Posts Tagged ‘Spillane: King of Pulp Fiction’

Two Tributes and a Nice Salute

Tuesday, November 7th, 2023

I have commented here before that being at my ripe old age means that too often I have to pay tribute to heroes and friends who have passed on. This week I am saluting one of each.

Lenny Sloat has passed away. He was the first guitar player in my band Crusin’, and performed with us (if my fading memory serves) for about a year, probably in 1974. A handsome man in the All-American mode, he was a terrific member of the band, a guitarist who had been among the first in the area to perform in what we used to call a “local pop combo.”

His first group was, again if memory serves, the Coachmen, who played instrumentals in the Ventures vein. His second group, the Rogues, was perhaps the first band in Muscatine, Iowa (my home town, where I still live) to play their instruments and sing, following the path of the Beatles. They were good, both musically and as super cool showmen, and justifiably popular, and were – with my pals the XL’s of Wilton – the inspiration for me to get into playing rock ‘n’ roll with my own band, for money ($25 a gig, a rate that lasted longer than I care to remember).

A more sophisticated band called Depot Rains (one of those inexplicable band names of the era) was the effective and popular follow-up to the Rogues.

When my longtime musical collaborator Paul Thomas (gone too long now) and I decided, in the wake of the film American Graffiti, to resurrect our list from the days of our previous band, the Daybreakers, and call it nostalgia, we needed a guitar player. Our frequent collaborator, Bruce Peters, was pursuing his musical dreams in California. I think both Paul and I came up with contacting Lenny almost immediately – he had been a local idol to the Muscatine High School kids, which included us.

Lenny came on board and brought his low-key, charismatic demeanor to the party, as well as his skill at playing and singing ‘60s music. We practiced for long hours in the basement of our drummer, Ric Steed. We were decent from the start and, after a lot of time and effort, got to be pretty good. We were ready. Somebody – maybe Lenny – approached the owners of the local nightclub, the Warehouse Four (coincidentally in the former warehouse of my wife Barb’s family before their grocery distribution business went under), who gave us a try.

Nobody was doing ‘60s nostalgia yet. It was only a handful of years since the real ‘60s! But Paul and I had the itch to play again in a period where the music on the radio didn’t appeal to us. We hoped others would respond to the ‘60s material, too.

They did.

We were a smash at Warehouse Four, and became a staple there, and at the wonderfully named Tuffy’s Talk of the Town in Grandview. We played every weekend here in the Eastern Iowa area, and were enormously popular. (Which is part of what landed Crusin’ in the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2018, an honor that pleased Lenny very much).

Black and White Crusin' Gig Poster drawn by Terry Beatty.
Crusin’s poster (the first) drawn by Terry Beatty

Lenny and I got along great, and he was a fine singer, too – we harmonized well. We never had a lick of trouble in the band, no arguments about material or performance style or anything. Trust me, that’s unusual. The problem was how popular we got. We started getting offers that took us out of state and got the yen to go pro. But Lenny, who had a family and a really good job at HON Industries (my late father had been the personnel man there, and I think may have hired him), could not go full time with Crusin’. It would have been crazy for him to.

After he left the band, I was devastated to lose him. I am not embarrassed to say tears were shed. But it was the right choice for him, the only one really, and our longtime musical accomplice Bruce Peters came back from California to step into the Lenny’s slot and build on what this fine local musician had accomplished. We were very nervous on our first gig at Warehouse Four, minus Lenny, but fortunately we were accepted, despite the predictable grumblings.

Crusin’ evolved into the Ones, and I left the band, largely because I’d landed writing the DICK TRACY comic strip and had family and work responsibilities similar to Lenny’s that kept me from devoting all my time to music. And I hated the travel. When that version of the band split up, I put a version of Crusin’ back together to play our high school reunion (I’m guessing in the mid-‘80s) and Lenny rejoined us briefly to play that final gig with much of the original line-up, Paul Thomas included.

Lenny always had a smile and some friendly conversation for me when I ran into him here in Muscatine. If he had any resentment toward being put on the spot where going pro or staying behind was concerned, he never showed it. He was pleasant and kind, and that smile. What a smile.

Thanks, Lenny.

* * *

When someone iconic passes, it’s always a shock.

And I guess I thought Richard Roundtree would live forever. Well, in a way he will, because John Shaft will certainly live forever.

Richard Roundtree as Shaft

Barb and I loved that movie, the first Shaft, though truth be told it’s a rather run-of-the-mill private eye tale at heart. What separates it is its setting in Black neighborhoods of New York City, in which the mob boss, the hoodlums, the gangbangers, are all from that part of the world, little seen by white America. But don’t be mistaken – the Blaxploitation genre that Shaft ignited wasn’t strictly aimed at, or enjoyed by, Black audiences – White moviegoers were caught up in this new phenomenon, too. John Shaft, in the cover copy of the first novel featuring him, was described as the Black Mike Hammer. So you know I bought that book, well before the movie existed, and that I was there opening night.

