One More Time for Nolan?

December 3rd, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

Apparently I told an interviewer a while back – a few years ago least – that the Nolan series was complete. That I had no interest in writing another, and wouldn’t under any circumstances write a new Nolan novel.

So, of course, I am preparing to write one. I’ll be spending December and January on Skim Deep, the cover for which (by the wonderful Mark Eastbrook, my personal choice among a bunch of wonderful artists provided as possibilities by editor Charles Ardai) appears with this update.

For those of you who came in late, Nolan was the hero (anti-hero?) of my first published novel, Bait Money, written around 1969 and published in December 1972. Nolan (no first name) is professional thief, who – approaching the ripe old age of fifty – wants to pull one last big job and retire. I teamed him with a young would-be cartoonist, Jon (no last name), whose first heist this would be.

Nolan was (and is) an homage (French for “rip-off”) to Richard Stark’s Parker. For a long time, Nolan died at the end of Bait Money, and until an editor returned the manuscript with coffee spilled on it, I had ignored my then agent Knox Burger’s request to un-kill Nolan, which he thought would help the book sell. I did, and it did.

When the publisher (Curtis Books) asked for more, I suddenly had a series. I asked Don Westlake (who of course was Richard Stark) if it was all right with him for me to do a series so blatantly imitative of his own. Don, who’d been mentoring me by mail, was nice enough to say that Nolan with the addition of the surrogate son, Jon, was different enough from Parker for me to proceed with his blessing.

So Blood Money followed, and later came Fly Paper, Hush Money, Hard Cash and Scratch Fever, and finally in the mid-‘80s, Spree. The publishing history is torturous and I won’t go into here, though I’ve discussed it elsewhere in detail.

There’s also a prequel of sorts called Mourn the Living, which was the first Nolan, unsold and tucked away by me till fanzine editor Wayne Dundee heard about it and requested that I allow him to serialize it. Which I did, and it was eventually published a couple of places.

When, a decade and a half ago or so, Charles Ardai was putting Hard Case Crime together, he was nice enough to want to reprint my novel Blood Money, which for inexplicable reasons was and is a favorite of his. I said yes on the condition that he combine it with Bait Money, to make its sequel Blood Money more coherent, into a single volume. He did this. Hard Case Crime is noted for its terrific retro covers, but the Nolan duo – now titled Two for the Money – was possibly the weakest Hard Case Crime cover ever…the only time dark, mustache Nolan was depicted as looking like blond Nick Nolte.

When Charles came around wanting another M.A.C. reprint, I offered to do a new book – The Last Quarry – instead, for the same reprint money, as long as I could get a Robert McGinnis cover. Also, I wanted a chance to finish that cult-ish series once and for all. While I got my McGinnis cover, the rest of the plan didn’t exactly work out that way, and now – with a bunch of new Quarry novels, a Ms. Tree prose novel, several Spillane projects and a couple of graphic novels under our collective belt – Charles has twisted my arm into doing another Nolan.

Part of what made that attractive to me was Charles bringing all of the Nolan novels back out, in the two-per-book format, so that – like the Quarry novels – the entire canon is under one imprint. Better still, we have new covers…including Two for the Money.

Double Down will include Fly Paper and Hush Money. Tough Tender will include Hard Cash and Scratch Fever (these appeared under that join title before but not at HCC). And Mad Money will have Spree and, as a sort of bonus, Mourn the Living.

What will Skim Deep be about? I haven’t plotted it yet, but the premise has to do with a Vegas honeymoon, casino skimming, and a Comfort or two. If you’ve read the Nolan novels, you understand that last bit.

As with the Quarry novels, I will be doing this one in period – probably within a year of the action in Spree.

Am I looking forward to it? Sort of. I have this nagging feeling that by writing another Nolan, at this age, after all this time, I could be bookending my career. So my ambition is not to fucking die immediately after finishing it (or during it, for that matter). I have other contracts to fill, and miles to go before I sleep.

