Posts Tagged ‘Last Stage to Hell Junction’

Hey Kids! Book (and Audio) Giveaway!

Tuesday, May 7th, 2019

Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes
Digital Audiobook: Amazon Kobo
Audio CD:

Hardcover:
E-Book: Google Play Kobo
Digital Audiobook: Google Play Kobo

Digital Audiobook: Amazon
MP3 CD: Amazon
Audio CD: Amazon

We have a giveaway again of two books – the new Trash ‘n’ Treasures mystery, Antiques Ravin’, and the new Caleb York western, Last Stage to Hell Junction. Ravin’ is a finished hardcover book and Last Stage a nice, trade paperback-style Advanced Reading Copy, including the color cover. Nine copies of each are available. State your preference but also your willingness to look at the other title as a substitute (or your lack of willingness/interest in doing so).

As usual, the idea is that you will write a review at Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble, or at your own blog (multiple appearances encouraged). I ask only that if you hate the novel you receive in the giveaway, you consider not reviewing it at all; but that’s up to you, of course.

Write me directly at macphilms@hotmail.com. If you have won before, don’t assume I already have your address – you must give me your snail-mail info in that e-mail. No foreign (and this includes Canada) entries.

Ravin’ is out now, so reviews can appear immediately. Last Stage isn’t out till the end of the month (May 28 to be exact), and Amazon won’t run reviews until the book is published. So wait before you submit. Not sure what the Barnes & Noble policy is.

Now for my first audio giveaway. I have three CD versions of Girl Most Likely and three MP3 CD audios of it, as well. You must specify which format(s) you can use. Your review will appear with the regular reviews of the e-book and “real” book write-ups, so I’d encourage you to mention you are reviewing an audio and address the quality of the narration, as well.

Speaking of reviews, Murder, My Love has a rather skimpy number of reviews (although very good ones) at Amazon, and if you’ve read and liked the book, I’d appreciate you weighing in there. Reviews need not be lengthy – you can go long and detailed or short and sweet, as you like.

It occurred to me to do my first audio giveaway here because Barb and I just finished listening to Girl Most Likely as read by Dan John Miller. Dan is a terrific reader, and – as some of you know – he has been the “voice” of Nate Heller for years now. He’s also narrated a Quarry and two Mike Hammer novels, as well What Doesn’t Kill Her and the Reeder and Rogers political thrillers by Matt Clemens and me. He’s a fantastic narrator and in much demand, and I’m lucky to have him.

Remember when I said I wouldn’t talk about Girl Most Likely reviews here anymore? Did you really believe that? Truth is we’ve had many very good reviews (I’ll link to one really nice one below), and continue to hold at four stars on Amazon, with 72 reviews currently. What is different about the Girl Most Likely reviews is the nastiness of the outlying bad reviews, which – as I’ve said – seem largely to come from fans of my more overtly noir-ish material (like Quarry, Heller, Hammer) and from young women with politically-correct agendas.

When the novel came out, I kept track of the reviews at Amazon and Goodreads (including the bizarrely nasty ones from the UK, where readers had access a month early). I did this because Girl Most Likely is published by Amazon – actually, Thomas & Mercer, their mystery/suspense line – and I am keen to keep working with them, so I needed to know what kind of response they were getting.

So, in the process, I got a little battered by the occasional snarky, nasty reviews. This made hearing Dan John Miller read Girl Most Likely (Barb and I listened to it on a recent Chicago trip) a pleasure and, frankly, a relief. It reminded me that I’d been proud of the book when I delivered it, and allowed me to be proud of it now.

I did understand some of the negative response better. Some readers were really put off by the cover labeling the novel “A Thriller.” What a thriller is, exactly, no one really knows. Like noir, it’s a term that everyone defines for themselves and then holds others to that definition.

Otto Penzler, for example – a mystery fiction expert if ever there was one – holds the ludicrous position that no private eye book or movie can be considered noir. Okay, but nobody told Chandler that when he wrote the Marlowe novels and certainly nobody told Mickey Spillane when he created Mike Hammer. One Lonely Night isn’t a noir novel? Kiss Me Deadly isn’t a noir movie? Otto, you prove that an informed opinion is still just an opinion.

