A new book of mine has just been published, and though I haven’t held a copy in my hands as yet, I’m told it’s available at Amazon and other outlets, as well as directly from the publisher, Perfect Crime Books.
Perfect Crime, as some of you know, is where the first five Quarry novels are available in handsome trade paperback editions (and on e-book) as well as all of the Nolan novels but for the first two, which are available as TWO FOR THE MONEY from Hard Case Crime. Since the Quarry and Nolan novels the publisher carries represent the first phase of my career, it’s fitting that Perfect Crime is now offering EARLY CRIMES.
The book is a collection of sorts, though primarily represents the first publication of my 1974 or ‘75 novel SHOOT THE MOON (aka WYNNING STREAK). The rest of the contents are two very early stories, written when I was in a creative writing class at Muscatine Community College from 1966 through 1968. The short story “Public Servant” reveals my heavy Jim Thompson influence, and “The Love Rack” is a novella that combines Spillane and James M. Cain techniques. These are very hardboiled stories, whereas the novel SHOOT THE MOON reveals that I was at the time as much in the thrall of Donald E. Westlake as I was of his alter ego, Richard Stark.
The short story and novella were first published, back in the mid-‘80s, in HARDBOILED, the prozine whose then-editor, Wayne Dundee, had requested short fiction from me. I didn’t have time to whip anything new up and offered him these two unpublished early stories on the proviso that they be labelled as such. “Public Servant” was later reprinted by Lawrence Block in his collection OPENING SHOTS (2000). Wayne, interviewing me, learned of the existence of the unpublished first Nolan novel, MOURN THE LIVING, and talked me into serializing that in HARDBOILED. Since then, it’s appeared in book form several times, most recently with the other Nolan titles from Perfect Crime.
SHOOT THE MOON is another matter. After over forty years of this, my memory is shot. But I believe I wrote the novel just before QUARRY (aka THE BROKER) sold. It was absolutely a spec novel, and it was as shamelessly a Westlake homage as BAIT MONEY had been a Stark one. When I was finished with it, I sent the novel to Don Westlake, who was a mentor at the time, and he had complained about my overdoing the discursive humor. The version that Perfect Crime is including in EARLY CRIMES reflects me revising according to Don’s notes.
My agent at the time was the notoriously crusty Knox Burger, of legendary Gold Medal Books editorship fame. He did not like the book and didn’t want to handle it. I didn’t even know an agent could reject a book and was stunned. Finally, after my Westlake-advised rewrite, Knox took it on, but I don’t believe he ever really showed it to anyone. (Keep in mind he later also rejected TRUE DETECTIVE, at which time I fired him.) I had all but forgotten about the novel until a few years ago when, after Burger’s passing, some of my manuscripts were returned to me by his widow. Among them was a suspiciously fresh-looking copy of WYNNING STREAK, aka SHOOT THE MOON.
John Boland, the editor at Perfect Crime, originally intended to publish SHOOT THE MOON by itself. I felt the book would be better served in a collection that included the other two early stories. It would take the burden off the book being viewed as the “new” Max Allan Collins novel. But in the context of a collection, it works pretty well. The comic nature of it is slightly offset by the extreme noir of the other two pieces. Or anyway, that’s my opinion.
SHOOT THE MOON, which is a comic caper novel with a klutzy young hero, may be a kind of missing link to the ANTIQUES novels. Certainly it’s the most overtly funny novel I wrote before Barb and I began the Trash ‘n’ Treasures series (many decades later); and it shares a small-town sensibility. But for those of you who don’t follow the ANTIQUES books, because you wouldn’t be caught dead reading a cozy, not to worry – SHOOT THE MOON is very much a crime novel, with dangerous felons, jailhouse doings, bank robberies, and some satisfying plot twists. Again, in my opinion.
I hope my readers will support Perfect Crime in the publication of what is clearly the most esoteric book of mine out there. It includes an introduction, by the way, that covers much more than I’ve touched on here. It’s a bargain, too – just ten bucks. (I believe ordering from Perfect Crime directly gets you 20% off.) I hope you’ll give it a try, and if you like it, post reviews at Amazon and elsewhere; and if don’t like it, surely you have something better to do than say bad things about me in public.
ASK NOT, the new Nate Heller, which comes out in a little over two months, is getting some great advance reviews. Check this out, from Publisher’s Weekly:
And this starred review from Booklist: