Posts Tagged ‘King of the Weeds’

Murder Never Knocks

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016

[Before we get to this week’s post, a quick update from Nate: Dad has graduated from the ICU to the step-down unit and now on to the inpatient rehabilitation unit where he’s working hard to get back on his feet. Thank you everyone for your outpouring of support, which gave us something we could always turn to when we needed a boost.]

Murder Never Knocks

Hardcover:

E-Book:

Audio MP3 CD:

Audible:

As some of you may know, MURDER NEVER KNOCKS was originally announced – and even listed at Amazon, including cover art – as DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU. I was asked to come up with a different title, more overtly noir/PI, when the Titan sales force noted that sales were better for LADY, GO DIE! and KILL ME, DARLING than for COMPLEX 90 and KING OF THE WEEDS.

Stacy Keach pointed out to me, when we were doing the radio-play-style novels-for-audio, THE LITTLE DEATH and ENCORE FOR MURDER, that all of the Hammer TV movies he starred in had “murder” in the title. That steered me toward the title I finally picked for this novel…or I should say that Titan finally picked, as I gave them half a dozen possibilities.

Mickey’s title, DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU, was in part a tribute to his favorite crime writer, Frederic Brown, who wrote a famous and wonderful story of that title about a demented typesetter. Mickey had two alternate titles, THE CONTROLLED KILL and THE CONTROLLER, which I didn’t think were right for the novel as it developed. Mickey devised some of the greatest titles in mystery fiction – hard to top I, THE JURY and KISS ME, DEADLY – so it’s important that I go with titles that serve him well. I happen to like both COMPLEX 90 and KING OF THE WEEDS as titles – both were Mickey’s choice – but I understand that neither one immediately suggests mystery or suspense. Still, terrific titles, I think.

This time I worked from around thirty pages of Mickey’s, plus some plot notes and the ending of the book. Mickey often spoke about writing the ending first, but this is only one of two times (the other being THE GOLIATH BONE) that I found those endings. By the way, Mickey’s ending for THE GOLIATH BONE was reworked into that of the second-to-the-last chapter of that novel; the actual last chapter is mine, as Mickey’s manuscript was a thriller and did not contain a murder mystery aspect…and I felt it necessary to add that.

On the other hand, several of our collaborative novels reflect endings that Mickey told me about – THE BIG BANG and KING OF THE WEEDS in particular.

It’s also necessary for me to try to figure out when Mickey’s partial manuscripts were written, so that I can set them properly within the chronology, as well as know what books of Mickey’s to read to get me in the right mind set. Initially, I thought MURDER NEVER KNOCKS/DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU was a ’50s manuscript. But interior evidence – for example, mention of certain NYC newspapers that had recently gone out of business – indicated the late ’60s. That allowed me to do some Greenwich Village characters and scenes that reflect the hippie era.

The basic plot has Hammer up against a Moriarty-type villain (as was the case in KING OF THE WEEDS). This time Hammer has been selected by the superstar hitman among hitmen, preparing to retire, for the honor of being his last kill.

MURDER NEVER KNOCKS will be out March 8 – in time for Mickey’s 98th birthday on March 9.

In celebration of that, here’s a fun excerpt from a great interview with Woody Allen in the January issue of WRITTEN BY, the Screen Writer’s Guild magazine. The interviewer notes that the filmmaker became a great reader, despite a lack of a university education. Woody says:

“I read because the women that I liked when I was a teenager lived down in Greenwich Village and they all had those black clothes. The Jules Feiffer women with the black leather bags and the blonde hair and the silver earrings and they all had read Proust and Kafka and Nietzche. And so when I said, ‘No, the only thing I’ve ever read were two books by Mickey Spillane,’ they would look at their watch and I was out. So in order to be able to carry on a conversation with these women who I thought were so beautiful and fascinating, I had to read. So I read. But it wasn’t something I did out of love. I did it out of lust.”

M.A.C.

