Things to Do While Sheltering in Place

March 31st, 2020 by Max Allan Collins

I think all of you who take the time to read these updates know that I am always thinking of you. Barb and I are self-quarantining a little more vigorously than usual because a while back I was exposed to somebody who tested positive for Covid-19 (neither Barb nor I have shown any symptoms and the time period will be up soon).

But it just goes to show you (or shows to go you, as Midwestern wits used to say) how selfless it is of me to be thinking about you, and the ways you can fight your potential boredom and particularly cabin fever.

Here are ten tips for things you can do to suffer through this ordeal.

1. Order Do No Harm, the new Nathan Heller novel.

2. Read Do No Harm, the new Nathan Heller novel.

3. Write a review (preferably positive, but it takes all kinds of people to make a world) for Amazon and/or other review sites.

4. Order Girl Can’t Help It, the second Krista Larson novel.

5. Read Girl Can’t Help It, the second Krista Larson novel.

6. Write a review (preferably positive, but it takes all kinds of people to make a world) for Amazon and/or other review sites.

7. Order Masquerade for Murder, the new Mike Hammer novel.

8. Read Masquerade for Murder, the new Mike Hammer novel.

9. Write a review (preferably positive, but it takes all kinds of people to make a world) for Amazon and/or other review sites.

10. Take advantage of the sales I’m about to reveal to you.

Starting April 1 (no fooling) (as Midwestern wits ETC.) fifteen Nathan Heller titles will be available for 99-cents each as ebooks for Kindle, a sale running through/including April 30.

The titles are:
Angel in Black
True Crime
Neon Mirage
Majic Man
True Detective
Carnal Hours
Flying Blind
Damned in Paradise
Stolen Away
Blood and Thunder
The Million-Dollar Wound
Chicago Confidential
Triple Play
Chicago Lightning

Beginning 4/1/2020, you will see the promotion here: https://www.amazon.com/b?node=13819722011.

For those of you who prefer Nook, Antiques Frame is included on a big sale online at Barnes & Noble. Normally $7.59, for two weeks it’s just $1.99. If you’ve never sampled an Antiques book, this is a cheap way to do so.

By the way, those reviews that I brazenly solicited above are important. Though the “star” averages are very good, the number of reviews so far on the three (!) new novels isn’t impressive (Masquerade for Murderonly has two reviews as I write this). These reviews are vital. Do No Harm, oddly, has a couple of really nasty (and contradictory) reviews, at least one of which strikes me as suspicious (I know it’s hard for you to believe that I could ever have gotten on the bad side of anybody, but it has happened…).

And I want to stress – and I’m not kidding about this – that any author you read regularly, or for that matter any book you read and like by a contemporary author – will benefit greatly from your Amazon/Barnes & Noble reviews. Those reviews can be short and sweet – a line or two – or as detailed as you like.

One of the pleasures of having a new book come out – and Nathan Heller novels seem to generate the most response, in this regard – are the personal emails (and even snail-type letters – remember them?) that don’t discuss the novel so much as recount certain memories and feelings it invoked. A couple of recent missives impressed me quite a bit, and I’d like to share them with you. I asked their authors permission to do so.

This is from Tom Zappe, loyal reader (and musician) from St. Louis:

At just about that same time in June of 1957 that Earl Stanley Gardner was picking up the check for himself and Nate Heller at George Diamond’s in the loop, I was having my very first salad at that famed steakhouse.

I had never experienced any desire to ingest such a large gathering of greens before, but when confronted with those wedges of head lettuce [which along with the occasional potato and some corn on the cob were the only veggies my father ever ate] and the lazy susan of proprietary salad dressings in the middle of the table, I seem to have permanently lost what little self control I had acquired by that time in my life.

I can resist anything but temptation.

My paternal grandfather was a meat cutter from the old country. My mother’s joke was that she married “a son-of-a-butcher”, which was about as racy as she got in those days. Her go to swear words were “APPLE CRAP”.

Steamy.

My father did not limit himself to just eating beef, however. He never met a slab of ribs or what we in St. Louis still call “pork steaks” that he would not gleefully transfer from his grill to his dinner plate. I’m sure he had fish at least 3 or 4 times in his life as well.