But it sure is fun to see these new HCC covers. The Van Cleef resemblance (which was part of the Pinnacle covers, to a degree, and very much an element of the Perfect Crime reprints) is mentioned prominently in the novels. I met him once, interviewed him, and he treated me with amusement and at one point got briefly irritated with me. It was unsettling but memorable, being Jon to his Nolan. No guns were involved.

* * *

Here’s a nice essay by my frequent collaborator, Matthew Clemens, on what he learned about suspense writing from the film Jaws.

The First Comics News blog has Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother on its Christmas gift list.

And here Ms. Tree is on another holiday gift guide, from Previews no less.

M.A.C.

Killing Quarry (Again), Doctor Sleep and More

November 26th, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

I spoke too soon.

Last week I mentioned that – while reviews have been uniformly splendid for Killing Quarry on the web – none of the publishing industry’s trade publications had weighed in on the latest Quarry novel. As you may recall, I said I was not surprised, because entries in long-running series are often overlooked by PW, Kirkus, Booklist and Library Journal.

But I was wrong, and am delighted to be. I am providing excerpts because links to the full reviews would probably require you to subscribe to the services.

Anyway, this is from Publisher’s Weekly:

“Irresistible … It’s Lu’s presence, and the dash of romance she brings, that really energizes this entry … Collins maintains a tension between the two that’s resolved only on the final page. One of the book’s great pleasures is the humorless Quarry’s deadpan narration, whether he’s describing a pragmatic sexual encounter or exactly how a carefully planned hit can suddenly go off the rails. Newcomers and established fans alike will be happily drawn into Quarry’s cold-blooded criminal world.”

Okay, actually I’d read this earlier and forgotten about it; it’s a fine review but for the bewildering “humorless Quarry” reference, since the book is pretty much wall-to-wall sick humor, most of it tumbling from Quarry’s (yes) dead-pan lips.

On to Booklist and that fine reviewer, Bill Ott (I define “fine reviewer” as any critic with the sense to like my stuff):

“A thoroughly entertaining pas de deux, evoking Richard Condon’s classic Prizzi’s Honor (1982), in which Quarry and Lu come together as lovers and co-conspirators, despite neither one being sure who will try to kill the other first. The seventies backdrop, complete with cavorting and bloodletting at a former Playboy resort, only adds to the time-capsule ambience of this pulpy pleasure trip.”

For you less worldly readers, a pas de deux is a dance between a man and a woman (all right, I admit it – I had to look it up…je m’excuse.)


Cover Art for Killing Quarry
by Paul Mann

Last week I also hyped the audio of Killing Quarry read by Stefan Rudnicki even though I hadn’t heard it yet. Since then Barb and I took a day trip to Des Moines for shopping and food and maintaining our sanity, and the five-hour round trip allowed us to listen to Stefan narrating Killing Quarry (the new Quarry novel – have I mentioned that?).

Stefan does a fantastic job on the book. I will admit that the first time I heard him read a Quarry I wondered if his deep, resonant voice, that of a mature male, was right for my eternally boyish killer. I was soon won over, because Stefan gets every nuance of what I’m up to. He has lately been narrating the Mike Hammer novels (Murder, My Love and the forthcoming Masquerade for Murder), and stepping in for Stacy Keach in that regard is a daunting task, but what a fine job Stefan’s doing of it.

Dan John Miller has become, for me (and for Barb), the voice of Nate Heller. He has done all of the Heller novels including Better Dead, as well as the novellas (Triple Play) and short stories (Chicago Lightning), and I hope (if I land an audio book) he’ll read Do No Harm. In just that way, Stefan has become the voice of Quarry for me, and the male maturity he brings indicates that the notion of Quarry writing these memoirs later in life (much as Nate Heller does) is the right one.

Quarry is on hiatus at the moment, because the next novel for Hard Case Crime will be a Nolan – Skim Deep. More about that later.

* * *

While in Des Moines I caught the film Doctor Sleep, which seems not to be staying in theaters long. That’s a pity because it’s a fine Stephen King adaptation, and director/screenwriter Mike Flanagan pulls off a feat that I would have thought impossible – managing to make the film simultaneously an effective sequel to Kubrick’s The Shining and King’s The Shining. To do this, he had to get past both Stanley Kubrick’s estate and Stephen King, who notoriously hates the Kubrick film (he’s wrong) to the annoyance of the late director’s estate (they’re right, unless King didn’t cash the check).

