Archive for the ‘Message from M.A.C.’ Category

Links and Music

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

I have done several guest blogs/posts of late, and rather than do an elaborate update today, I’m going to shoo you over to those…although for those of you who sit through the credits, there’s a discussion of a few new albums by old artists.

First up is a discussion of the differences between Nate Heller and Mike Hammer, and how Spillane/Hammer had an impact on BETTER DEAD.

Next up is a look at how the Heller books combine the hardboiled detective story and the historical novel, briefly looking at my influences. The main thing, however, is Nate Heller’s love life, particularly as it pertains to the real-life women like Amelia Earhart and Bettie Page. There’s also a book giveaway (three BETTER DEAD copies are up for grabs). You’ll need to scroll down a ways, to get to my piece.

On the reviewing front, my pal Bill Crider – a fine western writer who also writes mysteries – provides a very nice review of THE BIG SHOWDOWN. Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine is my favorite web site, with all kinds of reviews, nostalgic articles and images, funny news clips, and much more, showing off Bill’s wry sense of humor. He’s always adding stuff, and I check back several times every day.

In closing, let me offer a few musical recommendations from somebody clearly stuck in the ‘60s.

The Monkees have their 50th anniversary album out, GOOD TIMES, with a song written by Rivers Cuomo of Weezer among many contemporary contributions. There’s even a newly finished song with a vocal by the late Davy Jones. And Mike Nesmith is back.

The great Ronnie Spector has released an album of covers of British Invasion tunes – ENGLISH HEART – and her singing is hypnotic. All the songs have a new, fresh twist to their arrangements. Perhaps the most distinctive voice in rock.

Last year one of my all-time favorite bands, Vanilla Fudge, released SPIRIT OF ‘67. I may have discussed the album here before, but it’s worth another mention: it’s probably the second-best Fudge album after their 1967 debut, and they specifically stuck to tunes from ‘67, as if this were their follow-up album (not the misguided misfire, THE BEAT GOES ON). Mark Stein’s passionate vocals are phenomenal, as is his keyboard playing. The arrangements are that wonderfully over-the-top, psuedo-symphonic approach that admittedly doesn’t work for everybody. These guys belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as the architects of heavy metal.

But then the Monkees aren’t in, either – and only the Beatles and the Stones have more dedicated followers.

Also not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: the Zombies. A travesty. Original members Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent did a strong, crowd-funded CD (you’re welcome), STILL GOT THAT HUNGER, released last October.

If anyone can explain to me why Rap and Country artists are ushered into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but not the Monkees, the Fudge and the Zombies, I will listen politely and roll my eyes later.

At least the Ronettes are in.

M.A.C.

Better Ed

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

Normally I would just provide a link, but this BETTER DEAD review from Ed Gorman’s blog is so smart and trenchant (not a word you hear much these days), I just had to share it with you here. By way of full disclosure, Ed and I are friends, but we are also genuine fans of each other’s work.

BETTER DEAD

In 1983, Max Allan Collins created a brand new sub-genre, something very few writers have ever done. In TRUE DETECTIVE, his first Nathan Heller novel, he wedded the street-wise private detective novel with the historical novel.

The advantages to this approach were enormous. The big blockbuster historical novels were all too often stagey and wooden. Heller not only brought a sense of humor to the dance, he treated the historical figures he dealt with as human beings who farted, told dirty jokes and had the kind of mundane personal problems the big blockbusters never dealt with. In other words, he brought reality to the table.

In BETTER DEAD Heller is hired by Senator Joseph McCarthy to prove that all the victims Tail Gunner Joe is pursuing are actually “Commies.” His particular interest is Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who sit in prison awaiting their execution. This is just how I imagined McCarthy, a drunken, ignorant Mick rummy bent on achieving massive power. He is assisted in this by none other than Roy Cohn, a vile and treacherous figure who just happened to be (half a decade later) one of Donald Trump’s mentors.

But Heller also signs on to help an ailing Dashiell Hammett find evidence that the Rosenbergs have been set up and are innocent.

Collins recreates the Zeitgeist of the era very well. Yes, there were a lot of Communist sympathizers back then, mostly older men and women, intellectuals often, who saw the suffering during the Depression and thought—mistakenly—that Communism was the solution. (I started college in 1962 and took a history class from an elderly professor who was still a Stalinist, despite the fact that we now knew that Uncle Joe Stalin had slaughtered millions and millions of his own people.)

