Posts Tagged ‘Skeleton in the Closet’

R.I.P. Emma Peel…and a Wolfpack Spy Revealed

Tuesday, September 15th, 2020

I am, obviously, at that age when the icons of my youth are going on ahead of me into whatever lies ahead. Emma Peel is gone. Not at all forgotten.

Still, losing Diana Rigg at 82 sounds much too soon – she was still displaying her considerable acting skills and powers of personality in Victoria and the forthcoming Black Narcissus.

The British Invasion was the Big Thing when I was in high school, and that of course immediately brings to mind the Beatles and their fellow rock ‘n’ roll invaders. But the British Invasion was also James Bond, and the Spy Craze – even The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was an Ian Fleming brainchild (thought that fact has been lost in the shuffle a bit). Sometimes the rock aspect collided with the spy craze, as when Johnny Rivers did the theme song for Secret Agent (as the Brit Danger Man was retitled for USA consumption). And would Michael Caine’s career have gotten its jump start if Harry Palmer hadn’t brought John Lennon to mind in The Ipcress File (1965)?

From the UK came the greatest of Spy Craze TV series, The Avengers (well, let’s call it a tie with The Prisoner). Emma Peel’s predecessor – as the black catsuit-clad partner of bowler-and-bumbershoot-sporting John Steed, portrayed by urbane Patrick Macnee – was Cathy Gale. The original distaff martial-arts Avenger (to “boys” my age, those Marvel Avengers should be called the Pretenders) was Honor Blackman, whose final curtain call preceded Diana Rigg’s by just a few months.

The Bond connections are many. Honor Blackman was (could anyone reading this really not know) Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964); and Patrick Macnee was James Bond’s Lordly sidekick in the Roger Moore entry, View to a Kill (1985). Macnee was not, as some would have, the cousin of (sort of) James Bond, David Niven (Casino Royale, 1965), though the two actors did appear together in The Elusive Pimpernel (1950).

Most significantly, Diana Rigg portrayed Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), and became not just the love of Bond’s life but his wife, albeit briefly. The former Emma Peel was, not surprisingly, appealing in the role and her presence shored up the place-holder presence of George Lazenby as Bond in what was the greatest James Bond movie Sean Connery never made.

Diana Rigg was an accomplished and much-lauded screen actress, and I won’t go into all of her remarkable list of credits here. I’ll mention only my favorite performance by her, after Emma Peel and Tracy di Vicenzo, which is Arlena Stuart Marshall in Evil Under the Sun (1982), the best of the big screen Poirot movies (feel free to disagree, but do so knowing I’m not listening).

What is significant about Diana Rigg, it seems to me, is how she managed to be an actress of incredible sex appeal and at the same time convey an undeniable, even intimidating intelligence, at a time (the first Bond era, remember) when “birds” were mostly mini-skirts, eye make-up, and lots of teased hair. She could even smirk with intelligence, and the way she and The Avengers spoofed the inherently absurd spy fad gave the series its special zing. Her range as an actress is astonishing. I always had a sense that she wanted to give the audience her best, but if they didn’t like it, that was their problem.

So it is with a bittersweet smile, and a gathering sense of my own mortality, that I blow a kiss goodbye to Emma Peel, knowing that she and Diana Rigg will live forever.

Now, hoping it’s not a display of bad taste, I will segue into finally announcing the series that Matt Clemens and I are doing for Wolfpack. You’ll see the connection in a moment, or perhaps as soon as you hear the title of the first novel: Come Spy With Me.

Matt and I created the lead characters and developed the premise for the series twenty years ago in a couple of little seen short stories. John Sand is a recently retired British secret agent whose cover was blown world-wide when a famous series of novels by an ex-spy colleague of his became best sellers. The stories – at least the trilogy we have agreed to produce – take place in the, shall we say, Swinging Sixties.

John Sand has married a wealthy young woman named Stacey and, in Come Spy With Me, we join them on their honeymoon, where if we had any sense of propriety we wouldn’t witness their carnal conduct. I’ll leave it to you to decide how much propriety Matt Clemens and I have.

But not to worry. The mushy stuff is temporary – carnal gives way to carnage soon enough, and John Sand is as hard-edged a man of action as, well, the famous fictional spy that was based on him.

The name “Sand,” by the way, is a very much conscious tip of the jaunty ‘60s cap to the mono-named lead of Ennis Willie’s series of novels written in that era, which influenced me almost as much as Mickey Spillane, Richard Stark, and Ian Fleming.

You will hear more about this series as the weeks progress – the first book will, as I’ve indicated, be out well before the end of the year. We’ll have a cover to show you before too very long.

When Matt and I discussed getting an advance blurb from an appropriate author, only one name came to mind: Raymond Benson, author of officially licensed James Bond novels (and short stories and video games) and the landmark The James Bond Bedside Companion. Raymond is also the author of the Black Stiletto novels and Hotel Destiny – A Ghost Noir.

