Posts Tagged ‘Jack and Maggie Starr’

Nathan Heller Confidential

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

Out of the blue came a lovely e-mail from Nate Heller fan Peter Roff, who is attempting to read the saga in chronological order. He had some questions for me, and I answered them. With his permission, I’m sharing them with you.

Peter writes: Not that you should care, particularly, but I’ve spent the summer re-reading what I refer to as the original Hellers – everything from True Detective through Chicago Confidential – in the order they were released.

It’s a very different thing to see Heller’s character progress and develop in the linear fashion you provide as the creator of his universe then it is to time travel through his life as I first did, having to find the books where I could online, used, and in some cases very hard to get. At onetime I despaired I would never find a copy of Million-Dollar Wound, for example.

They are, in a word, brilliant. Writing is hard enough. Developing a coherent story line even more so. But to interpose fact with conjecture and make it all believable is the work of a true artist.

I have, though, a couple of questions/comments:

1) After finishing Chicago Confidential this evening I had a singular thought: In Nate Heller’s universe, did he kill Sam Gianacana? For some reason, perhaps the solitary nature of his murder, suggests to me he did.

Well, that might have happened if Perdition and its sequels hadn’t come along. The trickiest thing was establishing (not that anyone cares) that Heller and O’Sullivan were in the same fictional universe. That was a decision I struggled with, because Perdition is looser with the facts than Heller. But Road to Purgatory seemed to me to obviously have to tackle the same material as Million-Dollar. So I chose to make them work together as a pair — fit together like a puzzle, if anybody cares.

2) Is it possible, after spending so much time building him up as a character in the second series of Hellers – the ones that begin with Bye Bye, Baby – that you will NOT have Nate tackle the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa? I ask only because it seems such a natural thing for him to be involved in some fashion but the murder (presumably) is outside the timeline you originally announced.

Where I go from here depends, quite frankly, on how long I’m around. I’m in good shape right now but the last two years were filled with nightmarish health problems that almost killed me. I went back and “picked up” Better Dead because I thought that period and the two stories that comprise it were essential to the overall saga. I’m doing Sam Sheppard next in part because it shouldn’t be as demanding as some of the bigger landscape stories. I hope to do both RFK/Hoffa (in a pair of books) and maybe some piece of Watergate. Anything after that would be filling in blanks. But I’m 69, so how much time I have left to play this game remains to be seen.

3) I have not yet read Better Dead – and am trying to decide if I want to continue reading the books in order through the fall – I’ve read them all, including the two collection of shorts – to stay within the chronology as written OR if I should read it now because, in the real world chronology, McCarthyism comes after Chicago Confidential (more or less) but before Marilyn Monroe. If you have a thought as to which direction I should take I would welcome it.

Read Better Dead. If you can do it after Confidential, that would be ideal. A proviso: I can’t guarantee consistency with a saga written over such a long period of time. Heller isn’t perfect as an old guy gathering his memories.

4) Have you considered a Ronald Reagan book. I know we differ politically BUT I have for many years had a sense there’s a mob story there to be told. His relationship to MCA, his tenure as head of the Screen Actors Guild – you touch on it all when Heller goes to Hollywood and gets close to the IATSE/Willie Bioff studio business. But, for sake of argument, follow it through – what if all the racket busting that happened during Reagan’s presidency – particularly the stuff Rudy Giuliani did to the five families in New York – wasn’t somehow, some way, an extremely sophisticated plot to disadvantage The Syndicate and its interests, perhaps even cripple it, for the benefit of The Outfit and the fellows in Chicago?

Not on my plate at the moment, but interesting. Reagan of course is in True Detective. I was never a fan of his presidency but, brother, is he looking good now. Thanks for not letting politics get in the way of reading the novels. I write the very conservative Mike Hammer, after all, and with Mickey Spillane’s blessing — and he and I weren’t exactly on the same political page…..

