Posts Tagged ‘Nate Heller’

Books on Sale at Amazon & The Last Word on Reviews

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

Perhaps to celebrate the release of Girl Most Likely – which is still on sale as a Kindle title and as a “real” book – Amazon is having a sale till the end of the month on my other thrillers for their Thomas & Mercer line. This includes What Doesn’t Kill Her and the Reeder and Rogers Trilogy, Supreme Justice, Fate of the Union and Executive Order.

For all the talk about Girl Most Likely being my take on Nordic Noir, the first attempt was What Doesn’t Kill Her, which was meant to be an American twist on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, minus the social comment.

Matt Clemens co-wrote all four of those, though he only got cover and title page credit on Fate and Order. I had to push for that, but you should know that he was fully the co-author of the other two.

A very astute reader of mine told me he thought some of the pushback against Girl Most Likely (more on that later) had to do with my describing it in terms of an American version of Nordic Noir. For what it’s worth, that was never the intention or the plan. It just came up in the first interview I did about the book and it kind of took hold.

Not that it wasn’t an aspect of how the book came to be. I really liked such Scandinavian TV series as The Bridge, Wallander, Varg Veum, and The Killing, and wanted to do something in that vein. No thought of tying my wagon to somebody else’s star was in the mix, although obviously the “Girl” in the title followed that particular trend. Attracting some female readers makes only sense in a marketplace where the fairer sex outnumbers us loutish male readers something like ten to one. That kind of math I can do.

So, reviews. I’ve talked about them here quite a bit, more than anybody wants me to, but I am going to take one last (hooray) swing at it. Let’s start with professional reviews.

Understand that I have been writing fiction a long time, and am rather set in my ways, and arrogantly feel that I know what I’m doing. But to be honest I never did pay much attention to the advice I was given in professional reviews. Almost from the beginning, I had enough faith in my work to believe in it, and me, more than the opinions of others. I mean, once you’ve been schooled by Donald E. Westlake, Mickey Spillane, Walter Tevis and Richard Yates, who cares what anybody else thinks?

No, to me the professional reviewers are all about marketing – about libraries and booksellers seeing good comments from Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist and the irascible Kirkus, and then ordering books. Editors and publishers like to have good reviews from those sources to blurb on covers, fore and aft, and on the first page or two of reprint editions. This is not to say I don’t enjoy reading a positive review from one of those sources. But for me, it’s strictly business. A marketing tool or, if a review is bad, a marketing obstacle.

Now and then, particularly in a newspaper or a really good blog (like The Rap Sheet), I get a glowing review that is really, really smart. Where the reviewer understands what I was up to. Now and then a positive criticism actually does take hold with me, too. Mostly, though, I love it when somebody gets it.

This is often true of the magazine reviews in Mystery Scene, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Crimespree, and Deadly Pleasures, among others. These tend to be written by smart, knowledgeable people, and they are a great source for quotes, and often are positive and give me a nice little ego boost. When I do get criticism worth listening to, it’s frequently here. EQMM’s Jon Breen practically discovered me.

What’s interesting to me is how seldom reviewers notice the weaknesses in a book of mine that I knew were there. This may be because I know how to hide such things, through sleight of hand or sneaky execution. Let’s take Girl Most Likely. A major flaw about it drives me crazy – I did my best to figure out how to fix it or avoid it, and instead I merely had to finesse it largely through pace.

But the two things that the reviewers – mostly amateur ones – have complained about were done by me with full knowledge of the risks. It was absolutely intentional that I did a lot of clothing description, and the occasional brand names were on purpose, too (I’ve already said why in previous updates). The abrupt ending was a choice as well, very much in the Spillane tradition – story’s over, time to get out, let the credits roll. A good number of people hate that. I’m sorry – not really – but I felt it was called for. My book. My way.

Let’s get to the amateur reviewers, who specifically rule at Amazon, where a good deal of misbehavior is tolerated by Amazon itself, which ironically is the publisher of Girl Most Likely.

First, let me get this out of the way – the amateur reviews, overall, have been great. We are sitting at four-stars. The Associated Press review was, again overall, a fine one, and appeared all over God’s green earth. Of the pro publications, some of whom didn’t love it, Booklist was a near rave. So my difficulty with the reviews on Girl Most Likely has almost exclusively to do with the Amazon ones.

Now, if you follow this blog, you know that I encourage Amazon non-pro reviews – I give out books to readers specifically to increase the number of such reviews, and since people reading this weekly update tend to be longtime readers of mine, I can pretty much count on mostly decent reviews being generated by the book giveaways.

