Posts Tagged ‘Tough Tender’

Bulldog Edition

Tuesday, February 15th, 2022

It’s amazing! After my brief discussion/defense of the Ritz Brothers last time, fan clubs for the boys have sprung up all over America!

Okay, maybe not.

I’m just softening the blow that I’m not doing a book giveaway this week. Maybe next week. I am working on the new Nate Heller and found myself scrapping my intended final two sections and plotting instead one second section. This required re-reading a ton of research material and re-thinking it. I have been taxing my wife Barb’s patience utilizing her as a sounding board whose ideas and reactions are always helpful.

And how about that Super Bowl? Actually, as I write this, it hasn’t happened yet and I don’t care about it, so Barb and I will be going to the new Death on the Nile at a time when the theater should be largely empty.

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Barb and I have now seen Death on the Nile (in an almost empty theater!) and we both found it a whipsawing experience. Kenneth Branagh’s version of Poirot is perfectly acceptable and often pays attention to detail courtesy of the Christie (and Suchet) characterizations; but he falls prey to an out-of-character attraction he has to a raucous blues singer, based on Sister Rosetta Tharpe, whose music is used throughout in a sometimes jarring way – where we should be getting a John Barry-esque score over the majestic Nile as backdrop to all this glitzy but murderous melodrama, we get guitar-driven blues (and a traditional soundtrack playing at a barely audible level, as if the theater left its Muzak going). I like guitar-driven blues, but as the soundtrack to Agatha Christie?

Kenneth Branagh in Death on the Nile

Though relatively faithful to Christie in general, the substitution of the blues singer and her manager/niece for the drunken romance novelist and her daughter seems at once forced modernity and a clumsy removal of a valid murder motive. A nice WW I origin story for Poirot and his mustache is followed by Poirot in 1937 going to a nightclub and sitting alone at a table watching over-choreographed lascivious dancing in quiet perverse contemplation – it’s a creepy sequence, turning the Belgian master detective into a raincoater in a porn-shop booth.

When the riverboat-board mystery kicks in, the cast proves less than star-studded (and filled, by accident of course, with cancelled or sort of cancelled celebrities of a few moments ago) though the direction is fine, save for circling cameras and other stunts during interrogation scenes that only detract from the importance of the information being gathered. When Branagh hews close to Christie, which he does about two-thirds of the time, his performance and the film itself are fine.

The biggest flaw is Gal Gadot playing the woman-stealing rich girl in a positive manner, not Lois Chile’s grasping, acquisitive proper murder victim of the superior 1978 version. And for all the emotion Branagh tries to stir up, no performance here touches ‘78’s Mia Farrow, the spurned woman of one of Dame Agatha’s most chillingly convoluted plots.

I’m glad to see Christie staying in the popular culture, although Covid and the mine field of who is cancelled by the time a film comes out has done this Poirot film no favors.

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My discussion last week sparked quite a bit of response, after I revealed my negative opinion of a certain James Crumley first sentence, even while granting an I-hope-not-condescending-permission for others to like it. Some of those responses appeared in the previous Comments Section, but still others were sent to me by e-mail. One of the most interesting came in that fashion, and – with permission – I am sharing it here, so I can reply and perhaps have my response seen by more readers than if this had occurred in the Comments Section.

The following is excerpted from a missive courtesy of a reader who wishes to remain anonymous:

Your blog is your house. I think good discourse is important, but I also respect your site as your medium to transmit your message. No need to raise Cain in another man’s world. That said, I do like the Crumley line and state it here, privately. (NOTE FROM MAC: Privately until I got hold of it.)

“Perhaps it’s because, when my Dad was in the creative writing program in Montana, he met and drank with Jim (called some of his work mediocre too…you might have liked that!). Maybe it was the many ‘ramshackle joints’ like that one described that my Dad dragged us to as kids. Maybe it is because my college roommate was from Sonoma, who had an alcoholic father that just might have drank in the same bar. Maybe it is because I have never thought about a bulldog that was an alcoholic, much less an owner who would give him such a big name as ‘Fireball Roberts.’ Those all play, I’m sure, and made me want to know more. But, having lived on the Gulf Coast in my young adulthood, I know what it is like to ‘drink the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.’ Maybe you can’t go back, but that sentence fragment brought me there for a short moment.”