Adventurous.

For my above mentioned salad debut he took my mother and me, and my sister and her fiance out to dinner. I know it was on a Friday since my future bother-in-law was studying to become an Episcopal priest. At that time the Church Of Englanders [they were one and the same in those days] in their never ending attempt to prove they were just as good as real Catholics did not permit their flock to feed at the stockyards on Fridays.

George Diamond’s served nothing that couldn’t theoretically walk to market.

Even at that tender age, I figured this was my father’s way of expressing his opinion of the dietary restrictions his future son-in-law was attempting to impose on my sister.

Subtle.

Tom was born in 1948, which is a mark of distinction in my book.

The late and lamented George Diamond’s steak house in Chicago holds many special memories for me. My parents took me there on post-Christmas trips starting when I was in junior high and later Barb and I dined there while on our honeymoon trip to Chicago. Years later we took Walter Koenig out to dinner at George Diamond’s and – this was at a Chicago Comics Convention, before any Star Trekcons I believe – traded him a great meal for insider stories from the set.

This missive is from Steve Noah, a relative of Barb’s, who is a nice and remarkable guy known for his work in economic development, politics, international trade and more. Steve grew up in Charles City, Iowa (coincidentally, my late uncle Mahlon taught band there). Steve has done considerable good work in Rwanda.

We were supposed to be flying to Hawaii on Friday but instead I read Girl Can’t Help It on Friday and Do No Harm yesterday. While I am not old enough to remember the original Sheppard trial, I have vivid memories of the Habeas hearings in 1964 and the retrial in 1966.

Much of the discussion in Charles City, or at least in our family, centered around an anti-osteopathic bias in our community. In retrospect it amazes me how intelligent, educated people could have such prejudice not only against osteopaths but also chiropractors and optometrists, and how much clout the AMA had, even in rural Iowa, through at least the mid-1970s.

Your novel triggered memories of reading Bailey’s book, The Defense Never Rests, shortly after it was published in 1971. Interestingly my father warmed to D.O.’s when the son of client came to Charles City to practice and to optometrists when a young optometrist moved to CC and hired Dad to help him purchase a practice. He never did warm to chiropractors.

Both of your Krista Larson novels have been fun to read, partially because of the locations. Someday I must visit the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

My thanks to both Tom and Steve for letting me share these reflections, and for those of you come here regularly for whatever it is I do here, many thoughtful comments are posted throughout the week, and I often reply. It’s worth checking back.

While I have been self-quarantining, holed up with my beautiful wife, plenty of food, streaming services, thousands of books, DVDs, Blu-rays and laserdiscs, I’ve had plenty of options of ways to spend my time. So I spent ninety minutes of it revisiting a really terrible movie that you may want to buy.

I actually kind of like this movie, and since one of the symptoms of the corona virus is losing a sense of taste, maybe I have the damn disease. Because I am here to tell you that My Gun Is Quick(1957) has never looked better than it does as a Blu-ray. And it’s on sale (I make absolutely nothing from this recommendation!) at the Kino site for $14.95, not the list price of $24.95.

What will you see in this adaptation of one of Mickey Spillane’s best Mike Hammer novels? Well, the first ten minutes are just like the book. The rest is a community theater version of The Maltese Falcon. The first section has a sort of fun gritty, sleazy feel, with nickel strippers and dime hoodlums, joints and flop houses and shabby penthouses, utilizing sets that defy the existence of art direction. Then comes the most boring car chase I have ever, ever seen. Robert Bray looks like Mike Hammer but he shouts all the time. Suddenly Mike Hammer meets a blonde in a bathing suit who invites him into her cottage for no reason, which has a butler (also for no reason), and then…Mike and this new doll go speed-boating! Endlessly! There’s a French sailor with a hook. A couple of fights with obvious stuntmen. A single moody wordless scene to indicate what the thing could have been, all leading to… no shock ending! Mike just turning the bad girl in to the cops (“We’re goin’ to shore”). It’s horrible.

I’ve seen it maybe ten times.

Hey, it’s Mike Hammer.

* * *

Here’s another one of those movies-you-didn’t-know-from-comics pieces about Road to Perdition– short but sweet.

And here’s a nice little essay by a writer who studied with me one summer.