[Nate here:] Two early reviews came in for MURDER NEVER KNOCKS this week. One from the great Mike Dennis (“Score another winner for Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins,” and another from the Garbage File that was decidedly not garbage (“Very enjoyable indeed!”).

Cry U.N.C.L.E.

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. 2015

I was a junior and then senior in high school in 1964, when Beatlemania hit, and I was as caught up in it as anybody. The recent anniversary of their Shea Stadium concert got a lot of nostalgic talk going, particularly on oldies radio. (Not that someone as hip and culturally relevant as me listens to such a thing.) What hardly anybody discusses, though, is where the concurrent spy craze fit in.

Of course, James Bond – his anti-Beatles remark in the otherwise great GOLDFINGER a rare tin-ear moment from the filmmakers – was a big part of the British invasion. The success of the first few Bond films meant imitations were inevitable, and lots of spy stuff hit the screens, some of it more straight like THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD and THE IPCRESS FILE, but a lot of it crapola like the Dean Martin “Matt Helm” abominations.

A ton of the imitations came out of Europe, particularly Italy, and those mostly terrible movies – for which I have an inexplicable fondness – are now lumped together as the Euro-Spy genre. The two OSS 117 parodies of recent years were takes on Bond, yes, but also on the straight OSS 117 movies from the ‘60s based on a long-running novel series that actually pre-dated James Bond. Some of these are among the best Bond imitations – SHADOW OF EVIL, MISSION FOR A KILLER, PANIC IN BANGKOK. (These are either unavailable in the USA or available only gray-market and/or pan-and-scan form. Check out Amazon France for better copies, most of which have English subtitles.)

But in Iowa in 1964, only the really mainstream spy movies made it here (again, the Dean Martin junk, and the very good Harry Palmers with Michael Caine) and that was true for a lot of the country. Buffs for this stuff wouldn’t see the Euro-spy movies until they hit TV a decade or two later in butchered, horrendously dubbed format, or in the last few years as DVDs and Blu-rays, often with wide-screen images intact and English subtitles. I particularly like the Joe Walker/KOMMISAR X series from Italy, but there’s no excuse for it.

Meanwhile, back in ‘64, television stepped in to feed a spy craze that couldn’t breathe on one Bond film a year and occasional double-feature double-oh-seven re-releases. So a number of spy series hit the small screen, most prominently THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (co-created by Ian Fleming, a fairly little known fact) and I SPY. I’ve revisited both series in the last several years, and neither holds up very well. Of course, I SPY is now on the pop-cultural scrap heap, thanks to Bill Cosby’s little hobby.

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. was always spotty. A few years ago, working my way through the show in a spy’s briefcase, I knew I was in trouble when late in the first season – generally considered to be the best – an episode written by the great Robert Towne blew chunks. But at the time, the show was a very big deal. The first episode was expanded, shown in color (the pilot had been shot that way but the first season was otherwise in black-and-white, and the pilot aired that way), and some new violent, sexy scenes were inserted. Also a big scene with David McCullum, who was a non-entity in the pilot but had Spock-like popularity with viewers that got him the second lead, very quickly. This cunning patchwork was titled TO TRAP A SPY and was released theatrically to some success. There were seven more of these recycled MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. movies, mostly utilizing TV two-parters, although only the first two did well, and several went overseas with no stateside theatrical release. They are available as a set on DVD from Warner Archive.

Though Bond was obviously immune, the spy craze died quickly, particularly on TV. THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., in its third season, went campy, following the lead of the new craze, the Adam West/Burt Ward BATMAN. Everybody hated this version of U.N.C.L.E., and the next half-season (they were cancelled midway) went back to more straight fare, too late. I SPY lasted three seasons. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, thanks to great music and a cool premise, out-lived every other espionage show of the era.

What most Baby Boomers remember about THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (and U.N.C.L.E. was not Uncle Sam, but an organization that seemed vaguely tied to the U.N. for worldwide law-enforcement) (no, I won’t spell out the acronym) are Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo (a name Fleming contributed) and David McCallum as Illya Kuryakin. The latter with his Beatle-esque haircut and understated Russian accent was a big pop-cultural deal. Vaughn, smooth and unruffled and impeccably attired, was arguably the best secret agent of the craze but for Bond himself.