My anonymous correspondent has made – or anyway implied – a point that I tried to make last time. It’s part of the overall concept of the reader as collaborator. I’ve discussed that my propensity for providing what some think is over-description (of clothing, or setting, etc.), and have tried to explain that this comes from my desire to be the in-charge half of the collaborative team.

First, I would like the reader to experience what I imagined, what I conjured, as close to the way I did. Second, I don’t think it should be the reader’s responsibility to do the writer’s work. Why should you have to clothe the damn characters? Why should they be allowed to run naked through the pages, unless it’s a sex scene or set in a nudist colony? Why should you have to describe the circumstances of where these fictional people live and put the flesh on the bones the stingy writer did not deign to provide?

Now I say this specifically in regard to my work. I don’t propose it as a schematic, or “rules,” other writers should follow. This approach reflects, as it has no choice other than to do, my way of seeing things. In the comments, one reader agreed with me about the overwriting in the Crumley line, then started quoting Elmore Leonard’s rules, most of which I disagree with…for me, not for Leonard. He was excellent at following his own rules and came up with something special…and his. I was a fan of Charles Webb, the little-known author of The Graduate, and he was the stingiest writer I ever encountered – he gave you nothing but the action and words of the piece, which may be why his famous novel became an even more famous movie…it was already almost a screenplay.

My anonymous correspondent’s comments about his dad, and the way his father related to bars and drinking (I am almost a non-drinker, despite the mimosa I had this morning), are him bringing himself to the party. He can’t help doing that any more than I can avoid bringing my opinions and personal history to the party. And neither of us should try otherwise. That’s where the collaboration between writer and reader becomes interesting.

It’s also why you can love a writer, and recommend that writer to a perfectly intelligent friend, and then have your own intelligence questioned by that friend because of your terrible taste in books. (This obviously also applies to movies and music.) That is why all reviews – mine included (see Death on the Nile above) – are essentially worthless…because none of us have the same experience when we read a book (or see a movie or listen to music).

You can tell somebody a book is great, but the truth is the version that person experiences will be at least somewhat different from yours, and probably a whole lot different. I have spent my life dueling with people who don’t like Mickey Spillane. I have very little respect for their intelligence. And they have very little respect for mine. Neither of us is wrong, at least not entirely.

The one area where I would disagree with my anonymous correspondent is a style issue. I don’t object to any of the things Crumley jams into the sentence (well, I think “Fireball Roberts” is a terminally cute name for a bulldog, and Abraham Trahearne is almost as bad for a human), it’s just the show-offy way he goes about it. It’s impossible (or difficult) (or maybe I’m just slow) to chug-a-lug all that one sentence’s information.

What I do like about that line is that it provides information even as it raises questions – that’s how many, perhaps most, good first sentences succeed. A good first sentence doesn’t require you to read it more than once to make sense of it, to process it, unless you think it’s a bad idea to pull your reader down immediately into the narrative and make forward progress.

This is a first sentence that I much admire:

“Later that summer, when Mrs. Penmark looked back and remembered, when she was caught up in despair so deep she knew there was no way out, no solution whatever for the circumstances that encompassed her, it seemed to her that June 7th, the day of the Fern Grammar School picnic, was the day of her last happiness, for never since then had she known contentment or felt peace.”

That’s plenty long, but you are right with it, and solid facts accompany cascading questions. It’s the first sentence of The Bad Seed by William March, and you can have your drunken bulldogs named Fireball What’s-It.

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I can’t resist reprinting this great review of Tough Tender from Booklist.

Tough Tender.
By Max Allan Collins
Mar. 2022. Hard Case Crime, paper, $12.95 (9781789091434)

Collins’ Nolan series, starring the no-nonsense thief Nolan and his younger partner, comics crazed Jon, was written from the sixties into the eighties, but it had been largely unavailable for decades, until Hard Case Crime began reissuing the series as twofers under new titles. This is the third in that sequence, following Two for the Money (2021), and it combines Hard Cash and Scratch Fever. Nolan has no interest in robbing the same bank twice, but he’s blackmailed into doing so by the bank manager, who wants a share of the take this time. Naturally, it all goes crazy wrong. Scratch Fever picks up the story years later when Nolan and Jon encounter hairstylist-turned-entrepreneur Julie, who scammed them on the bank deal. Naturally, they’d like to get their money back, and just as naturally, Julie would like to get rid of them altogether. Collins displays his usual ability to round out the flat edges of what seem initially like stock genre characters, but he really outdoes himself with Julie, surely one of the most memorable femme fatales in hard-boiled fiction (“everything she touches turns to dead”).
— Bill Ott

And here is (incredibly enough) a really nice review of Double Down, another Nolan two-fer, from Kirkus.

