My Debt to Lone Wolf and Cub’s Genius Creator

April 23rd, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

Kazuo Koike, the great creator of the manga classic, Lone Wolf and Cub, has died at age 82.

My name appears in many of his obits, along with Frank Miller and Quentin Tarantino, because of the influence he had on our individual work. Road to Perdition is often mentioned, of course, sometimes stating that it was an American version of Lone Wolf and Cub.

My interactions with this incredible writer were decidedly odd.

At one point, I received a very friendly e-mail from an associate of his saying Kazuo Koike would be in America soon and was an admirer of my work, and wanted to meet. This was perhaps a year after Road to Perdition, the film, came out. The meeting would have been in Los Angeles, if I recall, and I had to explain that I lived in Iowa, nowhere near L.A. I said I would have loved to meet with him, and that I was a great admirer of his work.

Then at the 2006 San Diego Comic Con, I attended a panel that was just Koike and a translator and someone from Dark Horse, his American publisher. During the question-and-answer session, Koike complained that his work had been plundered, and mentioned Road to Perdition as an example, complaining that these plunderers might at least have given him credit.

Afterward, I went up with my son Nate and caught Koike before he’d left the stage, and Nate startled the great man somewhat by introducing me in Japanese. (As many readers of these updates know, Nate is a translator of Japanese into English and has done novels, manga and video games.) Nate told him that I was a big fan and meant to pay homage to him, and would like to shake his hand. He shook my hand, and signed a book for Nate.


Kazuo Koike, SDCC 2006

A few years later, at another San Diego con, Koike was appearing again, and (Nate again with me) I approached the Dark Horse people about arranging a brief meeting between us. They checked with him. I was told he did not want to meet with me.

Lots of peculiarity here. First, why had I been approached for a friendly meeting earlier? Would it have been an ambush of some kind? Also, I have always gone out of my way to acknowledge Lone Wolf and Cub as one of the inspirations for Road to Perdition. Koike quotes serve as epigrams at the start of the graphic novel and the two prose sequels.

If anything, I have – and certainly others have – exaggerated Road’s debt to Lone Wolf. As I’ve mentioned in any of number of places, I was most of all drawing upon John Woo movies, including Heroes Shed No Tears (1986), a very overt (wholly uncredited) updating of Lone Wolf and Cub. In the ‘80s, I was watching a lot of Hong Kong crime movies, gray market VHS copies, when director/writer Woo was fairly unknown in America. I saw Heroes Shed No Tears before I saw any of the Lone Wolf movies.

Further, in Road, I was drawing upon the real-life Rock Island gangster, John Looney, and his homicidal son Connor, and the falling out that several formerly loyal lieutenants had with Looney. In a more basic way, I was combining the movies about ‘30s bank robbers (Bonnie and Clyde, Gun Crazy) with gangster films (St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, Godfather). The notion was to bring the worlds of the rural outlaws and urban gangsters of the ‘30s together. And I’d already been doing Nate Heller for some time (Looney and son are mentioned in True Detective, 1983).

No question that Lone Wolf was in the mix. I specifically thought that the shogun and his assassin had parallels in a mob godfather and his chief enforcer. And the father and son seeking vengeance while they were being chased was an element, too, although my anti-hero’s son was an adolescent, not a baby in a cart. Robbing banks where the mob cached their cash came from the terrific Don Siegel-directed film, Charley Varrick (1973), and striking back at the mob for vengeance through their bank books was from John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967). The latter was also the start of what became my Nolan series

A lot of what I do draws from popular culture I like, but with a twist. Quarry has some of its roots in another Siegel film, The Killers (1964). Mommy is The Bad Seed flipped. Nate Heller is Philip Marlowe/Mike Hammer thrust into real unsolved crimes of the Twentieth Century. Girl Most Likely, to some degree, transposes the Nordic noir to the USA.