Peter ends with: I’ve taken up more than enough of your time. I’ll close here but not before thanking you once again for creating Nate Heller and his universe. It has provided me with hours – days really – full of enjoyment. First, through the pleasure of taking in the stories themselves, then in taking the time to delve into the actual history of the events through which he passes and, finally, to contemplate how close to the actual solution you may have come.

He also provided a link to a fascinating story about a real-life Nate Heller in the 20th Century, which puts the lie to the notion that Heller’s life as I report it is far-fetched.

* * *

Last week Barb and I took in an appearance by Bruce Campbell at the beautifully restored Englert Theater in Iowa City. It was a kind of fancy book signing, with every attendee getting a pre-signed book by Bruce, and Bruce then doing some off-the-cuff stuff before reading a funny section of his new Hail to the Chin. He followed this with taking questions from the 700 in attendance, who were clearly the kind of people who longed to have their Ash action figure signed. He gave them a wonderfully wry bad time, humiliating the dumber questions with a light touch, and as for the intelligent questioners…well, there weren’t any.

Afterward he signed one item for anyone who cared to stay and line up to do so, and Barb and I bailed. We had our signed books, and I’d met Bruce before. So we tucked our Evil Dead Season Two blu-rays and DVD of the complete Jack of All Trades away and drowned our disappointment in Pagliai’s Pizza, the best pizza in Iowa City (and the universe).

Watching Bruce Campbell deal with his very special fan base is a study in patience, good humor and genuine understanding of the importance to him of the kind of geeky fan who would bring the complete Jack of All Trades DVD for signing.

* * *

Barb was down with a cold, so I took in IT by myself (she wasn’t that interested). I am lukewarm on Stephen King but I like horror, so I went. You probably did, too. Let me get the negative out of the way, with a little positive mixed in. I read Carrie before the film came out and was mightily impressed. The Shining, too, and a couple of other things. The original films from those two novels are masterpieces, and I include the Kubrick, which nobody seems to notice is a deal-with-the-devil movie.

Anyway, IT (never read the book and didn’t see the old TV mini-series) got off to a bad start with me when an outsider girl got garbage dumped on her by mean girls. Later she would be washed in blood, which the story ties to menstrual blood. In addition to this unimaginative reworking of Carrie (right down to a Travolta-esque bully) we have a fairly lazy reworking of Stand by Me, with kids as stereotypical as the G.I.s in a 1940s war movie. And predictably all the adults in the world of these young teens are monsters – grotesques, Hieronymous Bosch figures in bad eighties clothing. But what do you expect from a guy who wrote two haunted car novels?

Still, it’s a fine line between just repeating yourself and exploring recurring themes, and King is a law unto himself. Any writer has to stand in awe of an author who is so popular that a new section of the bookstore has to be created – that’s right, there were no “horror” sections at all in bookstores before King. Of course, now there are almost no bookstores. (Steve – have you done haunted bookstore yet?)

So did I like IT? Very much. It’s heavy-handed, but I am fine with melodrama, and most horror is very much that. This is a world where fear lurks in darkness – including the almost comically under-lit homes where the teens live with their awful single parents – and each kid must face his or her biggest fear to overcome the monster that their parents may have created. Not an new idea but a deeply resonating one.

This is a beautifully crafted movie, and the kid actors are so good, they don’t seem to be acting at all. Director Andy Muschietti handles the young cast very well, though he is stronger on creepy than scary (but I did jump a couple of times). Bill Skarsgård as the evil clown is a prime example of the creep factor, his smile oozing saliva and blood lust. And any hetrosexual male who does not fall in love with actress Sophia Lillis as Beverly needs medical attention, right now.

* * *

Crusin’s third gig with new guitarist Bill Anson is our last scheduled date of the year, though if something comes in, we’ll consider it. We’ll be rehearsing once a month over the winter. Here’s a shot of us playing bike night at Ducky’s Lagoon outside Andalusia, Illinois – a lovely night till it got cold, and reminded me why I don’t try to book anything in the winter.

* * *

Here’s a lovely review from the great Bill Crider of the upcoming Quarry’s Climax.