I have a lot of respect for Stephen King, by the way. I discovered him via the novel Carrie, a copy of which my wife’s then-teenage sister was reading. It’s a great book, and I followed his work for a while, but couldn’t keep up with his output (look who’s talking) and also found his prose increasingly self-indulgent, after he got so famous he could no longer be edited. Was anybody really looking forward to a longer “cut” of The Stand?

But the guy is a hell of a storyteller, with a wonderful imagination and a devotion to exploring his own obsessions and concerns via prose fiction. Good for him. Who else do you know, who is still walking the planet, who created a section of every bookstore to accommodate the genre he popularized? “Horror” didn’t get its own shelves till King came along.

So I usually go to the movies based on his work and this is a good one, rivaling the two It films. As someone who’s written his share of sequels, I was impressed by how both the filmmaker and the source material explored a wholly different tale but then wound back up at the Overlook Hotel to tie a bloody bow on the proceedings. I particularly relished the bad guys, hippies living in a caravan of Winnebagos, riding under the radar of the world – deadly Dead Heads.

Star Ewan McGregor is fine as the adult Danny Torrance and a very good Kyliegh Curran is the preteen gifted (and plagued by) a “shining” of psychic abilities. An astonishing Rebecca Ferguson is the chief evil hippie woman, and if you’re wondering who might be able to play Ms. Tree effectively, take a look at her.

I’d also like to recommend several ongoing TV series I’ve seen of late, the kind of eight-or-ten-episodes-per-season unfolding novels-on-screen that make binge-watching such a delirious drug.

Danny McBride has already done two of my favorite examples of that form by way of Eastbound & Down and Vice Principals, both among the best dark comedies I’ve ever seen. McBride is relentless in making the characters he plays un-self-aware assholes, and yet somehow appealing and even displaying unlikely redemptive moments. He has topped himself in the epic Righteous Gemstones, an acid yet oddly affectionate look at a family who have taken right-wing Christianity to ridiculous yet believable low heights of show biz carnyism. McBride’s trick (and that word is not really fair) is exposing his characters, and this time the whole family surrounding his character, as fairly terrible human beings, then gradually revealing their humanity, which – damnit – makes us care about them. This is my favorite American drama, although really it’s a satirical melodrama, but let’s not carp. An HBO show.

A close second is Goliath, the Billy Bob Thorton drama (again, it’s melodrama, but nobody but me seems to make that distinction anymore) about a lawyer who rose and fell and (sort of) rose again. He’s the David who battles one Goliath per season, fighting the powers of political and economic corruption. The first season is among the best of its kind, the second season slightly faltering by going over the top sexually (and that’s me complaining, remember) but mostly by failing to show Billy Bob in court – part of the effectiveness of the series is its depiction of the main character as something of a shambling alcoholic with a seemingly inexplicable big reputation, the reason for which is only revealed in the courtroom. The third season, which is kind of a sideways modernday take on Chinatown, is back on point, with Billy Bob back in court, alienating a crooked judge. It streams on Amazon Prime.

I would also recommend Wentworth, the re-imagining of the classic Prisoner Cell Block H. Barb and I just watched season seven of this terrific women-in-prison show, which is very much a soap opera but an incredible one, with a primarily female cast who just kill it. This streams on Netflix, but we watched it on a Blu-ray from the UK.

* * *

For those of you wanting signed copies of Killing Quarry, VJ Books has it on sale here at around 40% off.

The unstoppable J. Kingston Pierce has listed (by year) the best books of the decade, and two are mine (Quarry’s Choice and Better Dead).

Charles Ardai, bless him, has given Geeks A Go Go (love it) a great interview about Quarry in general and Killing Quarry in particular.

Another fine Killing Quarry review is here from Criminal Element.

Crime Fiction Lover loves it, too.

But enough about Quarry. Here’s somebody who considers Road to Perdition one of the great gangster films.

