Posts Tagged ‘Nathan Heller’

The Happy Together Tour

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015
Happy Together Tour

Saturday evening, Barb and I went to see this year’s edition of the Happy Together Tour, mounted as always by Flo and Eddie of the Turtles. The acts on the bill were the Buckinghams, the Cowsills, the Grass Roots, the Association, Mark Lindsay, and of course the Turtles. My band the Daybreakers opened for the Buckinghams in the late ‘60s, and my ongoing band, Crusin’, opened for the Grass Roots and Turtles twice. So I was really curious and pumped to see the concert.

The Association were the big draw for Barb and me, because they were a shared favorite band going back to the earliest days of our going together. We’ve seen them over the years in concert probably six or seven times.

The show was a good one, the format including a top-notch band that travels with the tour and backs up two or three members of the original groups. This works out better in some cases than others. The Buckinghams had two original members but not the distinctive lead singer, Dennis Tufano. Of course, what I remember vividly when we played with the Buckinghams was how skillfully the keyboard player could mimic Tufano’s voice.

The venue, at Riverside Casino (in Riverside, Iowa, eventual birthplace of James T. Kirk), was at times not helpful. The casino/resort is most impressive, and Crusin’ has played their lounge four times, and that’s a wonderful venue. But concerts are held in an “event center” (i.e., ballroom) and not a theater, so you’re in chairs close together on one level (the size of most Baby Boomers makes that a real drawback). The acoustics were, shall we say, problematic. The Buckinghams, opening the concert, first, delivered vocals barely heard.

Later, the Grass Roots – minus late lead singer, Rob Grill – suffered similar vocal problems, specifically a lead singer difficult to hear who was not really the band’s lead singer.

The Association, represented by three members (two of them Jim Yester and Jules Alexander, both founding members and incredible talents), did well, in part thanks to the vocal skills of their back-up band. But even they suffered because most of their big hits were sung by Russ Giguere, who has apparently retired from touring.

Still, the show was very entertaining and fast-moving, with scant time between “bands” (really, just bringing out the two or three original members of each group, sharing the tour band), with everybody limited to five songs. And that meant the really big hits.

Very strong was Mark Lindsay, doing mostly Paul Revere stuff (“Kicks” was outstanding), still handsome, energetic, a real rock star prowling the stage. And of course the Turtles were wonderful, if at times too hip for the room. They are extremely loose and funny and off-the-wall, and yet still touch the required bases of their hits.

I got to know Flo and Eddie – Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan – a little bit when we opened for them in what must have been an early version of their Happy Together tour that included Crusin’ on the Moline, Illinois, bill. We shared a green room (a tent – it was an outdoor concert) with them, and both were friendly and down-to-earth. When they learned I was the writer of DICK TRACY – this was around 1986, I’m guessing – both were impressed. Mark called me a few times to discuss the possibility of us doing a mystery novel together, but it never went anywhere. I doubt he remembers me.

My group of poker-playing guys in high school loved the Turtles, loved their first album – they were a scruffier rock group pre-“Happy Together,” with “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “Let Me Be.” But we always wondered, seeing the group lip sync on “Where the Action Is” and other such shows, what the hell Volman’s function was. He was just this curly-haired pudgy guy who played tambourine. What was that about?

Then, around 1967, I saw them in concert. Good lord, Volman was the best showman I ever saw on a rock stage, bounding around, doing crazy tricks with his tambourine, and singing perfect harmony with Kaylan in a voice that mirrored the lead singer. Like the Buckinghams, the Turtles made use of vocal similarity to great effect.

But Volman’s function appeared to be to disguise the stiffness of great singer Kaylan, who just stood there, as if frozen with stage fright. So back in ‘67, I went in wondering why they kept the apparently useless Volman around, and came out realizing he was one of the two essential members – as the continued partnership of Volman and Kaylan demonstrates.

