Posts Tagged ‘Mickey Spillane’

Shine On, Shine On

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019

I was thrilled to see the great Crime Fiction Lover site has named Killing Quarry one of the best five books of 2019 – it comes in number four (just above someone named Elroy).

And the Borg site has named Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother the Best Comic Reprint Anthology of the year.

The same site calls Murder, My Love as the Best Retro Read of the year.

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In preparation for the 4K Blu-ray release of Doctor Sleep, I decided to watch the 1997 TV mini-series, Stephen King’s The Shining. I did this over a two-day period (it’s three 90-minute episodes). I hadn’t looked at the new 4K disc of The Shining yet, and hadn’t seen the film since its original release, although back then I’d gone several times. So I revisited it after taking in the mini-series.

King famously dislikes (and that’s a mild way of putting it) the Stanley Kubrick film, and used his superstardom as a writer to script and executive produce the mini-series. The history of that mini-series rivals the Overlook Hotel in weirdness. Initially it was well-received – highly rated, getting ten out of ten from TV Guide, winning Emmy awards, and generally considered a big success. But over the years its reputation has fallen and it’s even been rated the worst Stephen King adaptation and termed a “crapfest.” Meanwhile, the Kubrick film has only grown in stature.

Twenty-some years on, the mini-series – directed by frequent King screen adapter Mick Garris – strikes me as a decent job with strong performances from its leads, Steven Weber, Rebecca DeMornay and Courtland Mead. Weber has the unenviable job of taking on what had in ‘97 already become a signature Jack Nicholson performance – sort of like starring in a remake of White Heat in the Cagney role – and he is generally very good, suggesting his character’s gradual breakdown and underlying love for his family that King felt (rightly) had been largely lost from the chilly Kubrick version. DeMornay, cast specifically to be worlds apart from Shelly Duval’s abused wife and mother, is excellent, probably the best thing in the film, exuding strength and of course sex appeal. A lot of people seem to despise cute kid Mead, but he does well, delivering lines credibly that many actors of any age would stumble over.

The first two episodes are quite good, but the final one finds King’s dialogue writing (not always a strong suit in his screenplays) making the tasks of all the actors much more difficult, and the harrowing climax of the Kubrick film haunts the mini-series like another nasty ghost in the Overlook, filmed for TV in the real hotel that had inspired King. The limitations of budget and ‘90s CGI make some of the effects – particularly the poor idea of reverting from Kubrick’s hedge maze back to topiary, with shrubbery beasts coming to life (cue Count Floyd) – a big problem.

Returning to the theatrical Shining, I encountered a film whose surface story – including dialogue, although little or none of the clumsy stuff – right out of King. What differs was the motivation of the Jack Torrance character, who (and King hated this) is clearly at the outset a disturbed human who is a parent at least mildly disgusted by his wife and kid. He’s a rather classic abusive father and husband. Duval is often characterized as whiny and weak, even by fans of the film, but really she never whines and eventually grows a spine in defense of herself and her child. She seems right – just the sort of victim of a wife a prick like Nicholson’s Torrance would choose. Torrance is an alcoholic who, enraged, hurt his son and has been on the wagon for five months, and resents his family for that.

The problem with Kubrick’s version, for me, has always been the puzzling response to it, and not just by King. That response has been characterized by numerous interpretations of what the film means (including a feature-length documentary, Room 237), and what Kubrick is up to. Yet it’s one of the most straightforward horror films imaginable – it’s a deal-with-the-devil yarn, obviously so. Alcoholic Torrance, in a big empty ballroom, seated at the bar, says out loud that he would sell his soul for a drink. A ghostly bartender in a red vest with lapels suggestive of devil horns pops up and pours him a drink. From then on, Jack is both drunk and drinking on the house – “Your money is no good here, Mr. Torrance.”

There is even a suggestion that the contract was signed much earlier, when Torrance agrees to become caretaker of the Outlook, after a conversation with the manager – a guy in red pants. Later Torrance has a conversation with the ghost of the prior caretaker – now a waiter in the Overlook – in a strikingly Kubrick-ian restroom that is wildly, predominantly red.