The negative reviews of Girl, among the many nice ones, fall into two camps. One appears to be young and female, and an unbiased reader named Barbara Collins thinks I am being punished for writing about a woman when I am apparently a man. (Lots of nice notices from the young women with book review blogs, though.) But I also see an occasional nastiness that reflects a certain breed of progressive that sees something sinister in a daughter who is a professional woman having respect for a father who is a longtime professional in that field himself. The worst of these criticized me for being “a white man.”

Now Amazon is supposed to reject reviews that are hate speech. Yet even the “white man” thing is okay with me. End of the day, it doesn’t bother me much because it’s the kind of review that reveals itself and its maker. Matt Clemens and I got a lot of those ugly reviews from alt-right nincompoops in regard to the Reeder and Rogers Trilogy. Certain early reviews of Supreme Justice were clearly written by people who had not read much if any of the book. Our sin? Of our two leads, one was a liberal, the other a conservative – and they got along!

The other negative reviews, and this reflects an almost surprisingly small number, are those from longtime readers of mine who don’t like the change of pace. For example, the book is billed as “a thriller,” although I have personally characterized it as a hybrid of thriller and mystery. And some have said that this novel – which includes three vicious butcher-knife murders, a street brawl, and the protagonists getting chased through the woods by a maniac – isn’t “thriller” enough. Perhaps this reaction comes from the world of Girl Most Likely not being the criminal one of Quarry, Nolan, Mike Hammer and Nate Heller. A new, more everyday milieu apparently jars some readers.

One particular review is a rather vicious attack on me by a self-professed longtime fan who claims to have read almost all of my stuff, some novels several times. But he is appalled by Girl Most Likely for all kinds of reasons. And you know what? That’s just fine. Everybody has a right to an opinion and to express it.

Of course, when he suggests I am selling out for “the sake of building a nest-egg to retire upon,” I have to wonder – does anybody who really follows my work think I look like I’m planning retirement soon?

Authors these days live and die on Amazon. Please support not just me, but all of your favorite authors – write positive reviews (again, even a line or two is fine), click on “helpful” on the more detailed reviews when you agree with whatever insights they provide.

Amazon is the biggest bookstore in the world. Go in there and support your favorite authors. If you read a book, particularly one you buy there, that you really like, tell the world about it, in a brief (or an extended) review. It’s a way to pay your favorites a favor, and to keep them in business.

Authors are real people, trying to make a living out of entertaining you. Any time you can express your satisfaction with a positive review at Amazon and other sites, you are helping the writers whose work you enjoy stay in business. If they disappoint you, you have every right to say so in a review.

Just don’t be a dick.

* * *

Check out this very smart review of Girl Most Likely.

This reviewer has an interesting take or two on the novel.

Finally, here’s a very nice look at the Nathan Heller series.

M.A.C.

My Dozen Favorite Filmmakers

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

Here’s just what no one’s been asking for – my list of favorite film directors and why!

First, let me say that some of my favorite films are by directors not on this list – Anatomy of a Murder, Groundhog Day, Army of Darkness, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Harvey, Chinatown and The Maltese Falcon, among others. Blake Edwards and Robert Aldrich gave us The Great Race and Kiss Me Deadly respectively, but also some (let’s face it) real turkeys. Budd Boetticher directed several of my favorite westerns, but his fairly small overall output also included some not terribly interesting films – he should be applauded, however, for doing the first several episodes of Maverick and defining the great James Garner-starring series.

But that’s TV. We’re talking film today.

These are directors who almost always interest me, whose work I collect on Blu-ray and/or DVD, and who have each given me a number of my favorite films. This is a list of a dozen, so don’t look for a lot of detail.

Also, you may be surprised to see me looking at film as if it’s the director who’s responsible, not the writer. Keep in mind a good number of these filmmakers also wrote or co-wrote the films in question. But having both written and directed films, I can tell you the thing writers don’t want you to know (and some of them don’t know themselves, because they have been limited to the writing side): it’s the director, if he or she is any good, who creates the film. A script is a hugely important part, but executing that script – particularly when the director is involved in editing, where the movie is really made – is what it’s all about.

1. ALFRED HITCHCOCK. When I made my little movie Mommy almost twenty-five years ago, and suddenly had the directing chore dropped in my lap, I felt overwhelmed, not having prepared for that job. I was just supposed to co-produce. We made a sequel a year or two later, during which time I watched every Hitchcock film available – all the sound ones, and a good number of the silents. Hitchcock is a school any maker of narrative films can go to and should. Vertigo is only one of half a dozen masterpieces, and plenty more are merely great.

