and I uncovered about Ness was making its way into the accounts of non-fiction writers (fiction writers, too) without credit.

As an independent filmmaker, looking for productions that could be produced cheaply but well, I found a one-man show appealing. I also had the possibility of a grant from Humanities Iowa, for whom I’d made an appearance at a University of Iowa event with editorial cartoonist, Paul Conrad. We mounted the play at the Des Moines Playhouse, where we shot the film between performances. My eventual co-author Brad Schwartz saw the play and that sparked our collaboration.

I had intended An Untouchable Life to be my final statement on Ness. While it is written from Ness’s point of view, skewed to his own memories and perceptions of his life, and some dramatic liberties were taken (by both Ness and me!), the play represents the most accurate depiction of Ness on screen to date.

Eventually, however, Brad convinced me to join him in writing the definitive biography of Ness. We embarked on doing that only to discover another, apparently major Ness biography was about to come out. I had once considered doing a massive, Godfather-style novel on both Capone and Ness, cutting back and forth between their stories. Now I suggested we follow that approach, but in a strictly non-fiction fashion. That would set us apart from any Ness bio or Capone bio, for that matter.

Obviously that approach – particularly since we intended to do cradle-to-grave accounts of both men – turned out to be too big for one book. Now we have a two-volume work that I feel confident is the definite treatment of the life of Eliot Ness. The research George and I did for the novels has been greatly enhanced by further research, much of it by my co-author, who crisscrossed the country in his efforts, even talking to surviving friends and associates of the long-deceased lawman.

It must be said that I have written about several different Eliot Nesses. The Ness of the Heller books serves a specific function – he is Heller’s conscience, the Jiminy Cricket to his Pinocchio. The portrayal darkens in Angel in Black and Do No Harm. The Eliot Ness Omnibus of Cleveland novels is a basically accurate but somewhat romanticized version of Ness – far closer to reality than Robert Stack, but splitting the difference between them. The same is true of Ness in Road to Perdition and Road to Purgatory. Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life is only slightly romanticized, and (in my view at least) portrays him as he saw himself.

The real Ness can be found in Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher (and Scarface and the Untouchable). My co-author and I did not always agree on what – or who – the research added up to. We wrestled our way into a joint presentation that is probably more accurate than if either of us had been turned loose alone.

I can look at these two works and feel that, at last, I have done right by this complex real-life Dick Tracy. With the publication of Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher, with the recent publication of Do No Harm (which ends Ness’s story in the world of Nate Heller), and with the four Ness-in-Cleveland novels gathered into Omnibus form, I feel I’ve come full circle.

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Here’s a great Wall Street Journal review. Here is the link, but it requires a subscription to read.

‘Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher’: An Untouchable Second Act

After helping to put Al Capone behind bars, lawman Eliot Ness came to Cleveland, where he did battle with a vicious killer.

Moviegoers of a certain age will remember Eliot Ness—the upright law-enforcement figure who battled corruption and organized crime from the 1920s to the ’40s—as portrayed by a tough-talking Kevin Costner in Brian De Palma’s 1987 movie “The Untouchables.” Television viewers from an even earlier era will recall Ness depicted by the stern-faced Robert Stack in the ABC series (1959-63) of the same name. But the real-life Ness, as revealed in Max Allan Collins and A. Brad Schwartz’s “Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher,” was less the hard-boiled hero of popular culture than a humane and forward-thinking lawman as interested in preventing crime as in punishing it.

The Chicago-born Ness (1903-57) came to prominence as a Prohibition agent in the Windy City, doing battle with Al Capone and other bootleggers as head of his own hand-picked squad of agents. His men were dubbed the “Untouchables” for their refusal to accept payoffs or gratuities. As a friend observed of the incorruptible lawman: “Honesty amounted to almost a fetish.”

The government put Capone behind bars in 1932 via the prosecution of a tax-evasion case, but the work of Ness and his men was central to establishing the extent of the mobster’s criminal activities. With Capone out of the picture, the Untouchables were disbanded, and Prohibition ended soon after. Ness, a nationally known figure (his physical and professional image inspired Chester Gould’s comic-strip police hero Dick Tracy), looked beyond Chicago for new opportunity. He found it in Cleveland, the site of his next significant successes—but also of the disturbing case that gives Messrs. Collins and Schwartz’s book its title.

Ness was named Cleveland’s director of public safety in 1935 and was put in charge of the city’s police and fire departments. He found the cops to be sloppy, uncooperative and demoralized. Once more he formed his own discrete unit of Untouchables to weed out incompetent and corrupt officers and hire smart new ones. “Intelligence,” he counseled, “must supplant brutality.”

But even Ness was stumped trying to apprehend the “torso murderer” responsible for a series of ghoulish killings, in which parts of dismembered and beheaded corpses were strewn about the woods and dumpsites of Kingsbury Run, one of the city’s poorest areas. “The mystery of the headless dead” drew national and international attention. In Germany, the Nazi press mocked America’s inability to apprehend the “Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run.” With no witnesses and sometimes no way even to identify victims—and with advanced forensics techniques far in the future—police were stymied.

By 1938, the authors write, “the Butcher had become the subject of the largest manhunt in Cleveland’s history.” Thousands of citizens wrote and called the cops with worthless tips. “The investigators, after years of fruitless searching, grew desperate, pursuing ever more eccentric lines of inquiry.” At last a few tantalizing leads brought an alcoholic and mentally disturbed doctor named Francis Sweeney to the attention of the detectives.

Ness and his crew subjected the 44-year-old Sweeney—who had shown signs of psychosis and had been verbally and physically cruel—to judicially inadmissible polygraph examinations that convinced all present of his guilt. Still, despite an abundance of circumstantial indicators, Ness had no hard evidence. Complicating matters was the man’s being a cousin of a local congressman, a vocal Ness critic. Prosecution was not an option. Ness handled the matter privately, helping to arrange Sweeney’s commitment to a mental hospital. Sweeney, who was institutionalized for much of the rest of his life, sent a series of bizarre and taunting postcards to Ness through the mid-1950s.

Though Ness was sure that the killer had been caught and dealt with, he couldn’t officially close the case and so swore himself and his men to secrecy. The public was left with the impression that the culprit might still be at large. The case of the Mad Butcher, with its unsatisfying non-finale, fits a bit awkwardly into Messrs. Collins and Schwartz’s wider narrative. In the latter stages of their book, the authors ably follow Ness through an unsuccessful foray into city politics and a disappointing business career. But given this work’s title and its subtitle—“Hunting America’s Deadliest Unidentified Serial Killer at the Dawn of Modern Criminology”—one sometimes gets the feeling of two different books uneasily hitched.

That said, the authors have done Ness justice. It’s discouraging to learn that a man who refused a fortune in bribes died $9,000 in debt. Shortly before his fatal heart attack at the age of 54, he finished work on the memoir that would revive and romanticize his reputation and bring his third wife and their adopted son a modicum of income.

Messrs. Collins and Schwartz, in this, their second deeply researched book about Ness, don’t gloss over their subject’s failings and blind spots, but they do show that he tried harder than many to leave the world a better place. His “signature achievements in Cleveland—fighting juvenile delinquency, reorganizing the police department, promoting traffic safety—stemmed from a deep well of humanity and compassion,” they write. Now more than ever, the authors conclude, Ness’s name “should remind us of the rigorous standards he brought to law enforcement—professionalism, competence, honor, and decency—and a determination to make everyone safer by addressing the systemic root causes of crime.”

Review by Tom Nolan.

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My favorite Jeopardy! question popped up again on a rerun this week:

MAC on Jeopardy!

Here’s a great interview with my buddy Charles Ardai, editor of Hard Case Crime. He mentions me several times, bless him.

Check out this wonderful review of The First Quarry.

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.

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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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

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.