Red. Get it?

And at the end we see Jack (Nicholson/Torrance) in a photo at a New Year’s Eve party taken in 1921, where he has obviously joined the lost souls in the Hell (or perhaps Purgatory) of the Overlook. Oops – I guess I was supposed to say, “Spoiler Alert.” (In case you missed it, Damn Yankees is also a deal-with-the-devil movie.)

Nicholson’s performance is over the top throughout, but waaaay over once he’s taken that devilish drink. He becomes, at that point, the monster in a monster movie. He is right out of a Nightmare on Elm Street-style horror flick, complete with Freddy Krueger-ish quips – though in fairness, Nightmare came out four years later, so the inspiration probably flowed from the Overlook to Elm Street. In any case, Torrance, chasing his family around the haunted house of a hotel, is right in tune with the slasher craze just then perking.

And I’m fine with that. It seems a valid take on the material, and it demonstrates that movies taken from successful novels don’t have to mirror their subject matter, even thematically, to be good. Would Kiss Me Deadly have been a better movie if it had been rigorously faithful to Mickey Spillane? Absolutely not. I love The Girl Hunters, Mickey’s controlled film of a book of his, in which he himself played Mike Hammer. But no one seriously, credibly, considers The Girl Hunters a better film than Kiss Me Deadly – even though Kiss Me Deadly set out to make a monkey out of Mike Hammer.

Do I wish the film of Road to Perdition had used more of my dialogue, and in particular my ending? You bet. But it’s a great film and I am thrilled and grateful for its existence. Had Stanley Kubrick made a movie out of one of my books and peopled it with sock puppets, I would’ve felt honored.

But Kubrick, who had his faults (much of King’s criticism of the theatrical film is understandable and even correct), is relatively faithful to the source material, even surprisingly so. It’s his take on Torrance that differs. It’s no accident that the most memorable things about the film are not in King – the spooky twins, the tike on a trike going down corridors in pioneering Steadi-cam shots, the elevator cascading blood, the hedge maze, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” and even “Here’s Johnny” (which post-Johnny Carson is not working as well as it used to, but…).

Nicholson may have been set loose by Kubrick, who was not an actor-oriented director. Kubrick liked to cast really strong actors – Peter Sellers, Malcolm McDowell, James Mason – and let them go for it. And his best films often benefit from that. Nobody thinks the acting of the leads in 2001 and Barry Lyndon is worthy of high praise.

But Nicholson wasn’t always a ham – his work as Jake Gittes in Chinatown alone is incredibly nuanced. As uncomfortable as it might have made Stephen King, Nicholson in The Shining is right in there with Freddie Krueger, Michael Meyers and Jason Vorhees, though none of them were ever at the center of a film so accomplished. And assuming Kubrick left Nicholson to his own manic devices, the director surely did so knowingly.

Circling back to Doctor Sleep, which I’ve discussed here before, what director/writer Mike Flanagan pulls off is something damn near magical: a film that works well as a sequel to both Kubrick and King (who has reportedly warmed to the theatrical film in the context of this one).

But remember – if you are really, really thirsty, and a ghostly bartender in a red jacket with horn lapels shows up, right after you say you’d sell your soul for a drink? Take a pass.

Drinking on New Year’s is for amateurs, anyway.

* * *

This was our first Christmas with our son Nate, his wife Abby and our two grandkids, Sam and Lucy, here in Muscatine, living just up the street. We had a wonderful time and Barb cooked a fine Thanksgiving-style turkey dinner on Christmas Eve that she swears will be her swan song as a holiday chef. We’ll see.

We had the week before gone to visit Barb’s mother (and sister Cindy) in Bowling Brook, Illinois. While in that part of the world, we dined at one of our favorite restaurants, White Fence Farm, who really deck out their already wonderfully eccentric venue for Christmas.