The closest I can come to defining the modern thriller is that it has, well, a lot of thrills in it – action and suspense – and the antagonist is known to the reader and the protagonist. In other words, not a mystery.

But I conceived Girl Most Likely as a hybrid of thriller and mystery. The killer would get point of view chapters, but I would withhold the killer’s identity and add a mystery aspect to the plot. This seems to have wildly confused certain readers. (By the way, the killer’s chapters are not “first person,” as many reviewers have stated – they are in second person.)

A good number of reviewers – both amateur and professional – have gotten hung up on the thriller definition provided by the cover. One particularly smug reviewer at Amazon said the novel was a “cozy.” Right. A cozy with three on-stage butcher knife slayings by a maniac, and a nighttime chase in the woods by said butcher knife-wielding maniac of the two protagonists, with the maniac (SPOILER ALERT) dying a graphically bloody death, as well. Yessir, a cozy. Pass the tea and cookies.

Probably what hearing the audio did for me was remind me that some of the things certain people don’t like about the book – the lack of a tough guy hero, the somewhat abrupt (Spillane-style) finish, the clothing and physical descriptions, the setting descriptions, the Chicago mob sub-plot – were all very deliberate choices. And I don’t regret one of them.

A writer of fiction, as I’ve noted here before, is collaborating with each reader. I always assume that the reader is at least as smart as I am, and this has never really failed me. Yet not all readers, even very smart ones, know how to meet a book (or a film or a piece of music) on its own terms. And, of course, not everyone’s taste is the same.

Take Antiques Ravin’. There are four “trade” magazines in the publishing business, and these days it’s rare for a book in a long-running series to get reviewed at all. Just scoring a notice from one of these publications – even if it’s a negative review, and these are all tough places to get good reviews – is a big deal these days, for a novel in a series.

But take a gander at these (all of these originally included lengthy plot summaries):

“The melodramatic Vivian and pragmatic Brandy play off each other like foils in a 1930s screwball comedy, and Poe puns, witty asides, and quirky townspeople keep things light. Series fans and newcomers alike will have fun.”
–Publishers Weekly

“Plenty of plausible suspects make this one of the best in Allan’s long-running series, which is always humorous and full of tips for antiques hunters.”
–Kirkus Reviews

“Framed effectively by the antique business, and including plenty of details about Poe and his work, this satisfying, humorous cozy – with its well-drawn, quirky characters – is a hoot. Chapters end with tips on how to collect rare books.”
–Booklist

“Wordplay and fun references to Poe combine in this humorous cozy follow-up to Antiques Ho-Ho-Homicides. The humor is doubled with two narrators, Brandy and Vivian, who are supposedly writing a ‘nonfiction true crime account’ of this latest mystery.”
–Library Journal

That, my friends, is a Grand Slam, and I don’t mean at Denny’s. I can’t think of another time in my career when I got reviewed by all four of these trades, and favorably, in one fell swoop.

And yet the Lesa’s Book Critiques blog finds the humor too broad in Ravin’, complaining about the wordplay, even though she admits, “Their characters certainly are original, and, as I said, the mystery is actually well done,” but she “won’t be picking up the fourteenth in the series, but I know this cozy series has a devoted following.”

Is Lesa wrong?

No, Lesa knows what she likes, and her review is well-written and thoughtful. But we are not to her taste. Humor is a very personal thing. So she doesn’t make a good collaborator for us. But she does not go off on a hissy fit about it, or a snarky rant either.

Barb and I knew from the beginning that the Antiques novels would not be to everyone’s taste. I knew the same thing about Quarry, even back in 1972 when I created him. What I wanted to do – and what Barb and I, as “Barbara Allan,” wanted to do – was create something of our own. Something distinctive.

When you do that, you won’t please everybody. Of course, nothing pleases everybody, but with Quarry, and with the Antiques series, we knew that we would turn a certain number of people off. But we also knew, instinctively, that the people who connected with us – who were good and, well, worthy collaborators – would love what we were doing.

Now, the tricky thing for me is that I have rather broad tastes, and somewhat oddball ones at that. So I have had to come to terms with the fact (and it is a fact) that very few readers out there are going to like everything I do. That within my readership will be groups who only like this, or only like that.