2. JERRY LEWIS. Lewis was the great comedy director of the mid-20th Century. He was not the greatest director of comedies – that was probably Billy Wilder – but the greatest director of a star comedian…and he filled both roles. The Ladies’ Man and The Nutty Professor are both stellar works; so is The Bellboy, and The Patsy is also good. He made some truly terrible films as well – for example, Three on a Couch and Which Way to the Front? – but they were the terrible films of a real filmmaker and unique genius. Yup, the French were right.

3. JOSEPH H. LEWIS. This Lewis is the greatest B movie maker of all time, even better than Ulmer, who was damn good. While Gun Crazy and The Big Combo are the clear masterworks, many other Joe Lewis films – My Name Is Julia Ross and So Dark the Night come to mind – are also first-rate. Unlike Sam Fuller, Lewis tended not to do as well when given an A-film budget.

4. HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT. While his body of narrative film is relatively small, Clouzot’s list includes masterwork after masterwork – Le Corbeau, Manon, Wages of Fear and Les Diaboliques among them. Probably the only real competition Hitchcock ever had – both in terms of thrillers and sheer filmmaking skill – Clouzot was controversial because of movies he made during the Nazi occupation (subversive though they were to his masters). He also notoriously treated his actors harshly, to get the right feeling out of them on screen. He would on occasion slap an actress. When he tried this with Brigitte Bardot, she kicked him in the balls.

5. JACQUES TATI. Tati made an even smaller handful of films than Clouzot, but they are all wonderful, and Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, Mon Oncle and Playtime are utter genius – comedies quietly satirical, sly and affectionate toward a France that’s slipping into the past and galloping into the future, making you have to pay attention to know how truly great, and funny, they are.

6. DON SIEGEL. Siegel is to the pure crime film as Hitchcock is to the thriller and Ford to the Western. His years as an editor made him the best in the business at putting together shoot-outs and other action sequences. He was another B-movie master, although he slid effortlessly into a later A-movie career, thanks to his Clint Eastwood relationship. Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Hell Is for Heroes (with Bobby Darin!), The Killers, Dirty Harry…those are the work of a great filmmaker.

7. BRIAN DEPALMA. DePalma has always had his detractors, and some of his films have been less than great, but even those are of interest. For me, it’s the period of Sisters, Phantom of the Paradise and Obsession that seal the deal. But much of what followed, starting with Carrie, demonstrated that you can study Hitchcock and still be joltingly original. I usually do not like camera work that calls attention to itself. But DePalma makes the technique intrinsic to the storytelling.

8. HOWARD HAWKS. Hawks was more concerned with good scenes than good stories, and that should bother me, but damn! Are you kidding? That overlapping dialogue, the strong man/woman relationships, the well-staged action scenes. We’re talking His Girl Friday, Bringing Up Baby, The Big Sleep, Red River, Rio Bravo…the guy justified his time on the planet, all right.

9. JOHN FORD. Do I need to say anything more than THE SEARCHERS? Okay, if you insist: Stagecoach, Young Mr. Lincoln, Grapes of Wrath, The Quiet Man, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance…and on and on.

10. JEAN-PIERRE MELVILLE. Clouzot was the great French thriller director, but Melville was the great French crime film director. My favorites are Bob le Flambeur, Le Samourai, Le Cercle Rouge, and Un Flic. His is a world of cool professionals of crime – some crooks, some cops.

11. JOHN WOO. The great Hong Kong film director (and writer) has been little heard from lately, and none of his Hollywood output has compared to the HK masterpieces – A Better Tomorrow, A Better Tomorrow 2, The Killer, Hardboiled. But his distinctive stamp on action scenes, and his mingling of seemingly mismatched influences – Sam Peckinpah, Douglas Sirk, Jean-Pierre Melville (him again) – make a unique contribution to the world of narrative film.

12. SAM FULLER. Fuller was a lunatic, but what a lunatic. He could get so wrapped up in his tabloid approach that the B-movie attitudes of even his A productions could become over-the-top cartoons. And it’s true that even his best work for the major studios – Forty Guns, Pick Up on South Street, House of Bamboo – had over-the-top aspects, making them memorable and distinctly his. He didn’t call “action” on set, he fired off a gun. How can you not love that?

These, and a few other directors, are on my shelves the way writers like Spillane, Hammett, Chandler, Cain, Stout, Thompson and Christie are. They influenced my fiction writing just as much, too.

