Posts Tagged ‘Quarry’

Cruse Control

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016

I realize, as the writer entrusted by Mickey Spillane to complete his Mike Hammer novels-in-progress, that I have a good number of conservative fans. Few if any of them are concerned that my views are too left-leaning for the task – I don’t write my point of view when I’m doing Mike Hammer, I write his.

Also, I try not to indulge in politics here. I don’t want to alienate readers, or collaborators who might hold other opinions.

But I would be remiss not to share an opinion in the aftermath of the Orlando tragedy. Here it is: you don’t need an assault rifle to kill a deer, unless Bambi has one, too.

* * *

My first Crusin’ gig post-heart-surgery went well, if not perfectly. It was a hot, humid afternoon in Muscatine, Iowa, though a nice breeze rolled in off the river. The event was open to the public, designed as an after-work event for downtown merchants and businesses. Our host, the First National Bank, did a great, fun job creating a 1970s class-reunion vibe. On the slight downside, this tended to make us background music and not the main event.

I was a little frustrated that I had to curtail my showmanship because of my limited stamina – I feel like I’m just playing and singing, and that’s only half of the job. And during the last half hour of the two-hour gig, I seriously ran out of gas. I don’t think it was terribly (if at all noticeable) by the audience, but I knew it and so did Barb. But I made it. It was a start.


Brad Schwartz and M.A.C.

That was Thursday of last week. On Friday and Saturday, Brad Schwartz and George Hagenauer – both making considerable treks to join me – met at my house to work on the joint Eliot Ness/Al Capone non-fiction book we are doing. We sold the book, based on a proposal and sample chapter, a year ago, and this was our first face-to-face since. There’s a reason for that.

I learned on the set of QUARRY in New Orleans that we’d made the sale…and the night before I’d suffered congestive heart failure. So it’s taken a while for me to get in shape for such a meeting.

But these two guys know their subject inside/out. We talked strategy and scheduling and much more. We also watched two movies about the Capone case – the embarrassingly lousy SPECIAL AGENT (1935) with Bette Davis and George Brent (and Ricardo Cortez as the Capone figure!), and the very, very good UNDERCOVER MAN (1949) with the always top-notch Glenn Ford, directed by Joseph Lewis of GUN CRAZY fame. The latter film is practically a schematic for THE UNTOUCHABLES TV series, though the hero is not Ness but the over-rated IRS agent, Frank Wilson.

* * *

The Rock and Hall of Fame discussion rolls on. Witness Micheal Tearson’s comment:

As for the R&R Hall, that’s been kind of a bugaboo for me. I had to deal with it constantly while I was working on Sirius/XM’s Deep Tracks channel which was pretty closely aligned with the Hall’s own channel (same administrator for quite a while). It became my view that the Hall has long since lost any focus on R&R as more and more artists with little or nothing to do with rock & roll have been honored. My top omission would be Procol Harum (Love is another). I’d also argue they have been very harsh on prog rock by skipping Moody Blues, Yes and ELP, all of whom have had very influential careers.

And “robbiecube”:

As much as I think the RRHOF is a scam, when acts I dig get ignored as disco & rap acts are inducted, I need to vent. And by vent, I mean list the acts I believe should already be in the hall;

Blue Oyster Cult / Procol Harum / Thin Lizzy / Kate Bush / Rory Gallagher / MC5 / Motorhead / Mose Allison / Grand Funk Railroad / Johnny Rivers / X / XTC / Pretty Things / J. Geils Band / Husker Du / The Jam / Deep Purple.

I think Michael’s remarks show that each generation has its own valid complaints about which acts have been forgotten. I certainly can see his prog rock choices as worthy ones.

As for Robbie, I think the same (slight) generational difference is afoot. But I would certainly be in favor of Kate Bush, XTC, Johnny Rivers and Deep Purple. Personally I find a few of the choices less than worthy – J. Geils, Thin Lizzy, Grand Funk – but that’s just taste. And some are just outside my range of musical knowledge – I have heard of Husker Du, but that’s all, and Procol Harem (mentioned by both correspondents) is only “Whiter Shade of Pale” to me. My bad, as the kids (used) to say.