Here’s an example. A good number of Quarry fans won’t read Heller because the books are long. If you read both series, you know how compatible they are, thematically and stylistically and so on. But a Heller novel is a commitment for the reader (just as it was to me). And some fans of a certain style of novel – think Gold Medal Books – just don’t know how to handle a book that’s 100,000 words long.

Here’s another. Some readers of comic books (okay, graphic novels) are not anxious to read prose novels. They are fans only of my comics work. To me, the idea that you would love Ms. Tree, but not gravitate as well to Quarry and Nate Heller is nonsensical. But there it is. And even more common is the reader of my novels who disdains comics. Look at the Amazon reviews of my graphic novels and you’ll see outraged one-star reviews – “This is a comic book!”

As we say in the funnies, sigh.

So what can I do about it?

Not a damn thing. Somebody once said something about following a quest and following a star. Of course, hopeless was in there, too, but what the hell.

Anyway, no more talk about reviews.

I promise.

* * *

At J. Kingston’s Pierce’s wonderful Rap Sheet, he announces the honor that A. Brad Schwartz and I have received for Scarface and the Untouchable. Very cool – do check this out.

A lot of you seem interested in my appearance (and my Scarface co-author’s) in the Dick Tracy strip (thanks to my pal, writer/cop Jim Doherty). This link will take you to a nice write-up about the continuity, with more links to read the entire thing.

Here is a lovely review for Girl Most Likely.

Check out this nice review and interview with me for Girl Most Likely. This was an actual phone interview as opposed to the usual e-mail one.

Another nice Girl interview here, with fun graphics.

Finally, I don’t exactly know what this is, but it looks like a good deal – a “book bundle” that includes some titles of mine.

[Note from Nate: I’ll copy Humble’s explanation below. The short version is: DRM-free highly discounted bundles of eBooks that benefits charity. This bundle includes The Consummata and the Mike Hammer and Quarry’s War graphic novels at the $1 tier, The First Quarry at the $8 tier, and Seduction of the Innocent at the $15 tier.]

The best in hardboiled crime fiction. Ranging from lost noir masterpieces to new novels and comics, these ebooks feature jaw-dropping cover paintings and hold your attention from the first sentence to the last page. With determined detectives, dangerous women, vengeance seekers, and fortune hunters galore, you won’t be able to put these novels down!

Pay $1 or more. Normally, the total cost for the comics and ebooks in this bundle is as much as $333. Here at Humble Bundle, you choose the price and increase your contribution to upgrade your bundle! This bundle has a minimum $1 purchase.

Read them anywhere. The comics in this bundle are available in CBZ, PDF, and ePub formats, so they work on your computer, e-readers, iPads, cell phones, and a wide array of mobile devices! The ebooks in this bundle are available in PDF and ePub formats, so they work on your computer, e-readers, iPads, cell phones, and a wide array of mobile devices! Instructions and a list of recommended reading programs can be found here for comics and here for ebooks.

Support charity. Choose where the money goes – between the publisher and the ACLU via the PayPal Giving Fund. If you like what we do, you can leave us a Humble Tip too!

M.A.C.

Your New Year’s Resolution

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

Here’s a sad story with which almost any professional writer can identify, as something like it has undoubtedly happened to every one of us.

At the last San Diego con, several personnel from Titan waved me over at breakfast to meet the man from Barnes & Noble who buys graphic novels for the chain. He was a big fan – clearly thrilled to meet me. I was the Beatles and he was Eddie Deezen in I Wanna Hold Your Hand. I sat and we chatted and I told him about the upcoming graphic novels from Titan, Quarry’s War and Mike Hammer: The Night I Died. He couldn’t wait!

Cut to recently when I looked at Barnes & Noble’s graphic novel sections in Davenport, Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, Iowa; and various Chicago B & N’s. Not a copy of either graphic novel was available at any of them.

Hey! I know! They had all sold out!

Or not.

A smaller sad story is the lousy one- and two-star Amazon reviews for both graphic novels from buyers who are angry that they accidentally bought a comic book. One of these reviewers hates graphic novels and considers them the downfall of literacy in America. Yes, these are idiotic cranks, but neither graphic novel has received enough reviews to weather such boneheaded ones (Quarry’s War does benefit from reviews some of you fine humans have contributed). The Mike Hammer has only one review – a two-star bummer from the aforementioned graphic novel hater.