Please, in responding (and you are welcome and even encouraged to) keep in mind these are personal opinions, matters of taste, not a listing of what I feel you should like or think.

* * *

Here’s a lovely latterday review of the first Nathan Heller novel, True Detective.

The opening paragraphs of Girl Most Likely are teased here.

Finally, Girl Most Likely is discussed as one of the most talked about forthcoming crime novels of 2019. You’ll have to scroll down some – a lot of crime novels are being talked about, apparently!

M.A.C.

An “Antiques” Stocking Stuffer and the Walmart Big Time

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Yes, here I am with another selfless suggestion for something you might give to your loved ones or yourself at Yuletide.


Amazon Indiebound Books A Million Barnes and Noble

Antiques Ho-Ho-Homicides collects, for the first time, the three e-book novellas Barb and I did over the last five years. It’s a paperback (hence a perfect stocking stuffer), and I know some collectors out there prefer hardcovers, but “Barbara Allan” is thrilled that these stories are finally gathered in a real book.

If you are one of the hold-outs who like my stuff but can’t bring yourself to cross the cozy divide, Antiques Ho-Ho-Homicides is an inexpensive way to see Brandy and her mother Vivian in action. A sampler, if you will, and much tastier than those Whitman samplers some people insist upon giving you at Christmas.

I’ve discussed this before, but I still get questions about how Barb and I work together on the Antiques books, and how we stay married doing them. One aspect is that my office is on one floor and Barb’s is on another. But basically it’s this: Barb writes the first draft, and I write the final draft.

The less basic explanation is that Barb is the lead writer. Although I have more experience, and have been doing this longer, the books reflect her sensibilities and storytelling skills. We plot them together, but I stay out of the way while Barb prepares her draft. Sometimes we’ve described that as a rough draft, but really it’s not. Barb polishes each chapter thoroughly and, after at least six months of work, she gives me a perfectly readable and well-crafted novel that happens to be fifty or sixty pages shorter than what our contract requires.

My job is to further polish, and expand, and do lots of jokes. Barb has already done plenty of humor at this stage, but then I add more, with the result being that these novels are damn funny. Barb is wonderful about staying out of my way (as I’ve stayed out of hers, unless asked for input, during her creation of the initial draft). She claims to be so sick of the book at this point that she doesn’t care what I do to it.

This is not true.

She cares a lot, and will ask me why I’ve cut or changed something, and – when I tell her – will either agree or explain why (for plot or character reasons) (these are female point-of-view first-person novels) I need to restore what she originally wrote. Which I do.

The only time we’ve squabbled is when I’ve gotten crabby because I’m overworked. She will not tolerate snippiness. And I’ve been known on rare occasions (somewhat rare) (tiny bit rare) to be snippy, so there you go.

Consider Antiques Ho-Ho-Homicides our Christmas gift to you, except for the part where you have to pay for it.

Kensington publishes the Antiques novels, and also the Caleb York westerns. The accompanying photo will demonstrate that these Spillane/Collins westerns have hit the big time: we are in the Muscatine, Iowa, Walmart with The Bloody Spur! In fact, the Walmart chain bought a whole bunch of copies, and you can buy your copy at your local temple to the memory of Sam Walton.

The Antiques books haven’t made it into Walmart and probably won’t – the chain is very narrow about the kind of books they buy…mostly it’s romances, romantic westerns and westerns, plus a few bestsellers. Not a cozy in sight – not even an hilarious one like Antiques Ho-Ho-Homicides. How do they expect to stay in business?

Speaking of Antiques, here is a terrific review of Ho-Ho-Homicides at King River Life Magazine, which will give you a good idea of what to expect, including discussions of each novella.

Okay, now what you’re wondering is…what can I give Max Allan Collins for Christmas? I will be facetious and serious at the same time: you could write reviews (however brief) for my novels at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, your own blogs and whatever site you deem appropriate. There is a real reason why you might want to consider doing this, if you want new work from me.

The books I write – Mike Hammer, Quarry, Antiques – are seldom reviewed by the mainstream (including lots of Internet reviewers). I do not have the cachet or sales punch of a Lehane or Connelly, who are always reviewed. I am largely ignored, even by people who love my work, in “Best of” lists at the end of the year. This is a bit of a head-scratcher, but it’s a reality. Even the widely, glowingly reviewed non-fiction book Scarface and the Untouchable: The Battle for Chicago isn’t turning up on such lists.

I probably write too much. That keeps work that, if other people did it, would be taken more seriously. I am not whining or complaining (well, I guess I am) but I do understand that even readers who follow my work can’t always keep up with me.

