What, Me Retro?

November 24th, 2015 by Max Allan Collins

I was watching the pilot of the Cinemax QUARRY with my wife, son and daughter-in-law (don’t tell HBO), and Barb turned to me when the character the Broker first entered and nudged me and smiled and said: “You did that.”

Well, I did, but a long, long time ago. About 43 years. At the Writers Workshop in Iowa City, where the instructor didn’t like the opening chapters I’d written very much, and most of the class wasn’t wild about it either.

At 67, I suddenly find myself aware of how very long I’ve been doing this, and am gratified that suddenly a lot of what I’d thought to be ephemeral works of mine are turning back up in print, and getting on the radar of a new generation or two of readers. Some of what I’ve written has almost by definition been ephemeral – specifically the movie novelizations and TV tie-in’s – though SAVING PRIVATE RYAN remains in print and a publisher is seeking permission from DreamWorks to do a hardcover edition.

But almost everything else with my byline is available again or soon will be, much of it from Thomas & Mercer, but also such boutique publishers as Perfect Crime, Speaking Volumes and Brash Books.

For these weekly updates, I routinely do a Google search to see what reviews and such have popped up on the Net, for me to provide links here. More and more I am surprised to find write-ups about older books of mine. It’s almost jarring, because often the reviewers are more familiar with the work than I now am.

Of course, the new Hard Case Crime editions of the first five Quarry novels have sparked interest, and in particular QUARRY (the first novel) has received some gratifying attention. Here’s one such write-up.

And here’s another.

And one more.

Fairly regularly, somebody comes along and praises either the entire “Disaster Series” or singles out one of the books in particular, like this piece that focuses on THE LUSITANIA MURDERS.

So many of these reviews of older work of mine just seem to appear out of the blue, like this look at the Eliot Ness novel BULLET PROOF.

But nothing could prepare me for this article specifically focusing on the musical side of my years on the planet, discussing both the Daybreakers and Crusin’.

Here, dealing with a somewhat more recent novel, is a nice review of the Jack and Maggie Starr mystery, STRIP FOR MURDER.

Coming full circle, the just published FATE OF THE UNION is pulling in some nice reviews, like this lovely one from Bill Crider, a writer I much admire.

Finally, my pal Ed Gorman brought in Ben Boulden of Gravetapping to review FATE OF THE UNION on Ed’s terrific blog, also a positive review.


Movie Round-Up

November 17th, 2015 by Max Allan Collins

Regular readers of this blog/update may recall that Barb and I see a lot of movies – usually one a week, sometimes more than that; when you work at home, you need the occasional escape. And you’ll know that I at times write about movies here, as I did last time with SPECTRE.

Here are a few quick notes on other movies I’ve seen over the last several months.

GOOSEBUMPS – We saw this in 3-D, perhaps proving my son Nate’s point that I will see anything in 3-D. Not true: I didn’t go to THE WALK, about that guy who did a tightrope act between the Twin Towers. But then I have vertigo (probably given to me by the movie of the same name). Back to GOOSEBUMPS. This is a basically kid friendly movie that is a lot of fun for grown-ups who were “monster kids” themselves (monster kids being those of us who grew up on FAMOUS MONSTERS and other such horror-movie mags). This is a very funny flick in the monster rally vein, featuring Jack Black as R.L. Stine, whose imagination is so strong, his creepy creations come to life, and must stay locked in their respective bound manuscripts or else (or else we have a movie). Black, playing a grumpy-father role that is quite different for him, is nonetheless very funny, particularly when he pronounces the name of the evil ventriloquist’s dummy he’s conjured: “Slaaappy!” The kid leads are appealing enough, too, and the monsters just keep coming.

BRIDGE OF SPIES – Tom Hanks plays insurance lawyer James B. Donovan, who brokered the trade between the USA and Russia of Soviet spy Rudolf Abel for U-2 pilot Gary Powers (note: U-2 is not a rock band in this instance). While I admittedly have a unique point of view here, I see this as something of a companion piece to ROAD TO PERDITION, with Hanks back in a topcoat and hat, a somber period setting, PERDITION producer Spielberg behind the camera, and influential composer Thomas Newman providing music with its many echoes of that previous score. This first-rate film recalls such ‘60s non-Bond movies as FUNERAL IN BERLIN and THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD – the story is essentially a John Le Carre novel in real life – and Hanks quietly carries the equally quiet screenplay (the Coen brothers were involved) on his shoulders.