But it certainly indicates how the Rock hall has missed the boat on a ton of significant artists.

* * *

Here’s 10 hitman novels everyone should read (oddly, only one of them is a Quarry, making the other nine pretenders).

Here’s a fun, intelligent look at WILD DOG (although the otherwise well-informed writer refers to my DICK TRACY stint as “short” – fifteen years?!?).

SUPREME JUSTICE is on a top ten list of Supreme Court novels.

Finally, here’s an uncomplimentary look at THE EXPERT. Worth a read, and stick around for my comment.

M.A.C.

Heart and Soul: Bonus Features

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

Here’s a special treat that none of you have been asking for: brief reviews of every movie I watched while I was hospitalized.

Early on, when I learned open-heart surgery was in the cards, I bought a small portable Blu-ray player. Beyond its obvious use, during the upcoming hospital stay, I knew it would be cool to have on trips where early-to-bedder Barb could go to sleep in our hotel room while I watched something on the Blu-ray player, listening through headphones and not bothering her. Getting that Blu-ray portable was smart of me.

Here’s where I was dumb. Instead of picking DVDs and Blu-rays (from my stupidly large collection) that were either old favorites or which had a lot of potential, I filled a little CD case with oddball stuff I hadn’t got around to yet, and that I was pretty sure Barb would have no interest in.

But it was Barb who soon realized I was making my hospital time even worse by torturing myself with crap movies. I guess when you almost die, you have less patience for spending time pointlessly. So here’s a rundown on a bunch of movies that you should avoid. I’m using the Leonard Maltin four-star system, just don’t look for any four-stars. I usually am loathe to write bad reviews of movies. But since I loathed these movies, I’ll make these exceptions.

SMART GIRLS DON’T TALK (1948) – * ½. Pitiful excuse for a film noir with Virginia Mayo (her character all over the good-girl/bad-girl map) supported by Bruce Bennett and Robert Hutton, two of the dullest leading men on record.

CHRISTMAS EVE (1947) – * ½. Two of my favorite (if limited) actors, Randolph Scott and George Raft, in a sort of anthology movie that is among the dreariest Christmas movies ever made. After this contemporary misfire, Scott made only westerns. Good choice!

THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT (1953) – *. Worst John Ford movie ever. A personal favorite of his, and the pits – cornball smalltown humor, sentimental slop, and incredibly racist attitudes even for its era (Stepin Fetchit co-stars). A remake of a much earlier Ford starring Will Rogers. Full disclosure: the only one of these terrible movies I didn’t make it through.

CAPTAIN CAREY U.S.A. (1950). 1 ½ *. Incredibly dull, slow-moving Alan Ladd almost-noir. Don’t believe the “U.S.A.” – it takes place in a studio-created Italy. Somebody betrayed Ladd during the war and he wants to get even. I watched the thing and I’d like to get even myself.

THE CROOKED WAY (1949) – 1 ½ *. I’m a fan of John Payne, whose MIRACLE ON 34th STREET performance is pitch-perfect. Here he’s earning a paycheck as an amnesiac in a rote would-be noir that remembers only to hit every cliche, hard. I wish I could forget it.

YOU AND ME (1938) **. Probably the most interesting of these movies, but nonetheless an oddball misfire from director Fritz Lang. It’s a musical starring George Raft! Neither Raft nor co-star Sylvia Sidney sing. A Greek chorus of lowlifes, courtesy of Kurt Weill, recalls THREEPENNY OPERA, but nothing here was worth Bobby Darin covering. Bob Cummings plays a gangster!

MAN IN THE SHADOW (1957) 1 ½ *. Brain-numbingly predictable modern-day western in which the whole town stands up against a sheriff (Jeff Chandler) who wants to stand up against the rich guy who owns the place. That the rich guy is Orson Welles in a fake nose somehow only makes it worse. Written by STAR TREK scripter Gene L. Coon, who should have known better.