And over the years Kaylan has turned into just as loose and wild an entertainer as Volman, the opposite of stiff. I appreciate the way they taunt and to a degree make fun of an audience, which was always the style of Crusin’, although not everyone appreciates that.

But the real surprise was the Cowsills.

I never really cared for them. I knew they sang and played well, but the whole family-as-a-rock-act-that-included-mom-and-a-seven-year-old-sister thing turned my rock and roller’s stomach, as I’m sure it did many other such stomachs. The group inspired the Partridge Family (“inspired” being a euphemism for “got screwed over by the creators and producers of”) and after four or five monster hits, dropped off the charts and eventually disbanded.

When I told Barb about this concert, the one downside was that the Cowsills were on the bill. We both made superior-human “yucchs” from the very start. Now here’s the punchline.

They killed.

Bob, Paul and Susan Cowsill were the outstanding act of the night. Even the poor acoustics didn’t touch them. Their vocals were loud and strong and as beautifully harmonic as Abba at its best, only punchy. They were funny and fluid and had a wonderful time. I went in a detractor and came out a Cowsills fan.

(My Turtles and Cowsills stories demonstrate just how much you can change your mind about a rock act when you’ve seen them in concert. It can also work in the reverse, lowering you opinion drastically.)

At the merch table (isn’t “merch” a shitty slang word?) I bought a DVD of the documentary on the Cowsills, which I’d heard was good. Additionally, it was signed by the band, and I am a sucker for signed stuff. I watched it last night and it’s excellent. Spoiler alert: their Dad was an evil asshole.

Seeing what a rough ride these kids from a seemingly idyllic background suffered over the decades made it even more impressive that the two Cowsills brothers and their sister delivered such an energetic, joyful performance. It indicated the healing powers of rock ‘n’ roll. It may be temporary healing, lasting only as long as a gig lasts, but we’ll take what we can get.

* * *

Today I hope to write the final chapter of the new Mike Hammer, DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU.

In the meantime, check out some interesting stuff on the Net pertaining to my favorite subject (me).

I am honored and thrilled that J. Kingston Pierce, among the best and most important reviewers in contemporary mystery fiction, has singled out Nate Heller as his favorite character. Check it out here.

Here’s a swell review of THE TITANIC MURDERS.

Col’s Criminal Library continues its march through the Nolan series with this terrific write-up on HARD CASH.

Here’s another of those “movies you didn’t know came from a comic book” pieces featuring ROAD TO PERDITION.

Finally, here’s top scribe Ron Fortier’s nice review of the Dover reprint of STRIP FOR MURDER.

M.A.C.

Go Sell A Watchman

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015
Go Set A Watchman

I have read around 100 pages of Harper Lee’s GO SET A WATCHMAN, and frankly don’t know if I’ll get any farther in it.

The writing certainly has at least occasional flair, though the use of point of view isn’t to my liking – suddenly jumping into another character’s POV for a while, and then back again, is an amateur ploy. The secondary characters aren’t particularly compelling, and the dialogue is often precious. But what’s really wrong with the novel is that it has no discernible plot. Unlike its famous predecessor, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (like I had to tell you), there’s no murder trial to provide an engine to the small-town nostalgia set pieces.

MOCKINGBIRD is not a particular favorite of mine. I read it when it came out, in my youth, and have seen the fine film version a couple of times. But it’s not a novel that resonated with me so deeply that I named a child “Atticus” much less became expert in the prose style of its one-hit wonder author.

Mickey Spillane used to cite Lee and Margaret Mitchell as examples of “authors,” when explaining the difference between authors and writers, considering himself a prime example of the latter. An author wrote a book or two, a writer made a living at it and produced a shelf of work.

I take special interest in WATCHMAN because of my role as Mickey’s literary executor. I’m frankly surprised that there’s been as little fuss over just how much material Mickey left behind and just how much of it I’ve prepared for publication. But I do have a special context for seeing how reviewers and commentators have responded to WATCHMAN.