I’ve discussed the thrill of witnessing Sean Connery say “Bond, James Bond,” and I have similar feelings about Darren McGavin and Craig Stevens in the first episodes of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer and Peter Gunn that swept over me on a tiny TV screen. All three of these were coupled with wonderful, unforgettable music.

But who had a better musical entrance than John Shaft?

That Issac Hayes score, accompanying a confident, cocky Richard Roundtree walking through a Manhattan sidewalk crowd, was among the most unforgettable moments in movie history – arguably the number one entrance of an iconic private eye on screen.

Roundtree was up to the job of conveying everything about Shaft that made the character special – his relationship with his Pat Chambers on the PD, the casual womanizing, the bravado, the masculine sense of humor with a laugh that rumbled up out of him like amused lava. You saw this man winding his way through downtown Manhattan and brazenly striding through traffic and you knew – this was a man, this was a hero, this was an instant legend.

Mistakes were made. The second movie, Shaft’s Big Score, was good with a phenomenal climax, but for some reason the outstanding third film, Shaft in Africa, seems to have been barely released. It was one of those movies I waited for, and waited for, and it never came. I saw it on VHS, years later, and it’s arguably the best of the three. I did at the time watch the much-maligned TV series, starring Roundtree, which is much better than it’s cracked up to be (the complete series is on DVD from Warner Archive, a handsome set).

In recent years there have been two Shaft movies, relegating Roundtree to essentially cameo appearances in his own franchise. That didn’t stop him from stealing the third movie.

And he had a good career. Not the career he deserved, but he always seemed to work. Hollywood did not understand that a superstar had been born – all they saw was Shaft.

But that will be enough to keep Richard Roundtree alive as long as people watch movies.

* * *

Here’s a nice write-up about Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction.

* * *

Chad Bishop and I are already at work on the edit of Blue Christmas and it is going well. I am thrilled to have done another film and in particular of this favorite among my short fiction. Finally, a private eye movie!

I hope our lack of name talent doesn’t do us in. Our best known player is Alisabeth Von Presley, who appeared on national television on American Idol and America Song Contest. The cast is strong, however, with Rob Merritt, Von Presley and Chris Causey (our topbilled actors) in particular standing out.

We got some local publicity, though we didn’t seek it, not wishing our short shoot (six days!) to be compromised by set visits. The Muscatine Journal did a good job, though.

Our First Camera Assistant, the indefatigable Liz Toal, wrote a nice piece about me on Facebook, which I’d like to share.

MAC on the set of Blue Christmas
Earlier this year, I attended a film festival. At the pre-awards party, a nominated young female filmmaker eagerly asked me, “What is your favorite film you’ve worked on?” I have been asked this before and I always reply…

“I have worked on many projects, small, large and everything in-between. What I favor most is working and learning alongside some of the greats! Award-winning cinematographers that take my breath away. Gaffers who have been around the block or two with countless jokes and tricks up their sleeves. Talented Key Grips and AC’s who quickly troubleshoot, build and solve issues under extreme pressure. Experienced Directors who communicate their vision clearly and who are flexible yet knowledgable to know when they should or shouldn’t adjust the script on the fly. Working with and learning from fine-tuned oiled crews will always be my favorite. Without a talented crew, there is no film.”

Fast forward to last week. I was setting up A-Cam for the next shot and glanced up. I saw yet another talented great who was deeply immersed in his script…Writer/Director: Max Allan Collins Jr. (Best known for his graphic novel/script, Road to Perdition).

I have known Max for some time now and just talking with him is an ease. Collaborating and working with Max is not just a privilege but a joy. His highly credited writing does not hinder him, it inspires him. That positive inspiration and determination radiates onto his crew. His nostalgic style and stories have an old timeless Hollywood feel which I find refreshing in this very digital, fast paced, modern world.

Until next time Max, thank you.

That’s a wrap!

* * *


Spillane Nominated, Antiques Is Loved, Blue Christmas Begins, and Poirot Returns

Tuesday, September 19th, 2023

Okay, so the nominations for Quarry’s Blood (Edgar) and The Big Bundle (Shamus) did not result in wins. But how about this: Max Allan Collins and Jim Traylor’s Spillane: King of Pulp Fiction has been nominated for BIO’s Plutarch Award, given to the best biography of the year – as judged by biographers. I have no idea how this Bio nomination might play out.

Still, this feels really good, because this book is one I am particularly proud of, and I know Jim feels the same. Obviously we are hopeful for an Edgar nomination, but a win there seems unlikely as the prejudice against Mickey continues in many quarters, particularly coming from people who never read much if any of him.

On the other hand, we received several nice reviews for the current Hammer, Dig Two Graves, and Barb and I just finished listening (in the car) to the Skyboat Media audio book of it, read by the great Stefan Rudnicki, who does his usual stellar job.

The handful of copies of Dig Two Graves that I had to give away here were snapped up eagerly. I am sorry I didn’t have more to offer than that. It’s out today (Sept. 19) – so Happy Publication Day!