ASSAULT ON A QUEEN (1966) **. Conceived as a nautical take on OCEAN’S 11, and based on a Jack Finney novel, this one has Frank Sinatra very much in TONY ROME mode. Fine, but then the plot turns out to be about using a recovered Nazi sub to rob the Queen Mary. Sinatra participates because he likes the way Virna Lisi looks. I don’t disagree with that, but I wouldn’t try to knock over the Queen Mary for her, particularly in the company of an unbearable Tony Franciosa.

No Man's Woman

NO MAN’S WOMAN – (1955) *. This by-the-numbers low-end crime melodrama (calling it noir is a stretch) holds a strange fascination by playing like an early PERRY MASON episode, right down to Marie Windsor’s femme fatale racking up an array of suspects in the early reels for after she gets murdered. Just about every actor here appeared on a MASON, but without Raymond Burr, William Hopper and Barbara Hale, the result is lacking somehow.

THE ANGRY HILLS – * (1959). Barb actually brought me this at the hospital (it had arrived in the mail) because she was concerned about the effect lousy movies were having on me. Much looked forward to by me, it’s the rejoining of KISS ME DEADLY’s director (Robert Aldrich) and writer (A.I. Bezzerides). And it stars Robert Mitchum! And it blows!
During World War Two, reporter Mitchum wanders around Europe to deliver a message to somebody. The Warner Archive DVD must be the European cut, because there’s a lengthy topless dancer scene that doesn’t mitigate the agony.

CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN – (1958) **. Slow-moving, unexciting rip-off of THE MUMMY. Standard B schlock from notorious team of director Edward L. Cahn and producer Robert E. Kent. Another STAR TREK writer, Jerome Bixby, shares the guilt. Why do I do this to myself?

BEACHHEAD – (1954) **. Tony Curtis gets out-acted by Frank Lovejoy as they portray two soldiers during World War Two, who openly hate each other, yet are somehow selected to cross enemy territory together to deliver a message (Robert Mitchum wasn’t available). They pick up a cute love interest along the way (Mary Murphy of THE WILD ONE) but I still fell asleep in the middle of it and didn’t bother going back to see what I missed when I woke up.

SPELLBINDER – (1988) **½. Probably my favorite of these movies, which is the faintest of praise. An okay ‘80s horror flick with Timothy Daly doing a nice job as a regular guy who falls for gorgeous coven escapee, Kelly Preston. Think of it as ROSEMARY’S BABE, with a predictably downbeat ending.

A LOVELY WAY TO DIE – (1968) **. A goofy, crazily sexist private eye mystery that is almost enjoyable, thanks to the high energy of Kirk Douglas. But it goes on forever…well, an hour and forty-one minutes, which is long enough. Remember when a helicopter chasing a car was exciting? Me either.

And you thought you’d heard about the worst horrors that greeted me during my hospital stay!

* * *

Here’s a terrific MURDER NEVER KNOCKS review.

Jeff Pierce at the Rap Sheet wrote about the pending publication by Brash Books of my complete ROAD TO PERDITION novel. Scroll down for it.

Here, from Open Book Society, is a review of the recently re-published QUARRY’S CUT.

My pal Bill Crider wrote this great piece about QUARRY’S VOTE, also recently republished.

Finally, here’s a terrific ANTIQUES FATE review from the great Ed Gorman. The book is out soon!

M.A.C.

Heart & Soul Pt. 3

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

Before we get to the third (and final) episode of my hospital capers, I’d like to share with you the kind of e-mail that makes my days. Here goes (from “R.G.”):

“I recently discovered one of your novels in the new section of the local library. To my surprise it was a Mike Hammer mystery. I have to tell you that I’m now on my third one in the last week. I actually still have all the original paperbacks from Spillane that I purchased for sixty cents many years ago as well as all the Brett Halliday from that era. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to have found you. You would swear that Spillane had finished these manuscripts himself. I had already found finished manuscripts from William Johnstone and Robert Parker but the Spillane books are incredible. I can’t wait to read the rest of them. Thank you so much for your talent.”