Lone Wolf did inspire the saga-like structure I originally had in mind. The idea was to have Michael O’Sullivan and his son on the road for 900 pages (in 100-page increments). But Road to Perdition (1998) was published as a single graphic novel (and not three 100-page “issues”) when Paradox Press (DC’s noir graphic novel line) went bust. After the film came out, I was able to go back to do another 300 pages of the father and son on the run (Road to Perdition 2: On the Road). The rest of the story was told in two prose novels – available from Brash Books – Road to Purgatory and Road to Paradise, and another graphic novel from DC, Return to Perdition.

My debt to Kazuo Koike is undeniable, if perhaps not as great as he imagined. What is great is his body of work, and his masterpiece, Lone Wolf and Cub. He might wince to know I turn up so often in his obits, but I am nonetheless honored to be in his company.

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Another of my favorite manga creators, Monkey Punch (Kazuhiko Kato), also died recently, at 81. His Lupin III is a classic, and inspired perhaps the greatest anime, Cowboy Bebop. If you’ve never seen Monkey Punch’s thief in action, seek out the feature length Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1997), directed by the genius animator, Hayao Miyazaki.

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Check out this write-up about Kazuo Koike’s passing.

Here’s a top-notch review of Girl Most Likely from Criminal Element.

Here’s a short but sweet Girl Most Likely review.

Another decent Girl review can be seen here.

And this may be my favorite review of Girl Most Likely yet.

M.A.C.

Books on Sale at Amazon & The Last Word on Reviews

April 16th, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

Perhaps to celebrate the release of Girl Most Likely – which is still on sale as a Kindle title and as a “real” book – Amazon is having a sale till the end of the month on my other thrillers for their Thomas & Mercer line. This includes What Doesn’t Kill Her and the Reeder and Rogers Trilogy, Supreme Justice, Fate of the Union and Executive Order.

For all the talk about Girl Most Likely being my take on Nordic Noir, the first attempt was What Doesn’t Kill Her, which was meant to be an American twist on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, minus the social comment.

Matt Clemens co-wrote all four of those, though he only got cover and title page credit on Fate and Order. I had to push for that, but you should know that he was fully the co-author of the other two.

A very astute reader of mine told me he thought some of the pushback against Girl Most Likely (more on that later) had to do with my describing it in terms of an American version of Nordic Noir. For what it’s worth, that was never the intention or the plan. It just came up in the first interview I did about the book and it kind of took hold.

Not that it wasn’t an aspect of how the book came to be. I really liked such Scandinavian TV series as The Bridge, Wallander, Varg Veum, and The Killing, and wanted to do something in that vein. No thought of tying my wagon to somebody else’s star was in the mix, although obviously the “Girl” in the title followed that particular trend. Attracting some female readers makes only sense in a marketplace where the fairer sex outnumbers us loutish male readers something like ten to one. That kind of math I can do.

So, reviews. I’ve talked about them here quite a bit, more than anybody wants me to, but I am going to take one last (hooray) swing at it. Let’s start with professional reviews.

Understand that I have been writing fiction a long time, and am rather set in my ways, and arrogantly feel that I know what I’m doing. But to be honest I never did pay much attention to the advice I was given in professional reviews. Almost from the beginning, I had enough faith in my work to believe in it, and me, more than the opinions of others. I mean, once you’ve been schooled by Donald E. Westlake, Mickey Spillane, Walter Tevis and Richard Yates, who cares what anybody else thinks?

No, to me the professional reviewers are all about marketing – about libraries and booksellers seeing good comments from Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist and the irascible Kirkus, and then ordering books. Editors and publishers like to have good reviews from those sources to blurb on covers, fore and aft, and on the first page or two of reprint editions. This is not to say I don’t enjoy reading a positive review from one of those sources. But for me, it’s strictly business. A marketing tool or, if a review is bad, a marketing obstacle.

Now and then, particularly in a newspaper or a really good blog (like The Rap Sheet), I get a glowing review that is really, really smart. Where the reviewer understands what I was up to. Now and then a positive criticism actually does take hold with me, too. Mostly, though, I love it when somebody gets it.

This is often true of the magazine reviews in Mystery Scene, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Crimespree, and Deadly Pleasures, among others. These tend to be written by smart, knowledgeable people, and they are a great source for quotes, and often are positive and give me a nice little ego boost. When I do get criticism worth listening to, it’s frequently here. EQMM’s Jon Breen practically discovered me.