So you’re waiting for me to slam the new movie, I suppose. Well, I’m not going to because it’s terrific. Director-co-writer Guy Ritchie has made a sly, darkly funny film that invokes not just the series but Bond and the entire spy craze era, with the look of the film drawing heavily upon the Harry Palmer trio. The twisty script is sexy and clever and occasionally scary. The music is witty and mixes zither exoticism out of FUNERAL IN BERLIN with Ennio Morricone cues, during which the direction takes an overtly Serio Leone take. The leads are fine, Armie Hammer redeeming his LONE RANGER travesty with a Kuryakin reworked into a volatile near psychotic, while Henry Clavill channels Robert Vaughn. It was this near impression – revealing the actor had really studied the series – that won me over early on. Clavill has Vaughn’s cadence and cool, as well as the dimple in his chin.

It’s an origin story, and U.N.C.L.E. itself is barely introduced at the end, though charmingly so, Hugh Grant nailing the spy agency’s boss, Alexander Waverly (the great Leo G. Carroll on the TV series). It sets up a series of films that probably won’t happen. Unfortunately.

Something this smart and witty may not work on the current generation, who won’t get the references and will wonder why every scene isn’t an action one, like the latest video game or the new MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. Now I liked the Tom Cruise film, found it great fun, but it’s just one Cruise action set piece after another linked by clumsy expository scenes and winning comedy relief from Simon Pegg. THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. won’t be everybody’s cup of spy, but it’s my favorite film of the summer.

* * *

Here’s a knock-out of a review of KING OF THE WEEDS from the Crime Review site.

And my 1981 Nolan novel, HUSH MONEY, made number two on the best reads of the month at Col’s Criminal Library.

M.A.C.

Mike Hammer Shoots .500

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015
Death Sentences

Actually, Mike Hammer probably has shot five-hundred in his career, but I refer not to bad guys but the fact that at the International Association of Media and Tie-in Writers “Scribe” Awards, KING OF THE WEEDS did not win Best Novel, while the Hammer short story, “It’s in the Book,” did win Best Short Story.

No complaints. The Scribes have been great to the Spillane/Collins collaboration – we’ve won once for Best Novel (KISS HER GOODBYE, twice for Best Short Story (“Book” and “So Long Chief”) and once for Best Audio (“Encore for Murder”).

I am particularly pleased to see “It’s in the Book” honored, because it’s my favorite of the Hammer short stories (and it was overlooked by the Edgars and Shamuses, which had both singled out “So Long, Chief”). Right now I have one more Hammer fragment that would work as a short story, and I may save it for an eventual collection.

“It’s in the Book” is available as a small book and has been collected in a book club collection (see Mike Doran’s comment last time) and in the UK in a collection called DEATH SENTENCES.

Here are all the Scribe nominees with winners in bold face:
BEST ORIGINAL NOVEL – GENERAL
24: Deadline by James Swallow
Murder She Wrote: Death of a Blue Blood by Don Bain
Mike Hammer: King of the Weeds by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Homeland: Saul’s Game by Andrew Kaplan
The Killing: Uncommon Denominator by Karen Dionne

BEST ORIGINAL NOVEL – SPECULATIVE
Sleepy Hollow: Children of the Revolution by Keith R. A.
DeCandido
Grimm: Chopping Block by John Passarella
Star Trek: Disavowed by David Mack
Star Trek: Foul Deeds Will Rise by Greg Cox
Grimm: The Killing Time by Tim Waggoner
Pathfinder: The Redemption Engine by James Sutter
Fringe: Sins of the Father by Christa Faust

ADAPTED NOVEL – GENERAL AND SPECULATIVE
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes by Alex Irvine
Noah by Mark Morris
War of the Worlds: Goliath by Adam Whitlach

