A Phone Call from Ed

October 18th, 2016 by Max Allan Collins

Ed and Carol Gorman

Around forty years ago, I got a phone call. I was in my basement office in the middle of something, but I answered it. There was no caller ID then, though I wasn’t getting all that many phone calls, anyway.

This very distinctive, friendly but strangely shy voice identified himself as Ed Gorman. He lived in Cedar Rapids (about sixty miles from my home, Muscatine) and was a writer himself, although he told me this in a modest, dismissive, almost embarrassed way.

Any call from a would-be writer sent up a warning signal. I had already been at it long enough that I was getting calls from local and area writers (and sometimes farther afield than that) wanting help that usually consisted of reading their book and/or giving them advice on getting published.

But this call didn’t seem to be like that. Ed Gorman was calling specifically to tell me how much he loved my QUARRY novels. At that time there were only four of them, published in 1976 and ‘77, and while the stirring of a cult reputation for the books was out there, this was different.

This obviously very literate, self-effacing, intelligent man knew all about the books and really, really liked them. He had been compelled, he said, to give me a call about them – which was something he’d been thinking about doing for a long time.

We talked for about an hour, and hit it off, both having rather dark senses of humor, but then he rather abruptly said he had to sign off. He had something he had to do. I asked him what, and he said, “I’m getting married in half an hour.”

In a way that’s all you need to know about Ed Gorman. He was a writer who wanted to tell other writers that he admired them, and why. He was funny and quirky and uniquely Ed – that he had chosen to call me out of the blue about QUARRY right before he was off to get married to the beautiful, wonderful Carol, seems so very wrong and so perfectly right.

We began talking on the phone regularly – so regularly, and for such long conversations, that I used to get in trouble with my beautiful, wonderful wife about the phone bill. I learned that Ed had been primarily a literary writer, with short stories appearing in various publications of that sort (it was much later that he revealed he’d also written short stories for low-end men’s magazines). He said he wanted to branch out into novels.

As he came to know, and as I have said before in public, one of my proudest accomplishments as a writer was helping turn Ed Gorman into a novelist. He particularly took to one piece of advice. I said, “Think of every chapter as a short story. That won’t intimidate you – after all, you’re already a short story writer. And, anyway, with a chapter, you need the same coherent beginning, middle and end as a short story.” Very soon he sent me a novel.

It was good. There was a problem with the ending that I told him about, and he took it well, and gratefully. Then I learned he had thrown the book away and started over. I felt terrible about it, and for the only time in our friendship, I balled him out. I am someone who never throws any piece of writing away, a chronic recycler, and what he’d done appalled me. But he was impulsive and eccentric and his own harshest critic, so his action was as in character as it was rash.

Ed and Carol visited Barb and me in Muscatine, and we did the same with them in Cedar Rapids. Carol and Barb are writers too, very good ones, so the conversations over the years were four-way, not the boys over here and the girls over there.

It took me a while to learn that Ed rarely traveled, and that he was in fact something of a hermit. Because we both lived in Iowa, and had writing styles that were not dissimilar, I for a time had the honor of being accused of using “Ed Gorman” as a pseudonym. What a writer that would make me.

“Is it true,” people would ask me, “that you’ve actually met Ed Gorman?” I actually had.

The thing is, being around people made Ed nervous. This still strikes me as strange because he made his pre-writing-career living as an ad man, PR guy and also writer of political speeches (politics being a lifelong interest, even obsession).

Stranger still is how charming and effortlessly social he was on the telephone. Scores of writers are bound to now come forward and say how well they knew him, but admit that they never met him.

I saw him quite a bit, at least comparatively speaking. With Carol and Barb, we met at restaurants; he and Carol came to book signings of mine (he very rarely did his own); we did a number of appearances together (doing Q and A as well as signing, at the late lamented Mystery Cat in C.R. and elsewhere). For a number of years Barb and I, and writers Bob Randisi and Marthayn Peligrimas, would meet Ed and Carol for quarterly get-togethers at the Ox Yoke Inn in the Amana Colonies. These were lively, frequently hilarious bitch sessions about the writing life. Bob was a great friend of Ed’s (they started Mystery Scene together), and is a great friend of mine. Writers know a lot of other writers, but mostly it’s friendly acquaintances. Bob, Ed and I were real friends.