And check out this interesting take on A Killing in Comics. The reviewer suggests that I should be more successful and better known than Michael Chabon, and who I am to argue?

M.A.C.

Fifty Years and Counting

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016

Cinemax has posted the third episode of QUARRY on You Tube. Enjoy!

QUARRY Episode 3: “A Mouthful of Splinters”

This weekend was Muscatine High’s 50th Class Reunion. Barb and I both were dealing with the pertussis that had dragged us both down of late, but I am out in front of her a week and a half and was in shape to participate in all of the activities on Friday and Saturday night. This included a boat ride on the Mississippi and then a big get-together at the same Legion Hall where I once ate pancakes prepared by Presidential candidate Howard Dean.

In part because I had attended three grade schools locally, I made lots of friendships that extended beyond the tight little group of us who played poker and palled around and got in Leave-it-to-Beaver type “trouble.” So I had the chance to touch bases with many, many friends, and it was pretty great. Several of my best friends were there – Ron Parker and Mike Bloom in particular, names that mean nothing to you but the world to me – and so many others. For instance, Joyce Courtois was the alto in my high school quartet, fantastic singer and wonderful, warm person – together we set a record: three “number one” ratings that put us in the All-State Chorus three years running…only quartet in the state that ever accomplished that. Impressed? I didn’t think so. It certainly didn’t get me laid.


Crusin’ at Geneva Country Club, Muscatine, MHS 50th Reunion; left to right, M.A.C., Jim Van Winkle, Steve Kundel, Joe McClean, Brian Van Winkle (in back)

Unfortunately, Barb was still having a rough ride with the pertussis, and almost didn’t go at all…but finally she pulled herself together to go to the Saturday night event, which was the big blow-out, including Crusin’ playing for the dance. She looked beautiful despite being sicker than a dog (neither of us is contagious, if you’re wondering) and people were very pleased to see her.

I was supposed to be presenting a reunion of the original Daybreakers for the dance, but health issues worse than mine among the band members made that fall apart. So Crusin’ played, with our good friend Joe McClean of the XL’S as special guest on a dozen songs. The XL’S and the Daybreakers are the only area bands to make it into the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Joe is an unparalleled showman and he was warmly received – the XL’S had played our senior prom two years running. (In 1966, the Daybreakers made their debut at an after-prom party.)

I had a rough evening because my cough-ravaged throat was in bad shape, but I got by. We played two one-hour sets that were supposed to be separated by a fifteen-minute break. But I was afraid people of my advanced age would head for home and their jammies if we didn’t keep the party going. So we played a solid two hours – for those of you who are wondering if I’m recovering well from my heart surgery last February.

In honor of the Daybreakers, we played “Psychedelic Siren,” with Joe on bass and our regular bassist, Brian Van Winkle, on siren – an instrument Brian mastered immediately, idiot savant that he is. Discussions about how much is idiot and how much savant are ongoing.

It was a lovely night, all in all. Never skip your high school reunion (and we’re available to play there, by the way).

* * *

I am thrilled and somewhat astonished that PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY has reviewed my expanded ROAD TO PERDITION prose novel and given it a rave – and a rare starred review!

The Mike Hammer collection, A LONG TIME DEAD, continues to get terrific reviews, like this one.

Here’s a lovely LEGEND OF CALEB YORK write-up.

And CALEB is inspiring this discussion group.

Here’s a welcome if not exactly timely SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT review.

Check out this excellent interview with QUARRY TV writer, Graham Gordy, although oddly somebody seems to think the Memphis setting came from the books.

This will link you to a local interview I did on Vintage Sound 93.1, Muscatine’s first-rate classic rock station – with the great Tony Tone.

Finally, if you haven’t read BLOOD AND THUNDER, the Nate Heller “Huey Long” novel (and if so, what’s wrong with you?), you can get it on Kindle for 99 cents, as this nice write-up (scroll down) indicates.

M.A.C.