Speaking of good reviews, here’s a honey by Sue O’Brien about Antiques Foe by Barbara Allan (Barb and me) from Booklist:

Antiques Foe
By Barbara Allan
Nov. 2023. 208p. Severn, $31.99 (9781448309627);
e-book (9781448309634)

Vivian Borne, co-owner with her daughter Brandy of Trash ‘n’ Treasures, is thrilled to be invited to be a guest on Nicole Chatterton’s video podcast, Killers Caught, until Chatterton ambushes her on her murder-solving record, with Vivian threatening Chatterton and Brandy abruptly ending the interview. When Vivian goes to Chatterton’s hotel room to retrieve her signed release form to prevent the interview from airing, she finds Chatterton dead on the floor and is quickly arrested as the chief suspect in her murder. When Brandy is attacked and badly hurt, Vivian decides on drastic measures to protect her family. Brandy is gutted by the shocking turn of events, but the investigation continues, led by her fiancé, Police Chief Tony Cassato, leading to a plan to trap the killer. This tale is told in first person by both the flamboyant Vivian and the long-suffering Brandy, with the two talking directly to the reader in numerous humorous asides. Framed by small-town life in Iowa, with interesting details on antiques, this fun cozy includes recipes and tips on collecting sports memorabilia.

* * *

One of the things I’ll be doing here at Update Central in the coming couple of months is discuss the ongoing production of my micro-budgeted movie, Blue Christmas, which I scripted and will direct.

We had disappointing news this week when Gary Sandy decided not to do the production out of solidarity with the SAG-AFTRA strikers. He offered to do the film next year, when presumably the strike will be over, and suggested April. We are already going full-steam ahead and had to turn down this generous offer from Gary, who will very likely be in a future production of ours.

This, of course, will have to mean that directing another movie – designed to be user friendly to its aging director, and to be produced reasonably (all right, on the cheap) – is still something I enjoy doing and am able to perform to my satisfaction despite certain limitations due to health issues.

We held auditions this week and they went very well. I cast many of the local players from Encore for Murder, and two terrific pros from Cedar Rapids and the Quad Cities respectively, Rob Merrit and Tommy Ratkiewicz-stierwalt. My team includes Chad T. Bishop, producer (he edited Encore for Murder); Phil Dingeldein, Director of Photography (my longtime friend/collaborator on films); and Karen Cooney, production manager (my co-director of the stage version of Encore for Murder).

Rob Merrit playing Richard Stone
Rob Merrit playing Richard Stone
Tommy Ratkiewicz-stierwalt as Stone’s partner, Joey Ernest
Tommy Ratkiewicz-stierwalt as Stone’s partner, Joey Ernest

We have an excellent set builder tentatively on board, and Chris Christensen (my Seduction of the Innocent bandmate, and the composer of the scores for Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane, Caveman and the award-winning Quarry short, “A Matter of Principal”) has agreed to do the score. Chris also contributed to Real Time: Siege at Lucas Street Market and Encore for Murder.

Also on the indie film front, I looked at the “check discs” of the Blu-ray of the documentary Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane with Encore for Murder as the bonus feature, a DVD of the same, and finally a stand-alone DVD of Encore designed to go out to Golden Age Radio collectors. VCI is putting all of these out, in partnership with MVD, who do some very interesting stuff, particularly in their “Rewind” line that puts ‘80s and ‘90s video store favorites on Blu-ray.

* * *
A Haunting in Venice poster banner

Barb and I took in A Haunting in Venice, very loosely adapted from Agatha Christie’s Poirot novel, Hallowe’en Party. We had both pretty much enjoyed director/star Kenneth Branagh’s first Poirot outing, Murder on the Orient Express, but it was no threat to the Sidney Lumet original. The second Branagh adaptation of Christie, Death on the Nile, was more Meh on the Vile. But this one is a stunner.

Branagh’s Poirot is better etched here, and his direction is moody and immersive, creating a horror film vibe without shortchanging the very tricky murder mystery. Tina Fey as Ariadne Oliver takes some getting used to, but ultimately comes across well. The standout performer is a child actor, Jude Hill, around twelve when this was shot.

It was wise of Branagh to get away from remaking the excellent previous Poirot films (so far, at least, the great Evil Under the Sun has been spared 21st Century re-imagining) and if more of these follow, he might look at the serious, post-war Poirot novels like Taken At the Flood and Five Little Pigs.

* * *

Crime Reads zeroes in on seven novels set in Sin City (Las Vegas) and one of them is Skim Deep. Oddly, my CSI novel called Sin City (co-written by Matthew Clemens) isn’t among them!

Jeff Pierce’s indispensable Rap Sheet shares some things from a recent update of ours right here. Nice write-up, and the lead item!

Screen Rant discusses my version of Robin in (where else?) Batman. My work on that feature seems to be getting a little more respect these days.

Finally, Den of Geek names Road to You-know-where one of the best crime-and-mob movies. Gratifying that this film is holding on so very well as decades pass.