But these weren’t “Communist agents,” just disillusioned intellectuals (the Coen Bros. wittily address this in their latest film “Hail Caesar”).

Collins’ sociological eye never fails. Here’s a description I’ve now read three or four times just because I enjoy it so much. Heller is in the Bohemian heart of Greenwich Village.

“The clientele this time of time of night was mostly drinking coffee, and a good number were drunk, some extravagantly so as artists and poets and musicians sang their own praises and bemoaned the shortcomings of their lessers. These were self-defined outcasts, their attire at once striking and shabby, drab and outlandish.”
Bravado writing on every single page.

Max Allan Collins not only created a new sub-genre—he is its undisputed master.

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Speaking of BETTER DEAD, we are sitting at five reviews on Amazon. We sure could use some more (same for THE BIG SHOWDOWN and MURDER NEVER KNOCKS). ANTIQUES FATE is doing better at twelve reviews.

For those who have not written reviews at Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble before, you don’t have to be Anthony Boucher – just a couple of lines expressing your opinion is all that’s necessary. But more is welcome.

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Here’s a movie you need to go to: THE NICE GUYS.

If you, like me, consider Shane Black’s KISS KISS BANG BANG (2005) the best private eye movie of recent years, you will be a porker in excrement at this one. Set in 1977, the script co-written by Black nails the era to perfection, paving the way for outstanding art direction.

But you won’t go home whistling the sets. The plot, which has to do with the murder of a porn star, is a twisty thing where the detectives mostly stumble onto the clues, but you’ll only be amused. The dialogue has a witty, naturalistic bounce that stands apart from the story, reminiscent of my favorite TV show, ARCHER. And it’s rare that a crime film can be this funny and yet be so tough. There’s a lot of Spillane in this one, particularly by way of Russell Crowe, heavy-set and menacing and rather sweet.

Crowe and his co-star Ryan Gosling are the surprises here. I thought Gosling was an empty pretty boy until I saw him on SNL a while back and he was funnier than the cast. Here he is hilarious without shortchanging the character. I knew I liked this movie, but I loved it when Gosling found a corpse and did a tribute to Lou Costello by way of his “Hey Abbott!”-type reaction.

Warning: it contains lots of nudity and blood splattery violence, and by “warning” I mean “recommendation.”

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Here’s a really nice and very smart review of MURDER NEVER KNOCKS.

Check out this terrific review of the Ms. Tree novel, DEADLY BELOVED.

Finally, you may get a kick out of this look at the Bradbury Building, home of Nate Heller’s LA office. I participate in the comments section.

M.A.C.

Heller and York Score

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

J. Kingston Pierce at the excellent Rap Sheet has given BETTER DEAD a splashy rave as this week’s Pierce’s Pick. Also, in honor of Rap Sheet’s ten-year anniversary, Jeff Pierce is giving away five copies of BETTER DEAD and five more of ASK NOT (in hardcover). Read the rave and all about the free copies right here.

Also at Jeff’s terrific second blog, KILLER COVERS, which celebrates paperback covers of the ‘40s through the ‘70s, he has paid tribute to BETTER DEAD with a selection of sexy covers featuring redheads.

My pal Bill Crider has published his own BETTER DEAD rave at one of my favorite web sites, BILL CRIDER’S POP CULTURE MAGAZINE. There’s a fun discussion in which I participate in the comments section about the unlikelihood of Nate Heller being involved in so many famous cases. Take a look.

I am pleased and honored to have THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK (now available in paperback!) nominated for Best Novel by the Western Fictioneers. This link will take you to the entire list of nominees, plus one winner – my great friend Bob Randisi, who is receiving a life achievement award.

Since we seem to be leading off with links this week, check out this excellent review from writer Ron Fortier of QUARRY’S VOTE (the McGinnis-covered Hard Case Crime edition of PRIMARY TARGET).

NO ONE WILL HEAR YOU by Matt Clemens and me is a Kindle Bargain ($1.99), reachable at a link here.

In memoriam of Darwyn Cooke’s untimely passing, and Bobby Darin’s birthday (May 14), COMICS OUGHTA BE FUN prints a condensed version of THE BOBBY DARIN STORY by Terry Beatty and me.