What, Me Retro?

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

I was watching the pilot of the Cinemax QUARRY with my wife, son and daughter-in-law (don’t tell HBO), and Barb turned to me when the character the Broker first entered and nudged me and smiled and said: “You did that.”

Well, I did, but a long, long time ago. About 43 years. At the Writers Workshop in Iowa City, where the instructor didn’t like the opening chapters I’d written very much, and most of the class wasn’t wild about it either.

At 67, I suddenly find myself aware of how very long I’ve been doing this, and am gratified that suddenly a lot of what I’d thought to be ephemeral works of mine are turning back up in print, and getting on the radar of a new generation or two of readers. Some of what I’ve written has almost by definition been ephemeral – specifically the movie novelizations and TV tie-in’s – though SAVING PRIVATE RYAN remains in print and a publisher is seeking permission from DreamWorks to do a hardcover edition.

But almost everything else with my byline is available again or soon will be, much of it from Thomas & Mercer, but also such boutique publishers as Perfect Crime, Speaking Volumes and Brash Books.

For these weekly updates, I routinely do a Google search to see what reviews and such have popped up on the Net, for me to provide links here. More and more I am surprised to find write-ups about older books of mine. It’s almost jarring, because often the reviewers are more familiar with the work than I now am.

Of course, the new Hard Case Crime editions of the first five Quarry novels have sparked interest, and in particular QUARRY (the first novel) has received some gratifying attention. Here’s one such write-up.

And here’s another.

And one more.

Fairly regularly, somebody comes along and praises either the entire “Disaster Series” or singles out one of the books in particular, like this piece that focuses on THE LUSITANIA MURDERS.

So many of these reviews of older work of mine just seem to appear out of the blue, like this look at the Eliot Ness novel BULLET PROOF.

But nothing could prepare me for this article specifically focusing on the musical side of my years on the planet, discussing both the Daybreakers and Crusin’.

Here, dealing with a somewhat more recent novel, is a nice review of the Jack and Maggie Starr mystery, STRIP FOR MURDER.

Coming full circle, the just published FATE OF THE UNION is pulling in some nice reviews, like this lovely one from Bill Crider, a writer I much admire.

Finally, my pal Ed Gorman brought in Ben Boulden of Gravetapping to review FATE OF THE UNION on Ed’s terrific blog, also a positive review.

M.A.C.

The Man Who Brought Quarry (Back) To Life

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015
Quarry
Available October 13
Paperback:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

No, this week’s update isn’t about me – or not primarily about me. Nor is it entirely about Hard Case Crime editor, Charles Ardai. Rather it’s mostly about the man who is very likely (at 89) our greatest living illustrator.

In fairness to myself – and I work hard at being fair to myself – I’d already revived Quarry somewhat by way of a short film I wrote and co-exec-produced, “A Matter of Principal” (2003), followed by a feature film, “The Last Lullaby” (2008), which I co-wrote. But the latter hadn’t happened yet when my friend Charles Ardai, called to try to talk me into writing a new Quarry novel for his emerging Hard Case Crime line.

I had created Quarry in 1971 or ‘72 at the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. The book, and three sequels, was published in the mid-70s, and one more in the mid-‘80s.

As it happened, I had my screenplay of what would become “The Last Lullaby” sitting on my desk. Having done any number of novelizations in my time, I figured doing one based on my own script wouldn’t be tough. On the other hand, I had a full plate and didn’t need the work.

So I gave Charles a kind of ultimatum. I would do a Quarry novel for him if he got Robert McGinnis to do the cover. McGinnis was famous for movie posters (including James Bond films) and beloved covers for such private eye series as Shell Scott and Mike Shayne, and had done a number of covers for 1960s Mickey Spillane paperbacks. In mystery fiction fandom, McGinnis was generally considered the master – and I agreed with that assessment. He brought a modern look to the pulp cover that set him way apart, and still does. (Several books, edited by the indefatigable Art Scott, collect many of those incredible images.)