William Friedkin, Collector Burn-Out, Bargains & Batman

Tuesday, August 15th, 2023

First, I want to share two very good deals with you.

Spillane: King of Pulp Fiction cover

Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction by Jim Traylor and me is 50% off (!) at Barnes & Noble. Going for a mere $13.47 for this hardcover thing of beauty. If you’ve been waiting to spring for a copy, now’s the time.

The Long Wait cover

The Long Wait, one of the best Spillane movie adaptations (it stars Anthony Quinn!) is on sale, a combo 4k and Blu-ray package. Even if you don’t have 4K, the Blu-ray alone is well worth the price. I did the commentary and provided an extensive gallery of stills. From Classic Flix, $21.98 (regularly $39.99).

* * *

I’ve fallen a little behind writing Quarry’s Return because of what I’d been told would be a simple out-patient procedure. First of all, that may have been simple for the surgeon but for me it was a long day of assorted inconvenience and unpleasantness.

Then I was sent home with a complication waiting to kick in — bleeding that wouldn’t stop — but an ER trip the next day to get some stitching up (in a good way) has me doing much better. But I have had to recuperate all (and some of next) week.

For the first time since 1965 (!) I had to cancel a band job (actually, we were able to swap places on the roster of Second Sunday concerts here in Muscatine, allowing me to trade August for September (not a bad trade generally). Crusin’ will appear at 5 pm on Sunday September 10.

* * *

Robert Meyer Burnett, one of my two favorite pop culture podcasters, discusses Friedkin below. He also discusses Friedkin on his weekly Midnight Musings, but that goes far afield including a discussion of the anniversary of Hip Hop.

Here’s my mini-memoir about Friedkin, which I shared with Burnett the night of my hospital procedure – hence a tad fried.

I Slept in William Friedkin’s Guest House

My wife Barb and I were guests of Friedkin by way of his then-wife Kelly Lange, the LA newscaster. Miguel was going with (they were engaged at the time) Kelly Lange’s daughter, whose name was also Kelly (her mother’s real name was, I believe, Dorothy). Kelly Jr. was funny and sweet and a babe, and I thought Miguel had done very well for himself. No idea what happened there, but Miguel and BIll Mumy and Steve Leialoha and I were at the time in the process of putting our band Seduction of the Innocent together to play at San Diego Comic Con. We’d go on to perform there around half a dozen times and at a few other comics cons and once for a comic book shop that rented out the Ferris Wheel hall for us at the Santa Monica Pier. One of our roadies was Brandon Lee.

Seduction of the Innocent, Santa Monica Pier

I am, as you know, from a small town in Iowa. I never did the con circuit, just San Diego Con. There is little reason why I should have otherwise encountered anybody famous. But my early Nate Heller novels had ridden my comic book Ms. Tree’s coattails to some geek recognition; so had the fact that I was the second guy after Chester Gould to write the Dick Tracy strip. How Bill, Miguel, Steve and I got together is for another time. (Chris Christensen came a little later.)

Where he hell is Billy Friedkin in this? Patience.

Kelly Jr. gave us a tour of Friedkin’s house. He and Kelly Sr. were away. (Honeymooning, my memory wants me to believe.) I remember a vast ornate bed with black sheets. In the living room were a few huge framed vintage movie posters from famous films…of the ’20s and ’30s.

By way of thank you, I left a copy of the first Heller, True Detective, for Friedkin with a fannish inscription. And of course I hoped he’d read it. He got in touch with me by phone, leaving a message, wanting to inform me of something. For that to mean anything, I have to describe the first section (briefly) of True Detective.

Young police detective Nate Heller is drinking rum out of a coffee cup in a speak when the cops known as the Two Harrys come in and grab him to come along on a bust, telling him nothing more. They are Mayor Anton Cermak’s two-man “Gangster Squad.” In a sports book on a high floor of a Loop building overlooking the Chicago River, the Two Harrys roust Frank Nitti himself. They shoot him several times in the neck and back, leaving him to bleed and die. They send the horrified and very pissed Heller (he will have to share the blame for this!) in to make routine arrests in the sports book, but a guy heads for a window and the fire escape. Heller tells him to stop and he doesn’t and Heller shoots him (“He wasn’t in the window anymore”). Heller decides to quit the force, not because it’s corrupt or even because for the first time he’s killed somebody (the graft is why he had a rich uncle get him on — it’s the Depression) and, in exchange for providing building security for his childhood friend, boxer Barney Ross, he gets a one-room office over Barney’s speak (aka Blind Pig) where he works as a PI (and sleeps on a Murphy bed).

Where the fuck is Friedkin?