This kind of response is what makes it all worthwhile.

Now, part three of HEART & SOUL (some links after):

During my hospital stay, and for a week or so after, I had occasional crying jags. I am told there’s a medical term for that, which I don’t remember, though it’s specifically tied to the fact that your heart is physically removed from your body. I wouldn’t call this depression, more like emotions gone generally out of control, and in fact some of the crying was of the “I love you so much” variety (addressed to my wife, not random nurses).

Late in my stay, I had an odd experience with a crying episode. My breakfast arrived, and while it was worth crying over, that wasn’t the trigger. All I’d ordered was a biscuit with grape jelly, orange juice, and orange jello. Shortly after I finished this feast, a nurse came in and said, “You weren’t supposed to eat your breakfast before I checked your blood sugar.” Then she took the blood sample anyway, and shortly I was told that my blood sugar was very high (no kidding) and I’d be getting an insulin shot.

Understand that I hadn’t been diagnosed with diabetes. But on several occasions, when my blood sugar registered high (the orange Steak-and-Shake shake I had Barb sneak me may have been one culprit), I was given insulin. This was just one of a pin-cushion parade of blood tests and blood draws and I.V,’s and shots that I was subjected to during my stay.

Well, I kind of flipped. Of course after that breakfast my blood sugar was high! I indignantly refused the insulin. Then, as I was preparing to shower, I started to cry. No doubt part of it was the problem with my hand, which at that point was pretty useless, but mostly I was frustrated with the blood sugar fuck up. One of the Occupational Therapy females arrived to help me with my shower and found me in tears. Megan, her name is, and she was sympathetic beyond words. Really talked me down off the ledge, bless her.

“I can’t take this bureaucratic shit,” I said, sobbing. “I hate bureaucracies in general, but this hospital bureaucracy is crushing me.”

Now, upon reflection, the hospital wasn’t all that bureaucratic. They had a schedule they kept, for giving you meds and drawing blood and so on, and my physical therapy (which I valued) was also structured. So mostly I think I was just riding an emotional roller coaster. I can look at it now and know two things: (a) it was no big deal, and (b) I was shattered anyway.

I believe reporting this incident to Barb convinced her more than ever that I would do better at home. My heart surgeon wanted me to stay for another week of physical therapy, but he had no idea how the endless hospital nights were dragging me down. The doctor who ran fifth-floor rehab approved my dismissal, but asked me to stay another night, to get the paperwork done. Even one more long night was hard to face, but I of course went along.

This gave the O.T. and P.T. females a day to give me final testing, and I did well on the P.T. stuff, although on the O.T. side, my hand was not progressing quickly. I was taken to a faux kitchen area to make sure I could bend down and secure pots and pans and use a microwave. Megan (again) wanted me to show her how the dishwasher worked. I said, “Sure,” and called out to Barb nearby, “Honey? Are these clean?”

Finally one of the O.T. females walked me over to a computer with keyboard and said, “You’re not leaving till you type something.” I typed “ROAD TO PERDITION by Max Allan Collins” and “TRUE DETECTIVE by Max Allan Collins.” You will be proud to hear I did not break into tears.

There were goodbyes with various nurses and nurse’s aides. One aide named Laura had a talented son in high school who got very excited when he learned I was his mom’s patient. Turned out he was a buff on famous disasters like the Titanic and the Hindenburg, so Barb rounded up copies of the entire disaster series for him. That was a nice boost for my ego, or anyway it was till I realized I couldn’t sign them for him. I did read something of his and dictated to Barb my glowing comments.

Suddenly I was in our car, being driven. The oddest thing was being reminded that we were in Rock Island, Illinois, a mere forty miles from home. It had felt like another planet. Or anyway, Chicago.