Finally, I do not mean to make light of what we’re all going through. The three states where I do the most business (and have many, many friends) – New York, California, and Washington – are getting hit really hard right now. Receiving a phone call from my eye doctor telling me I’d been exposed to Covid-19 at a very controlled visit was, well, an eye-opener. For people my age, with underlying health issues, it’s a genuine threat. But healthy people much younger have died from this nightmare.

Stay home and stay safe.

Read a good book.

M.A.C.

Mistake for Murder – Hammer Time

March 24th, 2020 by Max Allan Collins

Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes
Digital Audiobook:

Turns out I make mistakes now and then. Who’d have thunk it.

A reader tells me I mangled an entry in the bibliographic essay at the conclusion of Do No Harm, for example. I will try to correct it in the ebook, when things settle down, but for now it’s all I’ll think about when I look at that book. A small continuity error in Killing Quarry is all I see when I look at the cover of that one (the e-book has been corrected).

For those caring enough to read this weekly update, I made another mistake, although it was not exactly my (or anybody’s) fault. Turns out the new Mike Hammer, Masquerade for Murder, was published on March 17, the original announced date, and not April 7, having supposedly been postponed to that date. The audio is available, too, read by the great Stefan Rudnicki.

Now, here’s the surprise Spillane ending: the novel’s release really has been postponed till April 7…in the UK. Which sort of lessens my error, because after all the publisher is Titan, which is a British publishing house.

The bottom line is you lucky Americans can rush out and buy it now…well, you can order it online, anyway. Corona virus is doing nobody any favors – not even Smith Corona Virus. I may or may not do a book giveaway to help promote the book – I need to discuss the logistics of that with Barb.

Let me take this opportunity to discuss the new Hammer book a bit. The title of Masquerade for Murder is in line with the Stacy Keach TV movies of the ‘80s, all of which had “Murder” in their titles. This is fitting because the synopsis Mickey wrote, from which I developed the novel, was likely written for the Keach series, as was the case with Murder, My Love (the previous Hammer novel).

These two novels have in common something uncommon in Mike Hammer novels – the detective has a client in both of them. In Mickey’s famous novels, starting with I, the Jury, Hammer almost always is on a personal crusade, a vengeance hunt usually (a girl hunt in, well, The Girl Hunters). But with a TV series, Hammer couldn’t play vigilante every episode – the Darren McGavin version only has a handful of revenge plots, for example – so it’s natural Mickey might have developed these synopses with TV in mind.

The only TV synopses he wrote that became a novel written solely by him was The Killing Man, and it had Hammer personally motivated. Mickey did not submit that synopsis, by the way, considering the story “too good for TV.” (He apparently developed a synopsis for the terrible Keach-less Hammer TV movie, Come Die With Me, but only his ending was utilized.)

If Mickey was writing these synopses with television in mind, what am I doing developing novels out of them, in the case of Masquerade for Murder and the previous Murder, My Love?

Let me discuss what my procedure has been in creating novels where my famous co-author is deceased.

As I’ve reported numerous times, Mickey’s wife Jane and my wife Barb and I went on a treasure hunt – following Mickey’s directive shortly before his passing – for unfinished material in his three offices at his South Carolina home.

Our discoveries included half a dozen Mike Hammer manuscripts that represented works well in progress. These were usually 100 pages or a little more (double-spaced) and often had character and plot notes, and in a few cases endings.

Mickey had been racing to finish what he intended to be the last Mike Hammer novel, chronologically, The Goliath Bone, all but a few chapters of which were unfinished, and a roughed-out ending was there, too. But because of the terrible ticking clock he was working under, Mickey’s nearly complete draft was much shorter than usual and required fleshing out. Also, the novel had no murder mystery aspect. I provided the latter (his ending is the basis of the second to the last chapter).

A non-Hammer novel, Dead Street, existed in a nearly complete draft, a little rougher than usual but with almost everything there. Dead Street had been written in a stop-and-start fashion, however, and had some inconsistencies due to being written over a longer span of time than usual. I smoothed things out, and wrote the last several (missing) chapters.

