Posts Tagged ‘Girl Most Likely’

Girl Most Likely & Halloween Pushback

Tuesday, October 30th, 2018

One of the best things about working with Thomas and Mercer, Amazon’s crime/mystery line, is the way they encourage authors to contribute ideas to, and opinions about, the covers of that author’s books. Girl Most Likely (which will be published on April 1, 2019) (no fooling) went through perhaps half a dozen cover concepts that were executed more or less completely, with many stages of development of the image you see here.

I find this a very strong cover, and appropriate for the novel, which is the first of at least two about Krista and Keith Larson. I hope to do several more, if readers take to the concept, which has a young (late twenties) police chief in tourist-town Galena, Illinois, teamed with her widower father (late fifties), who is a retired homicide detective.

Galena is of course real, and is virtually a character in the novel (and will be in any subsequent ones). Yes, I am pandering after an audience that likes “Girl” in the title, but this is appropriate, as it’s about a ten-year high school reunion and the homicidal designs of a maniac on the successful young woman who was indeed voted “Most Likely to Succeed” of her high school class. The young female sheriff is a classmate who becomes the person carrying out the criminal investigation.

I’ll talk about this novel more as the publication date draws near, but it’s an attempt on my part to do something neither hardboiled nor cozy. While it has its noir aspects – the murderer is a very bad dude, although good at providing creepy, scary moments – I did not depict a traditional tough-guy (or tough-gal) protagonist. Both Krista and Keith are portrayed as real people, decent and working through a personal loss – the fairly recent death of Keith’s wife who is of course Krista’s mom.

While Girl Most Likely is something of a departure for me, my readers (you know who you are) should have no trouble getting onboard.

* * *

A few of you have asked about the status of my partnership with writer Matthew Clemens. Matt was a co-writer on the previous four books I did for Thomas & Mercer, initially credited inside, but the final two Reeder and Rogers novels give him cover credit. Matt and I also wrote two J.C. Harrow thrillers for Kensington, and worked together on many, many tie-in novels, specifically CSI, Dark Angel, and Criminal Minds. He is not, however, co-writing the Krista and Keith Larson novels.

The team has not broken up. We are still writing short stories together (we had two out recently) and are developing a horror noir anthology, to which we’ll contribute at least one story. Later I’ll provide a link to a Publisher’s Weekly review of the antho Pop the Clutch, which singles out our latest story. If we do another novel together, it will likely be developed from one of the two short stories we did this year (the other was for Jonathan Maberry’s Hardboiled Horror).

We have also discussed doing a fourth Reeder and Rogers political thriller, although that series was conceived as a trilogy, each novel focusing on a branch of government. We have brainstormed perhaps half a dozen times, in search of a fourth book about the duo. But the current bizarre political climate makes doing a thriller in that genre, well, problematic.

The thing is, I decided a while back not to seek tie-in work beyond my ongoing role with the Spillane estate. It has to do with my heart surgery and other medical fun and games conspiring to remind me that life is finite. So writing somebody else’s characters (with the exception of Mike Hammer, where Mickey arranged for me to be a full collaborator) just doesn’t seem like a good use of my time. And tie-ins are the area where Matt helped me, doing research and writing story treatments that were essentially rough drafts for me to revise and flesh out. (Matt did not work with me on any of the movie novelizations.)

In the third act of my career (and you only get three), I want to focus on projects that are meaningful to me and aren’t just a matter of bread-and-butter. So while Matt remains one of my best friends and a valued collaborator, I think most of my novels – apart from “Barbara Allan” and Spillane – will be solo, from here on out.

Also, Brad Schwartz and I have signed to do a follow-up Ness/Capone book, and Jim Traylor and I have a non-fiction Spillane project in the works. So I obviously am not turning my back on collaboration.

* * *

I’ve had some pushback on my Halloween review. A lot of people like the movie. Those who read my take on the film should have noticed I didn’t say it was bad – just that it wasn’t good. But it does make me want to share a few more thoughts on it, and moviegoing in general.

The new Halloween finds its defenders focusing on the Jamie Lee Curtis aspect, which is fairly well served by the filmmakers – depicting her almost as a survivalist, viewed as a loon even by members of her own family, but – in a strong last act – asserting herself in a booby-trapped fortress of a home, where she has prepared for decades for Michael Myers to make another assault on her (and perhaps her family).

Unfortunately, the first two acts are weak. The kills are gory but unsuspenseful, unpleasant and poorly thought out. The podcast aspect is frankly stupid, and for a film co-written by Danny McBride, the whole affair is shockingly free of humor and irony, with writing that barely tries – Laurie’s teen granddaughter’s up-till-now nice guy boy friend turns drunk and throws her cell phone into a gloppy punchbowl, to free her of any ability to phone home? The shrink who has been treating Michael in the nuthouse is obsessed with knowing what it’s like to kill, and puts on Michael’s mask to do so? (Yeah, that was a spoiler, but at this point I don’t care.) When people start wholesale dying, law enforcement (including a guy who was on the original “babysitter murders” case) makes no effort to shut down trick-or-treating?