Here’s the deal. If I don’t write, publishers do not send money to my house. That’s one thing. The other is that I am 70, have had some harrowing health issues (that I seem to have either overcome or am handling well) and realize that I don’t have forever to tell my stories.

And I have a lot more stories I want to tell.

Actually, I do not work as hard as I used to. Over the years, most Heller chapters were written in a day (25 to 30 double-spaced pages). I was a boy wonder till I got old. I slowed down starting with Better Dead. In general, my work load now is ten finished pages, six days a week. (Sometimes only five days.) It’s no different than with people with a “real” job – they work five or six days a week, and nobody applauds them, or tries to talk them out of it.

As I’ve mentioned, I have friends who have done these sort of interventions to get me to retire and get Barb and me to go take a cruise with other aging couples. I would rather write. Barb and I treat ourselves well and have a great time together, and don’t feel the need for a lot of travel to do that. She is a beautiful woman and lovely company, and is the one thing in my life that is worth hating me over.

She and I are watching one Christmas movie or television episode per evening right now. I may write about this soon. But I will say this – Holiday Inn is a wonderful movie, and White Christmas sort of stinks. Maybe my son Nathan is right: Die Hard is a better Christmas movie than White Christmas.

* * *

Here six great books (available inexpensively) are recommended, and one of them is True Detective (and I’m pleased and grateful, but it’s not “Allen,” okay?).

Shots looks at upcoming Titan titles, including the new Hammer, Murder, My Love.

The Strand magazine is on the stands now, with the key Spillane “Mike Hammer” short story, “Tonight, My Love.”

We’ve linked to this review before, but this time it’s attached to the mass market paperback of The Bloody Spur, out right now.

Finally, here’s a lovely write-up on the three Jack and Maggie Starr mysteries.

M.A.C.

Unbiased Gift-Giving (and Book Collecting) Advice

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

Just when I was thinking the last update’s self-aggrandizing gift list suggestions were as far as even I could shamelessly go, along comes an Amazon sale to give me a chance to outdo myself.

Half a dozen of my Nathan Heller books are on sale all throughout the month of December at Amazon. The Kindle e-books are a mere 99 cents, and the physical books (remember those…books you can hold in your hands?) are half-price.

This includes True Crime, True Detective, The Million-Dollar Wound, Neon Mirage, Stolen Away, Angel in Black, Chicago Lightning and Triple Play. The latter two are a short story collection and a trio of short novels (the rest are novels).

You can find them right here.

Earlier I thought that all of the Heller novels prior to the recent batch at Tor Forge were included, but it’s a little more limited than that.

At any rate, if you have holes to fill in your collections, or are looking to turn others on to Nate Heller and me (and by so doing help insure more Heller books will come along in the future), this is the place to make that Christmas miracle come true.

I have other gift suggestions, too, for books I didn’t write. Sounds like the Christmas spirit, huh? Not so fast. I want now to recommend several books that originally appeared in Japanese but were translated by someone calling himself Nathan A. Collins (he claims the “A” stands for “Allan”).

Seriously, though, Nate is a wonderful writer (I said “unbiased”) and these are good books. One of them has a peculiar title – I Want to Eat Your Pancreas () – which is not a horror novel but a very good book about an unusual and oddly touching friendship. It was a bestseller in Japan, which I believe is why the American publisher did not want to change the title.

Nate also translated a thriller that was made into a rather famous anime feature – Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis () – which explores the phenomenon of young female pop stars (rather a creepy if real thing), one of whom attracts a particularly nasty stalker. Nate also translated Perfect Blue: Awaken from a Dream (), a collection of three stories by the same author on the same subject.

The most famous of Nate’s translations is Battle Royale (), which was the “inspiration” for Hunger Games, and an internationally successful film. That’s been out a while. Most current novel is Zodiac War () (Nate also translated the manga version (). This is a science-fiction/fantasy adventure, a super-hero/villain variation on Battle Royale.

* * *

Some recent things on the Net that you may wish to check out….

This is a fun discussion of movie tie-in novels, and several of mine are included.

Be sure to take in this nice appreciation of the Quarry TV series, which includes a celebration of Quarry’s creator, whose name I’m too modest to mention.

Once again Road to Perdition (the film and the graphic novel) are mentioned prominently on a list called (wait for it)“10 Obscure Comic Books That Were Turned Into Movies.”

Here is an oral history of how I created the new Robin and then DC fans rose up and killed him.

Finally, here’s a very good review of my first Quarry novel, which is called Quarry (and not The First Quarry).

M.A.C.