The other five Hammers-in-progress – The Big Bang; Kiss Her Goodbye; Lady, Go Die!; Complex 90; King of the Weeds – all had individual issues for me to deal with. The Big Bang consisted of about a third of the novel in finished form, and Mickey had told me the ending; but no plot and character notes turned up. Kiss Her Goodbye existed in two substantial manuscripts that went in two different directions (different mysteries developing); a lot of plot and character notes existed. I combined the two manuscripts – removing the redundant material – and used both mysteries, weaving them together.

Lady, Go Die! was an early manuscript, an unfinished follow-up to I, the Jury which had a good chunk of manuscript – about sixty pages – but was missing the first chapter. I had set this manuscript aside until I’d completed the first three Hammers, so that I felt comfortable enough to write the first chapter of one without Spillane input – I’d been intimidated, because nobody wrote better first chapters than Mickey Spillane. And I had a Spillane first chapter for another Hammer that seemed to be a 1970s reworking of the much-earlier story, and this I was able to use about half-way through the novel, to put more Spillane content in.

Complex 90 ran around 100 pages, very polished, but also had an issue: in the opening chapter, Hammer reports his harrowing adventures in Russia to some government spooks. I decided to turn that exposition into a flashback taking Hammer to Russia and experiencing all of his exploits first-hand. So that novel is unusual because it’s mostly the middle third that represents Mickey’s work.

King of the Weeds was the most challenging, and I had held it off for last, since my initial goal was to get these six substantial Hammer novels completed (and to complete Dead Street). Mickey conceived King of the Weeds as the final Hammer (changing his mind after the Twin Towers attack, which sparked Goliath Bone). At some point he misplaced the manuscript and – this is typically Mickey – just started over.

So I had two manuscripts to combine, including two very different opening chapters (the ending he had shared with me in a late-night gab session). The other difficult aspect was that Mickey was doing a direct sequel to Black Alley, a book that at that time was out of print. I almost threw out the Black Alley sequel material, but ultimately couldn’t bring myself not to follow Mickey’s wishes. Ironically, King of the Weeds became one of the strongest of the novels.

There was more material in Mickey’s files. I had done Dead Street for Charles Ardai at Hard Case Crime, and now completed for HCC the sequel to The Delta Factor, another 100-page Spillane novel-in-progress that gave the world a second Morgan the Raider yarn.

Titan was anxious for me to continue Hammer. I had about forty or fifty pages of the novel Mickey began after Kiss Me, Deadly – a false start for The Girl Hunters with gangsters not Russian spies as the bad guys. It included Hammer traveling to Miami for an unusual change of scene and I felt had great potential. That became Kill Me, Darling.

A strong opening chapter by Mickey, plus some plot notes and his terrific ending became Murder Never Knocks. Two detailed opening chapters by Mickey became The Will to Kill. And – with Mickey’s 100th birthday in mind – I had held back about sixty pages of Mickey’s first, pre-I, the Jury (unfinished) Mike Hammer novel, Killing Town.

Mickey’s last completed novel, The Last Stand, a non-Mike Hammer, was wonderful but somewhat atypical, and rather short. So I revised an unpublished, very typical early novella, “A Bullet for Satisfaction,” and it became a sort of preamble to Mickey’s final novel, published by Hard Case Crime. Interestingly, The Last Stand is a modern-day western, and another Spillane project of mine has been to develop a novel and then series of books from an unproduced screenplay he wrote for his buddy John Wayne – the script that became The Legend of Caleb York.

And there’s been a collection of eight Hammer short stories (A Long Time Dead) developed from shorter fragments. I have also sold a handful of non-Hammer short stories, which may someday be collected.

Which brings us up to the latest Hammer novels, last year’s Murder, My Love and Masquerade for Murder. Murder, My Love is the only Hammer novel so far with no Spillane prose stirred in – strictly Mickey’s basic plot. The new book, Masquerade for Murder, came from a rather detailed synopsis, and the opening description of NYC is mostly Mickey’s, with a mini-sequence between Pat Chambers and Mike (about Hammer’s propensity for low-tech armament) that is Mickey’s as well. I feel good about how smoothly this material stirred in.

Where to now?