So.

Here is your New Year’s Resolution. If you have already read either of these – whether in the four comic books collected in each graphic novel, or by way of the graphic novel itself – you will ASAP write a brief Amazon review, unless you have already done so. I do not specify that these reviews have to be raves. But I do request that you not post a review complaining that a graphic novel turned out to be (shudder! horrors!) a graphic novel.

Or…if you haven’t bought either book, and are not among those who despise the comics form, please acquire these gems (unbiased opinion). Maybe you’ll find them at a Barnes & Noble. But don’t count on it. B & N will have it on-line, as Amazon does. I have spotted Quarry’s War at a Books-a-Million, but not Mike Hammer yet. Maybe you have gift cards you haven’t used yet – what are you waiting for?

Okay, I’m whining again. Sorry. But judging by the stealth existence of these two graphic novels, the writer of Road to Perdition…which is on many “best graphic novels of all time” lists…won’t ever get to write a graphic novel again.



In the meantime, let me remind you what’s coming out in the first half of this year, with not a graphic novel in sight. I apologize there’s so much of mine to read, but (a) I can’t control dates of publication, and (b) if I don’t write, nobody sends money to my house.

Here is what is coming up.


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

USS Powderkeg is a trade paperback (and e-book) from Brash Books on February 1st. This is the revised edition of the novel Red Sky in Morning, with the penname “Patrick Culhane” banished to the cornfield in favor of my actual byline (Max Allan Collins, remember?). I am very excited about this, and so very grateful to Brash to putting my preferred title on the book and, of course, my preferred byline. It’s a personal novel to me, based as it is (in part) on my late father’s experiences in the Navy in World War Two as one of a handful of white officers on an ammunition ship manned by black sailors.


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

The Goliath Bone by Mickey Spillane and me will receive a mass market paperback, in the Titan format, in late February.


Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo
Audiobook: Kobo

Murder, My Love by Mickey and me is the new Mike Hammer hardcover from Titan, out in mid-March. Published simultaneously on audio from Skyboat Media, available from Audible. This is the first Hammer written solely by me, but from a Spillane synopsis.


Paperback:
E-Book: Amazon
MP3 CD: Amazon Audio CD: Amazon

Girl Most Likely is a trade paperback and e-book from Thomas and Mercer, out on April 1, no fooling. This I’m particularly excited about because it’s a thriller that charts new territory for me – I would call it an American take on nordic noir. More about this closer to pub date.

Toward the end of May comes Last Stage to Hell Junction, the new Caleb York western from Kensington, a hardcover. It’s bylined Spillane/Collins, but it’s a Collins novel using characters and situations created by Spillane.

Toward the end of April comes Antiques Ravin’ by Barbara Allan, again from Kensington. Barb and her husband wrote it. Very funny and a darker mystery than you’ll encounter in most cozys. Of course, Jon Breen says we’re a subversive cozy series.

Then in early June comes the trade paperback of Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle for Chicago by A. Brad Schwartz and me. This is a major work (thanks to Brad) and I’m proud to be its co-author.

So, really, forget all these other writers you usually follow. You have priorities. You have work to do.

For those who need their pump primed – and you know how painful that can be – we’ll have a book giveaway before too long.

* * *

Oh, and Happy New Year, everybody!

We had a lovely holiday with son Nate, daughter-in-law Abby, and grandkids Sam (3 yrs) and Lucy (3 mths). Sam and his grandfather watched a lot of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse on Blu-ray. And for those wondering, yes, I did receive a Christmas card from Paul Reubens/Pee-Wee this year. That made it an official Christmas, particularly since both Scrooge with Sim and the original Miracle on 34th Street were watched as well.

* * *

Here’s the first review of Girl Most Likely.

And the Stiletto Gumshoe includes Murder, My Love among the books to read in the winter of 2019. Great site.

M.A.C.

Stan Lee, William Goldman, Orson Welles and Much, Much More!

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018

By the time this appears, Brad Schwartz and I will have made our Chicago appearance at the American Writers Museum. But as I write this, Barb and I haven’t even left Muscatine yet. So any report will have to wait till next time, when I’ll also talk about Thanksgiving with son Nate, daughter-in-law Abby, and grandkids Sam and Lucy.