M.A.C.

Killing Quarry and an Unlikely Movie Trilogy

November 19th, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

Paperback:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes
Audible: Audible

Killing Quarry from Hard Case Crime is available now, both at brick-and-mortar venues (you remember them – “stores”) and online from the usual suspects.

I’m happy to say that the reviews have been very good so far, and I’ll share links to some at the end of this update. Nothing from the trades yet – Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist and Library Journal – and we may not get any, either, as entries in long-running series are often overlooked.

Also available now is the audio of Killing Quarry, read by the masterful Stefan Rudnicki, who has been narrating Mike Hammer of late, too, and who did a multiple-award-winning job on Scarface and the Untouchable. Barb and I haven’t listened to Killing Quarry yet, as we’re saving it for a next car trip. But I’m sure Stefan did his usual great job.

For those wondering where this fits into the chronology, Killing Quarry is the final “list” book, though I may do that theme again, earlier in the chronology. I jump around a lot. As I prepare to write the follow-up to Spree in what will be the first Nolan novel in decades, I intend to keep it in period much as I have the Quarry books written after The Last Quarry.

If you think you’re confused, imagine how I feel.

* * *

Barb and I went to two movies recently, Midway and Ford V Ferrari, which with Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood to form a kind of trilogy in my mind. I will explain after a few words about those first two.

Midway is a first-rate look at the famous battle and everything that led up to it (Pearl Harbor, Doolittle’s raid on Toyko); all of the characters are based on real people. It’s a film worth seeing on a big screen, and to these eyes – supposedly 20/20 with my glasses on – the CGI is impressive, the scope and the nastiness of the action spelled out, sometimes chillingly. The cast is fine, with Patrick Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Aaron Eckhart and Dennis Quaid standouts, and boy band star Nick Jonas doing well, too – of course, you must factor in that I think Rick Nelson is wonderful in Rio Bravo.

Despite what some of the reviews (particularly the bad ones) say, this Midway is not a remake of the 1976 film of that name, which had an incredibly stellar cast (Henry Fonda, Hal Holbrook, Robert Mitchum, Glenn Ford and on and on) in a cut-and-paste affair marked by combat photography, stock footage, and rear-projection.

The critical hostility toward Midway almost certainly has to do with its director, Roland Emmerich, who is known for big-budget, visually impressive, but hokey if entertaining fare like Independence Day and White House Down. This film seems solid on its history and does not indulge in the soap opera tactics that torpedoed Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor.

It’s worth seeing.

Ford V Ferrari, on the other hand, is essential viewing. The leads, Christian Bale as driving legend Ken Miles and Matt Damon as sports car designer Carroll Shelby, dominate the screen at least as thoroughly as the racing action that makes seeing this in a theatrical setting a must. The friendship of Bale and Damon is the heart of the film, and despite all the speed and thrills, it’s a character study of both Miles and Shelby. Bale is so winningly over-the-top that it’s hard not to love his character, and to be impressed by his performance. Damon, in his quiet way, is just as good.

The plot hangs on a rivalry between the men who ran Ford and Ferrari respectively, and how Henry Ford the Second’s desire to show up Enzo Ferrari had the American auto manufacturer putting together a racing team to do it. Simple as that premise is, director James Mangold and writers Jex Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth and Jason Keller create conflicts and humor enough for half a dozen good films. The depiction of Ford II (Tracy Letts) and his staff, including a hilariously sycophantic Josh Lucas (“Have a good dinner, sir!”) and a budding automotive giant named Lee Iacocca, well-played by Jon Bernthal, is painfully familiar to any of us who have ever had to deal with “suits” to realize our dreams.

So what makes a trilogy out of Midway, Ford V Ferrari and Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood? Well, Ferrari is almost a companion piece to Hollywood, in its spot on depiction of the ‘60s (albeit slightly earlier) with music and cars and billboards, among much else, putting it over. And Midway similarly takes us on a time machine ride (although, in fairness, Tarantino does the most thorough job of it and, of course, the most stylish).