I have proposed three more Hammer novels, all from Spillane material. One combines two non-Hammer (but Hammer-ish) fragments, including a very different take on Dead Street; another will utilize a Hammer story Mickey developed for radio and again for TV, unproduced; and finally another synopsis apparently for a Keach-era Hammer episode.

I know some of you know all of this, but I thought it might be a good idea to get this recorded and in one place. Also, maybe it will inspire you to get hold of Masquerade for Murder, which I think is a damn good entry in this series.

I can’t express what it means to me to look over at the shelf and see Mickey’s Hammer novels residing next to the ones I’ve completed for him…and for me, the teenager in Iowa who wanted more, more, more Mike Hammer.

* * *

Speaking of short stories, Barb and I – writing as Barbara Allan, of course – have sold a short story to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine – “What’s Wrong with Harley Quinn?” It’s not an Antiques story, but rather harks back to the kind of nasty little tale my beautiful and talented wife concocted when she was specializing in short stories.

It’s a very big deal to get published in EQMM, and we are thrilled.

* * *

With Masquerade for Murder the subject of today’s update, I am pleased to share with you this terrific review of that very novel.

The word is out about Nolan’s somewhat imminent return in Skim Deep. Read about it here.

Also, my friends at Paperback Warrior have a podcast, always interesting, which this week includes some commentary on the Nolan series.

Here’s a wonderful Ron Fortier review of the Brash Books edition of Black Hats.

Guess who’s an Irish comic book character? Michael O’Sullivan, that’s who! Check it out here.

Both yrs truly and Barbara Allan get good play on this discussion of Quad Cities area authors. Hey, what about Matthew V. Clemens?

M.A.C.

9 Out of 10 Doctors Recommend…

March 17th, 2020 by Max Allan Collins

…staying home and reading my two new novels, Do No Harm and Girl Can’t Help It. Available in traditional hardcover and trade paperback respectively, and in easy-to-swallow e-book form.

And if you don’t feel you can go safely out to the movies anymore, why not stay in and watch Mommy and Mommy’s Day? I was thrilled to get this review from the top Blu-Ray review site of ‘em all, DVD Beaver (get your mind out of the gutter – it’s a Canadian web site!).

We’re getting some nice reviews on Girl Can’t Help It, with Do No Harm surprisingly not getting much play yet, though the trade reviewers love it. Those of you who received review copies will, I hope, begin posting reviews – some already have, though we’re at only 4 at Amazon at the moment on Do No Harm (three glowing, one anonymously trashing it) and Girl Can’t Help It is at 14, all very good (the worst is three stars and most are five). I’m grateful for this support and interest.

At the bottom of this update are links to some very strong Girl Can’t Help It reviews.

Barb and I (and Nate and Abby and the two grandkids) are taking the corona virus pandemic very seriously, as most of you likely are, too. Our habit (Barb and mine) is to take most meals out, since we work at home; but at present we are essentially in a semi-self-quarantine, going out only on supply runs – food, medicine, some work errands. Right now that’s a once-a-week thing.

We are both High Risk, probably me a little more than Barb, as I have underlying health issues, although all of those seem to be in check. This is a house full of books, CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays and even laserdiscs, so we have plenty to amuse ourselves. And in the meantime work goes on and we may even wind up getting more done than usual.

I have cancelled a number of band gigs – leaving some outdoor ones on the books, for down the road. Even just last week when I inquired about whether an early June gig was still a go, the person who hired us seemed bewildered that I even brought it up – the committee hadn’t even discussed the matter…it wasn’t even on the radar.

Maybe now it is.

Just a week ago I declined a doctor’s check-up type visit and the nurse on the phone seemed bewildered at why I might not want to sit in a waiting room with a bunch of sick people. The facility where I get chiropractic and massages seemed mildly offended when I called to cancel my next visit and queried about what steps they were taking – they would call back, I was told. They haven’t.

That was days ago, admittedly. The reaction today might be different, since every day seems a (literal?) lifetime.

My bass player lives in nearby Iowa City, where the bulk of Iowa’s corona virus cases are located presently, so band rehearsal is off for a while. Barb and I have the luxury of already working at home and aren’t depending on regular paychecks to stay afloat on the short term.