What’s interesting to me is how seldom reviewers notice the weaknesses in a book of mine that I knew were there. This may be because I know how to hide such things, through sleight of hand or sneaky execution. Let’s take Girl Most Likely. A major flaw about it drives me crazy – I did my best to figure out how to fix it or avoid it, and instead I merely had to finesse it largely through pace.

But the two things that the reviewers – mostly amateur ones – have complained about were done by me with full knowledge of the risks. It was absolutely intentional that I did a lot of clothing description, and the occasional brand names were on purpose, too (I’ve already said why in previous updates). The abrupt ending was a choice as well, very much in the Spillane tradition – story’s over, time to get out, let the credits roll. A good number of people hate that. I’m sorry – not really – but I felt it was called for. My book. My way.

Let’s get to the amateur reviewers, who specifically rule at Amazon, where a good deal of misbehavior is tolerated by Amazon itself, which ironically is the publisher of Girl Most Likely.

First, let me get this out of the way – the amateur reviews, overall, have been great. We are sitting at four-stars. The Associated Press review was, again overall, a fine one, and appeared all over God’s green earth. Of the pro publications, some of whom didn’t love it, Booklist was a near rave. So my difficulty with the reviews on Girl Most Likely has almost exclusively to do with the Amazon ones.

Now, if you follow this blog, you know that I encourage Amazon non-pro reviews – I give out books to readers specifically to increase the number of such reviews, and since people reading this weekly update tend to be longtime readers of mine, I can pretty much count on mostly decent reviews being generated by the book giveaways.

The negative reviews of Girl, among the many nice ones, fall into two camps. One appears to be young and female, and an unbiased reader named Barbara Collins thinks I am being punished for writing about a woman when I am apparently a man. (Lots of nice notices from the young women with book review blogs, though.) But I also see an occasional nastiness that reflects a certain breed of progressive that sees something sinister in a daughter who is a professional woman having respect for a father who is a longtime professional in that field himself. The worst of these criticized me for being “a white man.”

Now Amazon is supposed to reject reviews that are hate speech. Yet even the “white man” thing is okay with me. End of the day, it doesn’t bother me much because it’s the kind of review that reveals itself and its maker. Matt Clemens and I got a lot of those ugly reviews from alt-right nincompoops in regard to the Reeder and Rogers Trilogy. Certain early reviews of Supreme Justice were clearly written by people who had not read much if any of the book. Our sin? Of our two leads, one was a liberal, the other a conservative – and they got along!

The other negative reviews, and this reflects an almost surprisingly small number, are those from longtime readers of mine who don’t like the change of pace. For example, the book is billed as “a thriller,” although I have personally characterized it as a hybrid of thriller and mystery. And some have said that this novel – which includes three vicious butcher-knife murders, a street brawl, and the protagonists getting chased through the woods by a maniac – isn’t “thriller” enough. Perhaps this reaction comes from the world of Girl Most Likely not being the criminal one of Quarry, Nolan, Mike Hammer and Nate Heller. A new, more everyday milieu apparently jars some readers.

One particular review is a rather vicious attack on me by a self-professed longtime fan who claims to have read almost all of my stuff, some novels several times. But he is appalled by Girl Most Likely for all kinds of reasons. And you know what? That’s just fine. Everybody has a right to an opinion and to express it.

Of course, when he suggests I am selling out for “the sake of building a nest-egg to retire upon,” I have to wonder – does anybody who really follows my work think I look like I’m planning retirement soon?

Authors these days live and die on Amazon. Please support not just me, but all of your favorite authors – write positive reviews (again, even a line or two is fine), click on “helpful” on the more detailed reviews when you agree with whatever insights they provide.

Amazon is the biggest bookstore in the world. Go in there and support your favorite authors. If you read a book, particularly one you buy there, that you really like, tell the world about it, in a brief (or an extended) review. It’s a way to pay your favorites a favor, and to keep them in business.

Authors are real people, trying to make a living out of entertaining you. Any time you can express your satisfaction with a positive review at Amazon and other sites, you are helping the writers whose work you enjoy stay in business. If they disappoint you, you have every right to say so in a review.