STEVE JOBS – This apparently bombed at the box office (as did the previous JOBS), but it shouldn’t have. Michael Fassbender is particularly strong in a stellar cast that includes Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, and Seth Rogen, all beautifully cast in a warts-and-all biopic. Danny Boyle’s direction of what is at heart a stage play opens things up with a drifting camera and the occasional daring effect, as when he uses a wall in a hallway to cast a moving image relating to the topic at hand. But the real star is Aaron Sorkin, whose screenplay represents the best post-WEST WING example of his walk-and-talk approach. Perhaps the people in Sorkin’s world are too witty and too articulate, and would that the world itself had the same problem. Sorkin brilliantly structures the film around three key introductions of new product by Jobs, and Boyle gives each section a distinct look, in part via film stock. I have the math skills of a third-grader, and not a top-notch one at that, but I had no trouble following the tech stuff enough to stay in the game. STEVE JOBS plays really well on the big screen, though its life will largely be on video. A pity.

CRIMSON PEAK – Guillermo Del Toro’s haunted house movie is a near masterpiece swaddled in gothic trappings with steampunk seasoning. It’s as if Stephen King was writing DOWNTON ABBEY – actually, the first act, set in 1880s Boston, exceeds the latter in its time-machine feel. Essentially a gothic romance – think JANE EYRE or even REBECCA – CRIMSON PEAK weds a young, talented woman (Mia Wasikowska) with writerly ambitions to a mysterious, handsome, financially strapped aristocrat (Tom Hiddleston) with a tragic background. She soon finds herself in a magnificent but ramshackle mansion where her husband and his spooky sister (Jessica Chastain) share secrets. This is sumptuous filmmaking, filled with haunting images, like the snowy landscape turned red by the brick-fodder clay beneath.

SICARIO – A crime movie with a fine cast, stylish direction and a compelling score has no excuse to be this disappointing. Emily Blunt as an FBI agent is at the center of the action, but despite her T-shirt and sloppy attire, she is painfully girly, whining and deferring to men and even being saved by one, after she makes a bad dating decision. The script is a mess, illogical and poorly structured, with Blunt disappearing from the twenty-minute climax, which suddenly, jarringly puts Benicio Del Toro in charge of the narrative. And the joint CIA/FBI plot to bring down a drug lord is stunningly stupid. Still, the film has a lot going for it, in particular its unsettling look at crime-ridden Juarez. But the failed FX series, THE BRIDGE (reworking the nordic original), mined similar territory much more effectively, particularly in its second season.

THE PEANUTS MOVIE – Okay, it’s in 3-D. You don’t have to see it in 3-D, but why would you not? Do you really want to see Snoopy go after the Red Baron, all two-dimensional? My wife gave me a sideways look when I said I wanted to go to this, but in the theater, she came around quickly when we discovered that the film was a faithful compendium of the great Schulz comic strip, essentially Peanuts’ greatest hits wrapped up in a loose but rewarding narrative. The three-dimensional modeling of the characters is offset by their facial expressions having a drawn-on look.

* * *

Here’s an intelligent review of the first Quarry novel (entitled, as you may recall, QUARRY, recently reprinted with a Robert McGinnis cover). Interestingly, this same reviewer did not like THE WRONG QUARRY, which I consider to be a superior novel. Still, the first book in a series almost always has more integrity than what follows, particularly when that novel wasn’t conceived to be the first in a series.

Check out this brief but interesting look at the forthcoming QUARRY TV series.

Finally, ROAD TO PERDITION gets some decent coverage on this list of worthwhile non-superhero comic-book movies. Scroll down a little and you can vote for your favorite such movie (helpful hint: your favorite such movie is ROAD TO PERDITION).


James Bond And Me

November 10th, 2015 by Max Allan Collins
Fate of the Union

Audio MP3 CD:

Before we get to James Bond, I need to mention that FATE OF THE UNION’s pub date is today. Over the weekend, Barb and I took a day trip to Des Moines and listened in the car to the audio version, read by the always terrific Dan John Miller.

This really seems like a good one to me, whether you read it or Dan reads it to you, and I hope you’ll give it a try.