At Terry Beatty’s wedding some years ago, Ed – who loved Terry and his work – made an unprecedented move by attending the reception. I might be slightly overstating, but Ed was damn near the life of the party. Laughing, chatting, circulating. I was astonished.

Later I asked him, “What happened to Ed Gorman, the guy who can’t stand being in even the smallest crowd?” He told me he’d been a nervous wreck at the reception, a total screaming mess inside. I had witnessed an amazing performance.

Once, responding to my efforts to get him to a Bouchercon, Ed told me didn’t like driving long distances because he’d once been in a car crash. I asked him why he didn’t fly there. He said he’d also been in a plane crash. I asked him why he didn’t take a train. He said he’d been in a train crash. Asking him why he always took the stairs in tall buildings, he said he’d once been in an elevator when it fell. There’s also a story about an escalator, but you get the drift.

Was he kidding me? I’m not sure. Really I don’t think so. He was a self-described bundle of neuroses, yet as grounded a writer as I’ve ever known. He worked hard and well and fast, and never compromised his craft and art. Now and then he would rail on about some writer whose work he disliked, but never in public, and no one had more generous, enthusiastic things to say about other writers and their work than Ed. Mystery Scene was in part about getting writers who were otherwise being ignored their due by way of articles and reviews. He worked with Black Lizard and founded Five Star to get books and writers back into print.

I think it’s fair for me to say that no other writer in our genre ever did more for his brother and sister writers.

In 1992, around Thanksgiving, I got a double career whammy when my DICK TRACY contract was not picked up, and my Nathan Heller novel contract was unexpectedly cancelled. I shared my woes with Ed. Suddenly I had short story assignment after short story assignment from Ed and his great friend, Marty Greenberg. Ed and Marty keep me afloat for six months while I regrouped. They were also responsible for turning my wife Barb into a writer, largely with assignments for stories in the CAT CRIMES anthologies.

Ed, of course, had a dark side. This came across as black comedy for the most part, and I heard for many decades his prediction that we were nearing the end of mystery-fiction publishing. It was over! Sometimes his gloom got to me, and Barb would say, “Were you talking business with Ed again?” I started making a habit of making him laugh when I could see that he was letting bleakness get to him. Of course, we’d always laughed together, each an easy mark for the other.

He was always complimentary about my work and gave me glowing reviews, and he was the first to really recognize any value in QUARRY, and he kept that up over the years. Surprisingly often, he would call and say that the day before he’d re-read one of the books, and make my day with effusive praise. I’ve never had a phone call like that from anybody else.

If for some reason you’ve never read Ed Gorman (which I doubt, if you’re coming to this blog), I have always been partial to the Jack Dwyer series, in part because I got to read the first one, Rough Cut, in manuscript. His horror novels, as Daniel Ransom, are first-rate. He was a terrific western writer, as well – Guild is a favorite of mine. The Poker Club became a good little film, though not as good as the source. And he was the best short story writer of my generation – seek out his collections.

In the last twenty years or so, I talked less with Ed on the phone – though still fairly frequently – as e-mails and blogs kicked in. His voice always had something apologetic in it, like he was afraid he was interrupting. He never was.

Those phone calls – and a phone call was where it all began – are precious to me now in my memory. How we laughed and laughed. What I’d give for another call from Ed right now. Me and a hundred other writers. But I’m the only one he called on his way to his wedding.

* * *

Here’s a nice write-up of the sixth episode of QUARRY.

And another on the same subject.

Jon Breen, writing one of his rare EQMM columns, has nice things to say about ROAD TO PERDITION and its sequels as well as the QUARRY novels. Like Ed Gorman, Jon was an early booster of the series and my work.

All about the composer behind the music on QUARRY.

Two music tracks from QUARRY can be heard here.

QUARRY is one of the best new shows of the season, it says here.

More QUARRY praise.

ROAD TO PERDITION is on the list of highest-grossing R-rated comic book adaptations.

Finally, here’s an article about the young director of photography of QUARRY.