YOUNG ADULT – ALL GENRES, ORIGINAL AND ADAPTED
Spirit Animals: Blood Ties by Garth Nix and Sean Williams
Battletech: The Nellus Academy Incident by Jennifer Brozak
Penguins of Madagascar by Tracey West

SHORT STORIES
Pathfinder: Hunter’s Folly by Josh Vogt
Mike Hammer: It’s in the Book by Max Collins and Mickey Spillane
Stargate: Perceptions by Diana Botsford
Pathfinder: Queen Sacrifice by Steven Savile
Tales of Valdemar: Written in the Wind by Jennifer Brozek

AUDIO
Dark Shadows: The Darkest Shadow by Nev Fountain
Dark Shadows: The Devil Cat by Mark Thomas Passmore
Blake’s 7: Fortuitis by George Mann
Doctor Who: Iterations of I by John Dorney
Pathfinder Legends: The Skinsaw Murders by Cavan Scott
GRANDMASTER (“the Faust Award”): TERRANCE DICKS

* * *

I note with sadness the passing of writer Tom Piccirilli, a very gifted man who reviewed many of my novels, and always favorably. When a writer as fine as Tom likes your work, you figure you’re doing something right.

Many tributes have appeared, but I’ll provide just this link to my friend Jeff Pierce’s write-up at the Rap Sheet.

* * *

Here’s a lovely review of THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK from James Reasoner, who – like my pal Bill Crider – is a real western writer. When I pass muster with guys like James and Bill, I breathe a sigh of relief.

M.A.C.

San Diego Comic-Con & Hammer Interview

Tuesday, July 7th, 2015
It's in the Book French Edition

As it happens, Barb and I won’t be able to go the Comic-Con this year. So the listings that have me hosting the Scribe awards, doing a signing, and having a Quarry panel are now all inaccurate. Likely I’ll be there next year, but this time, no. My pal Jonathan Maberry will be hosting the Scribes for me.

I have two nominations: Best Novel, KING OF THE WEEDS; and Best Short Story, “It’s in the Book.” Both are Spillane/Collins collaborations.

Coincidentally, a French publisher (Ombres Noires) is translating “It’s in the Book” for their own edition (it’s available in English only in a small book, as well, published by Otto Penzler). They asked me to do an interview, which they will include in the small book, in French of course.

I thought you might like to see it in English.

Interview with Max Allan Collins
It’s in the Book

You wrote the end of a story by Mickey Spillane, who passed away in 2006. You were friends, how did you two meet?

As a young teenager, I idolized Mickey and wrote him dozens of fan letters. He never responded until I published my first novel, BAIT MONEY, in 1973, and sent him a copy, He wrote me a warm, lengthy letter of welcome to the community of professional writers.

Over the years I have been a defender of Spillane, who remains controversial in the United States. Because of that, I was asked in 1981 to be the liaison between Mickey and the Bouchercon mystery convention in Milwaukee, where he was a guest of honor. We immediately hit it off and I began to visit him at his home in South Carolina once or twice a year.

How did you come to complete his manuscripts?

On my various visits to Mickey’s home, he would send partially completed manuscripts home with me. He said this was just because he thought I’d be interested, but on one occasion he said, “Maybe we can do something with these someday.” He was referring to two partial Hammer novels, THE BIG BANG and COMPLEX 90. We had begun to collaborate on projects – a number of noir anthologies of his work and the work of others, a science-fiction comic book called MIKE DANGER, and a biographical documentary I wrote and directed, “Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane.”

When Mickey became ill, with a particularly virulent strain of cancer, we stayed in close touch by phone. He was working desperately to finish what he described as the last Mike Hammer, THE GOLIATH BONE. Shortly before his death, he called and said he didn’t think he’d be able to finish it. And he asked me to do it for him, if that proved necessary. I of course said yes.

Around the same time, Mickey told his wife Jane to gather all his unfinished material and give it to me – “Max will know what to do.” No greater honor could be paid me. There were six major Hammer manuscripts, often with notes, and another half dozen shorter Hammer novels in progress. There were also short openings for novels, running from six to ten pages, that I thought would make good short stories. “It’s in the Book” is one of those.