So the two Harrys come around in the middle of the night at Heller’s flop, having heard Heller quit the force, and drag him to see Mayor Cermak at the Congress Hotel. Heller, who is young and tough and has scruples when necessary, is asked by Cermak why he (Heller) quit the PD. Heller turns down an offer to become the third man on the mayor’s Gangster Squad; but promises if his new one-man PI business is left alone, he’ll say whatever is necessary at the inquest and later trial. Having made this deal, Heller leaves but knows he’s now on Frank Nitti’s shit, er, hit list. Middle of the night, he’s hauled by Outfit gangsters to a suburban hospital to see Nitti…WHO HAS SURVIVED (historically, this happened — the whole Nitti roust is real, except for my substituting Nate Heller for the compromised young cop). Nitti gives Heller a pass, because it’ll give him an inside man with Cermak, who is soon to head to Miami (where of course history thinks the assassination target was FDR when it was actually Cermak).

That’s all 1933.

Around 1987, William Friedkin contacts this punk kid mystery writer in Iowa who somehow — it’s crazy — not only slept in his guest house, but knows about his Uncle Harry! Harry Lang, who was a Chicago cop in the ’30s! And he wants to know all about the Nitti hit. Friedkin told me his uncle was exactly that guy, the Harry Lang was who half of the two Harrys (I used photographs in the book, and Friedkin said he was flipping through and saw his uncle’s picture!).

There was talk of Friedkin making True Detective but that obviously didn’t happen. He was making TV movies at time — C.A.T. Squad…with Miguel.

Now they are both gone.

There’s a bittersweet postscript: Jason Miller was one of the stars of my little indie feature Mommy.

* * *

Heath Holland (my other favorite pop culture podcaster) at Cereal at Midnight discusses collecting burn-out, and I am given an extensive shout-out.

I wrote Heath with the following response:

I am honored to have been invoked on Cereal at Midnight. Got a real kick out of it.

And what an excellent, frank discussion of a real problem. I wrestle with the collecting bug constantly. And, despite a decent income, I spend way too much. My wife sees me watching you or Burnett or another three or four unboxing type podcasts and says, “This doesn’t mean you’re getting more ideas about what to buy, does it?” Not in the most loving voice.

@fiendformojitos: So you purchased 4 new Blu rays in the July Barnes and Noble Criterion sale, correct? Yes that's accurate. But isn't it true you haven't even opened any of the Blu Rays you purchased in the November sale?

What resonated with me most was one word you used: obligation.

This is when your collection starts to own you. This sounds ridiculous, but the main thing I am trying to do is not buy anything I don’t like or am probably not disposed to like. For example. Jess Franco — I have bought a lot of Franco stuff because of the enthusiasm of so many for his work in this hobby. There’s a line of European horror that came out some time ago that I was (wait for it) attempting to get every numbered spine, which meant every damn release. That line-up included at least half a dozen Franco titles. How could I not own them? They had numbers on the spine that I needed!

But I freed myself and got rid of them. Jean Rollin is constantly hyped and I know smart people who like those movies, but I am not one of them. Yet I bought them (and have since dumped them). I see podcasts from people, like Brandon Chowen (I think is the spelling), whose enthusiasm I get a kick out of…but he’s clearly not watching much of what he’s buying. He’s collecting stuff by directors he’s heard are good and intends to watch one day…but shouldn’t we be collecting because we like something already? Or contains cast/director/writer/genre that means we’d probably be inclined to like it?

That doesn’t mean I am entirely rational. I will get a film noir I don’t particularly like, because that’s a collection I want to maintain. I will hold onto any Hitchcock title, whether I like it or not, because I generally love him and I have a completist streak. Ditto Joseph H. Lewis or Sam Fuller or Brian DePalma. But if it’s a journeyman director, who is sometimes good, sometimes okay, sometimes bad, why not keep just the good?

And as you point out — time is distressingly, frustratingly limited. I am in my seventies…who am I trying to kid about ever watching a fraction of what I’ve collected?

This is art we’re collecting, not baseball cards.

But it’s hard. So hard. I hated To Live and Die in L.A. when I saw it in the theater. Hated it so much it pissed me off. And then I hear Rob Burnett enthuse over it, rhapsodize over it…and I ordered a copy. Arggggggh!

That’s the new rule I want to follow, and it is stupidly obvious: only buy, only keep, what you like. You don’t even have to love it. But at least like it.

* * *

This is a long overdue (in my biased opinion) discussion of why I deserve some credit for the popular Batman character, Harley Quinn.

And the same site, apparently taking the unpopular stand of defending my Batman run, discusses my Robin and how he and I are misunderstood.

Finally, here’s a great review of Fancy Anders Goes to War.


Dig the New Mike Hammer Novel & The Real Perry Mason

Tuesday, June 13th, 2023
Dig Two Graves cover
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

Over the years, I’ve had many a bad review from the notoriously tough Kirkus book reviewing service. Lately they have liked me more – perhaps it’s my age. I keep remembering John Huston as Noah Cross in Chinatown observing, “Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”

Dig Two Graves, the new Mike Hammer – right now scheduled to be the penultimate book in Titan’s Mike Hammer Legacy series – will be published August 22nd and can be pre-ordered now.

