Posts Tagged ‘Nate Heller’

Bye, Hef

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

The recent death of Jerry Lewis is a reminder that for Baby Boomers like me, our own mortality is continually underscored by the passing of the great media figures who shaped us.

Just as Jerry Lewis had a big impact on what I think is funny, Hugh Hefner – who recently passed away at 91 – was hugely important in my life. My uncle Richard had Playboys in his basement proto-man cave that I saw when I was as young as ten or eleven, learning well before puberty that I liked seeing pictures of beautiful naked women. When I was in junior high, my father received a Christmas present of a subscription to Playboy as a gag gift in a bridge club “Secret Santa” exchange. He had no interest in the magazine and soon forgot about the subscription, because I always got to the mailbox first.

I loved the magazine. I loved everything about it, including, yes, the articles. And the fiction, and the book and movie and record reviews. There was a sophistication an Iowa kid could only dream of. As a comics fan, I was bowled over by the incredible cartoons, not just their raciness but their artistry. And the incredibly beautiful photography of the centerfolds (this is circa 1964 – 1966) defined for me what a woman should look like. I should say “could look like,” because even then I knew this was an airbrushed fantasy. Still, I knew the names of every Playmate from the ‘60s through the mid-‘70s – the beautiful woman I married was completely unthreatened by the Playboy fantasy, and the magazines never had to be hidden around our home.

I came of age in the pre-hippie ‘60s. It was a world of the Rat Pack and sick humor and Beatniks and Ian Fleming’s James Bond and the early Beatles. I still prefer the early Beatles – you can have most of the White Album. But then the ‘70s came along, and magazines that were more frank about sex in prose and in photography – Penthouse, Hustler – began to make inroads for Hefner’s fabulous brainchild. (I write about this in the forthcoming Quarry’s Climax.)

Hefner was important in loosening up the sexual mores of this (and other) nations. For good or ill, he fired some of the first real volleys in the Sexual Revolution (the most important after Kinsey). But the later ‘60s and every decade that followed were problematic for him. He struggled with feminism and self-consciously wrote progressive essays that were very smart but pretty boring. He never found a way to square the circle of a woman having sexual freedom and full human rights. The female as sex object had been defined long before he came along, and he obviously made his fortune and fame expanding and redefining that image. But it limited him and made him seen a hypocrite.

I make no apologies for considering Playboy in its prime (and even for many years after) a great publication. Until the recent revamping (since abandoned) with nudity banished, a new issue always gave me a bit of a thrill reminiscent of getting to the mailbox before my parents noticed I had snagged Dad’s copy of Playboy. For many decades I subscribed, and I looked forward to no magazine more.

For the articles. And so much more.

I always felt Hef was a kind of nerd. He was a work-a-holic who loved publishing and awkwardly took on the sophisticated sybarite persona his magazine dictated. Oh, I realize he really did become a sophisticated sybarite, but when he appeared on TV, particularly on Playboy After Dark, he seemed so awkward and ill at ease.

Somehow that was his charm. It conveyed the possibility to nerds in Iowa and elsewhere that an Illinois nerd could be the man who lived in a mansion filled with beautiful models, movie stars, intellectuals, top nightclub talent, world-class chefs and a never-ending party. I much prefer the quiet life I’ve led with one beautiful woman, but fantasy is still fun to think about.

As some of you know, Hefner was Nate Heller’s friend and there are scenes at the Chicago Playboy mansion in the JFK Trilogy (Bye Bye, Baby, Target Lancer and Ask Not). So Nate tips his fedora to his old friend, while I just say, “Goodbye, Hef.”

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Here’s a nice article on the Nolan series, marred a bit by the erroneous inclusion of the first name “Frank.”

Bookgasm has a nice review of the Bibliomysteries collection that includes the Hammer story “It’s in the Book.”

Gravetapping has a fine review of my pal Steve Mertz’s new novel.

Finally, here’s a brief review of Strip for Murder.

M.A.C.

Nathan Heller Confidential

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

M.A.C.

Report from Killer Nashville

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

Barb and I were guests at Killer Nashville, which was actually held in Franklin, Tennessee, at an Embassy Suites, which was an excellent venue for a conference.

And Killer Nashville – our first time there – is a conference, not a convention, although elements of that are present. Specifically, it’s a writer’s conference. When you do a panel, attendees are frequently taking notes, and the questions from the audience are not from fans but from aspiring writers hoping to learn.

While there are many pros presents – J.A. Jance was the big name – many are indie authors, including a good number of self-published ones. And the major award (of many) is given to the best unpublished novel manuscript submitted. The other awards, this time anyway, went almost exclusively to small press and self-published titles. This conference is designed to nurture new authors and there’s a palpable sense of community, aided and abetted by that legendary Southern hospitality.

Host and conference creator, Clay Stafford, is a gentle and welcoming presence, seemingly everywhere. As one of three guests of honor, I was interviewed for the entire conference crowd after a luncheon on Saturday. Clay won me over by bringing two brimming boxes of my books, including an edition of Saving Private Ryan that I didn’t know existed. He was well-prepared for the interview and I was very loose and, frankly, pretty damn funny.


Clay Stafford, right, interviews M.A.C., left.

The panels Barb and I did – including a collaboration one, which was a dry run of sorts for a panel we’ll be doing at the Toronto Bouchercon – were well-handled by the moderators, and mostly well-attended. The better attended panels were oriented toward writing – i.e., how to create a scene – and reflected the interests of the newcomers and aspiring writers attending.