You wrote several stories from his manuscripts. What did you like in this one in particular?

It had a beautifully written opening, with two cops coming to see Hammer in his office, to take him to see a U.S. Senator for some mysterious, important job. Mickey’s manuscript ended before that job was fully described by the client, and that enabled me to use the missing ledger that made the story a bibliographic mystery. You see, editor Otto Penzler had requested that specific kind of story.

What sort of shape did the manuscript have – was it just a few lines, a structure, several chapters?

It was basically that opening, right up to where Hammer meets with the senator. I thought it was a lovely, traditional opening for a private eye story.

It must be a very special experience, and a challenge, to finish a story more than 20 years later. Did you try in any way to modernize the style, the story, or anything – or did you try to remain faithful to Spillane’s style?

I’ve done seven Hammer novels now, and the unfinished Spillane manuscripts spanned his entire career – from 1947 to the month he died. I always try to determine when Mickey was writing the story, and then I immerse myself in material that he wrote around that same time, so I can catch the flavor and capture Hammer at that specific time. Hammer is a much changing character, and a story conceived by Mickey in the ‘50s is vastly different from one written in, says, the 1980s. I don’t try too overtly to mimic Mickey’s style — it’s collaboration, not pastiche. I concentrate on getting Mike Hammer right. It’s a matter of character.

I am a very traditional, Old School mystery writer, so this comes naturally to me.

Did he influence you in your writing, or help you in your own work?

Mickey was a huge influence on me. The key writers for me were Hammett, Chandler, Cain, Thompson and Westlake. These are very different writers in their approaches, and I think having such variant influences has worked well for me. Mickey never really gave me any writing advice – I was already a pro when our friendship developed. But he was supportive and provided blurbs for many of my book covers.

What is it that makes the character of Mike Hammer so special, compared to other popular characters?

Hammer had an enormous impact on popular culture worldwide, well beyond the private eye genre. James Bond is a version of Hammer, for example. Prior to Hammer, detectives did not display the emotions – love, hate, fear – that Spillane gave his hero. Hammer was the first avenger of modern fiction, a hero who used the methods of the villain to triumph over that villain. In addition, Hammer as a combat veteran brought a traumatic backstory to the detective, much imitated since. Finally, Hammer slept with women, unashamedly. While Sam Spade had sex with his femme fatale, just about no detective since had done so. Chandler said disparaging things about Mickey, but after the success of the Mike Hammer books, Marlowe began having an active sex life.

Say what you will about Mickey, but he was the most influential mystery writer of the 20th century…and the bestselling, with the possible exception of Christie.

How did you come up with the idea of this ending?

That idea jumped to mind at the outset. I knew it was a good one. Mickey loved surprise endings, and this was right up his alley.

Are you yourself interested in rare books and first editions?

I am. I have a good collection with many signed books – all the writers I mentioned above, and more. I have a very strong Rex Stout collection, for instance.

What do you enjoy most about writing short novels?

I’m not a short story writer by inclination. I’m very much a novelist. But I’ve grown to like the form. It’s nice to have a project that lasts a week and not several months. My wife, Barbara Collins, is an excellent short story writer.

Who are the authors that inspire you today? Why?

I read very little contemporary fiction. I don’t care to be influenced by trends, and anyway my reading time is taken up largely by research for my historical thrillers. I continue to read and re-read the greats – again, Hammett, Chandler, Cain, Spillane and so on.

Do you read French thrillers?

I’m very traditional on that front, as well – Boileau-Narcejac. Jean Pierre Melville is one of my favorite film directors.

* * *

Speaking of Spillane/Collins collaborations, here’s a look at THE CONSUMMATA at Detectives Without Borders.

The same site followed up quickly with a piece speculating about the Spillane/Collins collaboration process. You’ll see a lengthy comment from me explaining that process in some depth.

Here is a lovely, gracious review of SPREE by one of our great noir writers, Ed Gorman.

M.A.C.