Just don’t be a dick.

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Check out this very smart review of Girl Most Likely.

This reviewer has an interesting take or two on the novel.

Finally, here’s a very nice look at the Nathan Heller series.

M.A.C.

Girl Most Likely – On Sale!

April 9th, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

Paperback:
E-Book: Amazon
MP3 CD: Amazon
Audio CD: Amazon

Girl Most Likely is on sale right now at Amazon – $4.99 on Kindle (regularly $15.95) and $10.97 for the trade paperback edition (again, regularly $15.95).

Signed copies of the book are available from vjbooks for $24.99.

Last week I did a TV appearance on Paula Sands Live, the very popular local show on KWQC-TV in Davenport. Some of you may remember Paula from Mommy’s Day, in which she played herself…sending herself up somewhat, and really delivering.

Then this past week – Thursday, April 4 – I made an appearance at the Dubuque Public Library, promoting Girl Most Likely (Galena is a short drive across the river from Dubuque). We had a very nice turn-out – sixty or so – and just about everybody bought books. Great people – fun and friendly, with lots of excellent questions. Among the crowd was my old pal Steve Moes, location manager on the two Mommy movies.

The next day we spent some time Galena, including dropping by the police station to deliver some signed copies of Girl Most Likely to Chief of Police Lori Huntington.

The reviews for Girl Most Likely have been largely favorable, with the exception of a couple of nasty ones at Amazon (which have largely been terrific). One reviewer from Seattle finds the idea that Millennials would even bother having a ten-year class reunion “unlikely” (untrue) and finds the book “definitely written by a white man.” Hmmm…was it the author’s photo that gave it away?

A review by someone who claims to be a big fan who has read all of my stuff, some of it multiple times, advises all fans of my work not to read Girl Most Likely: “What utter crap this book is!”

On the other hand, we had a very nice review – balanced but ultimately highly favorable – that was sent out by the Associated Press to papers all around the good ol’ USA. In the past week, the review has been appeared in 20 publications, at least, and probably many more (the 20 are just the ones that appear online).

And the blog reviews are even better. I’ll list some links later in this update. If you received a copy of Girl Most Likely in my recent giveaway, and don’t agree that it’s “utter crap,” be sure to post a review at Amazon and elsewhere. A review by one of the getaway winners that Amazon wouldn’t publish – for no good reason – was easily posted at Barnes & Noble.

* * *

Remember how I liked the Marvel Captain Marvel movie a while back? Well, I like the DC Captain Marvel movie even more, though the name “Captain Marvel” doesn’t appear anywhere in Shazam.

Don’t be put off by the somewhat deceptive advertising that might make you think this is a kid’s movie – it’s more the equivalent of a YA novel, with plenty of adult themes and scary villainy, perhaps a little too safely political correct, but what the hell – diversity is here to stay and a good thing to honor in a movie that will have a large teen audience.

What I like about it – beyond its acknowledged debt to Big (via a brief walking piano sequence) – is Shazam’s ability to be funny without completely sacrificing the darker elements expected these days. It’s kind of the anti-Deadpool, and I say this liking both of those films; but this has a good heart and the humor never walks the dark side – that’s left to the bad guys.

Zachary Levi is the unnamed Captain Marvel and Asher Angel is Billy Batson, the kid who can turn himself into a super-hero with a word.

The filmmakers go out of their way to honor the original source material – a comic book drummed out of business by DC in 1953! References to the C.C. Beck classic (Beck gets a co-creator screen credit with writer Bill Parker) are frequent, from the high school being named Fawcett (after the comic book’s original publisher) to setting up the most unlikely super-villain of all for a possible sequel. They even make a joke out of Billy Batson’s super alter-ego not having a name. Plus, we get appearances by Captain Marvel Jr. (also not named) and Mary Marvel.

For a rapidly ageing comics fan, this was bliss.

Do you want a plot summary? Just go to it, if nothing I’ve said here scares you off.