Taken together, these three films make a point, perhaps intentionally or maybe not. But in the current political climate, they remind us that the only way we can feel good about America right now is to look in the rearview mirror.

* * *

Here are the Killing Quarry reviews, as promised.

First up, this short but sweet (and illustrated!) one from Jessicamap reviews.

Here’s a great one from the UK’s Shots by Mike Stotter.

Geek Hard delivers this beauty.

Here’s a solid one from the Warrendale Detroit Blog.

Finally, here’s a fantastic one from Bookreporter.com.

M.A.C.

Friendly Fire

November 12th, 2019 by Max Allan Collins

You may have heard that I put my foot in it at Bouchercon last week, which is very much the case. I have apologized on Facebook and elsewhere, but I wanted to do that here as well, since this is where I interact with my readers, who are nice enough to care about what I’m up to.

I’ll get to the apology soon enough, but I want to provide some context. Doing so risks being accused of trying to justify what I said, but the unjustifiable cannot by definition be justified. I have been reminded that words matter, and as a wordsmith I believe I already know that, or should. But without context, words just float there, causing trouble.

At Bouchercon last week I presented the Best Novel “Shamus” award. This came at the end of a longer day than is advisable for somebody my age with my recent health history. Barb and I skipped Thursday, the first day of the convention, because it fell on Halloween and we wanted to give out the usual treats and have the fun of spending some time with our two grandkids. That had us getting up at 4 a.m on Friday. Barb was very ill, with a terrible cough; I’d had the same cold but was in the latter stages. At the con, she came out of the hotel room only for a few key events, including the Private Eye Writers of America banquet. She shook no hands.

I spent that first day in meetings with editors and publishers, and we were late for the banquet because one of my obligations (a pleasant one) was stopping by the Thomas & Mercer cocktail party. I’m pretty much a non-drinker, as some of you know, and did not imbibe. So much for that excuse. What remains is the stupid one: I should have grabbed a nap. Cue the eyeball rolls among the young.

Bob Randisi, my oldest friend in the writing game, and his lovely partner, Christine Matthews, do a bang-up job on the banquets. Christine works hard to find a good, interesting venue in each city the con travels to, working by phone mostly, and obviously can only rarely visit the venue ahead of time before booking it. The venue this year was in a charming part of Dallas, and was itself charming, the food excellent, the best PWA banquet ever some have said.

Here comes the however: the logistics of the dining room were dire. In a long narrow room, presenters – sans podium – were facing the short width of the room, specifically the rest rooms, with big groups of diners to the left and right. Without a sound system at the facility, Bob used an amplified microphone, which was just not up to the job, particularly with music coming in from the street directly outside.

Presenters, including Bob himself, quickly were pelted with yells of “Can’t hear you!” from either side of this divided country. As things wore on, the left half of the room got rowdier and rowdier, the right half ever more sedate. Speakers preceding the awards proper began abandoning the mic, and just talking loud – one made a joke of it and yelled his entire fifteen-minute presentation (that got very old). A stand-up comedy routine that went flat had been prepared with visual aids that would have been difficult to see even under better circumstances. A lovely speech written by the absent recipient of the Eye (PWA Grand Master, Les Roberts) proved too lengthy.

By the time I went on, last, some humor was needed, and brevity too, so I tried to provide some of both. How did that go? Mostly okay, actually. I spoke about how much the Shamus award meant to writers – in my case, it jump-started me as a private eye writer in 1984, with True Detective winning Best Novel, after I’d written about crooks and amateur sleuths for over a decade.

Bob had given me the nominee list (and winner) at the event itself, at the little table Barb and I and Christine shared. I’d only been asked the day before to give the Best Novel Award. Once in the past, I’d mangled the names on such a list given me last minute by Bob. Because the tables were filled by the time we arrived, going around trying to find five writers I’d never met wasn’t practical. I did my best, at one point giving Bob a bad time about putting me in this spot again, looking at the list with its several non-Anglo Saxon names, and saying, “Furriners!” in an arch and I thought obviously ironic way, meant to underscore my own ineptitude at pronouncing these names. I think it’s fair to say that people who know me much at all do not consider me a stupid bigot, or a smart one, either.