Even the stronger third act is riddled with stupidity. Laurie keeps the rooms in her house very spare, so that when Michael eventually invades, he will have few if any hiding places…except for a room full of manikins (life-size targets for her shooting range). Laurie’s daughter (played by Archer/Arrested Development’s Judy Greer) is depicted as weak and hysterical, and though she has a rifle (she was trained in childhood by her mother), she reacts in her daughter’s safe-room basement as if coming apart, proclaiming her inability to shoot that rifle and defend herself…but when Michael comes down after her, as she raves and rants in supposed fear, she snaps into kill mode, saying, “Gotcha.” But she doesn’t need to fool Michael, because he’s a killing machine bent on destruction anyway. She can be whimpering or she can be taunting, it doesn’t matter.

So the “gotcha” is only for the audience. That’s who is being “gotten.”

Okay, so I don’t like the movie. I don’t hate it, and it has its moments. But it’s disappointing.

However. There’s an aspect of moviegoing that is rarely discussed, and that’s how the moviegoing experience itself can impact your opinion. Two cases in point.

Halloween, which Barb and I saw at a 4 pm matinee, was attended by a boorish crowd. We had to move to different seats early on because some old people (really old – older than us!) wouldn’t shut up. Also, behind us was a family who gorged on candy and giant buckets of popcorn, between slurping drinks, and who had brought along a six- or seven-year-old kid to this kill fest. Neither Barb nor I could shake the uncomfortable knowledge that a kid that age was being abused.

By the way, this is at least a little hypocritical, because I showed all the Lone Wolf and cub movies to Nate when he was around eight or nine. But Nate is not an idiot, nor (despite some of what you’ve read in this update) am I.

When Barb and moved to new seats, at the end of a row, a teenage girl moved past us, not excusing herself, then stood beside us talking on her cell phone. We requested that she do that in the lobby. She told us to “chill” and kept talking, before signing off, re-entering the row and giving us the kind of dirty look teenagers are famous for.

This is the climate in which we saw Halloween, and the overall negative impact could only have been improved if the teenage girl with the cell phone had become Michael Myers’ next victim.

Second case in point.

Barb and I took an overnight trip to Des Moines in part to plot the next Antiques novel and also just for a getaway, which we often do at the end of a writing project (in the case, the recently completed Mike hammer novel, Murder, My Love). At one point, while Barb shopped at Jordan Creek Mall, I went to a movie by myself. Yes, that is sad.

The movie was Johnny English Strikes Back. I like Rowan Atkinson very much – huge Blackadder fan, and Mr. Bean is wonderful, too, and Maigret is fine – but the previous two Johnny English films were just…okay. They do big business in England, but for this James Bond fan, I found the first two films, as spoofs, were just…I would say, “Meh,” if I didn’t despise it when people say (or even type) that. So my expectations were low.

And I loved it. Strikes Back was always amusing and, as it built, frequently laugh out-loud funny. The small but appreciative (and well-behaved) audience added to the pleasure. The Bond spoof aspect was stronger here, as the movie emphasized how a Bond-style agent (even an incompetent one) is an analogue player in a digital world, the film quietly having fun with how out-of-date and wrong the Bond concept is almost twenty years into the twenty-first century.

So. Was Strikes Back really as good as I came away feeling it to be? I’m honestly not sure. Low expectations may have benefitted it in the way high expectations made Halloween a disappointment.

To me. Your mileage, as my friend Terry Beatty says, may vary.

* * *

Here is the nice PW review of Pop the Clutch, singling out “Mystery Train,” a short story by Matt Clemens and me.

Finally, here’s where you can get the new, expanded version of Primal Spillane.

M.A.C.

A Movie We Didn’t Walk Out On

Tuesday, March 27th, 2018

The truth of it is, Barb and I rarely walk out of movies. But when we do, I usually post a rant about it here at the weekly update.

This week we saw Tomb Raider somewhat accidentally – I was trying to drag Barb along to see Pacific Rim: Uprising, having really liked the first movie, but we were there to see it in 3-D, as the Internet had assured us this screening would be.

It wasn’t.

So Barb and I went to Tomb Raider in 3-D instead.

We entered about a minute late, because of the Pacific Rim screw-up. This is rare, as I hate not seeing a movie from the very beginning. But we had made a trip to Quad Cities to see a movie in 3-D and I will not be denied, at least not with such important matters.

