Posts Tagged ‘Fate of the Union’

James Bond And Me

Tuesday, November 10th, 2015
Fate of the Union

Audio MP3 CD:

Before we get to James Bond, I need to mention that FATE OF THE UNION’s pub date is today. Over the weekend, Barb and I took a day trip to Des Moines and listened in the car to the audio version, read by the always terrific Dan John Miller.

This really seems like a good one to me, whether you read it or Dan reads it to you, and I hope you’ll give it a try.

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We tend to think of the pop-culture British Invasion as beginning with the Beatles. But I doubt the Beatles would have hit quite so hard if secret agent James Bond hadn’t softened up American teenagers first.

I was thirteen or fourteen when I first read Ian Fleming. I was in the eighth grade, and in complete Mickey Spillane/Mike Hammer thrall. But Mickey wasn’t writing much – his first novel in almost a decade, THE DEEP (1961), was not a Hammer – and I was in the market for something to tide me over until Spillane got around to writing something again. But I’d already plowed through all the Richard S. Prather/Shell Scott novels and a lot more (and Chandler and Hammett, of course).

Then came James Bond.

Ian Fleming, on the first round of Signet paperback Bond reprints (significantly, Mickey’s paperback publisher), was blurbed as the British Spillane, and Bond the Brit Hammer. This wasn’t hard to do, since many reviews pointed out Spillane as a Fleming source, and Signet even used Hammer cover artist Barye Phillips. Despite Fleming’s third-person approach, and the civil servant aspect of the character, Bond was nonetheless very similar to Hammer – a killer who got a lot of sex, to put it bluntly. Calling Bond a Hammer imitation would not be going too far.

The first Fleming novel, CASINO ROYALE – published at the height of worldwide Spillane mania (1953) – was in particular a Hammer-like novel, right down to its violent, sado-masochistic torture-scene climax and its abrupt ending, with the chilling last line of the book not unlike I, THE JURY’S “It was easy.”

While Fleming never replaced Spillane in my pulpy little heart, Bond zoomed into a secure second place behind the world’s toughest private eye. Reading these books in the early ‘60s – though most were published in the ‘50s – Bond seemed a logical next-decade extension of Hammer, particularly through the intermediate step of cool Peter Gunn, the Hammer imitation that sparked the TV private eye fad. The GUNN pre-credits sequences, followed by Mancini’s powerful theme set to abstract animation, is an obvious precursor to the way Bond films begin to this day.

I was alone among my junior-high peers in my enthusiasm for Fleming (a few were into Spillane, though). So when suddenly, in 1963, a film of DR. NO appeared on the pop-culture horizon, I could hardly believe it – had people in England actually made a movie just for me?

As an only child, I occasionally was able to pressure my parents in doing what I wanted. And what I wanted was to see DR. NO the evening it opened in Davenport, Iowa. Trips to the Quad Cities, before improved highways came along, were rare for my family. It took a lot of work to get my parents to take me to the first Bond film, in the middle of the week on a school night.

As someone who had been reading Fleming, I can assure you that Sean Connery’s “Bond, James Bond” all but sent me into a paroxysm of glee. He was perfect, and so was the movie. Soon the disease spread, and within a year all of my friends, particularly, the males, were Bond fanatics. We routinely went to openings at matinees and sat through the films at least twice. In those pre-VCR days, we gobbled up the double feature retreads that appeared a year or so later, as well. Binge watching is nothing new.

My lovely wife Barb also loved the Bond films, and in the early days of going together and well into the early years of our marriage, we would follow that same matinee-then-sit-through-it-again routine. The delight of seeing YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE twice remains a fond, shared memory.

Since then, I have never missed a Bond film on opening weekend – usually opening night. This continued through the hit-and-miss Roger Moore years – as a MAVERICK fan, I was more forgiving than some, since Moore had been Cousin Beau Maverick (and of course the Saint) – and I have a vivid memory of Barb and me seeing LIVE AND LET DIE in a theater in Wichita, Kansas (on our way back from a comic con in Texas). The title song and credit sequence was so great, what followed seemed pretty good, too.

I’ve gone on record here and elsewhere that I consider Timothy Dalton the second-best Bond next to Connery, who in my heart of hearts is the only true Bond. There are Bond movies without Connery, but the only real Bond movies have Connery in them (and I include NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN). On the other hand, Pierce Brosnan makes a fine melding of Connery and Moore, and unfairly got the bum’s rush out of a series he helped revitalize.