Here’s how Dig Two Graves is described at the Amazon site:

Mike Hammer, the iconic PI created by the master of noir Mickey Spillane, takes on the mob in the first of two gripping final novels for the deadly private eye.

Winter 1964. After a hit-and-run accident nearly kills her mother, Mike Hammer’s partner (both in life and the PI business), Velda Sterling, learns her father is not who she thought he is. Seeking to uncover her true, troubling heritage, Velda and Mike travel to Phoenix, Arizona – and sunny Dreamland Park, where retired law enforcement officers protect and corral notorious criminals held under Witness Protection.

Mike and Velda find themselves swept up in escalating violence, fueled by the missing millions from an armored-car robbery, which leads them to a deadly midnight confrontation in a cemetery – where secrets are buried and open graves await.

Speaking of Mike Hammer, a Facebook scribe in the midst of a bunch of nice praise by others for the Spillane/Collins novels tried to dissuade Spillane fans from reading these novels, thusly: “The parts by Mickey are great, (but) when it shifts, it stops reading like Mickey and I’ve studied Mike hammer novels for my own writing back when and can tell the difference. I like when Collins writes his own characters but not much on the hammer.”

Here’s the thing: this reader makes the assumption that when Mickey’s material runs out, I take over and finish up the book. Some of you may recall, from previous posts and from an essay in the back of Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction – that this assertion is as inaccurate as it is confident. With the longer Spillane manuscripts – the 70-page to 100-page ones – I expand the material to fill to double that length. So my work is interspersed with his from the start. That’s partly to create a consistently shared voice that I can continue when the Spillane material runs out.

But that’s an over-simplification, because I have used the material in Mickey’s extensive files in a bunch of ways. For example, I sometimes combine manuscripts – Lady Go, Die! is mostly from the late ‘40s, but I weave in a similar serial killer chapter from the ‘60s to provide more genuine Spillane material. In Complex 90, the books begins with Spillane (expanded by Collins), then flashes back to a Hammer in Russia sequence I wrote, then when we come forward and Mike is back in New York, I’m working from Mickey’s material again.

Also, I have scraps of Spillane, paragraphs that he jotted down – descriptions of Manhattan, action scenes – that I weave in when I can. Sometimes he has provided plot and character notes that I use; other times he has written a rough draft of the ending. I worked from the more extensive manuscripts at the beginning, because I wanted to get that stuff out there – The Goliath Bone; The Big Bang; Kiss Her Goodbye; Lady, Go Die!; Complex 90; King of the Weeds; Kill Me, Darling; Killing Town. Murder Never Knocks had several chapters and a last chapter from Mickey; The Will to Kill had a few opening chapters but the mystery was wholly set up as if a blueprint had been given me; Murder, My Love and Masquerade for Murder came from Spillane synopses with scraps of description and action by him from the files woven in.

Both Goliath Bone and Kiss Her Goodbye had two versions of their partial manuscripts, which in both cases I combined. The former also had half a dozen versions of the first chapter. The latter shared the same basic premise but went off into two entirely different mysteries, which I combined. Kill Me If You Can utilized an unproduced TV pilot Mickey wrote. The upcoming Dig Two Graves combines two unfinished manuscripts, including a first pass at Dead Street, and this – Dreamland Park – was the major building block of Graves. But the other unfinished manuscript suggested an evocative back story involving a gangster who had fathered Velda.

A lot of work and, frankly, ingenuity goes into this process, and I frankly resent it when supposed hardcore Spillane fans turn their noses up because I’m involved and not every word choice sounds to them like Mickey would have made it.

I don’t try to write like Mickey – I don’t have to. I took in his words like vitamins starting when I was 12. I concentrate on getting Hammer himself right – Mickey considered character all important. Now and then I have a spooky burst like he is taking over. I was watching TV one Sunday morning (during the writing of Goliath Bone) and I suddenly reached for a scrap of paper and in a blistering array of words recorded the last few paragraphs of the novel. To me, they read like the Mick. It felt like automatic writing.

Here’s the thing: when Mickey, not long before his passing, asked me to complete the unfinished material in his files – in part to keep his name out there, but primarily to provide some income for his wife, Jane – he made it clear that these would be collaborations. When Jane reminded Mickey that I was not a Jehovah’s Witness and would likely indulge in more sex and violence than had been in his more recent work, he was fine with it.

Listen, these books are not pure Spillane. They are Spillane/Collins collaborations. I am not writing them by working with a Ouija board. I bring my own sensibilities in, but do not let them swamp Mickey’s. There are differences between Spillane and Spillane/Collins, just as in any good collaboration the end result is two plus two equals five. My Hammer novels reflect my wise-guy sense of humor more than Mickey’s Howard Hawksian male kidding. I do some of the latter, but I am not about to leave my wit behind when I work on Hammer.

I also tend to give Velda more to do. Mickey created a great character in her that I like to utilize, particularly in the post-Girl Hunters material. I also pay more attention to continuity than Mickey did. Like Rex Stout, Mickey paid scant attention to the details of continuity, though time-passage shifts in character (echoing his own over the years) are a huge part of his work.