Home seemed unreal to me, but I was so glad to be there. Barb got a bench for me to sit on while showering, and rented me a claw-foot cane. I slept in my living room recliner and Barb slept on the nearby couch, so she could walk me to the bathroom should I have to get up in the night. As a middle-aged man (and for me to be middle-aged, I’ll have to live to 136), that means only about a half dozen trips per night.

Soon it became clear I needed to use the upstairs guest room, which allowed Barb to sleep in our master bedroom and put the bathroom a few steps away from me. The claw-foot cane became unnecessary at this point.

For several weeks, I had in-house therapy with both O.T. and P.T. professionals – they were great, mostly giving me exercises I could do at home (I‘m still doing them). A nurse came and gave me a medical onceover every couple of days. Oddly, she turned out to be a new neighbor of ours from two doors down.

I felt okay. My incision was bandaged in a Frankenstein’s monster manner, as were the seven incisions on my inner thighs. But I was alive. I never got the “good drugs” everybody said I could look forward to, unless you count Tylenol. The worst thing was a kind of spongy quality to my walk – it was like I was on a diving board, narrow and bouncy. But my hand responded fairly quickly to the exercises. I worked toward getting my signature back and it took only a few days.

The smartest thing I did – with Barb’s blessing – was order the new keyboard (musical not computer) I’d had my eye on prior to going in the hospital. I found immediately that I could play quite a lot, and for an hour or so a day I worked at it. For getting dexterity back, this was a Godsend. I’m still at it.

After the first week or so, Barb and I began taking the occasional meal out. We took very tentative day trips (in part so we could listen to MURDER NEVER KNOCKS read by Stacy Keach) to Davenport and Iowa City. We also went to a few movies. Barb stayed right with me, then as I got some confidence, she finally dropped me off by myself at the Davenport Barnes & Noble while she went to Von Maur to buy a girl friend an Easter present. At B & N, I spent my fifty-buck Christmas gift certificate and did not fall on my ass – a triumph!

From the start, the biggest problem has been getting my stamina and strength back. Just today I started twice-a-week eighty-minute P.T./O.T. out-patient sessions, and they are working me hard. Good things will happen.

As I wind this up, let me make a couple of points. Some of you have understandably expressed concern about me having had a stroke – hey, it was a mild one and I’m recovering quickly. This is the main thing – a little time in the hospital underscores how many people on this planet have it worse than you do.

Let me close by talking about Barb, or rather demonstrating what kind of wife and friend she is. I’d been home about four days, living on the first floor. She announced that we were going up the stairs to my office. I said, “Nothing doing.” She wouldn’t hear of that, knowing damn well I was avoiding it. She walked me into my office and the surroundings of my work life swallowed me and spit me out. She held me as, yes, I had a crying jag.

The last one.

* * *

Here’s an interesting QUARRY’S CUT review.

Lovely review here of CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL specifically and the Heller series in general.

Finally, here’s a splendid review of MURDER NEVER KNOCKS. Have you read that yet? Have you posted an Amazon review? Get busy!

M.A.C.

Heart and Soul Pt. 2

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

Parody cover courtesy of Gene Eugene

The week I spent on the fifth floor – the rehab area – I remember clearly. The days weren’t bad, with Barb again visiting me from late morning till early evening, and bringing me in real food for lunch. Every day had me receiving a mildly demanding schedule, with O.T. (Occupational Therapy) and P.T. (Physical Therapy) sessions every morning and afternoon.

P.T. concentrates on the waist down, getting you walking again, building your strength up, utilizing such things as parallel bars, stationary bikes and a little flight of stairs. The P.T. trainers tended to be young, several of them working on their grad degrees. The one in charge was an attractive blonde named Tessa who had a deadpan sense of humor that Buster Keaton might have envied (not that Tessa would have any idea who Buster Keaton was). She took voluminous notes on her laptop while her grad school charges worked with me, and I accused her of moonlighting on a blog, which I speculated was called “Fit to Fit,” concentrating on fashion tips for the gym.