No New Year’s Eve gig this year for Crusin’. First of all, we rarely play during the winter, and second, what had once been a regular gig for musicians is now much less of a one. I will not be sorry to be home with Barbie having champagne while we watch It’s a Wonderful Life.

Next year will be a big one – half a dozen books are coming out, and I’ll get into that next time. I am today writing the introductory essay to The Complete Dick Tracy Volume 28 – one volume left to go, meaning I will have written about the entire Gould run. No word yet whether IDW will continue on with Gould/Fletcher/Collins (and after that Locher/Collins).

I will be starting the new Nolan (!) novel in a few days. First I have to put finishing touches on the Eliot Ness/Butcher non-fiction tome by A. Brad Schwartz and myself. We delivered it a while back but the editor had notes and suggestions. The announced title, The Untouchable and the Butcher, with various subtitles but probably Eliot Ness, the Torso Killer and American Justice, is suddenly in question. We are still lobbying for that, but are also considering (with the same subtitle) Knight in the Dark City and Shadow of the Butcher.

Opinions?

See you next year.

M.A.C.

Shameless Self-Promotion in my Stocking

Tuesday, December 17th, 2019

I’ve had some nice notices of late, showing up like early stocking stuffers. I am going to rather brazenly and completely self-servingly turning this update into a look at the best and most fun of some of these.

I am particularly happy with this starred review of the forthcoming new Nathan Heller novel, Do No Harm, from Publisher’s Weekly:

MWA Grand Master Collins’s Zelig-like PI, Nate Heller, who’s tackled most of 20th-century America’s greatest unsolved mysteries, gets involved in the Sam Sheppard murder case in his superior 17th outing (after 2016’s Better Dead). When the Cleveland doctor reported having found his wife, Marilyn, bludgeoned to death in their bedroom in 1954, Heller happened to be in the city, spending time with his old friend Eliot Ness, who invited him along to the crime scene to help determine whether the killing was the work of the serial killer whom the two men had been chasing for years. The m.o. established that another murderer was responsible, but Heller noted multiple oddities, including the failure to preserve the crime scene and indications that Sheppard’s family was covering up his guilt. The doctor was eventually convicted of the crime, a verdict many felt the evidence didn’t support. Three years later, Perry Mason creator Erle Stanley Gardner asks Heller to reassess the case, a request that leads to a creative solution of the notorious mystery. This is a superior and inventive effort that shows the series still has plenty of life.

I’ve had my share of good reviews from PW (and some not-so-good ones too), but just a handful of starred reviews, which is really kind of a big deal. As I’ve noted here before, entries in long-running series find it difficult to get reviewed at all in the publishing-industry trades (PW, Kirkus, Library Journal, Booklist).

So this one feels good and comes at a good time, because Do No Harm is the last Heller novel on my current contract, and I want to do more. The novel, which is about the Sam Sheppard murder case, comes out in March, but can be pre-ordered now.

Another nice surprise was to learn that BestThrillers.com selected Supreme Justice as one of the best 21 legal thrillers of the 21st Century (so far). That’s particularly interesting because I thought it was a political thriller, but I guess when the murder victims are Supreme Court justices, it qualifies. Here’s the listing:

Supreme Justice by Max Allan Collins
A blend of political and legal thriller, this story about the politics of the Supreme Court of the United States feels ahead of its time.

Secret Service agent Joseph Reeder heroically took a bullet for a president, but he’s been speaking out against that president for stacking the SCOTUS with ultra-conservative judges.

He’s paired with FBI agent Patti Rogers on a task force to investigate the death of Justice Henry Venter.

Reeder discovers the death was murder and not a robbery-gone-wrong, and soon the pair realizes it’s a conspiracy to replace the conservative judges with liberals—one that will also endanger Reeder’s family.

And here’s where you can check out the entire list.

My co-author Matt Clemens (who gets cover credit with me on the two other novels in the trilogy) and I get asked all the time why we don’t do another Reeder and Rogers thriller. He and I have discussed that endlessly, but the problem is the current political situation/climate. We were attacked for being “libtards” just because protagonist Joe Reeder was a center-left liberal (protecting right-wing justices!), and this was back when Obama was President. And how can you come up with a wild political thriller plot when every day the news has four or five of those?