* * *

We tend to think of the pop-culture British Invasion as beginning with the Beatles. But I doubt the Beatles would have hit quite so hard if secret agent James Bond hadn’t softened up American teenagers first.

I was thirteen or fourteen when I first read Ian Fleming. I was in the eighth grade, and in complete Mickey Spillane/Mike Hammer thrall. But Mickey wasn’t writing much – his first novel in almost a decade, THE DEEP (1961), was not a Hammer – and I was in the market for something to tide me over until Spillane got around to writing something again. But I’d already plowed through all the Richard S. Prather/Shell Scott novels and a lot more (and Chandler and Hammett, of course).

Then came James Bond.

Ian Fleming, on the first round of Signet paperback Bond reprints (significantly, Mickey’s paperback publisher), was blurbed as the British Spillane, and Bond the Brit Hammer. This wasn’t hard to do, since many reviews pointed out Spillane as a Fleming source, and Signet even used Hammer cover artist Barye Phillips. Despite Fleming’s third-person approach, and the civil servant aspect of the character, Bond was nonetheless very similar to Hammer – a killer who got a lot of sex, to put it bluntly. Calling Bond a Hammer imitation would not be going too far.

The first Fleming novel, CASINO ROYALE – published at the height of worldwide Spillane mania (1953) – was in particular a Hammer-like novel, right down to its violent, sado-masochistic torture-scene climax and its abrupt ending, with the chilling last line of the book not unlike I, THE JURY’S “It was easy.”

While Fleming never replaced Spillane in my pulpy little heart, Bond zoomed into a secure second place behind the world’s toughest private eye. Reading these books in the early ‘60s – though most were published in the ‘50s – Bond seemed a logical next-decade extension of Hammer, particularly through the intermediate step of cool Peter Gunn, the Hammer imitation that sparked the TV private eye fad. The GUNN pre-credits sequences, followed by Mancini’s powerful theme set to abstract animation, is an obvious precursor to the way Bond films begin to this day.

I was alone among my junior-high peers in my enthusiasm for Fleming (a few were into Spillane, though). So when suddenly, in 1963, a film of DR. NO appeared on the pop-culture horizon, I could hardly believe it – had people in England actually made a movie just for me?

As an only child, I occasionally was able to pressure my parents in doing what I wanted. And what I wanted was to see DR. NO the evening it opened in Davenport, Iowa. Trips to the Quad Cities, before improved highways came along, were rare for my family. It took a lot of work to get my parents to take me to the first Bond film, in the middle of the week on a school night.

As someone who had been reading Fleming, I can assure you that Sean Connery’s “Bond, James Bond” all but sent me into a paroxysm of glee. He was perfect, and so was the movie. Soon the disease spread, and within a year all of my friends, particularly, the males, were Bond fanatics. We routinely went to openings at matinees and sat through the films at least twice. In those pre-VCR days, we gobbled up the double feature retreads that appeared a year or so later, as well. Binge watching is nothing new.

My lovely wife Barb also loved the Bond films, and in the early days of going together and well into the early years of our marriage, we would follow that same matinee-then-sit-through-it-again routine. The delight of seeing YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE twice remains a fond, shared memory.

Since then, I have never missed a Bond film on opening weekend – usually opening night. This continued through the hit-and-miss Roger Moore years – as a MAVERICK fan, I was more forgiving than some, since Moore had been Cousin Beau Maverick (and of course the Saint) – and I have a vivid memory of Barb and me seeing LIVE AND LET DIE in a theater in Wichita, Kansas (on our way back from a comic con in Texas). The title song and credit sequence was so great, what followed seemed pretty good, too.

I’ve gone on record here and elsewhere that I consider Timothy Dalton the second-best Bond next to Connery, who in my heart of hearts is the only true Bond. There are Bond movies without Connery, but the only real Bond movies have Connery in them (and I include NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN). On the other hand, Pierce Brosnan makes a fine melding of Connery and Moore, and unfairly got the bum’s rush out of a series he helped revitalize.

Now we come to Daniel Craig, who is a fine, tough Bond, if a little rough-hewn for anyone who has read the books – he’s one of those actors who the leading ladies love because the script tells them to. That aside, he may be the finest actor ever to play the role, and CASINO ROYALE, QUANTUM OF SOLACE and SKYFALL are terrific movies, including the second one on that list, even if it does lag behind the other two.