But there’s plenty to talk about first. Let’s start with two great names in American pop culture, both writers, who met their final deadlines recently.

I interacted with Stan Lee any number of times. Coincidentally, the first and most memorable was at WGN in Chicago, where Brad and I will be taping something the day before this update appears. Brad and I will be doing television, but Stan and I did a radio show, where he fielded questions about Marvel and I did the same about the Dick Tracy strip, which I was writing then. I’m guessing this was early ‘80s. Stan was friendly and everything you’d expect him to be, and we got along fine. In future, I would encounter him at comics conventions, mostly just saying hello. He always seemed to remember me, but I doubt he did.

While I have little interest in Marvel today, and have only written a handful of things for them, I was a big fan in junior high and high school (and even college). I knew of Stan Lee by his byline on pre-superhero monster comics and even Millie the Model (I read lots of different comics). I’m sure it made an impression on me that this was a writer getting a byline on comics without doing any of the drawing. I bought all his early superhero stuff at Cohn’s Newsland in Muscatine, including the first issues of Spiderman, Fantastic Four, The Hulk and The Avengers. I knew of Jack Kirby, too – I subscribed to Challengers of the Unknown in grade school. Kirby was why I was buying monster comic books featuring creatures like “Fin Fang Foom,” “Mechano” and (yes) “Groot” (many Marvel super-hero characters had earlier incarnations as monsters).

How long was I a Marvel fan? As long as Ditko (and then John Romita, Sr.) was drawing Spiderman and Kirby Fantastic Four, I was in.

What I liked about Stan was the humor he brought to his super-hero work, and the way he interacted with fans. I was a charter member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society. Some have tried to diminish his work by saying he screwed over Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, but I know nothing of that and don’t want to know. What I know is he entertained and inspired me, and was friendly to me in person. Excelsior, Stan.

I never met William Goldman, who was a friend of Don Westlake’s – occasionally Don told me stories about his buddy “Bill.” I admired Goldman as a novelist (Soldier in the Rain, Marathon Man), although his screenwriting was where I think he really made an impact. He brought a storytelling touch to the form that made scripts read like, well, stories, not blueprints. He did this to save his sanity and also to make the screenplays compelling to the studio execs and directors who read them.

Goldman is, of course, the man who revealed to the world that the first and only rule about Hollywood is, “Nobody knows anything.” And he gave us the book that became the film Princess Bride. I wrote the novelization of his Maverick, not his best screenplay by a longshot but still good and a pleasure to turn into a novel that some (myself included) consider superior to the film. I like having a small connection to the man.

By any yardstick, William Goldman was a writer who left the world a better place for what he did while he was here. Let’s say it all together now: “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!”

* * *

So Netflix is making theatrical movies now, and streaming those movies even as they are hitting theaters. This is a tragedy, because it almost certainly means I will have to buy an even bigger TV.

So are the movies any good? Having seen two, I may not have enough to go on. But both are worth talking about.

First, Outlaw King. This historical epic is essentially a sequel to Braveheart, although only the dismembered arm of William Wallace appears (apparently not contributed by Mel Gibson). Reviews on this have been mixed, but Barb and I thought it was terrific. Pine was fine (sorry) as Robert the Bruce, the Scottish warrior king who faced seemingly impossible odds in a struggle to win independence from Britain – as an American whose grandparents on my pop’s side were name MacGregor, I can relate. The filmmaking is first-rate, with an opening shot that goes on forever without a cut, just a dazzling piece of work from director, co-screenwriter David Mackenzie. There’s even a decent love story. Barb was happy with Chris Pine’s nudity (me not so much) but the final battle scene was a bloody wonder, making Braveheart look like a garden party. High marks for Netflix on this one.

Then there’s The Other Side of the Wind. Netflix backed this assembly of footage from 96 hours Orson Welles shot between 1970 and 1976. Welles was attempting something new, influenced and I think intimidated by the American wave of young filmmakers that included Dennis Hopper (who appears in the film) as well as Coppola, DePalma and Scorsese.