3 Movies We Made it Through

October 11th, 2016 by Max Allan Collins

Now that Barb and I are feeling a little better after our bout with pertussis – and are not contagious – we’ve started going out to movies again. As regular readers of these updates should recall, she and I have walked out of an inordinate number of movies this year – on one occasion, two in one day.

So I am pleased – make that relieved – that the last three movies we’ve seen found us making it through the entire presentation, even when the pop, popcorn, and Milk Duds had run out. Here’s a brief rundown:

MASTERMINDS is an odd one that has left some reviewers cold, but both of us liked this one quite a bit. It’s a true-crime film that is also an over-the-top comedy. Here’s the cast: Zach Galifianakis; Kristen Wiig; Kate McKinnon; Jason Sudeikis; Owen Wilson; Leslie Jones; and Ken Marino. With four of the principals veterans of Saturday Night Live (Wiig, McKinnon, Sudeikis, Jones), and another from The State (Marino), and with SNL’s Lorne Michaels one of the producers, you should have some sense of how this differs from, say, IN COLD BLOOD.

The odd thing of it for us is that as we watched, we began to slowly realize the true incident being loosely depicted was one Barb and I had considered turning into a novel ourselves, a few years ago (the clipped newspaper articles remain in our story files); we just couldn’t figure out how to handle this unlikely, goofy story of a crew of trailer-park “masterminds” who pulled off a $17 million Loomis Fargo robbery. The slapstick nature of the real crime makes great fodder for the improv style of the cast, though (as I say) some found this marriage of true-crime and comedy off-putting. We howled.

HELL OR HIGH WATER – I almost passed on this one, since the screenplay was by Taylor Sheridan, whose SICARIO I despised. But the high Rotten Tomatoes rating got us there, and both Barb and I loved this throwback to the character-driven crime films of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, with its strong nod toward BONNIE AND CLYDE. Sheridan and director David Mackenzie follow two sympathetic pairs – Jeff Bridges and Gil Birmingham, Texas Rangers, and Chris Pine and Ben Foster, bank robbers – on a course of inevitable, tragic confrontation. Criminal Pine comes across as an antihero of sorts, and Foster pulls off the very tricky role of Pine’s somewhat unhinged, borderline sociopathic brother, bringing to it unlikely charm. Bridges is the almost crotchety Texas Ranger just days from retirement who needles his Native American partner unmercifully in politically incorrect ways that create nervous laughter. The points of view of both sides of these teams are understandable, and it’s increasingly uncomfortable knowing collision is coming. When it does, no punches are pulled. The cinematography is striking in its depiction of a barren, even ravaged modernday Texas, and echoes of the Wild West past of outlaws and lawmen lurk on the fringes of this melancholy but always entertaining film. Best of the year so far.

GIRL ON THE TRAIN – We didn’t walk out of it, but this one barely eked out our attention. For a more compelling melodrama, try watching a snail crawl across a patio. All of the characters are unsympathetic, and – possibly explaining the sleep-inducing pace – there’s about a short story’s worth of plot here, stretched out and arranged in two hours of pointless flashbacks that don’t announce when they’re over (including some flashbacks within flashbacks, depictions of false memories, and flashbacks remembered by people who weren’t there). The screenwriter is female and so is the author of the novel, and if a man wrote a novel hating women as much as this film hates men, he would be dismissed as a sexist boor. Worst movie we didn’t walk out of in recent memory. Slight compensation: the performances of Emily Blunt (though she’s mostly playing drunk) and Allison Janney as a cop (who ought to be more on top of things).

* * *

Stacy Keach is a nominee for best narrator of a crime & thriller audiobook for MURDER NEVER KNOCKS by Spillane & Collins. Stacy does a fantastic job on his readings of the novels, and if you’re a Mike Hammer fan, you shouldn’t miss any of them.

Another top narrator, Stefan Rudnicki, has done QUARRY IN THE BLACK on audio. I’ve not heard this yet, but Stefan always does a good job. He has a deep voice that suggests the older Quarry (of, say, THE LAST QUARRY) ruminating about the adventures of his younger days.

Speaking of QUARRY IN THE BLACK, the positive reviews keep coming, like this one from Criminal Element.

And this one from the San Francisco Book Review.

From Australia comes this great review of the QUARRY TV show, with lots of references to the original books.