On the television front, Barb and I continue to adore Schitt’s Creek, which has done much to quietly normalize the notion of gay romance and now marriage. The show is reportedly wrapping up after one more season, which is a shame but what a run they’ve had – a post-SCTV triumph rivaled only by Christopher Guest’s films, which also starred Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara.

We also consumed the sixth season of the Morse prequel, Endeavor, and found it to be the strongest yet, and probably the best of the British crime series. A subtle aspect of these four movie-length episodes is the collision between the rough-and-tumble Sweeney style policing of the early ‘70s and the more cerebral Morse style policing of the late ‘80s-onward – both series having starred John Thaw, whose daughter Abigail is an Endeavor series regular.

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Here’s a nifty review of Girl Most Likely from bookfan.

And a great one from Jonathan and Heather.

Plus this one from Mrs. Mommy Booknerd.

M.A.C.

Girl Most Likely

April 2nd, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

Audiobook Sample (MP3)
Paperback:
E-Book: Amazon
MP3 CD: Amazon
Audio CD: Amazon

I am, no fooling, writing this on April 1, which is the pub date of Girl Most Likely. The Galena, Illinois, based mystery/thriller, introducing police chief Krista Larson and her retired homicide cop father, Keith, marks a slight change of pace for me – although nothing so radical that anyone interested in my work will find themselves untethered.

First, if you live in or near Dubuque, Iowa, here’s what might like to spend the evening of Thursday, April 4 – I will be making the only major scheduled appeared for the new book at Carnegie-Stout Public Library, 360 W 11th Street, in Dubuque, starting at 7 p.m. The event will be hosted by River Lights Bookstore, who will sell books, including Girl Most Likely of course, and my appearance will be in the library’s auditorium space. I’ll give a short reading/talk, followed by an audience Q&A and the book signing. Barb will also be at the event and our “Barbara Allan” Antiques mysteries will be available there, too.

Second, those of you who have won advanced reading copies of the novel can now post your Amazon reviews. I have had one reader encounter difficulty getting Amazon to print a review – for reasons neither he nor I can figure out – but he was able to post the review easily at Barnes & Noble. So there’s your Plan B if you need one.

As I’ve said in interviews, Girl Most Likely grew out of my desire to do something reflective of the approach I’ve seen in the Nordic Noir of The Bridge, The Killing, Wallander, Varg Veum and other mystery/thrillers that combine wildly melodramatic bad guys with, generally, detectives who are a little more real than the P.I.s, hitmen and small-town theatrical divas I’ve been writing about in recent years.

Girl Most Likely is also reflective of my wanting to develop something more thriller-oriented for Thomas & Mercer, where such novels have been successful for them – including mine. The Reeder and Rogers political thrillers for T & M by Matt Clemens and me are among my best-selling novels ever. Supreme Justice has in particular racked up strong sales.

I view Girl Most Likely as an opportunity to expand my audience – to bring in more women, and younger readers who aren’t Baby Boomers like a lot of the Heller, Quarry and even Antiques readers are. The novel alternates points of view chapters between 28-year-old Krista (youngest police chief in the nation) and her 58-year-old father Keith, which allows me to court such new readers, as well as have the nice contrast between generations.

I shared here recently some of the odd reviews I got from the UK a while back – Girl was an Amazon Prime “First Read” title over there, last month – though most of the advance notices here have been pretty good to great. GoodReads (where I hope readers of these updates will consider posting reviews) has been somewhat spotty. This week we are likely to see more reviews and get a better general feel of the reaction.

The two complaints – from younger readers and often female ones – seem to be about the clothing description, which I’ve discussed here previously, and that the ending seems abrupt. The latter is because I ended the story without a post-game wrap-up chapter – you know, like on Perry Mason when Paul Drake says, “Perry, why did you have me drop dry ice into the Grand Canyon from a helicopter?” Instead I revert to my Spillane training and end the story when it’s over, in what is (I think) a punchy way.

One recurring compliment from readers posting reviews has been how much fun the book is – that it’s a great “beach read.” That’s at once nice to hear and a little bewildering. The novel has a number of second-person POV chapters, in which you are in the skin of a butcher-knife-wielding maniac. The violence, when it comes, is as rough as anything I have done elsewhere.