To call the production troubled is like saying Citizen Kane is pretty good. Cast members came and went, sometimes due to availability; locations meant to suggest California include Arizona, Connecticut, France, the Netherlands, England, Spain, Belgium and sometimes even California. The cast is stellar, to say the least, but the shifting players means nothing really coheres – Peter Bogdanovich plays (not particularly well) a role based on himself that was originally acted by Rich Little, who left the production to meet a prior Vegas gig. Lilli Palmer is in a few scenes (shot in Spain), interacting with almost nobody, though it’s supposed to be her house where the interminable Hollywood party is happening. John Huston reveals how limited his bag of acting tricks is, and does himself nothing but harm.

It’s a mess – something of a glorious mess, and that it works at all is due to editor Bob Murawski somehow stitching it all together. Cuts come quickly, from black-and-white to color and back again, creating an auto accident of a movie about a filmmaker’s (off-stage) auto accident. Much of Wind is a film-within-a-film spoof of pretentious European films of the Antonioni variety (at least I hope it’s meant to be a spoof) starring Welles’ female companion/partner, Oja Kodar, billed as co-writer, who is mostly nude (I did enjoy her nude scenes more than Chris Pine’s).

It’s a hateful, ridiculous film, clogged with Welles bitterly attacking Hollywood in general and critic Pauline Kael in particular (via Susan Strasberg, quite good), with side dishes of bile reserved for his supposed friend Bogdanovich, among others. But it is of course fascinating as well, and probably required viewing for any real film buff.

Better than The Other Side of the Wind is They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, a Netflix documentary, itself feature-length, that looks at the making of the beleaguered film.

For all the hoopla surrounding The Other Side of the Wind supposedly having been finished along lines that would have satisfied Welles (who did leave about 45 minutes of the two-hour feature in an edited form), a similar situation with a great French filmmaker has led to a different approach and a much better film than Wind or even the documentary about it.

Available from Arrow on Blu-ray, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno is a 2009 documentary by Serge Bromberg that deals with another legendarily unfinished film. Clouzot, the genius who gave the world Diabolique and Wages of Fear among other masterpieces, stumbled in 1964 with his film, Inferno. Similarly to Welles, Clouzot was dealing with changing times and specifically the changing approach to filmmaking represented by the French New Wave. As far as I’m concerned, no New Wave filmmaker can touch him, but filmmakers are human and Clouzot allowed himself to get caught up in fascinating but largely pointless visual experimentation. He landed the leading starlet of the moment, Romy Schnieder, and cast an actor who’d been in a previous film of his, Serge Reggiani, in a story of sexual obsession and jealousy. It’s essentially James M. Cain’s Postman Always Rings Twice, if the older man with a younger wife is only imaging an affair she’s having with a younger man, and is driven mad to the brink of violence.

Working from fifteen reels of film, with most of the soundtrack missing, the documentation assembles the unfinished Inferno into sequences that appear, roughly, in narrative order. But these scenes are interspersed with revealing test films and interviews with cast and crew. Some of the missing scenes (there actually don’t seem to be that many) are staged with actors Bérénice Bejo and Jacques Gamblin, who provide dialogue. The imagery, particularly of lovely Schneider, is stunning. Like Welles in Wind, Clouzot shot in both black-and-white and color; but the French auteur had a method to his madness – the color footage, which was processed to have bizarre coloration, represents only the would-be cuckold’s warped imaginings.

Clouzot ultimately crashed with Inferno because his authoritarian treatment of actors drove his leading man to quit, shortly after which the director had a heart attack and production was halted, never to be resumed. (Clouzot did make another film, La Prisonniere, before his death in 1977.)

Unlike Wind, Inferno might have been a great film, had Clouzot (who wrote the script, as usual) been able to finish it. (Claude Chabrol shot the screenplay years later, but I haven’t seen that…yet.)

* * *

And now, my final verdict: Rotten Tomatoes, and the largely rotten reviewers whose opinions it gathers, is officially worthless.

Barb and I were very much looking forward to Widows. We were aware the source material was a two-season 1980s series from the dependable Lynda LaPlante, creator of Prime Suspect (but we had never seen it). The idea of a group of widows who take over for their late heist-artist husbands seemed pretty foolproof. The reviews for Widows are mostly raves. Rotten Tomatoes has it at 91%.