Anyway, we had seen the preview of Tomb Raider, thought it looked like a passable Saturday or Sunday afternoon matinee. We were wrong. Surprise: it’s more than that. It is a very good, rip-roaring, occasionally amusing, sometimes exciting and even scary Indiana Jones-type adventure, a sort of haunted house of a movie wherein the ghosts are 1940s serials.

Is it a great movie? No. But it delivers on what it promises – imagine that! Yes, it’s a movie based on a video game, and those underpinnings are there, and typically silly. But if you take the ride, assuming such a ride sounds like fun to you, you will be pleased. This reboot is superior to the earlier Tomb Raider movies starring Angelina Jolie (the second of those being particularly dire). Alicia Vikander is intelligent and charismatic as Lara Croft, and the villain is played by the great Walton Goggins of Justified and Vice Principals. A number of fine British actors pop up here and there, too. Oh, and a tomb is raided.

By the way, among the many things that make going to movies in theaters less and less appealing is the general stupidity of the audiences. I refer not to what they seem to put up with (we were surrounded by people in Red Sparrow who seemed to like it, apparently sadomasochists) but actual sheep-like, lemming-like stupidity.

When Barb and I entered Tomb Raider a minute or two late, it was clear we were not in a 3-D screening. Since we were only here because the film we came for was not in 3-D, as advertised, that this one wasn’t in 3-D was…an irritant. Everyone had their 3-D glasses on. No 3-D was happening. No one seemed to notice or care, though everyone had paid extra for the 3-D experience.

We went out to the lobby, reported the lack of 3-D and the mistake was rectified. The movie was in 3-D now. But if Barb and I hadn’t gone out to the lobby, Tomb Raider would have played flat, much like the graph line of mental activity in the brains of the rest of the attendees.

This is not the first weird thing that has happened to me at the movies lately, not hardly.

On my birthday (my 70th, goddamnit and get off my lawn), Barb and I were visiting our son Nathan, his bride Abby and our hilarious genius grandson, Sam. Nate and I left the rest of the brood home and went to a movie, driving some distance to see Annihilation, a s-f film about which more later. I bought my popcorn and Coke Zero and we were soon seated in the theater. About two minutes into the film, someone came in.

This someone was stomping on the floor and laughing manically. Not an exaggeration – if the Joker had been there, he’d have said, “Who’s the lunatic?” The somewhat late arrival stomped slowly up the steps and took a seat in back, making this weird, loud sort of laugh as he went.

I immediately turned to Nate and said, “Let’s go.”

He understood and nodded. We exited quickly and quietly.

Here’s the thing. We were in St. Louis, a big city. For the first time in my life, during which I have seen hundreds, maybe thousands of movies in theaters, I have never thought I might be in danger. But my response now was instant: this person may be here to kill us.

I’m not going to go into a rant about gun control and mental health and school shootings and movie house mayhem. I am going to let you conjure all that yourself. But it says a lot that I did not hesitate to leave at once in the circumstances described above. Nate and I both wondered if we were overreacting. But neither of us wanted to sit through a movie with someone loudly making noise in the back row (which I figured was a good spot for a shooter, but never mind) even if our lives weren’t in potential danger.

We scouted for another movie on another screen and were spotted by someone with the theater, wondering what we were up to. We reported the incident (if that’s what it was) and, eventually, were given a refund. We drove quite a while to another theater where we indeed saw Annihilation, which is interesting but pretentious, and needlessly unpleasant…or was I not for some reason in the mood for a violent movie?

* * *

I have completed Girl Most Likely. I am setting it aside for much of the rest of the week, to dig into the Scarface and the Untouchable galley proofs…all 700 pages. When I’m done, I will return to Girl with some distance and will do the final read-through, tweaking, chasing down typos and fixing errors and inconsistencies. Should be shipping it in about a week.

Right now I feel very pleased. I think I’ve done something different enough to attract some new readers and not so different as to alienate the rest of you.

Meanwhile, Barb is doing very well on her draft of the new Antiques novel. Her steady development as a writer is impressive and a little scary.

* * *

Here is an absolutely splendid Cinema Retro review of The Last Stand, dealing both with the title story and “A Bullet for Satisfaction,” which I co-wrote.

The Mystery Site has posted a smart review of The First Quarry.

The Criminal Element has chosen The Last Stand as one of the five new books you should read.

And, finally, the indefatigable Jeff Pierce provides several links pertaining to Mickey Spillane and me.

M.A.C.

After Party

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

The Spillane birthday was truly a phenomenon. So much appeared on line and in newspapers and magazines that I am encouraged knowing the world remembers, and I believe will continue to remember, one of the greatest mystery writers of all time, and who is on the very short list of great private eye writers.

And the celebration will continue all year and into next. Right now we’re discussing a follow-up Mike Hammer radio-style play in Clearwater, Florida, next February or so, as the official closing event. Gary Sandy will likely be back as Hammer.