Nolan also gets love at http://thebadnet.blogspot.com/, which gives me great pleasure, as it’s a site devoted to Lee Van Cleef. Scroll down when you get there (linger over the naked blonde if you like).

Finally, Road to Perdition gets a spot on this list of Best 21 books about the Mafia.

M.A.C.

Not Another Book Giveaway! Also, Entertain or Impress?

Tuesday, February 1st, 2022
Tough Tender Cover
Paperback: Indiebound Purchase Link Bookshop Purchase Link Amazon Purchase Link Books-A-Million Purchase Link Barnes & Noble Purchase Link Target Purchase Link
E-Book: Amazon Kindle Purchase Link Google Play Books Purchase Link Nook Purchase Link Books-A-Million eBook Purchase Link Kobo Purchase Link Apple Books Purchase Link

Yes, just one week later and it’s another book giveaway.

Hard Case Crime continues its wonderful (to me, anyway) series of Nolan reprints, with two novels to a volume and terrific, movie poster-ish Mark Eastbrook covers. Tough Tender, including both Hard Cash and Scratch Fever, will be published March 22. I have ten advance copies for readers willing to do a review at Amazon (and/or other Barnes & Noble and other review sites). This is USA only and (IMPORTANT) you must include your snail-mail address, even if you’re entered and won before. [All copies have been claimed. Thank you for your support!]

These novels were the last in the original Nolan cycle – all of them (save Scratch Fever) were written for Curtis Books in the early seventies, and later minorly revised when Pinnacle Books picked the series up. Only Bait Money and Blood Money (the first two) saw publication from Curtis Books in 1973. Scratch Fever was written expressly for Pinnacle, and would be the last Nolan until Spree in the eighties. Spree, designed to be the last in the series, has been followed by a “coda” novel, Skim Deep, out last year.

I continue to emphasize the importance of reviews at Amazon in particular. Some of these books – the Hard Case Crime titles and Titan titles – you can find in your favorite brick-and-mortar bookstore. But the likes of The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton (by Dave Thomas and me, and a book I really love), Fancy Anders Goes to War (I love you, too, Fancy!) and No Time to Spy (the new John Sand omnibus by Matt Clemens and me) can only be ordered online – Amazon probably your best bet.

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As I mentioned in recent posts, I’ve decided to slow down my rate of production. In 2021 I amped things up, and you’ll be seeing the results in the coming months, in part due to this year’s 75th anniversary of the debut of Mike Hammer in I, the Jury. I am hopeful that Spillane – King of Pulp Fiction (the biography by Jim Traylor and me) – will get some special notice. An Edgar nomination is the dream, but Mickey Spillane on Screen by Jim and me, which I remain very proud of, was roundly ignored. Skim Deep got great reviews and was mentioned on not a single “Best of 2021 Mysteries” lists.

I talked a bit last time about books like mine that aim to entertain rather than impress. It’s the books that try to impress (and are often no fun at all) that get the acclaim. Frustrating as that can be, I don’t envy my peers who get the accolades. For one thing, I’ve had my share of honors over the years – maybe more than my share. For another, to be jealous of another writer you have to be willing to trade your book for one of theirs. I might like Angel in Black to have the sales and reputation of The Black Dahlia, but I wouldn’t swap it for a box of Edgars and a boxcar of money.

If writing isn’t about the writer, it isn’t about anything at all.

I mention The Black Dahlia only because a genuine frustration I feel comes from the countless times some well-meaning reader says to me, “You are one of two favorite writers. The other is James Ellroy.”

I usually don’t comment on other writers, and I won’t here, except to say Ellroy is the rare fellow writer I have at times admitted not caring for (his work – personally, our encounters have always been friendly). It just makes a writer’s brain hurt and maybe explode when fans say their other favorite writer is somebody whose work that writer deplores.

But it makes sense that somebody who likes Ellroy’s fiction might like both his and mine. We work the same side of the 20th Century true-crime street, which is enough to attract the same readers. Sex and violence and traditional hard-boiled themes occur in both of us. What somebody like me has to wrap his head around is this: a reader may have the capacity to like two very different approaches to the same subject matter. In fact, a reader should have the capacity to do that.