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I think I’ve had it with superhero movies.

BATMAN V. SUPERMAN was long, self-consciously dark and occasionally tedious, but I didn’t hate it, with the exception of Jesse Eisenberg’s vastly misjudged Lex Luther. Superman and Batman retain their charisma, and it was fun seeing Wonder Woman in one of these movies. Otherwise fun was in short supply in this and so many of the genre.

Barb and I walked out of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. We did so well into the movie, probably a couple of hours, but an endless fight scene between the two groups of superheroes warned me that the climax of taking on the super villains was yet to come, so we finally bailed, battered but breathing. So many characters and so little impact. And I think I’m finally bored with Robert Downey Jr.’s oh-so-cool schtick as Tony Stark.

The problem with the Marvel movies is the company’s willingness to scrape the bottom of the costumed hero barrel. Even Iron Man is a second-tier guy; and while Paul Rudd is likable as Antman (and his solo movie pretty good), what pop cultural purchase does that character have? At least Superman and Batman are iconic.

But where is the fucking fun? The first AVENGERS movie had that nicely hip/jokey feel thanks to Joss Whedon, without shortchanging the action. Since then it’s been a combination of flat one-liners, over-wrought seriousness, and mind-numbing battles, plus a continuity as convoluted and corny as five years of DAYS OF OUR LIVES. Take the laughable CIVIL WAR moment when Tony Stark gets flummoxed by the thought of Pepper Potts. Yes, we are expected to remember and care about a character with a silly name who isn’t even in the movie.

When Jack Kirby created Captain America (about whom Mickey Spillane occasionally wrote), Cap was a symbol of cheerful patriotism whose Robin-type sidekick, Bucky, rode a motorcycle, all jaunty and cheerful. Now Bucky still rides a motorcycle, but he has turned into a sullen, serious half-villain, half-good-guy, sturm und drang not slam bang.

Now I’m not completely cured. I bought DEADPOOL on Blu-ray the other day because it’s been so widely praised. Haven’t watched it yet, but will. I am looking forward, guardedly, to the new X-MEN movie. But stuff like DC’s SUICIDE SQUAD leaves me cold, the preview so unpleasant and struggling to be dark, I want to upchuck my popcorn. The Joker as hero (okay, anti-hero)? So wrong. So very wrong.

My problem is that as I age, so does the popular culture, and neither of us are what we used to be. I bought AMAZING FANTASY #15 at Cohn’s Newsland, as well as SPIDERMAN #1, FANTASTIC FOUR #1, AVENGERS #1 and X-MEN #1. To me it was all about Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko – from my perspective, the “new” SPIDERMAN artist is John Romita.

Say what you will about Stan Lee, he wrote fun comic books. He lightly spoofed the genre and seemed to be saying, “Yes, this stuff is inherently silly, but let’s have a good time with it.” So Peter Parker was a nerd who got picked on, and the Fantastic Four got evicted from their penthouse digs because being a superhero didn’t pay so good. And he probably cackled at his typewriter when he typed the name Pepper Potts.

Batman to me will always be cartoonist Dick Sprang’s giant props and a small cast of vivid, recurring villains, most of whom were comical (the Riddler, the Penguin, even the Joker). Wayne Boring’s Superman was never boring, but often funny, from the torturous attempts by Lois Lane to unmask Superman as Clark Kent to the bald super-villain, Lex Luthor, who always failed. And Bizarro! How much fun was that?

Are we having fun yet, at superhero movies? Or are we still suffering under the mantle of seriousness that has so choked a wonderful if inherently juvenile genre? Embrace your inner kid – don’t be ashamed of him.

M.A.C.

Better Read

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

Audiobook (Digital Download): Amazon Audible

Books are on their way to the winners in the giveaway announced a week ago. As usual, the books were spoken for in about 48 hours. Thanks to all of you for your willingness to write Amazon (and other) reviews. I encourage all of you who actually paid for BETTER DEAD, THE BIG SHOWDOWN and/or ANTIQUES FATE to post reviews, anyway. And we’re still very short on MURDER NEVER KNOCKS reviews.