For those who came in late, Supreme Justice is about a serial killer targeting conservative justices; Fate of the Union is about a kazillionaire running as a populist for President; and Executive Order has a plot within the government attempting a coup.


Blu-ray reversible inner sleeve

Last time I announced the Blu-ray of Mommy and Mommy 2: Mommy’s Day. Here’s a nice advance review with lots of info.

Jerry’s House of Everything is a fun review site by Jerry House (get it?). He spends some time lauding the unfortunately little-written about Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer graphic novel, The Night I Died, published by Titan as part of the Spillane 100th birthday celebration.

Finally, here’s some nice love for Paul Newman in Road to Perdition from the UK’s Telegraph.

M.A.C.

Killing Quarry (Again), Doctor Sleep and More

Tuesday, November 26th, 2019

I spoke too soon.

Last week I mentioned that – while reviews have been uniformly splendid for Killing Quarry on the web – none of the publishing industry’s trade publications had weighed in on the latest Quarry novel. As you may recall, I said I was not surprised, because entries in long-running series are often overlooked by PW, Kirkus, Booklist and Library Journal.

But I was wrong, and am delighted to be. I am providing excerpts because links to the full reviews would probably require you to subscribe to the services.

Anyway, this is from Publisher’s Weekly:

“Irresistible … It’s Lu’s presence, and the dash of romance she brings, that really energizes this entry … Collins maintains a tension between the two that’s resolved only on the final page. One of the book’s great pleasures is the humorless Quarry’s deadpan narration, whether he’s describing a pragmatic sexual encounter or exactly how a carefully planned hit can suddenly go off the rails. Newcomers and established fans alike will be happily drawn into Quarry’s cold-blooded criminal world.”

Okay, actually I’d read this earlier and forgotten about it; it’s a fine review but for the bewildering “humorless Quarry” reference, since the book is pretty much wall-to-wall sick humor, most of it tumbling from Quarry’s (yes) dead-pan lips.

On to Booklist and that fine reviewer, Bill Ott (I define “fine reviewer” as any critic with the sense to like my stuff):

“A thoroughly entertaining pas de deux, evoking Richard Condon’s classic Prizzi’s Honor (1982), in which Quarry and Lu come together as lovers and co-conspirators, despite neither one being sure who will try to kill the other first. The seventies backdrop, complete with cavorting and bloodletting at a former Playboy resort, only adds to the time-capsule ambience of this pulpy pleasure trip.”

For you less worldly readers, a pas de deux is a dance between a man and a woman (all right, I admit it – I had to look it up…je m’excuse.)


Cover Art for Killing Quarry
by Paul Mann

Last week I also hyped the audio of Killing Quarry read by Stefan Rudnicki even though I hadn’t heard it yet. Since then Barb and I took a day trip to Des Moines for shopping and food and maintaining our sanity, and the five-hour round trip allowed us to listen to Stefan narrating Killing Quarry (the new Quarry novel – have I mentioned that?).

Stefan does a fantastic job on the book. I will admit that the first time I heard him read a Quarry I wondered if his deep, resonant voice, that of a mature male, was right for my eternally boyish killer. I was soon won over, because Stefan gets every nuance of what I’m up to. He has lately been narrating the Mike Hammer novels (Murder, My Love and the forthcoming Masquerade for Murder), and stepping in for Stacy Keach in that regard is a daunting task, but what a fine job Stefan’s doing of it.

Dan John Miller has become, for me (and for Barb), the voice of Nate Heller. He has done all of the Heller novels including Better Dead, as well as the novellas (Triple Play) and short stories (Chicago Lightning), and I hope (if I land an audio book) he’ll read Do No Harm. In just that way, Stefan has become the voice of Quarry for me, and the male maturity he brings indicates that the notion of Quarry writing these memoirs later in life (much as Nate Heller does) is the right one.