Here’s a review of the early novel in the series, QUARRY’S DEAL.

And finally, in German (but you may have a Google translator or something), is a career piece on me the likes of which nobody in the USA has ever done. It comes from the very knowledgeable Martin Compart, who was my editor at several publishing houses in Germany. Martin, the epitome of cool, was an early advocate of both Quarry and Nate Heller. Scroll down the article and you’ll see a great picture of him, next to some young punk.


Wild Dog on CW & Quarry in the Black

October 4th, 2016 by Max Allan Collins

I haven’t said much about the inclusion on CW’s ARROW TV series of my character Wild Dog (co-created with my longtime pal and collaborator, Terry Beatty, currently tearing it up drawing the Sunday PHANTOM and the weekly REX MORGAN for King Features). The reason is that we are being paid little or nothing, and as yet no one from DC or Warner Bros has even approached us, telling us about this great (if non-remunerative) honor. I do understand that Terry and I are in contention this year for the “Siegel and Shuster Screwed-in-The-Ass Award.”

Still, it’s fun to see screen captures of Terry’s great costume design on an actual human being. Check these out.

Wild Dog on The Arrow

Wild Dog on The Arrow

You can catch glimpses of Wild Dog on ARROW in this trailer, courtesy of AV Club.

The free looks at the first three episodes of QUARRY on You Tube have been taken down. I will pass the baton to my son Nate, who has information on where you can watch the show elsewhere.

Nate here. This all applies to the US; I’m not sure about how it works in other countries. If you have cable, the best option is probably adding Cinemax to your current package. The only way I’ve found to watch QUARRY without a cable subscription is through PlayStation Vue, which is Sony’s streaming platform, accessible through a PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Amazon Fire, Roku, as well as iPhone and Android devices. You can subscribe to Cinemax, as a standalone channel without any other package, for $15/month. There is a seven day trial if you want to try it out. For details, click here.

Thank you, son. As for QUARRY in the world of novels, QUARRY IN THE BLACK comes out…today! Oct. 4! In celebration, take a look at this fantastic review from Bookgasm, excerpted at length below:

reviewed by Alan Cranis

Max Allan Collins continues to chronicle the career of Quarry, the assassin-for-hire star of Collins’s long-running series (and recently a TV series on Cinemax). The latest title, Hard Case Crime’s QUARRY IN THE BLACK, focuses on the early stage of Quarry’s hit man vocation in the early 1970s. But thanks to the overriding theme Collins make it as applicable as this morning’s headlines.

The year is 1972, and Quarry gets a visit from his boss, known only as The Broker, at his A-frame house on Paradise Lake. Quarry has only been working for The Broker for two years, so the Broker wants Quarry to know that he is free to turn down this latest assignment, due to its unusual and highly political nature.

(M.A.C.: I am omitting here a lengthy plot synopsis that wanders close into spoiler territory.)

Collins again demonstrates his prodigious research skills by effectively – but unobtrusively – establishing the time frame of the story. Popular TV and movie titles of the period, along with references to fashion styles and current events help solidify the credibility of the period.

Yet in a masterstroke of irony, the theme of racial violence that permeates the plot, along with the inclusion of Ferguson – the location of a recent incident of a potential racially motivated shooting by police – transcends the period of the story and lends the novel an immediate relevance.

This is highly unexpected for a Quarry story, but fortunately – and, again, owing to Collins’s skills as a storyteller – never detracts from the suspense that keeps us moving from chapter to chapter. If anything it adds richness to the reading experience while underscoring the enduring nature of the theme.

Along the way Collins includes a cast of completely believable characters who accompany Quarry in his mission, several scenes of intense violence and action, and unexpected plot twists that few will see coming.

In his author’s note following the conclusion, Collins observes, “An odd and oddly satisfying aspect of writing new Quarry novels for Hard Case Crime has been continuing a series that began as contemporary but is now a period piece.” While not considering these historical novels, with their ’70s and ’80s settings, Collins sees them more as a retelling of his autobiography in installments. Perhaps this is reason for the unexpected but highly enriching relevance of the theme.

Reasons aside, QUARRY IN THE BLACK is highly recommended to both devoted followers of the series and those just discovering it. It is a noteworthy addition to the expanding series, and another triumph for one of crime fiction’s most prolific and creative practitioners.