First of all, most of what has been written about the novel has been nonsense. Few have reviewed it on its own terms (the only way to review a novel properly). Many have speculated about whether or not Harper Lee truly gave permission for this early work to be published (though she clearly has). Many talk about the publishing industry in ways that reveal they know nothing about how publishing works, much less novel writing.

The biggest piece of misinformation is that WATCHMAN is a rough draft of MOCKINGBIRD. No. Not even close. It’s a different book about the more famous novel’s principal characters, set twenty years later. Its theme is finding out a beloved parent has feet of clay, and that’s valid enough. WATCHMAN has also been called a sequel or even a prequel. Here we’re getting warmer.

MOCKINGBIRD is the prequel to WATCHMAN. Some sources indicate that Lee and her publisher intended WATCHMAN to be published (and presumably somewhat rewritten) as the third book in a trilogy about these characters. Whether any real work was done on book two, and what that book would have been, is currently withheld. My guess, and it’s just a guess, is that Lee is one of those writers whose initial success sent her spiraling into a life-long writer’s block. Or in Mickey’s terms, an author’s block….

People seem terribly confused that the second book chronologically was written first. But writers (and even authors) know that’s ridiculous – that books in a series or saga can be written in whatever order the writer damn well chooses. My novels STOLEN AWAY and DAMNED IN PARADISE are chronologically the first in the Nathan Heller series; but they were published (and written) as books five and eight respectively.

On the other hand, WATCHMAN should have received a polish that brought it more in line with MOCKINGBIRD (there’s a major inconsistency about the murder trial in MOCKINGBIRD when referenced in WATCHMAN, for example). But the editors were too intimidated by Lee’s reputation to fix such things, and she is apparently not in any shape to do any writing or even editing herself (or if she is, isn’t interested).

Should the book have been published? Many say no. I say, “Hell, yes.” So far I don’t particularly care for the thing, but Harper Lee is a major author, and this is a second book about the famous characters in MOCKINGBIRD, and it makes a very interesting point about putting parents on pedestals.

But the book is a flawed, early work, apparently intended originally for revision so that it could be published after MOCKINGBIRD. So the bestseller approach that Harper (the publisher, not the author) has taken can be seen as at best inappropriate and at worst sleazy.

WATCHMAN deserved a publication that was more respectful of its history and the state it’s in – a scholarly introduction or after word, for example, to explain the context and the importance of the work, however flawed. To present it as just the “new” Harper Lee novel seems designed to make a lot of money while alienating the very readers who are pumping that money in.

Presented as more of an historical artifact, WATCHMAN still would have sold very well, and it would have received a more fair judgment by the public, the press and reviewers.

* * *

The Hon Company in my hometown of Muscatine, Iowa, is a very successful office-furniture manufacturer. My Dad worked for them for many decades, and I think he would have been proud of my appearance on this Hon-distributed piece on “7 Facts About Muscatine.”

There’s a Nate Heller story in the new anthology, CHICAGO NOIR, which recently got a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly.

Here’s a nice review of the Nolan novel, HUSH MONEY.

And here’s a nice bit about the “Nat” Heller novels.

M.A.C.

I Did Something Right

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

Barbara Jane Mull and I were married on June 1, 1968. That means that the day before this update appears we will be celebrating our 47th anniversary.

I don’t want this to be a sickening exercise, because Barb would be the first to make a face (albeit a pretty one). But I did something right. I first fell for her in the fifth grade, decided that was a little early, and tried again in high school, failing miserably. Finally in 1966, at Muscatine Community College, I took advantage of the paucity of competition and landed a date. She says she fell in love with me when, in the midst of pontificating about something or other, I stuck my hand in my water glass (we were at a restaurant at the time).

It’s been my pleasure to go through life with this smart, funny, beautiful woman, and I hope to go through a bunch more of it. Another 47 years would do fine. What has been amazing to witness…well, the whole list of things she’s said and done that amaze me would take too long, but…has been her growth a writer.