Now we come to Daniel Craig, who is a fine, tough Bond, if a little rough-hewn for anyone who has read the books – he’s one of those actors who the leading ladies love because the script tells them to. That aside, he may be the finest actor ever to play the role, and CASINO ROYALE, QUANTUM OF SOLACE and SKYFALL are terrific movies, including the second one on that list, even if it does lag behind the other two.

Which brings us to SPECTRE.


First, here’s what I don’t like about the film – Sam Smith’s song. The title sequence is great, but Smith is a second-rate talent with a third-rate song, and Bond films deserve better. They deserve the best.

Second, here’s what I like about the film – everything else. I know reviews have been mixed, but those reviews tend to look at the film in an inappropriate, realistic way, not in the context of the series. They wanted something grittier, and instead got what they dismiss as a formulaic Bond film. Were these naysayers present during the last few scenes of SKYFALL, when the series did a backward reboot with Bond entering the classic Connery-era office?

SPECTRE is what the first three Craig movies were leading up to – a big, sometimes a little dumb, but always exciting James Bond movie much in the manner of DR. NO, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, GOLDFINGER, THUNDERBALL, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE and ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. Virtually all of those films are referenced in SPECTRE, but not in cutesy ways. The villain’s liar is DR. NO and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE; Bond in captivity facing slow death is the laser-beam scene from GOLDFINGER; FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE’S hand-to-hand combat in a train compartment is expanded to every car; and ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE is referenced by a snowy mountain retreat and some Alpine violence.

At the same time, modern elements come into play – there’s nothing retro about the way Moneypenny, Q and M are portrayed, and the size of the action scenes rival or probably out-do anything in the BOURNE films. The villain (who also appears in a number of the films mentioned above, but I won’t spoil things by telling you that he’s Blofeld) (whoops) is the Moriarty of the Bond movies. Speaking of Moriarty, the actor who portrays him in the BBC SHERLOCK (Andrew Scott) appears as an adversary of M’s in the muddy bureaucracy of British spydom. Seems the bad guys want to control all the surveillance in the world, including anything pertaining to innocent citizens like you and me – which is about as topical a theme as you could come with.

If you don’t like this movie, I’m sorry, but you’re not a James Bond fan. You may be a fan of SKYFALL, you may be a fan of Daniel Craig, but not a Bond fan. And what gives me the right to make such a pronouncement? Well, without me, there would have been no SKYFALL or SPECTRE.

You see, I wrote a little graphic novel called ROAD TO PERDITION, the Sam Mendes-directed movie of which featured Daniel Craig. If I had not written PERDITION, Craig and Mendes would not have (wait for it) bonded.

You’re welcome.

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Please check out one of the coolest reviews I’ve ever received for a Mike Hammer.

This just in: a review of the 1990 paperback, DICK TRACY: THE SECRET FILES.

And here’s a review of the Ms. Tree novel, DEADLY BELOVED.

Check out this splashy display of FATE OF THE UNION with a brief, nice review. (Did I mention this was pub day?)

Library Journal takes a nice look at Titan Books, with a mention or two of yours truly (oddly, though, no Mike Hammer reference).

Finally, here’s a terrific review of THE FIRST QUARRY.


Fate of the Union Approaches

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015
Fate of the Union

FATE OF THE UNION, the second Reeder and Rogers political thriller, will be published November 10. But I have ten advance copies available to the first ten readers who ask for one, on the condition that they post a review at Amazon and/or elsewhere. (If you are a blogger and have a regular review column, let me know and I’ll see that you get a copy from Thomas & Mercer.) The only other condition is that this is for USA residents only – postage overseas and even to Canada has gotten prohibitive.

Request a copy by e-mailing me at . Be sure to include your snail-mail address!

Some of you may not have read the first Reeder and Rogers novel, SUPREME JUSTICE, but if you like anything of mine, you’ll likely enjoy this series. SUPREME JUSTICE, ironically not read by as many of my regular readers as other titles of recent years, is among my bestselling books ever – nearly 300,000 copies are out there. The majority of those readers have come to SUPREME JUSTICE on Kindle.