For me, as these early notices (like the wonderful review and article in The Big Thrill), have come at a distracting time, as I have been writing the sequel, Girl Can’t Help It. In fact, I finished that yesterday, or at least shipped it to my editor – one never knows if one is really “finished” until the editorial notes come in.

But working on a book in a series while reviews for the previous entry are coming in can be disconcerting – you feel like people are reading over your shoulder. Nonetheless, complaints about too much description, for example, are not going to convince me to send my characters running around naked in empty rooms – I will stubbornly continue to clothe them and put them in specific locations.

I do suspect – and it’s just a suspicion, and there’s no “boo hoo” in this – that some female readers may not be crazy about a man writing a woman’s point of view. I have of course done this many times before – Ms. Tree, anyone? – but I am occasionally getting that who-do-you-think-you-are vibe, imagined or not. This includes the objection that I sometimes call a female character “attractive,” as if I am imposing a cultural stereotype in so doing. But “attractive” is a subjective word – it’s one of those words that allows readers to plug whatever their idea of attractiveness is.

At any rate, I hope you will judge for yourself. I am very proud of this novel – and its sequel, which finds me dipping into my decades of rock ‘n’ roll in a way no novel of mine has before – and hope you will give them both a try.

Dan John Miller’s reading of the new novel is available now, too (haven’t listened to it yet – but Barb and I will, as Dan always performs in a stellar fashion). And I think Thomas & Mercer did an incredible job on the cover.

* * *

I see that Jordan Peele’s new horror film, Us, has topped $200 million at the box-office. Nonetheless, Barb and I walked out on it yesterday.

Hey, we gave it a good shot. Stayed for an hour. But we found it dreadfully slow in its opening act, rife with over-blown scary music to make up for the lack of scares, pitifully hammy, the dialogue an embarrassment, and the doppelganger menace (and its explanation) downright dopey. During the flashback that begins the picture, I immediately figured out the “big surprise” (confirmed by Wikipedia’s write-up, which I checked when we got home).

This is a 94% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, so your mileage may really vary.

On a happier note, Captain Marvel is an entertaining super-hero flick with a great lead in Brie Larson and (no kidding) a relatively restrained performance from Sam Jackson. Now, any director who achieves the latter is one fine director (although there were two on this one, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck).

I am also looking forward to the fun, goofy-looking real Captain Marvel movie, Shazam. I am still pissed that DC forced Captain Marvel off the comic book racks when I was five years old.

In other cinematic news, all seven Road movies with Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour are now out on Blu-ray (that talented trio was not available for Road to Perdition, by the way). I have loved these movies since childhood, and saw Road to Bali and the somewhat unfortunate The Road to Hong Kong in the theater. Barb loves them, too, and over the years we’ve watched them on VHS and then on DVD and now on glorious Blu-ray. Lots of fun going through them in order.

The casual, somewhat adlibbed repartee between these two performers remains modern and amazing. Crosby, who cheerfully plays a rat throughout all but the first film, and Hope, who plays a cowardly schlemiel, are magical together. Some say the men were not friends off-screen, but this is doubtful – they were in several businesses together, went golfing, guested on each other’s radio shows frequently, etc. But who cares?

I mention this chiefly because when I was searching Google for articles about the Road series, I came across one that informed me that Hope and Crosby were not funny, because Hope was a womanizer and Crosby beat his kids. Apparently, this means the rest of us shouldn’t watch those movies and laugh.

This is a most unfortunate era we’re living in. As the divide between us increases, like Hope and Crosby straddling a widening icy chasm in Road to Utopia, we are all in danger of falling.

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This is an article I wrote for Crime Reads about the rewards and benefits of a writer like me doing a change-of-pace novel.

Here’s a very nice Girl Most Likely review at Where the Reader Grows.

Girl Most Likely gets the number one slot in twelve good books to read in April, as selected by Cosmopolitan magazine.

The New York Post has chosen Girl Most Likely as one of its five best books of the week.

Finally, Matt Damon considers my novel version of Saving Private Ryan to be one of his five most life-affirming books!

M.A.C.

aug 19, 2003 visitors since August 19, 2003.