(M.A.C. again: You can read the entire review here, plot synopsis and all.)

Another great review of QUARRY IN THE BLACK from that top-notch mystery and western writer, Bill Crider, can be read here.

Here’s an interview with TV’s Quarry himself, Logan Marshall-Green.

And, finally, here’s an interview with TV’s Buddy on QUARRY (“Boyd” in the novels).


Fifty Years and Counting

September 27th, 2016 by Max Allan Collins

Cinemax has posted the third episode of QUARRY on You Tube. Enjoy!

QUARRY Episode 3: “A Mouthful of Splinters”

This weekend was Muscatine High’s 50th Class Reunion. Barb and I both were dealing with the pertussis that had dragged us both down of late, but I am out in front of her a week and a half and was in shape to participate in all of the activities on Friday and Saturday night. This included a boat ride on the Mississippi and then a big get-together at the same Legion Hall where I once ate pancakes prepared by Presidential candidate Howard Dean.

In part because I had attended three grade schools locally, I made lots of friendships that extended beyond the tight little group of us who played poker and palled around and got in Leave-it-to-Beaver type “trouble.” So I had the chance to touch bases with many, many friends, and it was pretty great. Several of my best friends were there – Ron Parker and Mike Bloom in particular, names that mean nothing to you but the world to me – and so many others. For instance, Joyce Courtois was the alto in my high school quartet, fantastic singer and wonderful, warm person – together we set a record: three “number one” ratings that put us in the All-State Chorus three years running…only quartet in the state that ever accomplished that. Impressed? I didn’t think so. It certainly didn’t get me laid.

Crusin’ at Geneva Country Club, Muscatine, MHS 50th Reunion; left to right, M.A.C., Jim Van Winkle, Steve Kundel, Joe McClean, Brian Van Winkle (in back)

Unfortunately, Barb was still having a rough ride with the pertussis, and almost didn’t go at all…but finally she pulled herself together to go to the Saturday night event, which was the big blow-out, including Crusin’ playing for the dance. She looked beautiful despite being sicker than a dog (neither of us is contagious, if you’re wondering) and people were very pleased to see her.

I was supposed to be presenting a reunion of the original Daybreakers for the dance, but health issues worse than mine among the band members made that fall apart. So Crusin’ played, with our good friend Joe McClean of the XL’S as special guest on a dozen songs. The XL’S and the Daybreakers are the only area bands to make it into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Joe is an unparalleled showman and he was warmly received – the XL’S had played our senior prom two years running. (In 1966, the Daybreakers made their debut at an after-prom party.)

I had a rough evening because my cough-ravaged throat was in bad shape, but I got by. We played two one-hour sets that were supposed to be separated by a fifteen-minute break. But I was afraid people of my advanced age would head for home and their jammies if we didn’t keep the party going. So we played a solid two hours – for those of you who are wondering if I’m recovering well from my heart surgery last February.

In honor of the Daybreakers, we played “Psychedelic Siren,” with Joe on bass and our regular bassist, Brian Van Winkle, on siren – an instrument Brian mastered immediately, idiot savant that he is. Discussions about how much is idiot and how much savant are ongoing.

It was a lovely night, all in all. Never skip your high school reunion (and we’re available to play there, by the way).

* * *

I am thrilled and somewhat astonished that PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY has reviewed my expanded ROAD TO PERDITION prose novel and given it a rave – and a rare starred review!

The Mike Hammer collection, A LONG TIME DEAD, continues to get terrific reviews, like this one.

Here’s a lovely LEGEND OF CALEB YORK write-up.

And CALEB is inspiring this discussion group.

Here’s a welcome if not exactly timely SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT review.

Check out this excellent interview with QUARRY TV writer, Graham Gordy, although oddly somebody seems to think the Memphis setting came from the books.

This will link you to a local interview I did on Vintage Sound 93.1, Muscatine’s first-rate classic rock station – with the great Tony Tone.

Finally, if you haven’t read BLOOD AND THUNDER, the Nate Heller “Huey Long” novel (and if so, what’s wrong with you?), you can get it on Kindle for 99 cents, as this nice write-up (scroll down) indicates.


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