Killing Town will be out in April, and the Mike Hammer graphic novel from Titan will appear through the summer and fall, and probably be collected before year’s end.

* * *

I am working on Girl Most Likely, a new thriller with a mystery aspect. I hope to be almost finished with it by next update. Though it was conceived as a one-shot, it’s showing signs of wanting to become a series. In an odd way, it’s like a non-overtly-humorous version of the Barbara Allan books – the main characters are a retired police detective father (recently widowed) and his small-town chief-of-police daughter. The thriller aspect is represented by a scary and violent murderer, and the mystery involves the father-and-daughter duo finding out who that killer is, and stopping him or her.

To some degree this flows from my desire to do something American that recalls/invokes the Nordic crime thrillers best represented by The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in its various forms and such TV series as the assorted Wallander adaptations and the three versions of The Bridge. I like the social commentary aspect of those works and the way a character-driven, not overly hardboiled detective or detectives deal with really frightening, violent adversaries.

I did my Dragon Tattoo variation for Thomas & Mercer a few years ago – What Doesn’t Kill Her – developed with my frequent collaborator, Matt Clemens. This time I’m on my own, though I’ve leaned on Matt for some on-the-fly police procedure stuff and on Barb to keep me honest with the female protagonist (both the daughter and father have equal weight in the narrative, alternating chapters, occasionally interrupted by chapters from the killer’s POV).

I will share more as we draw closer to publication, which won’t be incredibly soon because it’s not finished yet.

Ahead for me are the galley proofs of Scarface and the Untouchable – the thing is massive. Very proud of this, and I have a hunch it’s going to make some noise. My co-author, A. Brad Schwartz, and I are exploring ways to promote the book, which I frankly don’t think will be hard – Capone and Ness are iconic figures in our popular culture. I feel we’ve done them justice and told their story in a new, compelling, ground-breakingly accurate way.

* * *

Barb and I left an area movie theater after about an hour of Red Sparrow.

Now, for a long time I didn’t write negative things about movies. When I started making movies, in my modest way, I got a crash course in how effing hard it is to do. Because of this, I resigned from my Mystery Scene role as film critic, and when I wrote a review column for the late, much-missed Asian Cult Cinema, I wrote almost exclusively about movies I liked.

But, as regular readers of this update know, I have weakened, battered by too many terrible films, until I’m beyond the ability to feel compassion for their makers. Red Sparrow is a good example of why – it is horrid. It makes me wonder if I was wrong to walk out of Atomic Blonde, because Sparrow is so similar and so very much worse.

I am not easily offended. When I am offended, it’s usually something a politician did, not a writer or filmmaker or stand-up comic. But stupidity offends me. Red Sparrow is incredibly stupid, its plot inane. Do I exaggerate? Consider. The female star of the Bolshoi Ballet (which you may be forgiven as thinking of as the Bullshit Ballet in regard to this film) suffers a broken leg that ends her brilliant career. So the KGB (or whatever they’re calling themselves now) recruit her to be a spy…and send her undercover.

World-famous ballet stars being ideal choices for undercover espionage.

Jennifer Lawrence is fine, and very beautiful, and that I would walk out of a film knowing that more of her nude scenes lie ahead speaks volumes in and of itself. For her training in spycraft, she goes to sex-and-sadism school and learns how to give blow jobs to men she doesn’t like (Lawrence’s character herself calls this “whore school”). Her trainer is Charlotte Rampling, apparently cast because she was in the famous sadomasochistic Night Porter decades ago, though what she brings to mind here is Natasha in Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Guess what the plot is about? There’s a mole in the KGB that Lawrence is supposed to expose! Yes, the same as Atomic Blonde. Someone who liked this film said on Facebook (when Terry Beatty wondered if Red Sparrow was worth seeing) that it reminded him of John le Carré. Yes, if you were to read Fifty Shades of Grey and say, “Wow – this is just like Lolita!”

* * *

Here’s a nice Spillane-oriented interview of me by Mike Barson at Crimespree.

I’m somewhat weirded out by reviews of my early work, but this one – of Bait Money and Blood Money in their Hard Case Crime iteration, Two for the Money – isn’t bad.

J. Kingston Pierce provides my chronology of the Mike Hammer novels, which shows where the Spillane/Collins collaborations fit.

Here’s a preview of the final issue of Quarry’s War.

And I am pleased to see Road to Perdition singled out as one of the ten most stylish movies of the century thus far. Most of the writer’s other choices are good ones, though he includes two movies by Darren Aronofsky, one of my least favorite directors, and his top choice, Blade Runner 2049, Barb and I walked out of. A bad movie that looks great is still a bad movie. The play is the thing says I.

M.A.C.