SPOILER ALERT: it stinks. We walked out, but not until we’d been subjected to an hour of poor direction and stupid scripting. Steve McQueen (much better an actor in The Great Escape than a director here) (yes, I know the British McQueen won a Best Picture Academy Award for 12 Years a Slave) co-wrote with Gillian Flynn. I suspect the original LaPlante series was good.

Virtually every sequence of Widows begins with a disorienting shot (for example, a substance that turns out to be hair being teased, when the camera pulls back; and a lengthy pointless sermon by a hypocritical black-church preacher, in close-up forever before revealing his stereotypical congregation). A sadistic diminutive thug (so sadistic he tortures a wheelchair-bound victim – he’s a baaaaaaad man!) constantly does things for no reason other than to shock the audience. Scenes go on endlessly, and are often staged in a ridiculously show-offy manner – how about a conversation between a Chicago candidate for alderman and his Lady Macbeth of a wife entirely from one-locked down angle on a car in motion, with no view of the people talking.

I seldom hate a film. I hated this. I knew at once (a real SPOILER ALERT sort of coming) where it was headed when Liam Neeson’s character was killed in the first five minutes (maybe I should saying “apparently killed”). I checked on line to see if I was right. And of course I was (Barb, too).

So Rotten Tomatoes gets a 0% fresh rating from the Collins household.

* * *

Paperback Warrior has posted an excellent review of Quarry’s Choice. This is really a wonderful, smart write-up of what is one of my two favorite books in the series (the other is The Wrong Quarry).

If you want to hear me talk about something that isn’t movies, go to Mystery Tribune for an interview with me on the new Mike Hammer: The Night I Died graphic novel.

Crimespree is giving away Scarface and the Untouchable. But, of course, you’ve already bought a copy.

The new issue of The Strand has the Spillane/Collins short story, “Tonight, My Love.” An important piece of the canon, though brief. It’s the holiday issue and a fine way to end the year in a Spillane centenary fashion. Check it out.

And here is a page with info about the next Caleb York western novel, Last Stage to Hell Junction. Next May, but why not start wanting it now?

M.A.C.

Our Audie Murphy Film Festival

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Killing Town, the “lost” first Mike Hammer novel, is now available on audio read by the great Dan John Miller. Read about it here. If you support this audio (and the previous Journalstone Mike Hammer release, The Will to Kill), more will follow!

* * *

I am writing this week’s update on Memorial Day Weekend. It seems like a good time to say a few things about Audie Murphy.

First, let me share with you a part of my prep for writing the Caleb York novels for Kensington (under the Spillane & Collins byline) – essentially, how I get into the mood.

I am about to start the new Caleb, Last Stage to Hell Junction. Whenever I do a York novel, Barb and I have an appropriate western film festival, watching an “oater” each evening. For the first novel, The Legend of Caleb York (from Mickey’s screenplay, which started it all), we watched John Wayne westerns, as Mickey had written the screenplay for Wayne’s Batjac productions, though it had never been produced. My favorites, predictably, are The Searchers, Red River and Rio Bravo.

For The Big Showdown, we watched Randolph Scott, including all of his outstanding Budd Boetticher-directed westerns. For The Bloody Spur, our nightly western was a Joel McRae. And I have been gathering Audie Murphy’s westerns (and his other films) for several years now, with an eye on the festival Barb and I are beginning now.

Audie Murphy, of course, is celebrated as the most decorated American combat soldier of World War II. He received every military combat award, including the Medal of Honor, having – at age 19 – held off by himself an entire company of German soldiers for an hour, then (while wounded) leading a successful counterattack.

Murphy was a Texas boy from sharecropper stock who learned his skills with a rifle by putting food on the table for his six brothers and four sisters, after their father left their mother, who died when Audie was a teen. Murphy lied about his age to get into the U.S. Army, not long after Pearl Harbor (the Marines and Navy having turned him down).

After the war, making the cover of LIFE Magazine for his courageous service, he was taken under the wing of the great James Cagney. From the late forties until his tragic young death in 1971, Murphy was a movie star. Aside from a few A-pictures (like The Red Badge of Courage and The Unforgiven, both directed by John Huston), and several contemporary offerings, Murphy specialized in westerns, as well as a western TV series, Whispering Smith.