As I’ve mentioned here before, Matthew Clemens gets cover billing this time, though truth be told he deserved it last time, as well (and on the previous Thomas & Mercer thriller, WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER). I’ve made no secret about the fact that Matt has worked with me on almost two dozen novels, mostly TV tie-ins (CSI, BONES, DARK ANGEL, CRIMINAL MINDS). For the record, I’ve done all the movie novelizations (dreaded term) myself.

Since I’ve moved away from doing tie-in work, I took Matt along for the Amazon thrillers because our collaboration is a comfortable and I think outstanding one. We did two thrillers at Kensington – where Matt shared co-author billing – that have done very well, building sales over the years, particularly on Kindle, due to the success of the Thomas & Mercer-pubbed thrillers. Those books are YOU CAN’T STOP ME and NO ONE WILL HEAR YOU. We also have written many short stories together – almost always with Matt sharing byline – and gathered some of them into a book called MY LOLITA COMPLEX (2006), which has become something of a high-ticket item, though the title story is available from Amazon on Kindle for a mere pittance.

Back to FATE OF THE UNION. Joe Reeder is an ex-Secret Service agent who has his roots in my IN THE LINE OF FIRE novelization and BOMBSHELL by Barb and me (now available under our shared “Barbara Allan” byline), both of which starred tough Secret Service agents. He is partnered with a young FBI agent, Patti Rogers, who is not his love interest. The books are tough and violent, and have been somewhat controversial.
Though I thought I was hitting the ball right down the center in SUPREME JUSTICE, some conservative readers (I should say “readers,” since some seemed to be posting bad reviews at Amazon without actually reading the book) disliked the novel, apparently because Joe Reeder is a Democrat. The book deals with the assassinations of Supreme Court Justices by a bad guy who wants to reconfigure the court into a more leftist manner – how that makes the book anti-conservative is bewildering to me.

Despite the efforts of some politically motivated “readers,” SUPREME JUSTICE has a four-star rating at Amazon, and an astonishing 3440 reviews (last time I checked).

FATE OF THE UNION deals with a multi-millionaire (perhaps billionaire) who decides to run for the presidency; there is an assassination attempt in the midst a string of what appear to be serial killings. The theme is the destructiveness of extremism, no matter what the politics behind it.

This past week Matt was interviewed by a Crimespree reviewer and he deals very effectively and frankly with how our collaboration works. Read it here.

While we’re at it, here’s a fun piece about how and why I quit as writer of the BATMAN comic book.

The same folks revealed why the DICK TRACY novelization doesn’t reveal the bad guy’s identity until the 6th printing.

Finally, here is a really nice article – smart and lengthy – about MS. TREE and her place in the history of crime comics.


A Fair Hearing

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

Barb and I visited our son Nate, his bride Abby and our new grandson (still unnamed at this writing) over the weekend in St. Louis. The little guy – he was early, and truly is little – is doing fine, and so are his parents. It was a fun visit and heartwarming, and I’ll stop right there before everybody gets sick.

I mentioned last time that there’s a new audio out of my 2008 X-FILES movie novelization, I WANT TO BELIEVE. We listened to it on the ride down and back, and enjoyed it – the narrator, Patrick Lawlor, did a good job. I rarely revisit a movie novelization, and this proved interesting for a number of reasons.

First, as often happens when I listen to an audio of my work, I am in a best-of-times-worst-of-times mode. I usually have forgotten enough about the plot (whether my own or some screenwriter’s) to enjoy the novel as a narrative. But I also cringe at things that I will never get the chance to fix. In writing a novelization of a film, the work often goes fast and has to be handed in on a near-impossible deadline, and I WANT TO BELIEVE could definitely have benefitted from another pass where I tweaked and fixed things. On the whole, though, it came out pretty good. Or as Larry David would say, “Pretty, pretty good.”

When we got home, I decided to look at the film itself. I had it on blu-ray but hadn’t watched it since I saw it in the theater. I haven’t done a movie novelization in a long time (I WANT TO BELIEVE was one of the last), but my most vivid memory of those days is that seeing the film in a theater was always a weird experience for me. I had spent enough time writing the novel that the narrative on hand seemed my own (a delusion). A fact of life for the writer of a movie novel is that you work from a screenplay and do not get access to the film itself, though you are expected to mirror that film. Now and then, you get a few clips and the X-FILES people were generous with wardrobe sheets and cast lists, and were always there to answer questions (“What kind of car does Scully drive?” “What color?”). But mostly you’re flying blind, as screenplays are notoriously bare bones.