She is working on Antiques Carry On (a visit to the UK is part of the plot) and I have just done the finishing touches on the Nolan, Skim Deep, going over the galleys, and have done the copy-edited manuscript of Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher. On the docket this week is a chapter of the Antiques book (I am revising the first four chapters before we break the rest of the novel down for Barb to do her drafts, while I go off and write the next Caleb York book). I also have an introduction to the second Ms. Tree collection to write for Titan, and Matt Clemens and I are working up a proposal for a new Reeder and Rogers novel (we met several weeks ago but are now operating long-distance, in the telephone sense among others). Last week Dave Thomas and I (also operating long-distance) did a revision on our novel proposal and sample chapters, responding to suggestions from our agent.

That’s one thing about being a professional writer, particularly if you’ve been around a while and have projects in the pipeline – there’s always work to do.

I urge you to stay in (and of course read my books to stay sane) and take whatever steps are necessary to weather this storm. I know some people think some of us are overreacting. I hope we are. The opposite approach is just too dangerous.

* * *

Skim Deep is a rather short novel, about the same length as several of the vintage Nolan books – probably around 55,000 words. So to plump up the physical book a little, and to advertise the forthcoming republication of the rest of the Nolans (in two books per volume format), editor/publisher Charles Ardai included the prologue and first two chapters of Bait Money, written fifty years ago.

I seldom go back and read my stuff – mostly, the last I see of them is when I read the galley proofs. I do like to listen to them as audio books, though I cringe now and then.


UK edition of Bait Money
Courtesy Existential Ennui

As it happens, I did revise Bait Money slightly when it came back out in the early ‘80s, and of any book I ever wrote, I spent more time working on (and re-working) that novel, in part because I was in college at the time and studying with Richard Yates at the Writers Workshop. Also, it was written (and re-written and re-written) on a manual typewriter. So I am familiar with it in a special way.

On the other hand, I had not revisited Bait Money since the early ‘80s. So reading those three chapters was an interesting experience. My takeaway was that in Bait Money I was pretty good at making it seem like I knew what I was doing, as opposed to Skim Deep, in which I really do know.

Stylistically, I am in that first Nolan novel one-third Richard Stark (mostly structure and subject matter), one-third James M. Cain (the ping-pong dialogue), and one-third Mickey Spillane (everything else). I always thought of myself as more of a combination of Stark, Cain, Spillane, Chandler, Hammett, McBain, and Thompson, with my own quirks mixed in to the degree that the influences didn’t stick out awkwardly. I think that’s probably more true of me today, though I would add Rex Stout, Erle Stanley Gardner and Agatha Christie.

But seeing a Nolan story I have just written juxtaposed with three chapters of the first one (Mourn the Living sort of doesn’t count) was (if not a shock) a revelation. For better of worse, for all my influences, I am writing like Max Allan Collins now.

Bait Money will be available as part of a new edition of Two For the Money (which includes the immediate sequel, Blood Money).

* * *

If you would like a signed copy of Do No Harm, there are some available, still at the pre-order price at VJ Books.

Jolene Grace has a lovely review of Girl Can’t Help It here.

Book Reporter likes Girl Can’t Help It, too. The write-up is mostly a lively plot summary, but the last paragraph is a wonderful mini-review in and of itself.

Always With a Book also likes Girl Can’t Help It.

So does that first-rate writer Ron Fortier at Pulp Fiction Reviews.

Finally, here’s a nice little interview done with me at the Muscatine Journal on the occasion of the publication of Do No Harm and Girl Can’t Help It.

M.A.C.

Do No Harm, Even if the Girl Can’t Help It

March 10th, 2020 by Max Allan Collins

As I write this, on March 9, 2020, it’s Mickey Spillane’s 102nd birthday – a reminder of how lucky I was to encounter his books at an impressionable age, and eventually have an unlikely friendship and collaborative association with this key figure not only in mystery/crime fiction, but popular culture, worldwide.

As you read this, if you’re one of those who catch up with these updates as they first emerge, it’s March 10, 2020, the publication date of two of my novels (by two different publishers): Do No Harm, the new Nathan Heller thriller, and Girl Can’t Help It, the second Krista Larson mystery.