The thing was, Charles – an award-winning writer his own self – had been keeping the McGinnis covers for his own novels. Would he be willing to meet my demand?

As it happens, he was, and once I knew I had a McGinnis cover on the way, I was ready to do just one more Quarry, to be titled THE LAST QUARRY. I’d always felt Quarry was second only to Nate Heller among my creations (all writers sound like God when talking about their work), and relished the idea of writing a final book for the series. Period-at- the-end-of-sentence kind of thing.

As it happened, the cover art was finished before I even started writing the novel (which would become a frequent situation with subsequent Hard Case Crime books of mine). This gave me the chance to write the cover scene, thought up by the great McGinnis, into the novel itself – something many an oldtime pulp writer would do (“Here’s the cover, Ray, flying saucers and shit – come up with a story!”).

Something surprising happened – THE LAST QUARRY did quite well. It had solid sales and garnered incredible reviews. (That didn’t stop the director of “The Last Lullaby” from bringing another writer in and changing things around – which is why I forbade the use of the name “Quarry” in the film itself…though I do quite like the end result). So I began thinking about how to do another Quarry novel. Charles thought that was a good idea, but how could I write another book when the previous series entry was labelled THE LAST QUARRY?

“Because I’m going to write a novel called THE FIRST QUARRY,” I said, detailing my hitman’s first hit, a notion Charles found pretty much delightful.

Since then, as many of you know, I’ve been filling in the blanks between the first four novels and QUARRY’S VOTE (aka PRIMARY TARGET), and the years after that, as well. You know you’re effing old when a series you began as contemporary now requires you to write period pieces.

Only one other Quarry novel has been graced with a McGinnis cover – the recent QUARRY’S CHOICE – though the other HCC covers have been stellar, too. I also had the joy and honor of seeing a McGinnis cover adorn one of my Spillane collaborations, THE CONSUMMATA (also at Hard Case, of course).

And now a QUARRY TV series has completed shooting its first (and I hope not last) season of eight episodes. Think about it: something I created in college in 1972 will be a TV series in 2016.

And without that McGinnis painting, none of it would have happened.

So when Charles and I began discussing doing Hard Case Crime editions of the first five Quarry novels – and publishing them on a fast schedule, to take advantage of the Cinemax series – the need for wonderful covers, right away, came into play. HCC is known first for its fantastic covers, and not the afterthought of writers like me.

I said, “Why not go to Bob McGinnis? See if he has any paintings of beautiful women in his inventory?”

Charles thought this was a splendid idea, but unlikely. He contacted McGinnis and learned the master had five such paintings in his inventory – the exact number we needed!

I was sent the available unpublished images, which I loved, and put each cover painting with an appropriate novel. Several are spookily appropriate. There was also a need for an image of Quarry himself, and Charles chose the Quarry face from…THE LAST QUARRY cover. While the TV series tracks the adventures of a much younger Quarry, the McGinnis version seemed definitive – and also would match up with a McGinnis cover.

When I look at these covers, it’s as if I were spinning a rack of paperbacks at Cohn’s Newsland in 1966 – I see dream-come-true imagery, taking on the look of the old Dell “Mike Shayne” books. Perhaps I am in a LIFE ON MARS type coma, and inventing all of this stuff.

Because this can’t really be happening, can it?

Five vintage books by me re-published in a five-month period…all with Robert McGinnis covers?

And surely it can’t be possible that I’m looking at the original LAST QUARRY cover painting by McGinnis, hanging on my office wall? (The painting that is, not McGinnis.) And in what universe would a sweet guy named McGinnis just send me that original, because I’d been so overjoyed, having him do the cover of one of my novels?

Feel free to hate me. I would. Particularly since I’ve been married, since 1968, to a woman who looks like she stepped out of a McGinnis painting.

* * *

Here’s a nice review of the BATMAN: SECOND CHANCES collection, out now.

And here’s a lovely review of STRIP FOR MURDER, which will soon be available in a new edition from Dover.

M.A.C.