Seeing the movie after having just heard the novelization made me feel good about what I’d accomplished. I had definitely imagined, and recorded, a movie from that screenplay that tallied well the actual film. The biggest difference was an odd one. The main villain was described in the screenplay as having black stringy hair and craggy ugly features, and was frequently linked to the Russian madman, Rasputin. In the film itself, blond, rather handsome actor Callum Keith Rennie – who was a good guy co-star on one of my favorite TV series, DUE SOUTH – was the bad guy. So that change was startling.

Others were very minor. A couch turned into a folded-out day bed; bone marrow cancer became lung cancer. Otherwise, I pretty much conjured up the same movie, albeit on paper. Some of the character names – no doubt forced by the legal department on the filmmakers – I disliked. One tough African-American FBI agent was called “Wesley Drummy.” Horrible name, not at all suited to the character. In the film it gets used once or twice; in the book I had to use it all the time. A number of awkward character names made the book seem klutzy at times – this is not at all uncommon in the novelization game. You’re stuck with these stupid names.

I liked the film, which remains much maligned. I do think the X-FILES folks made a major mistake in having Scully and Mulder at odds and separated through much of the story. Nothing wrong with that story, but a crucial creative meeting was skipped – the one where everybody sat down and asked each other, “What do X-FILES fans want to see?” Not Dana Scully turning her back on the FBI and Mulder to tend to a little kid with a brain tumor.

The experience of hearing my books on audio is always gratifying and frustrating. I careen between thinking, “That was a really nice scene/line/description,” to, “Jesus, I wish I could fix that!” And you are the captive of the audio-book reader. I’ve had some great ones, quite a few good ones, and some terrible ones. One guy read DAMNED IN PARADISE in a bad Bogart impression. (I gave my freebie copies to friends as gag gifts.) On the other hand, the Hellers have all been read in recent years by the excellent Dan John Miller, who has virtually become Nate’s voice.

The day I’m writing this, Dan is in the studio reading FATE OF THE UNION. He did a fantastic job on the first book in the Reeder and Rogers series, SUPREME JUSTICE, and both Matt Clemens and I are thrilled to have him back for FATE. Dan also did a great job on THE WRONG QUARRY, but the new Quarry audio book publisher, Skyboat, features the QUARRY novels as read by the excellent Stefan Rudnicki. Rudnicki is an older, huskier Quarry, a deeper voice than the character usually receives but an excellent, expressive reader. He knocked the ball out of the park on QUARRY’S CHOICE.

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My friend Mike Dennis campaigned long and hard to get to record an audio of I, THE JURY. Check out his story here.

And, finally, here’s a good if somewhat patronizing review of ANTIQUES SWAP.


Fate of the Union—Covered

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015
Fate of the Union

Here’s the cover for FATE OF THE UNION, the second Reeder and Rogers political thriller from Thomas & Mercer. The first, SUPREME JUSTICE, was one of my bestselling novels ever, so I’m hopeful this one will do well, too.

Whether it will engender the same kind of political controversy as the first remains to be seen. I can’t see any reason for conservatives to get their panties in a bunch this time around, or progressives either; but you never know.

The cover process at Thomas & Mercer is fascinating – they provide a number of possibilities and give the author great input into the final product. I think this one is very good, and that it makes a nice fit with the SUPREME JUSTICE cover.

You’ll note that Matt Clemens shares byline this time around. That’s only a cosmetic change, because Matt was a collaborator on SUPREME JUSTICE as well, and the previous Thomas & Mercer novel, WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER. I wanted to include him on the byline of those, but was discouraged from doing so, because some people make the unfortunate assumption that when a secondary byline appears with a (fairly) well-known author’s, that means the book was ghosted.

Those of you who follow these updates know that Matt and I are genuine collaborators. Our process is one we have shared openly. I usually come up with the basic premise of a novel, and we then – in several sessions – come up with a plot. We both work on a chapter breakdown/synopsis, and then Matt writes a shortish rough draft, which I polish and expand into a longer novel. It’s a synthesis of two writers, and it’s worked very well for us for a long time. We developed the approach on the very successful CSI novels and have continued it elsewhere.

I’m proud and pleased to share cover credit with Matt.

And this book represents, in both our opinions, our best work together. It comes out next November.

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Check out this terrific review of THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK from the great book review site, Bookgasm.