I have tried to make sense of some things, to make them hang together. The origin for Velda (in the LP Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer Story) I re-reworked giving her a vice cop background that made it possible for Velda to get a PI license in New York state, and for her to have a reason to abruptly abandon Mike (in Kill Me, Darling) to pursue her vice cop boss’s murderer in Florida. (That novel, by the way, combined two Spillane manuscripts.)

So, yes, to some degree this is my take on Hammer, not Mickey’s. But, as I say, my mandate is to be consistent with the character as Mickey conceived him. And, further, to keep each Spillane/Collins novel in the context of when Mickey wrote the material I am working from. This means when I write King of the Weeds, I’m doing the older, Killing Man/Black Alley Mike Hammer; and when I’m putting together Kill Me, Darling and Killing Town, it’s the young Hammer of I, the Jury and My Gun Is Quick. Many of the books – The Big Bang, Kiss Her Goodbye, Complex 90 – were begun by Mickey in his “comeback” period, after The Girl Hunters (1962).

Some Hammer fans only like those first wonderful six ‘40s/’50s novels, from I, the Jury to Kiss Me, Deadly. Understandable, as those are masterpieces of the genre. I most enjoy writing about early, psychotic Hammer – from the very first novel about him (Killing Town) to exploring his descent into the bottle (Kill Me If You Can). But my job was to complete the books Mickey began – so if it was a ‘60s manuscript, the ‘60s Hammer was who I wrote about; if it was an early 21st Century manuscript, I wrote about that older Hammer. It was Mickey, not me, who put a cell phone in his hero’s hands.

I don’t mean to suggest that I’ve had a lot of criticism from Hammer fans – quite the opposite. And the reviewers have largely come around to the once reviled Mickey and Mike, through my efforts. It’s gratifying.

Still, it’s disappointing that a few hardcore Spillane/Hammer fans are denying themselves these novels, particularly ones like The Big Bang and Complex 90, which were announced during Mickey’s lifetime. When I remember how frustrating it was to be waiting for those books to come out – waiting and waiting and waiting – and now to glance across my office to the bookcase where the shelf of the Spillane/Collins hardcovers reside, and see those very titles looking back at me…wow. The long wait is over.

* * *

Elsewhere – and here, a little – I’ve discussed the HBO reboot of Perry Mason. And I’m going to do that again – right now.

First, an interesting take on reboots from my eight year-old grandson, Sam. His father, Nathan, was telling him about the upcoming Teenage Mutant Turtles movie. Both Nate and Sam are Turtles fans, you see. Sam has a remarkable sense of what he’s ready for, in terms of pop culture that may not be appropriate for a boy his age.

Sam Collins is astonished to see his grandfather’s name on a book at the local library.

When Nate told Sam about the upcoming Turtles movie, Sam thought it might not be right for him. Nate asked him why.

“It’s a reboot.”

Nate said it was a reboot, yes.

“Well,” Sam observed, “reboots are dark.”

And isn’t that the truth. The Michael Keaton Batman, decades ago, started the trend – reboots had to be dark and serious and grown-up, even when the subject matter was inherently juvenile.

The HBO Perry Mason, which has considerable merits, is a case in point, sort of. Erle Stanley Gardner was one of the best mystery writers of his day, and remains eminently readable. His Mason novels are like James M. Cain stories combined with a mystery – the same Cain-like subject matter, sex and money, and (again, like Cain) display a genuine interest in how businesses work. Perry and his secretary Della Street had a warm relationship that one assumed was sexual, away from work…but we rarely saw them away from work. Mason and his detective, Paul Drake, reflected the way criminal lawyers work, i.e., with an investigator or investigative staff.

Mason, well into the 1950s, was something of a sleaze. Remember the line in Better Call Saul? “You don’t need a criminal lawyer…you need a criminal…lawyer.” Perry hid clients, messed with evidence, switched guns, broke and entered, and it was just delightful.

A lot of that went into the first few seasons of the original Raymond Burr series. Some of that gets into the good but not great HBO reboot. The second season of the new Mason was a big improvement, but it still suffers from anachronisms (it’s set in the early ‘30s) and with a subservience to current sensibilities. Some of that doesn’t hurt, even helps. Paul Drake, for example, is Black here, and lives in a Black part of town; this puts flesh on the Gardner Drake’s bare bones and is an enhancement. But do both Della and Hamilton Burger have to be gay? Isn’t one of them enough? Must Della be Perry’s pal and not sly lover? Must she really be a superior lawyer to Perry, even though she isn’t one? Did I really see him (and an unsympathetic judge!) allow her to handle a key courtroom cross-examination in a murder trial? In 1934?


But if you’re young enough, you won’t care; and if you’re old enough, and haven’t thrown anything through the screen yet, you’re in for some good acting, crafty plot twists and great production values.