Quarry is on hiatus at the moment, because the next novel for Hard Case Crime will be a Nolan – Skim Deep. More about that later.

* * *

While in Des Moines I caught the film Doctor Sleep, which seems not to be staying in theaters long. That’s a pity because it’s a fine Stephen King adaptation, and director/screenwriter Mike Flanagan pulls off a feat that I would have thought impossible – managing to make the film simultaneously an effective sequel to Kubrick’s The Shining and King’s The Shining. To do this, he had to get past both Stanley Kubrick’s estate and Stephen King, who notoriously hates the Kubrick film (he’s wrong) to the annoyance of the late director’s estate (they’re right, unless King didn’t cash the check).

I have a lot of respect for Stephen King, by the way. I discovered him via the novel Carrie, a copy of which my wife’s then-teenage sister was reading. It’s a great book, and I followed his work for a while, but couldn’t keep up with his output (look who’s talking) and also found his prose increasingly self-indulgent, after he got so famous he could no longer be edited. Was anybody really looking forward to a longer “cut” of The Stand?

But the guy is a hell of a storyteller, with a wonderful imagination and a devotion to exploring his own obsessions and concerns via prose fiction. Good for him. Who else do you know, who is still walking the planet, who created a section of every bookstore to accommodate the genre he popularized? “Horror” didn’t get its own shelves till King came along.

So I usually go to the movies based on his work and this is a good one, rivaling the two It films. As someone who’s written his share of sequels, I was impressed by how both the filmmaker and the source material explored a wholly different tale but then wound back up at the Overlook Hotel to tie a bloody bow on the proceedings. I particularly relished the bad guys, hippies living in a caravan of Winnebagos, riding under the radar of the world – deadly Dead Heads.

Star Ewan McGregor is fine as the adult Danny Torrance and a very good Kyliegh Curran is the preteen gifted (and plagued by) a “shining” of psychic abilities. An astonishing Rebecca Ferguson is the chief evil hippie woman, and if you’re wondering who might be able to play Ms. Tree effectively, take a look at her.

I’d also like to recommend several ongoing TV series I’ve seen of late, the kind of eight-or-ten-episodes-per-season unfolding novels-on-screen that make binge-watching such a delirious drug.

Danny McBride has already done two of my favorite examples of that form by way of Eastbound & Down and Vice Principals, both among the best dark comedies I’ve ever seen. McBride is relentless in making the characters he plays un-self-aware assholes, and yet somehow appealing and even displaying unlikely redemptive moments. He has topped himself in the epic Righteous Gemstones, an acid yet oddly affectionate look at a family who have taken right-wing Christianity to ridiculous yet believable low heights of show biz carnyism. McBride’s trick (and that word is not really fair) is exposing his characters, and this time the whole family surrounding his character, as fairly terrible human beings, then gradually revealing their humanity, which – damnit – makes us care about them. This is my favorite American drama, although really it’s a satirical melodrama, but let’s not carp. An HBO show.

A close second is Goliath, the Billy Bob Thorton drama (again, it’s melodrama, but nobody but me seems to make that distinction anymore) about a lawyer who rose and fell and (sort of) rose again. He’s the David who battles one Goliath per season, fighting the powers of political and economic corruption. The first season is among the best of its kind, the second season slightly faltering by going over the top sexually (and that’s me complaining, remember) but mostly by failing to show Billy Bob in court – part of the effectiveness of the series is its depiction of the main character as something of a shambling alcoholic with a seemingly inexplicable big reputation, the reason for which is only revealed in the courtroom. The third season, which is kind of a sideways modernday take on Chinatown, is back on point, with Billy Bob back in court, alienating a crooked judge. It streams on Amazon Prime.

I would also recommend Wentworth, the re-imagining of the classic Prisoner Cell Block H. Barb and I just watched season seven of this terrific women-in-prison show, which is very much a soap opera but an incredible one, with a primarily female cast who just kill it. This streams on Netflix, but we watched it on a Blu-ray from the UK.

* * *

For those of you wanting signed copies of Killing Quarry, VJ Books has it on sale here at around 40% off.