Which brings us to SPECTRE.


First, here’s what I don’t like about the film – Sam Smith’s song. The title sequence is great, but Smith is a second-rate talent with a third-rate song, and Bond films deserve better. They deserve the best.

Second, here’s what I like about the film – everything else. I know reviews have been mixed, but those reviews tend to look at the film in an inappropriate, realistic way, not in the context of the series. They wanted something grittier, and instead got what they dismiss as a formulaic Bond film. Were these naysayers present during the last few scenes of SKYFALL, when the series did a backward reboot with Bond entering the classic Connery-era office?

SPECTRE is what the first three Craig movies were leading up to – a big, sometimes a little dumb, but always exciting James Bond movie much in the manner of DR. NO, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, GOLDFINGER, THUNDERBALL, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. Virtually all of those films are referenced in SPECTRE, but not in cutesy ways. The villain’s liar is DR. NO and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE; Bond in captivity facing slow death is the laser-beam scene from GOLDFINGER; FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE’S hand-to-hand combat in a train compartment is expanded to every car; and ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE is referenced by a snowy mountain retreat and some Alpine violence.

At the same time, modern elements come into play – there’s nothing retro about the way Moneypenny, Q and M are portrayed, and the size of the action scenes rival or probably out-do anything in the BOURNE films. The villain (who also appears in a number of the films mentioned above, but I won’t spoil things by telling you that he’s Blofeld) (whoops) is the Moriarty of the Bond movies. Speaking of Moriarty, the actor who portrays him in the BBC SHERLOCK (Andrew Scott) appears as an adversary of M’s in the muddy bureaucracy of British spydom. Seems the bad guys want to control all the surveillance in the world, including anything pertaining to innocent citizens like you and me – which is about as topical a theme as you could come with.

If you don’t like this movie, I’m sorry, but you’re not a James Bond fan. You may be a fan of SKYFALL, you may be a fan of Daniel Craig, but not a Bond fan. And what gives me the right to make such a pronouncement? Well, without me, there would have been no SKYFALL or SPECTRE.

You see, I wrote a little graphic novel called ROAD TO PERDITION, the Sam Mendes-directed movie of which featured Daniel Craig. If I had not written PERDITION, Craig and Mendes would not have (wait for it) bonded.

You’re welcome.

* * *

Please check out one of the coolest reviews I’ve ever received for a Mike Hammer.

This just in: a review of the 1990 paperback, DICK TRACY: THE SECRET FILES.

And here’s a review of the Ms. Tree novel, DEADLY BELOVED.

Check out this splashy display of FATE OF THE UNION with a brief, nice review. (Did I mention this was pub day?)

Library Journal takes a nice look at Titan Books, with a mention or two of yours truly (oddly, though, no Mike Hammer reference).

Finally, here’s a terrific review of THE FIRST QUARRY.


Hot Links

November 3rd, 2015 by Max Allan Collins

I’m not going to write much of a piece this week, since I’ve already done one for J. Kingston Pierce’s terrific blog, Killer Covers. Read it here.

On the same topic, here is the best article/appraisal ever written about the Quarry novels, and I don’t say that merely because the author calls me one of the greatest writers of the second half of the 20th Century. Really, the least he could have done is add “and also the first half of the 21st Century.” Seriously, folks, you gotta check this out.

A shorter but also nice piece on just the reprint of the first QUARRY novel (as opposed to the novel THE FIRST QUARRY) is here.

And while we’re basking in the sunshine of that Quarry series appraisal, have a look at a similarly in-depth and flattering look at the entire run of MS. TREE. Thank you to a reader named Terry Beatty, who kindly forwarded this link to me. Your No Prize is in the mail.

Finally – and that’s the end of the links – I’ll report that I’ve seen the first cut of the final episode of the eight-episode run of the Cinemax QUARRY series. Frankly it’s great. For the first time you see Quarry in Vietnam, in an extended series of flashbacks. Again I warn hardcore fans that the series is an extended look at the character’s back story, and often goes its own way, though always with underpinnings of my work.

And I’m told if the series is picked up for a second season, the next batch of episodes will draw heavily on QUARRY’S CHOICE, which is among my personal favorites of the novels.


Halloween 2015
M.A.C. and his latest work (pumpkin, left, Collins, right)

aug 19, 2003 visitors since August 19, 2003.