It got the modest laugh it maybe deserved, and I had no idea some of those attending were offended until an editor from Soho came up to Bob and me after the event, as we stood there chatting with people filing out. The editor stated that what I’d said had made some people uncomfortable; she said this not to me, but to Bob, though I was standing right there. That, frankly, rubbed me the wrong way. So did her adding that she herself had not been offended.

I told her to “Lighten up,” and Bob reminded her that Soho hadn’t yet paid for their banquet tickets. That was the extent of the conversation.

At the convention the next day, I attended Barb’s panel and my own – a PWA panel, as it happened – and did several signings and prowled the book room. No one mentioned what I’d said at (or after) the banquet, and even now I don’t know whether the blowback was brewing at the con or if that waited till social media got hold of it.

Monday morning, back in Iowa, I was writing when I got an e-mail from an editor saying I needed to issue an apology, brief and immediate, and hope that it put out the firestorm. I frankly did not know what he was talking about, but I tracked it down, and yes, what I’d said at the PWA banquet was a “thing” on Facebook.

I use Facebook sparingly and Twitter not at all. I had not reflected on what I’d said, as a presenter or to that Soho editor after. The first had been just a sarcastic throwaway, the latter a response not to her complaint so much as what struck me as the risible manner in which that complaint had been made. I made two back-to-back posts, one protesting the rush to judgment, particularly from people who weren’t in attendance (“furriners” had become “foreigners”), and another apologizing to the nominees.

Sometimes when you say something stupid, you don’t even realize it was stupid till later. Now, as I reflected, I came to feel I had diminished the honor of the nominees, not only presenting in a jokey manner an award I immensely value myself, but doing so with a tasteless throwaway – lampooning a view I consider so ridiculously stupid, I couldn’t imagine anyone taking it at face value.

So I apologized on Facebook, and apologized privately to several of the nominees. In the former case, I was accused of trying to explain away my screw-up; but in the latter case, I found the nominees with whom I was able to connect (including the winner) not only gracious, but helpful in making me understand how hurtful that one word had been. They also made a good case for the bravery of the editor who approached with her comment after the event.

My main concern, frankly, is those nominees. It makes me heartsick – actually, nauseated – to think that I took anything away from their honor. I have sat as a nominee in a PWA banquet myself, many times, and I know the pins-and-needles feelings that go through you, waiting for the winner’s name to be read. As literally the person who has lost more Shamus awards than anyone else on the planet, I assure you that anxiety never leaves.

So to them my apology is unconditional, and it extends to everyone in that room, including the SoHo editor, who was the only one with guts enough to make her complaint heard at the event itself. That apology extends to anyone who has offered criticism to me about this, or felt in any way offended. And I apologize to the PWA and its membership for putting them on the spot. To all but the mean-spirited among you, I apologize.

And I thank the editors who got in touch supportively, and to my fellow writers who defended me, some of whom got chastised almost as much as I did. I knew the smart thing to do would probably have been to make a short but complete apology and get out of Dodge. If you read these Updates, you know that’s not my way. Instead I engaged in the discussion at Erin Mitchell’s thread.

That was the extent of my engagement, however, except for adding a few comments at blogs where this came up, repeating (no cut and paste – always a fresh start) my apology. I got into discussions of various aspects of this debacle with posters at Erin’s site, and got a better understanding of seeing this through the eyes of others. For a long time, I did not feel that my behavior with the Soho editor was wrong, but it was, and I should have known that earlier. It took mettle to approach us, and I was flat-out rude to her. I am not known for rudeness, but I was rude.

Maybe a nap would have helped.

I disagree with certain of these reasonable posters on the topic of intent. Many insist intent doesn’t matter (I got compared to a rapist in this discussion, which was no fun). I would argue that mean-spirted intent does matter. Me lampooning ethnocentric attitudes, poorly, is not equal to a racist’s idiocy.

But they do make a good point – dying by friendly fire makes you just as dead as when the bad guys are doing the shooting.

aug 19, 2003 visitors since August 19, 2003.