If you are one of the regular readers here, you may recall that the new Mike Hammer, Masquerade for Murder – written by me from a Spillane synopsis – was to be published a week later. That pub date has, I’m not sorry to announce, been moved to April 7, which at least puts a purchase of that third new Collins novel on a separate paycheck for loyal readers.

Do No Harm is a novel based on a real-life mystery that has fascinated me since 1961 when I read The Sheppard Murder Case by Paul Holmes – I would have been 13. And of course the television series The Fugitive, which began in 1963, only fueled that interest. And I did love that series – David Janssen’s charismatic, melancholy performance was something new in a TV hero, with a tragic depth unusual for the day. I watched every episode, and later – during my community college years – Barb and I would watch a syndicated episode over lunch at my parents’ house.

Like a lot of TV actors, Janssen had a shrewd if limited bag of tricks. My late actor friend Michael Cornelison told me that actor Robert Lansing (star of 87th Precinct and 12 O’Clock High) had advised him – should one of several TV pilots Mike starred in get picked up – to develop a characterization that would stay consistent and require few strokes, and allow the guest actors to carry the water. I gathered the same thing from Raymond Burr, when I worked on a project with him in Denver during the Perry Mason TV-movie days – he spoke of having to sleep in his dressing room at night because of the demands of being in so many scenes of his series.

I recently watched a Blu-ray of Superdome, a TV movie starring Janssen and a strong cast of its era. The actor was just two years away from his premature death at 48, and looked much older. Reportedly a hard drinker, Janssen – in a rather wretchedly written TV movie – brought along the same tics and tricks, and yet despite the rote feel of it still conveyed a humanity and sadness little seen in TV leads of his era. Sam Sheppard died at 47.

I waited a long time before bringing my detective Nate Heller to this case, even though it had been on my true-crime short list since the ‘80s. The murder of Sam Sheppard’s wife was not an easy fit for Heller. I have always attempted to bring Nate into a case in a natural fashion – that is, to fill in for a real-life participant (a cop, reporter, insurance investigator, actual P.I.) or combination thereof, as in Blood and Thunder where in Part One Heller is a Huey Long bodyguard and in Part Two he returns to Louisiana a year later on an insurance investigation into Long’s assassination.

Figuring out how to put Heller at the crime scene in Marilyn Sheppard’s murder seemed necessary to me, dramatically, as was determining how to narratively span a case that included Sheppard’s conviction, long struggle for justice from behind bars, and ultimate re-trial. Many other wrinkles made the case a tough one for my approach, including a particularly involved number of alternate theories for what really happened. I like to develop my own theories – or I should say Heller does.

Ironically, it was the project I was working on prior to starting Do No Harm – which I had contracted to write but was still struggling with what my approach would be – that finally gave me a window onto the case. In working with A. Brad Schwartz on the non-fiction book Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher, I discovered that Eliot Ness had essentially lived next door to Sam Sheppard. Nobody had noticed this before, probably because Ness lived there in the ‘30s and Sheppard in the ‘50s. But nonetheless the coincidence struck me as irresistible – two of the most famous figures in not just Cleveland crime but American jurisprudence lived next-door.

Additionally, a latterday victim indicating the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run might have struck again in 1954 was the perfect reason for Ness to (a) call Heller back to Cleveland for consultation, and (b) to check out the crime scene of a brutal murder in Ness’s old neighborhood.

The other solution to involving Heller was Perry Mason creator Erle Stanley Gardner’s interest and involvement in the Sam Sheppard case. I had already established that Heller knew Gardner (in Carnal Hours) and had done some investigating for Gardner’s Court of Last Resort. That brought Heller into the effort to find out the truth about Sam Sheppard’s guilt or innocence in 1957, when Gardner’s activity in the case came to a head. Further, newspaper columnist/TV personality Dorothy Kilgallen – basis of Flo Kilgore, a recurring character in the Heller saga – was also a key figure in the Sheppard case.

Everything was coming together. Part Two would jump to 1966 and a role for Heller working for Sheppard’s new lawyer, F. Lee Bailey.

The novel was a challenging one, because of the jumps in time – while Book One is 1957 and Book Two is 1966, there are flashbacks within each. From a creative standpoint, however, I found that interesting and even fun, because the difference in decades – in Heller’s life and in America itself – provided a contrast I could play with.