Barb and I are half-way through the audio of BETTER DEAD and, as usual, Dan John Miller has done a stellar job. He really is the voice of Nathan Heller. The Forge hardcover’s great jacket (among my favorites ever) has been replaced on the audio with an evocative but rather generic private eye figure. Really, both are cool. If you like the Nate Heller books, I highly recommend the audios as read by Dan – really nice for long car trips (we made a day trip to Bowling Brook, Illinois, to visit Barb’s 93 year-old mother in a nursing home).

We’ve had two raves for BETTER DEAD in key places. Take a look:

Booklist:
Chicago private eye Nate Heller has investigated most of the last century’s headline-grabbing crimes and, thanks to Collins’ impeccable research, has always come up with believable explanations of what really happened. So it’s no surprise that Heller was in the mix in the 1950s when the Rosenbergs were executed for being Soviet spies. But we all know that Julius was guilty, and Ethel was a sort-of accomplice, so what’s left for Nate to uncover? Plenty. It starts with a superb premise that has Nate playing both ends against the middle, helping Joe McCarthy hunt for Reds in the CIA and, at the same time, working for Dashiell Hammett and a group of literary lefties trying to uncover new evidence that will exonerate the Rosenbergs. His investigation, though, leads him to another, equally juicy scandal—at least for today’s reader—involving a real-life CIA scientist, on McCarthy’s hit list, who disappears after Nate contacts him. The shocking, little-known story of what happened to Frank Olson makes a great true-crime subject, but it’s even better in the hands of fact-fiction maestro Collins.
— Bill Ott

Kirkus:
The prolific Collins (Ask Not, 2013, etc.) finds veteran gumshoe Nathan Heller in the McCarthy era, when Wisconsin’s demagogue senator looked for a Commie under every bed and his counsel Roy Cohn manipulated the Rosenbergs into the electric chair.
Read this one as two novellas, loosely connected by McCarthy’s appearance. The senator summons Heller to Washington while noted author Dashiell Hammett takes the Fifth at a Senate hearing. Later, Hammett hires Heller to conduct “an eleventh hour investigation” into the Rosenbergs’ case. McCarthy—”big off-white smile blossomed in the blue-jowled face”—wants to stick his nose in the atomic-bomb spy case, too. With that, and bringing in an interesting cast of real-life characters sure to be familiar to baby boomers, Collins offers another homage to the noir detective genre, albeit laced with post-Vietnam/Watergate knowing cynicism. Book 2 festers with nuclear-age conspiracies and the CIA running amok. Institutional paranoia has the spooks conducting LSD-25 experiments on its own people, and innocent civilians, while using the mob for a bit of wetwork. There’s a tenuous link between the two books—Heller’s hired to pry McCarthy’s file from the CIA in Book 2—but Collins generally navigates that tightrope fine, all while keeping both plots logical, the pace electric, and scenes powerful—Nate’s observation of an LSD–induced suicide is cringe-inducing. Characters real and imaginary are believably sketched, and Collins’ take on 1950s New York City, especially Greenwich Village—dancing at the Village Barn, breakfast at the Waldorf Cafeteria—is impeccable.
Veteran author Collins knows detective novels work best when there’s a rugged, flawed, self-aware sleuth, a shades-of-gray atmosphere, a righteous quest, and a bed-ready damsel, Bettie Page filling the bill here.

Okay, now it’s a small miracle that I got a rave review from Kirkus, where I have been routinely savaged (recently a review of somebody else’s book had a gratuitous “at least he isn’t as bad as Max Allan Collins” type remark. Of course, J. Kingston Pierce, who writes the Kirkus mystery/suspense blog, has said many kind things about my work. But it’s kind of stunning to get a review like this in Kirkus itself.

Last Wednesday’s Grindhouse presentation of MOMMY at Iowa City’s cool Film Scene theater was fun if sparsely attended (I blame it on finals week). I hadn’t seen the film in a while, and it nudged me again into thinking my cohort Phil Dingeldein and I should re-master the film (also MOMMY’S DAY). Both were shot on Betacam and taken to Hollywood for the FilmLook process. We could do better now, and MOMMY particularly got darkened in that effort. I hope to find some DVD/Blu-ray company that might release a double-feature disc (and a few dollars to do the new post-production work). It’s been twenty-two years since we shot MOMMY!

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Finally, here’s a condescending but really very good review of my WATERWORLD novelization, of all things!

M.A.C.