To those of you who have longed to be a professional writer, who have dreamed and schemed and attempted deals with the devil to get that done, I will drive you insane by saying (truthfully) that Barb never wanted to be a writer, and often doesn’t particularly want to be one now. She’s a writer because she’s been married to me and she just…I swear…picked it up. If I’d been a brain surgeon, she’d be wielding a scalpel. If I was Van Cliburn, she’d be on stage at Carnegie Hall.

I’ve been a lucky man, in general, but marrying this pretty girl who became a beautiful woman was the jackpot. You may feel free to envy me about this part of my life. I wouldn’t blame you one little bit.

Did I mention she gave me a great son?

She did that, too.

The photo here, by the way, is circa 1971 (taken by the late Bill Mull, Barb’s father), right around when I was creating Quarry. That took longer to pay off than my marriage has.

Barbara and Max Allan Collins

* * *

Here’s a review from a Heller fan who doesn’t care for FLYING BLIND. Happens to be one of my favorite novels in the saga, but I get that when I wander too far afield from crime and politics, some readers get uneasy. They, for some reason, suspect that one guy might just not be able to have been involved in so many historical events….

Here’s a nice review of another of the Hellers, CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL, coincidentally one of the books in the series that was received less than glowingly by some fans (this one likes it). Not long ago, I listened to Dan John Miller’s audio of the book and thought it was pretty good. But what do I know? Still, it was the last Heller for ten years.

Here’s a fun review of THE LAST QUARRY by a reader revisiting the novel.

Here’s a review by the same reader of Mickey’s THE GIRL HUNTERS. I find this particularly fun because he was inspired to read the book having enjoyed COMPLEX 90, the posthumous Spillane/Collins sequel.

Finally, check out this shortish but very sweet KILL ME, DARLING review in the San Francisco Book Review.

M.A.C.

Nate Heller’s A Big Deal

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015
Triple Play

The latest Kindle “Big Deal” sale runs through May 28. Of the 500 books selected, an impressive number are Nathan Heller titles:

True Detective
True Crime
The Million-Dollar Wound
Neon Mirage
Stolen Away
Carnal Hours
Blood and Thunder
Damned in Paradise
Flying Blind
Majic Man
Angel in Black
Chicago Confidential
Chicago Lightning: The Collected Nathan Heller Short Stories
Triple Play: A Nathan Heller Casebook

If you’ve never read a Nathan Heller novel, then…well, first of all, how the hell did you wind up here? But let’s say you drifted in looking for some other Max Allan Collins. I guess I’d suggest starting with the first written/published novel, TRUE DETECTIVE, although chronologically the later STOLEN AWAY and DAMNED IN PARADISE come before it. Another possibility for newbies (my God, what a horrible word) would be the short story collection, CHICAGO LIGHTNING, or the novella one, TRIPLE PLAY. The latter has the added value of the lovely Barbara Collins appearing on the cover.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch….

I continue work on THE BIG SHOWDOWN. I should wrap up the novel this week, although the process of re-reading, checking for continuity goofs, doing minor rewriting, and assembling the manuscript itself will take me into next week.

If this turns into a full-blown series – I’ve committed to three – the new book may be more indicative of where subsequent ones will go. LEGEND is something of a crime novel set in western terms; but SHOWDOWN is a mystery, with the protagonist operating as a detective. I don’t know how my editor will react, but my feeling is that with Spillane and Collins as the byline, readers should expect a genre-cross between hard-shooting western and noir mystery.

Response to THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK has been very good. Check out Tom McNulty’s fine review here.

And here’s another great one. Wow, you people are smart.

This may be the biggest LEGEND rave yet.

Of course, CALEB YORK isn’t the only Spillane/Collins title out there right now. There’s KILL ME, DARLING…which Mystery Maven says is the best of the Mike Hammer series!

Here’s some unexpected coverage for THE LUSITANIA MURDERS.

Finally, here’s some Cinemax News including QUARRY.

M.A.C.