And I have come up with a theory of my own, although oddly some reviewers (positive ones, by the way) have somehow thought I was leaving the story unresolved. I think that may possibly be because I have changed more names than usual, not wanting to cause trouble for the real people and their families who various alternative theories touch upon. I had already developed this theory when new evidence came to light, in an updated version of one my source books, that seemed to confirm my take on the case. My longtime research associate, George Hagenauer, has long said I have an almost psychic ability to suss out the truth of these crimes, and sometimes I almost agree with him.

The story behind Girl Can’t Help It is even more directly personal. Regular visitors here know of my rock ‘n’ roll connection, and that my bands The Daybreakers and Crusin’ are both in the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. That’s an honor that some snicker at but which I take with a genuine measure of pride. I began playing with a short-lived group in 1965 with the Daybreakers forming in ‘66 while I was still in high school. Singing lead and playing “combo organ” have been a big part of my life for a long time.

We had our brush with fame when “Psychedelic Siren” was issued by Dial, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records, a single produced by Joe Tex’s producer, Buddy Killen. We had a regional hit and in subsequent years, unlikely as it might seem, that track became a part of numerous national vinyl and CD collections of ‘60s garage band rock. In more recent years the song has been covered by bands all over the place – not all of them in the USA. Several versions can found on You Tube.

Both the Daybreakers and Crusin’ opened for such acts as the the Buckinghams, the Turtles, the Strawberry Alarm Clock, the Grass Roots, Del Shannon, and Peter Noone, among quite a few others. In early 1968 we did a brief Midwestern tour opening for the Rascals and Gary Puckett & the Union Gap when “Psychedelic Siren” was charting at Davenport’s KSTT.

So I was on the fringes of success in that field. Also, in the ‘80s, when I briefly dropped out of playing music to focus on a particularly heavy writing load, Crusin’ became the Ones, a New Wave-oriented version of the band that mixed originals with classic rock and became a big act on the Midwestern college circuit, particularly popular in Iowa City, where their LP got lots of airplay. When we re-grouped for reunions, the band would appear as the Ones some places, and as Crusin’ others. Later versions reverted exclusively to the Crusin’ name.

What does that have to do with Girl Can’t Help It? Well, the novel begins with a New Wave act from Dubuque, Iowa, who had some national success “back in the day,” years later (when the novel opens) getting into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. In a much more direct way than ever before, I am dealing with rock as a major aspect of a mystery novel. I also dig into the darker side of being in bands in those days, although I want to be clear the group in the novel is not meant to be either the Daybreakers or Crusin’ or any of its members. But as part of that world, I saw things, not all of which were pleasant, even if I didn’t experience them. And I certainly saw – and experienced – the conflicts between members in such bands.

I will be interested to see how readers react to the second Krista and Keith Larson novel. I know a few readers – let’s call them a vocal minority – don’t like finding me dealing with lead characters who are not overtly larger-than-life in the manner of Quarry, Nate Heller, Ms. Tree, Mike Hammer, or even Vivian Borne. I set out in the Krista and Keith books to do people who are more real, and to do a father-and-daughter relationship that wasn’t built on snarky sarcasm (even though I think you all know that I can do sarcasm). The larger-than-life aspect comes by way of the crimes and the killer.

I admit to being surprised that any reader would have trouble with this approach. I only know that I like this new book a lot, rather relishing the rock aspect, and intend to write at least one more Krista Larson novel.

Girl Can’t Help It has inspired a particularly good review (as well as one of Girl Most Likely) at Atomic Junkshop, including something of an overview of my work in general, a very interesting take on it. I’m gratified to see someone whose favorite series is Quarry finding Krista Larson equally compelling.

As for Do No Harm, Publisher’s Weekly has chosen it one of its books of the week (running their rave, starred review a second time).

The Tor/Forge blog honors Do No Harm with a look at the Sheppard court case and other courtroom biggies of the ‘50s.

The Stiletto Gumshoe celebrates Mickey Spillane’s 102nd birthday here.

And the great western writer James Reasoner has very nice things to say about the forthcoming Caleb York, Hot Lead, Cold Justice.

M.A.C.

aug 19, 2003 visitors since August 19, 2003.