My advice to the producers of this series (which will not be heeded) is to at least make Della bisexual so she and Perry can be more than good buddies. And stop using phrases like “throwing shade” and “gaslighting,” and instead make use of actual colorful ‘30s argot.

Also, read some Gardner and watch some Raymond Burr Perry Mason episodes. (I did a project with Burr and he was a wonderful, smart man with a great sense of humor. He was planning to have Perry marry Della in the final of the later TV movies.) Right now Paramount Plus is running the first eight (of nine) Perry Mason seasons. The series is also available on DVD.

Raymond Burr and Barbara Hale as Perry Mason and Della Street

To you mystery fans out there, I would recommend the many episodes based directly on Gardner’s novels. The non-Gardner-derived episodes are entertaining but cookie-cutter, where Gardner is a wild, unpredictable ride, rarely telegraphing which character will be the murder victim. The first season of the series consists almost entirely of adaptations of Gardner Perry Mason novels (or short stories) – something unique in the history of American broadcasting. The second season is about half Gardner adaptations, and then after that it’s more sporadic. As it progressed, the show was actually adapting Gardner novels within a year or so of publication! Toward the end of the long run of the series, remakes of adaptations were also made, under new titles.

I tried hard to find a list of the Gardner adaptations on the Internet, to no avail. I decided to put just such a list together, for myself and Barb and, dear reader, you. You are very welcome.

Perry Mason Episodes
Based on Erle Stanley Gardner’s Novels and Short Stories

Season 1 (1957 – 1958)
1. The Case of the Restless Redhead
2. The Case of the Sleepwalker’s Niece
3. The Case of the Nervous Accomplice
4. The Case of the Drowning Duck
5. The Case of the Sulky Girl
6. The Case of the Silent Partner
7. The Case of the Angry Mourner
8. The Case of the Crimson Kiss
9. The Case of the Vagabond Vixen
10. The Case of the Runaway Corpse
11. The Case of the Crooked Candle
12. The Case of the Negligent Nymph
13. The Case of the Moth-Eaten Mink (pilot)
14. The Case of the Baited Hook
15. The Case of the Fan-Dancer’s Horse
16. The Case of the Demure Defendant
17. The Case of the Sun Bather’s Diary
18. The Case of the Cautious Coquette
19. The Case of the Haunted Husband
20. The Case of the Lonely Heiress
21. The Case of the Green-Eyed Sister
22. The Case of the Fugitive Nurse

23. The Case of the One-Eyed Witness
25. The Case of the Empty Tin
26. The Case of the Half-Wakened Wife
28. The Case of the Daring Decoy
29. The Case of the Hesitant Hostess
30. The Case of the Screaming Woman
31. The Case of the Fiery Fingers
32. The Case of the Substitute Face
33. The Case of the Long-Legged Models
34. The Case of the Gilded Lily
35. The Case of the Lazy Lover
37. The Case of the Black-Eyed Blonde
38. The Case of the Terrified Typist

39. The Case of the Rolling Bones

Season 2 (1958 – 1959)
41. The Case of the Lucky Loser
44. The Case of the Curious Bride
45. The Case of the Buried Clock

50. The Case of the Perjured Parrot
52. The Case of the Borrowed Brunette
53. The Case of the Glittering Goldfish
54. The Case of the Foot-Loose Doll

58. The Case of the Caretaker’s Cat
59. The Case of the Stuttering Bishop
62. The Case of the Howling Dog
63. The Case of the Calendar Girl
65. The Case of the Dangerous Dowager
66. The Case of the Deadly Toy
68. The Case of the Dubious Bridegroom
69. The Case of the Lame Canary

Season 3 (1959 – 1960)
72. The Case of the Garrulous Gambler
79. The Case of the Lucky Legs
86. The Case of the Mythical Monkeys
87. The Case of the Singing Skirt

Season 4 (1960 – 1961)
111. The Case of the Waylaid Wolf
121. The Case of the Duplicate Daughter

Season 5 (1961 -1962)
139. The Case of the Shapely Shadow
144. The Case of the Mystified Miner

Season 6 (1962 – 1963)
166. The Case of the Shoplifter’s Shoe
175. The Case of the Velvet Claws

Season 7 (1963 – 1964)
184. The Case of the Drowsy Mosquito
187. The Case of the Reluctant Model
188. The Case of the Bigamous Spouse
197. The Case of the Ice-cold Hands
204. Case of the Woeful Widower (Fiery Fingers)

Season 8 (1964 – 1965)
224. The Case of the Blonde Bonanza
235. The Case of the Careless Kitten
239. The Case of the Grinning Gorilla
241. The Case of the Mischievous Doll

Season 9 (1965 – 1966)
244. The Case of the Candy Queen (Silent Partner)
246. The Case of the Impetuous Imp (Negligent Nymph)
255. The Case of the Golden Girls (Vagabond Virgin)
258. Case of the Vanishing Victim (Fugitive Nurse)
260. Case of the Sausalito Sunrise (Moth-eaten Mink)
265. Case of the Fanciful Frail (Footloose Doll)