Writers, however, often have tunnel vision in this area. For me writing is a trial-and-error process. I don’t mean the plotting or the story selection or any of that. I refer to the actual word-for-word hammering it out, the way sentences are assembled, the way paragraphs get put together. On another level, thematic concerns come into play, albeit often subconsciously – world view.

What I am trying to do, in a perhaps stumbling way, is what I’ve been doing all along: attempting to perfect my approach to storytelling. This is one reason why I don’t read much fiction anymore, especially mystery/crime. I’m no longer interested in being influenced. On some perhaps naive level, I am trying to come up with The Way to Write Crime Fiction.

I should be glad that Ellroy’s approach differs so drastically from mine. I should understand that the reader is somebody who goes along Restaurant Row and sometimes eats Chinese and sometimes Italian, and loves both. Nothing wrong with that.

With Ellroy, I have encountered too many smart people who like his work to dismiss their opinions. I have come to accept that I have had a strong element of envy in my reaction to him, because he is more successful in terms of readership, acclaim, earning power, etc. But where he isn’t more successful (and is in no way trying to be) is as the author of Max Allan Collins novels.

Shakespeare said the play is the thing. From this we extrapolate that the novel is the thing – the fiction (short stories and movie scripts, too) a writer creates is the thing. I congratulate any writer who can manage to make a living doing this throughout a lifetime – even me.

Even James Ellroy.

Smart people’s tastes vary. Here is the sentence many consider to be the best first sentence in private eye fiction; it’s by James Crumley in The Last Good Kiss:

When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.

You may like it very much, and you won’t be the only intelligent human who shares that opinion. I think it’s a lousy first sentence, overloaded and too cute and trying way too hard. Really, just horrible.

We’re both right.

* * *

Speaking of right, here’s a lovely review of The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton from Ron Fortier.

Road to Perdition, the graphic novel, has made a list of the best 110 “thriller books.”

The film is highly regarded here.

And here.

M.A.C.

A Free Quarry Book, Plus Why Reviews Do and Don’t Matter

Tuesday, January 25th, 2022

Here is an interview with me about two upcoming Hard Case Crime titles, Quarry’s Blood and Tough Tender, conducted by the great Andrew Sumner of Titan.

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Quarry's Blood cover
Trade Paperback: Indiebound Purchase Link Bookshop Purchase Link Amazon Purchase Link Books-A-Million Purchase Link Barnes & Noble Purchase Link Target Purchase Link
E-Book: Google Play Kobo

And now – the first book giveaway of 2022. I have ten advance copies of Quarry’s Blood available to the first ten interested readers. [All copies have been claimed. Thank your for your support! — Nate]

More book giveaways will follow – I hope to get some copies of No Time To Spy to offer soon, and I have on hand advance copies of Tough Tender (which collects the Nolan novels Hard Cash and Scratch Fever), which will be given out possibly next time.

These reviews are extremely important in an era when I am no longer doing signings and haven’t done a convention since Covid came calling. Even brief reviews are appreciated, particularly since there are a handful of apparent trolls out there who want to make sure I can’t make a living during my dotage.

A No Time to Spy review, by the way, accuses you fine people of laziness, concluding: “And by the way most of the positive comments to the Sand trilogy as of today are copy and paste from the Collins blog.” (Feel free to defend yourself in the comments area under that review, which is by Robert Hölzl, who knows he hates all three Sand novels – would you keep reading a series you dislike? – but does not know how to spell my name.)

Just to clear the palate, here is a wonderful write-up from Facebook that just popped up out of nowhere, from Rick Greene:

I love the Quarry novels. They are all fast reads, masterful page-turners that one completes in one or two sittings, wildly violent, wickedly funny, the ultimate anti-hero. As much as I love Quarry – and the Spillane/Collins Hammer novels – I consider Max Allan Collins’ masterwork to be the Nathan Heller series. I’m just more than halfway through these detective thrillers that take real life crimes and revisit them via a fun house mirror. The Heller’s are NOT fast reads – they are dense, complex, deeply moving stories that often leave the reader emotionally shattered at the finale. You have to pay attention and turn the pages slowly. The Heller’s are books to savor, to immerse one’s self in. I’ve said before that the Quarry books are cake and ice cream where the Heller series are a five course gourmet meal. I love them all for different reasons. Collins is my favorite living author… and I hope he goes right on living and writing for a few more decades. Just imagine if Ian Fleming had lived another twenty years – the unusual and complex places he could have taken James Bond as they both aged together. I can’t wait to read about the true last Quarry adventure and to revisit Heller as much as Collins will indulge us with. Bring it on.