But his biggest success was starring as himself (a role he reluctantly accepted) in the film version of his autobiographical war account, To Hell and Back. He was a skilled horseman and a successful songwriter, his work recorded by such stars as Dean Martin, Harry Nillson, Eddy Arnold and Jimmy Dean, among many others. And, not surprisingly, he suffered from what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He slept with a .45 automatic under his pillow.

Stopped for speeding, Murphy pulled over and, when the officer noticed the .45 on the seat next to the easily recognizable Audie, the cop smiled and said he was a big fan and wanted an autograph. Murphy provided it. Accosted by a gangster at a horserace, Murphy stared him down and said, “I killed sixty of you bums in Sicily – one more won’t make a difference.” The thug moved on. Many a brawny challenger who figured he’d pick a fight with Murphy was quickly and brutally dispatched by the five-foot-five war hero turned movie star.

Or so go the stories. More easily verified is Murphy’s refusal to do ads for cigarettes or liquor, not wanting to set a bad example for young people. He died in a small plane crash.

My character, Quarry, was in part inspired by Murphy. David Morell told me Rambo had the same source. And Robert Stack said his Ness portrayl was inspired by Murphy.

Around Memorial Day, and all year frankly, Audie’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery is among the most visited. He is probably remembered more for his incredible valor as a teenaged war hero than for his movie career, and while that’s understandable, I’m here to tell you he was a fine actor.

In his day – and still today – his ability to star in a film is perceived as a sort of “talking dog” thing – the dog doesn’t haven’t to say anything impressive to qualify for that distinction. My feeling is the studios (chiefly Universal) often felt they had to pair Murphy with a strong character actor – Walter Matthau, Dean Jagger, Barry Sullivan – to carry him.

But anyone at all savvy about film and film-acting can look at Murphy in almost any of his pictures and see how his instinctive, charismatic under-playing seems modern and real while many of the actors around him appear to be shouting and hamming it up. He is present in every scene, quietly reacting, watching, then delivering lines naturally and effectively.

And in scenes of violence, just who this baby-faced boy/man is always comes to the fore. He’s a killer. Real deal. Not a murderer, but a soldier who unflinchingly does what he has to. But he’s not one note: he can be boyish, he can be scary, he can be romantic, he can be funny, he can be tough as hell – as much as I like Randolph Scott (and that’s a lot), Murphy has far more colors to his palette.

We’ve been watching him for a week or so now, and not all of the movies are good – toward the mid-1960s (particularly when he’s not working at Universal), his films are programmers, bottom-bill fodder for drive-ins. But he made some fine westerns, too, and worked with such great genre directors as Don Siegel, Budd Boetticher and Jack Arnold.

My favorite, the latter director’s work, is No Name on the Bullet. Murphy is an assassin who comes to a small western town, quietly checks in at the hotel and minds his own business – only his business is killing someone while he’s in town…but who. Everyone in the community seems to have a secret worth killing for. It’s a very Quarry-like role. The quiet killer side of him is in evidence – the film is thoughtful, a sort of High Noon turned inside out, and Murphy is great. Just great.

In collecting Murphy’s films, I’ve had to order DVDs and Blu-rays from all over the world. A few are available here (including No Name on the Bullet), and there’s a nice boxed set from Turner Classic Movies – check it out.

Oddly, Murphy is considered a major star in Germany. Think about that – our decorated hero is revered by the losers, and patronized and even ignored by the winners. This is much odder than Jerry Lewis being lionized in France (though the French are right about Lewis, and they like Murphy, too, for that matter).

Salute this Texas sharecropper’s son, while Memorial Day is still in the air, won’t you? For his service to his country, by all means. But track down some of his movies. He was a real movie star, and – unlikely as it seems – a fine actor.

* * *

The forthcoming Scarface and the Untouchable is one of the ten summer books Chicago Magazine recommends.

Here’s a fine review of Killing Town.

Check out this advance look at the first issue of the Hammer four-issue comic book mini-series.

The Quarry TV series gets some love here.

Finally, here is a wonderful review of Antiques Wanted by a reviewer who really gets what Barb and I are up to.

M.A.C.