Crusin’ Returns & Recommended Noir Reading

September 15th, 2015 by Max Allan Collins
L to R, M.A.C., Steve Kundel, Jim Van Winkle, Brian Van Winkle

After nine months, Crusin’ was reborn yesterday at Pearl City Plaza in Muscatine (Iowa, for those not paying attention). After a combination of purposely limiting our playing and some health issues that caused us to cancel four bookings, we finally gigged and a very nice gig it was. The outdoor event on the Pearl City patio (for the Second Sunday Concert series) was packed with a very responsive audience. We played for an hour and a half, and it went very well. I felt loose and good, and was (no attempted modesty here) very goddamn funny on the mike patter.

It was just wonderful to be back with my bandmates, Jim Van Winkle, Steve Kundel and Brian Van Winkle. Best moment for me happened before we started when a kid about thirteen wanted to know if we were going to play “the Vanilla Fudge song.” You know we played it, although I pretended we were attempting the Supremes version and failing miserably.

The day this update appears (September 15) is the deadline day for nominating bands to the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Although the Daybreakers are/is in, Crusin’ – celebrating the 40th anniversary this year of its first public appearance – is not. If you have heard and enjoyed the band, either in live performance or on CD, you might consider nominating us. You can get the info on a recent posting at the Crusin’ Facebook page.

* * *

I received an e-mail from a fan asking the following:

As someone with an extensive knowledge of classic crime fiction, I was hoping you could possibly provide me with some recommendations as to what is some of the most “out there”/weird, ambitious, unconventional, interesting, and dark crime fiction from the 30s to 60s?

I’m not asking for a list of a 100 titles or anything like that. Just a handful of writers that never get mentioned amongst the likes of Highsmith, Marge Millar, and guys like Thompson and Willeford etc… but are comparable and are worth seeking out for the enthusiast and ploping down the $100 or so for a barely readable copy.

Here is my response, which you may find of interest:

The list of great hardboiled writers covers most of the really good writing — Hammett, Chandler, James M. Cain, Spillane, Jim Thompson. I’m not a Ross MacDonald fan (not a detractor, either though) but many would add him to that list. I would add Rex Stout.

A key writer, too little discussed, is Horace McCoy. His KISS TOMORROW GOODBYE is an incredibly influential work. And of course THEY SHOOT HORSES DON’T THEY is well-known.

Chester Himes could be added to the list. UK writer Ted Lewis (GET CARTER) is another. Two books that used to be much talked about but that have fallen off the radar are YOU PLAY THE BLACK AND THE RED COMES UP by Richard Hallas and THIEVES LIKE US (filmed twice) by Edward Anderson. But it’s been thirty years since I read them, so….

Elliott Chaze’s BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL is a highly regarded James M. Cain school novel, originally a Gold Medal paperback. I haven’t read it in a while, but when I did, I loved it. William Lindsay Gresham’s NIGHTMARE ALLEY (source of the famous Tyrone Power movie) is a masterpiece. Almost anything by Charles Williams is worthwhile. A lot of people like David Goodis.

Hope this is helpful. I’m sure I’m forgetting some things. I should say that I like Erle Stanley Gardner, too, but many consider him lightweight. I don’t — his subject matter in the Perry Mason novels is right out of the Cain playbook: money and sex.

ADDENDUM: I should have included Richard Stark, although the vibe I got from the inquiry was for earlier stuff than that. I might have included John D. MacDonald, whose work I like but who has never been in my personal pantheon. Many writers whose opinions I trust – Ed Gorman, for one – consider John D. among the very best. Ed and the rest are almost certainly right.

Don Westlake (aka Richard Stark, of course) once told me a story that endeared MacDonald to me. They were guests on a “mystery cruise,” inhabited by a handful of mystery stars and a boatload of fans. Each day each writer offered up a story of theirs for the passengers to read and discuss. MacDonald, who didn’t know Don well, approached him on deck, and tentatively said, “Don, I really liked your story. But were you really fair to the reader?” Don said, “Screw the reader.” MacDonald grinned, offered his hand, and the two shook merrily.

Also, Don didn’t say “screw.”



6 Responses to “Crusin’ Returns & Recommended Noir Reading”

  1. Patrick Herman says:

    Max…Just a heads up for fans who wish to research the books and authors you discuss here….I just purchased cheap Kindle e-book copies of two titles mentioned…Edward Anderson’s Thieves Like Us can be found for $1.99 and Elliot Craze’s Black Wings Has My Angel is available for $0.99. Both have quite interesting cover paintings. Hope other readers will take advantage of these deals.


  2. Max Allan Collins says:

    Thanks, Patrick! I still don’t use e-books, even though I make much of my money there…but it’s really nice to have this option. Ed Gorman and I, years ago, tried to get a Black Lizard edition done of BLACK WINGS, but the estate would not go for what they thought was chump change.

  3. Mike Doran says:

    As I careen headlong toward my 65th birthday (September 30, if anyone cares), I look askance at your latest group shot of Cruisin’ – and at our ages, we ought to be including the final ‘g’.

    I still sneak a look at those PBS Beg Week specials, where they trot out those rockin’ groups who by now all look like John Houseman, and I think “This isn’t what I had in mind …”

    Sorry about the depressive tone, but I have a doctor’s appointment later today (routine checkup), and this is the day that I get to trot out my Medicare and supplementary insurance cards for the first (hopefully not last) time.

    Your reader’s guide comments bring to mind the sad fact that guys our age have way too many names to try and remember.
    I’ll bet that when you posted this, you probably came up with a bunch more names that you didn’t think of at the moment – because you simply hadn’t read one recently.
    There’ll always be somebody who’ll read this and yelp “Why didn’t you mention my favorite?”
    (Another sign of the Decline of Civilization As We Know It.)
    But what the heck – we can only put our Pantheon one legend at a time.


    (Hey, gimme a break – I worked days on that one.)

    To the future – maybe at C&S (hint hint hint).

  4. Max Allan Collins says:

    Mike, nobody disagreed with my list or made suggested additions — a sign of (a) how many opinions are being accepted as gospel by one and all, or (b) hardly anybody is following these updates!

  5. Tom Zappe/St Louis says:

    Or, [c] after reading your previous September post we are all so concerned for your health that do not want to risk hurting your feeling.

  6. Terry Beatty says:

    “I still sneak a look at those PBS Beg Week specials, where they trot out those rockin’ groups who by now all look like John Houseman, and I think “This isn’t what I had in mind …'”

    Best comment ever.