Raymond was gracious enough to look at Come Spy With Me in manuscript, and this is what he says:

Come Spy With Me is a heck of a ride! The characters are smooth, the real-world cameos are fun, the action is electric, and the sex is rightly retro. This homage to Mr. Fleming, Mr. Bond, and all the other pulp spy thrillers of the 1960s will leave you craving for the next installment!”

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This is a lovely review of the forthcoming second Ms. Tree collection from Titan – Skeleton in the Closet.

Here is a compendium of reviews of Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher, mostly very good.

My co-author, A. Brad Schwartz and I, will be discussing Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher next Sunday, September 20, at 1 pm Central. Join us with your own questions.

M.A.C.

Binge on Books – It’s Good for You!

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

I know many of you are bingeing on books while on lockdown, presumably my books – and remember, in addition to the recent publication of Do No Harm, Girl Can’t Help It and Masquerade for Murder, some fourteen Nathan Heller titles are available all month at 99-cents per. There’s also an Antiques title – Antiques Frame – available for $1.99 on Nook at Barnes & Noble. [Links: Hellers on Kindle, Antiques Frame on Nook]

E-books have been great to me in recent years, though I’ve never returned the compliment by reading anything on a Kindle or a Nook myself. I am an unrepentant, unapologetic reader of physical books. I collect them. I even hoard them. My suspicion is that many of you fall into the same cheerfully psychotic category.

But I understand that physical books are moving somewhat erratically through the mails right now. I’ve experienced this myself, although the emphasis is on “erratically.” Sometimes a book will arrive the day after you order it, and sometimes…well, it hasn’t arrived yet.

That’s because people are ordering items – such trivialities as food and clothing – from Amazon, who in their wisdom have deemed books non-essential. So us Prime Members will probably get a hefty refund check from Mr. Bezos, right? Well, maybe not. But this strikes me as a good time for people with Kindles and/or Nooks to buy e-books. And for those of you who have been thinking about bringing a bouncing baby e-book reader into the family, this seems like a fine time to do so.

We had hoped to launch a book giveaway this week, but Barb and I are under a more severe quarantine at the moment, because I was exposed to somebody who tested positive for Covid-19, and Barb has some symptoms and got tested today. Nothing like a Sunday afternoon at an Urgent Care Center! So we decided not to send any of you Corona Virus as a bonus giveaway. When we have a clean bill of health, we will.

We are not special. Expressions of concern should be reserved for yourself and your neighbors and this entire country. You can also send one up to the Big Guy in the Sky to encourage our federal government to get its ass in gear. That is, unless you think medical supplies should be sold at e-bay type auction. I don’t.

Some of you who have laid your hot little hands on Masquerade for Murder may have noticed it’s dedicated to Gary Sandy. Gary – who co-stars with Patty McCormack in Mommy’s Day (available on Blu-ray as a double-feature with Mommy, in case you haven’t been paying attention) appeared as Mike Hammer in the two productions of my radio-style play, Encore for Murder. The most recent one was in 2017 in Clearwater, Florida.

It was a terrific show, with noir-ish background music and a shifting video backdrop…and Gary was fantastic, carrying the whole thing on his back. It was produced by Zev Buffman, a legendary Broadway producer who revitalized Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall, a major venue (the other act appearing while Encore for Murder was playing was some nobody called Jackson Browne).

Zev mounted it beautifully, and early last year we were going to do a second Hammer radio-style play, The Little Death at the Clearwater venue when politics at the theater wound up with Zev retiring and our already announced production being dropped by the new people.

Zev passed away last week. He was 89, and one of the most vital show biz people I ever met. A lovely man. Take a bow, Zev.

Thank you, Gary, for bringing him into my life.


Left to right, Producer Zev Buffman, writer M.A.C., star Gary Sandy, director Richard Rice.
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Here’s some nice attention for Ms. Tree and the upcoming collection, Skeleton in the Closet.

Even more Ms. Tree love right here!

And a really nice overview of Ms. Tree is right here.

Here’s a great look at Terry Beatty and Rex Morgan, with a link to a podcast with Terry that gets into Ms. Tree and a lot more.

Thomas McNulty’s review of Masquerade for Murder is wonderful, in part because of how much fun it is to read.

Here is another splendid Masquerade for Murder review.

Screenrant thinks Paul Newman’s last great performance was in Road to Perdition. So do I!

More nice Road to Perdition stuff here – by the way, it’s streaming on Netflix right now.

Book Page has rerun an interview with me from a couple years ago. Might be worth a look, if you missed or if your memory is like mine.

Finally, the Stilleto Gumshoe has this great review (and more!) of Do No Harm.

Stay safe!

M.A.C.