The unstoppable J. Kingston Pierce has listed (by year) the best books of the decade, and two are mine (Quarry’s Choice and Better Dead).

Charles Ardai, bless him, has given Geeks A Go Go (love it) a great interview about Quarry in general and Killing Quarry in particular.

Another fine Killing Quarry review is here from Criminal Element.

Crime Fiction Lover loves it, too.

But enough about Quarry. Here’s somebody who considers Road to Perdition one of the great gangster films.

M.A.C.

Dispatch From the Bunker

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019

The audio book of Scarface and the Untouchable, I am pleased to report, is up for a Voice Arts Award, thanks in no small part to narrator Stefan Rudnicki…assisted by two other narrators, A. Brad Schwartz and Max Allan Collins, under Stefan’s direction.

For those of you attending Bouchercon, look to see Barb and me there, Friday through Sunday. The con begins on Thursday, but that’s Halloween, and my four year-old grandson will be in costume, seeking candy, which I do not intend to miss.

Next week I’ll give you the breakdown on our panels and signings (Barb and I each have a panel appearance).

I have been very much burrowed in on the next Mike Hammer novel, Masquerade for Murder. It will be out next March. This is the second Hammer I’ve written from a Spillane synopsis, with only two scraps of Mickey’s prose to work into the book (including the opening, however). That’s an intimidating prospect, but I think it came out well.

The novel takes place in the late ‘80s and is a follow-up (not a sequel) to Mickey’s The Killing Man. Like the preceding Spillane/Collins Hammer novel, Murder, My Love, the synopsis may have been written by Mickey as a proposed TV episode for the Stacy Keach series. This means I had fleshing out to do, and I hope I’ve done Mike and the Mick justice.

I am working with a new editor at Titan, Andrew Sumner, who knows Hammer well – he was the skilled interviewer for one-on-one interviews with me at the last two San Diego Comic Cons. Andrew knows American pop culture inside out, and this is good news for me and the series. I will, very soon, be preparing a proposal for three more Hammer novels – two of which have considerably more Spillane material to work from.

The 75th anniversary of Mike Hammer looms in 2022, and we are already planning for it. With luck, the long-promised Collins/James Traylor biography of Spillane will be part of that. There will be a role for Hard Case Crime in the mix, too, and possibly even another graphic novel, this one based on a classic Spillane yarn.

For Masquerade for Murder, I spent a lot of time with The Killing Man, assembling typical Spillane phrases, settings and passages for reference and inspiration. I try to incorporate a Spillane feel, particularly in descriptions of weather and NYC locations; but I stop short of writing pastiche – I am less concerned with imitating Mickey’s style and more concerned with getting Hammer’s character down.

It’s somewhat challenging positioning each novel in the canon in proper context. Hammer was a shifting character – shifting with Mickey’s own age and attitudes – and I want each book to reflect where the writer and his character were when Mickey wrote the material I am working from. The last two have been later Hammer – specifically, late 1980s. Next time, assuming I land another three-book contract, I will be writing a story set around 1954. I look forward to that, because it’s the younger, rougher and tougher and more psychotic Hammer that many of us know and love.

I also have gone over the galley proofs of the new Heller, Do No Harm, also out in March (as is Girl Can’t Help It!) (yikes)! It was written a while ago and I was pleased to view it from a distance – and pleased to find I liked it very much.

I hope you’ll agree.

You didn’t have anything else to do next March but read three books by me, did you? You can take April off and dive back in, in May for Antiques Fire Sale.

* * *

Here’s a nice, extensive look at Ms. Tree.

Wild Dog has his own Wikipedia entry now – a good one.

One of our best contemporary crime fiction critics and historians, J. Kingston Pierce, has included The Titanic Murders in a fun look at disaster mysteries.

The late, great Paul Newman is lauded in this write-up about the film of Road to Perdition.

And finally, that man Jeff Pierce is back with a fine piece about the subject of last week’s update, actor Robert Forster.

M.A.C.