This came at a lovely time because (a) the new Quarry book is about to be published, and (b) I have just started writing the new Nate Heller. And the Hellers have always been hard to write, but I find that, at my age, the process may be the same but I am not. I was struggling with the first chapter and then Rick Greene’s nice words came along.

What was really nice about these words is that they were just a heart-felt reader’s outpouring of appreciation – not a review. I feel like I can take Rick’s words to heart whereas it’s dangerous to believe any review, good or bad. And then there’s karma….
Later the same day I read Rick’s celebration of my work, I came upon a current review of (the 39-year-old) True Detective that was patronizing and close to nasty in things it said about my work. I write “bad dialogue,” I’m told, and the reader has to slog through my work, and as a stylist I have all the poetry of the directions on a paint can. I would have shared this condescending thing with you, but I failed when I tried to track it back down via Google.

The review was well-written and not stupid, although – as usual – no proof backing the opinions was provided. How about quoting a few clumsy sentences to make your point, or reprinting a particularly bad patch of dialogue? (By the way, I have been publishing since 1971 and have never before had my dialogue singled out for anything but praise.)

The danger for a writer – and let’s pretend Rick Greene was writing a review and not just a sending me a valentine – is that if you take the good reviews seriously, you have to take the bad ones seriously, too. And doing so will make a real writer – which is to say, a working writer who makes his or her living this way – crazy. I will admit that the day after I read that largely negative True Detective review, I found myself back at work on The Big Bundle, second-guessing every Heller sentence I wrote.

The truth is, many of us in the arts can remember every bad review – can quote from memory reviews dating back decades – whereas the positive ones fly away like tissue paper on the wind. It’s human nature, I guess, but at the same time I know that I have to pay no real attention to any reviews. I am past the point, fifty-one years into my novel writing career, that I can learn much. I do still learn, but it’s incremental, and it comes from trial and effort, not something a reviewer points out or suggests.

The True Detective reviewer clearly considered me a pedestrian stylist. Hey, I think I can turn a pretty fair phrase. But I can guess the writers that this reviewer likes – the ones who are writing to impress, not to entertain. I pick up books at Barnes & Noble or BAM! and read the first paragraphs by writers with reputations as stylists, writers far more celebrated than I ever will be, and what I see is overloaded, overwritten, trying-too-hard bullshit (do not ask for names).

Reviews, as far as my growth is concerned, are irrelevant to a writer who has been working as long as I have. All I know how to do at this stage is write the book I would like to read. Really, I think that should be every novelist’s goal – write a book you wish somebody else would have. Please your own taste and hope enough others out there will have similar enough tastes to keep you in business.

And yet I am doing a book giveaway, soliciting reviews. I don’t do this so that you will tell me how wonderful I am (though feel free to do so). I do it to help sell books, so I can stay in business. To get the word out.

I talk a lot here about how, in recent years, in recent days, I have felt cut off from current popular culture. Today I went over the copy edited manuscript of the second Fancy Anders (Fancy Anders For the Boys) and was told I shouldn’t mention Mantan Moreland or Jap Zeroes. How am I supposed to react to that? As someone who writes about the Twentieth Century, must I clean up that century’s idiosyncrasies and failings? Or do I have a responsibility to depict that century as accurately as my flawed memory will allow?

But the truth is, it’s harder for me now to be accepted in a world of publishing where I am white and old and male. It’s not the marketplace’s fault – it’s just the reality. I am so very, very lucky that publishers like Hard Case Crime, Titan, Neo-Text and Wolfpack still find me a worthwhile addition to their lists. In a world where I have to explain to people who Mickey Spillane and Mike Hammer are, I am damn lucky to still be in business at all.

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Some advance readers of Quarry’s Blood have nice things to say about it at Goodreads.

Check out this lovely piece at Crimereads on Marshall Rogers, who illustrated my brief run on the Batman comic strip.

Finally, has it really been twenty years since Road to Perdition was released?

M.A.C.