Barb and I don’t do very many conventions – we try to do Bouchercon, as a sort of one-stop-shopping affair where readers from all over the country can get to us, and until lately we’ve regularly done San Diego Comic Con, when health issues got in the way. But this con/conference was fun and welcoming, and we’d certainly recommend it as an event that is designed less for fans and more for writers who are still learning their craft.

I was presented with a very nice award, the Killer Nashville “John Seigenthaler Legends Award.” The Killer Nashville website describes the award this way:

“The annual Killer Nashville John Seigenthaler Legends Award™ is bestowed upon an individual within the publishing industry who, like its namesake, has devoted his or her life to championing First Amendment Rights, advocating for social change, equality, and fairness, or otherwise defending issues of freedom. Recipients of this award have displayed a steadfast commitment to these ideals, and to mentoring the next generation of authors. This is not a lifetime achievement award, as we expect much more of these individuals in years to come.”

Seigenthaler was a distinguished journalist and activist with ties to Robert Kennedy. That resonates with me because my Writers Workshop mentor, Richard Yates, was a RFK speechwriter.

Thank you, Killer Nashville.

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Crusin’ will appear in a charming outdoor setting at Ardon Creek Winery this coming Friday, September 1, from 6 till 9. For info go to http://www.ardoncreek.com/, and check under events (for directions look under “contact us”).

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The forthcoming graphic novel from Hard Case Crime Comics, Quarry’s War – which will be serialized as four comic books before being collected – has received a lot of play on the Net…dozens of hits! Here’s a good example, which includes looks at some of the covers of the comics.

Very nice Carnal Hours review here (a reprint but worth looking at).

Jeff Pierce’s wonderful site, Killer Covers, showcases The First Quarry’s great cover.

There is a fairly nice mention of Quarry’s Climax toward the end of this column from the UK’s Crime Time. But I think the suggestion that I’m doing homage as opposed to real hardboiled or noir is b.s. I am continuing a series I began in 1971, when Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, Mickey Spillane and Ross Macdonald were still writing, and Erle Stanley Gardner was still publishing when he died the year before. If you characterize me as a modern-day imitator of a distant past, I would respectfully remind you that I am the distant effing past…although no one in the distant past would have been able to be as sexually frank and graphically violent as Quarry’s Climax, because I am also the current effing present. I’ll leave the future to the rest of you.

M.A.C.

Nate Heller’s Girl Amy

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

The History Channel’s documentary on Amelia Earhart as a Japanese POW in Saipan has been called into question. “Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence,” which I watched on July 9, was two hours with seemingly an hour of commercials, a docudrama restaging an investigation into Earhart’s (and navigator Fred Noonan’s) disappearance at sea eighty years ago.

Utilizing a documentary style more suited to Bigfoot, ancient aliens or maybe an episode of Pawn Stars, the show did a fairly good job of summarizing the theory I explored in the 1999 Heller novel, Flying Blind. Islanders were interviewed, actual locations visited, a supposed gravesite excavation undertaken, and so on. Admittedly, it had a real Geraldo/Capone vault feel.

I know a lot of Heller fans were watching, the media having gone gaga over a supposedly newly discovered photo of Amelia and Fred on a Marshall Islands pier taken just after they disappeared in 1937. Forensic examiners declared the vague figures in question were “very likely” to be Earhart and her navigator.

The ratings had barely settled when Japanese military history blogger Kota Yamano called foul on the photo, citing the inaccuracy of the declared date, saying the picture had been published in a Japanese-language travel book in 1935, two years before Amelia, Noonan and their Lockheed fell off the planet.

I chatted with my son Nate about this, and shared some thoughts, seeking his wisdom as someone who knows a lot about Japanese culture. Nate has lived in Japan and, as many of you know, works as a freelancer translating Japanese books, manga and video games into English. The kid knows his stuff. (The “kid” is also in his early thirties.)

My reaction was this: the media was instantly accepting of the validity of the photo; and then just as immediately took the debunking at face value. What amused me was how many “experts” on line and on cable news said that if the Japanese had taken Amelia prisoner, and then she died in captivity (possibly executed), their government would surely have come forward and told us. After all, we’re friends now, right?

I’m sure the friendly folks who brought us Pearl Harbor would say “So sorry” and admit to imprisoning and slaughtering one of America’s most beloved historical figures. Right?

This isn’t to say that I think the debunking is fake. It does strike me that no one in the United States (that I know of) has examined the book in question – that the evidence comes only from Japan. And it’s all too typical that we immediately accept the debunking, just as quickly as we did the new “evidence.”

Nate has looked into this and thinks the blogger is legit, and the debunking is likely the real thing, not a Japanese government-engineered hoax, to save face. But I maintain the latter is a possibility.

And despite the Loch-Ness-Monster-is-Real approach of the “documentary” from History Channel, the Saipan theory is more than just a theory – it’s the basis of a Nate Heller book! And most likely true.

Speaking of Nate Heller, Better Dead just won something that I had almost nothing to do with, but which nonetheless pleases me very much – a “Best Cover” award!

And, for those who are wondering, I will spend much of the second half of this year working on a new Heller novel. The Better Dead mass market paperback won’t be released until the next hardcover comes out (which I have to write first).

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Here’s another one of those movies-you-didn’t-know-were-from-comics articles, with nice M.A.C. mentions.

M.A.C.