Another young woman, one of the grad students (whose name I unfortunately don’t recall), attempted to teach me how to get into and out of bed, without disturbing my chest incision (a big concern at the hospital). She demonstrated easily, using her abs since you’re not allowed to push up on your hands. I asked her how old she was, and she said, “Twenty-two.” Then I asked her how much she weighed, and she said, “One-hundred twenty.” I said last year I’d eaten 120 pounds of doughnuts.

The O.T. trainers who I worked with were all women, of various ages. The youngest, in her early twenties, had never heard of Bela Lugosi. I don’t remember how that came up, but she also had never heard of Boris Karloff. Nor Vincent Price. A somewhat older young woman was passing by, and I asked her about Lugosi and Karloff, and she’d never heard of them either. She did know Vincent Price, and explained to the younger woman that he was “the guy at the end of ‘Thriller.’”

O.T. concentrated on my hand, putting me to work with a Silly Putty-like substance and having me insert tiny pegs into slots. Early on we discovered I had lost my signature and could not use a computer keyboard. But we stayed at it.

One of the things various O.T. females did was guide me through my morning shower. This embarrassed me for about ten seconds. I looked like forty miles of bad road and humiliation was a way of life by now. The point was to demonstrate that I could do my own showering and such without help, or anyway much help. I did this pretty well, despite my dislike of showers (also, I had to sit on a bench in there). My funky right hand had me using my left for shaving, at first, but shortly I began forcing myself to use the right for that (electric razor, not straight razor!) and started brushing my teeth with my right hand as well. A big part of getting my hand back (I’m at about 80% now) has been forcing the right hand to do its work, as with eating utensils.

The bathroom had an oddity that I still can’t figure. The sink was narrow and long, putting way too much distance between your face and the mirror, making shaving very tricky indeed. I described this to one O.T. female as being like watching your neighbor across a courtyard shave out the window.

Another oddity, not in the bathroom, was the reclining chair in which a patient spent a lot of time, since the bed was so uncomfortable. The lean-back lever was incredibly hard to utilize – particularly for somebody who was not supposed to strain his chest incision. I think the guy who bought the sinks also bought the chairs. Musta got a deal.

Between the physical therapy sessions and my lovely wife’s presence, the days weren’t bad at all. Seeing Barb come in the door always lit up my world. But oh those nights, those endless, endlessly interrupted nights.

One of the worst began when my heart surgeon stopped by to ask about, well, my regularity since the surgery. It was a week since then and there hadn’t been any. He said cheerfully, “Well, we’ll hit it from both ends.” I will allow your imagination to help you interpret that, as well as spare you the discomfort and embarrassment that made that particular night the longest of all. But God bless the nurses who saw me through it.

The next day I was so weak and dehydrated that I couldn’t leave my room. The O.T. and P.T. people came to me and we soldiered on.

The last straw that led to Barb and me insisting on a release came on an even longer night. I was alternating short bouts of sleep with reading books and watching DVDs, and a nurse suggested that I take a sleeping pill.

A sleeping pill called Ambien.

Let me do a quick sidebar here, having to do with a gift my son gave me for Christmas, one of the best presents I ever received – a Blu-ray box from Japan of the complete COLUMBO in a cigar box. Fantastic! Barb and I, in the weeks preceding my surgery, watched a COLUMBO episode each evening.

Thus it was that during my hospital stay I dreamed my own brand-new COLUMBO episodes almost every night. Sometimes I was Columbo, sometimes I was the killer, other times I just watched. The most memorable episode was about identical twins who’d both had heart surgery and were sharing a room in the hospital. One brother sneaked out to kill somebody, and Columbo caught him because the two urine jugs in the room had both been filled by one brother.

Nate told me he doubted that would play very well on TV.

But you get the idea of the nature of my dreams in that place. Under the first-time influence of Ambien, I dreamed not of Columbo but of Miss Marple and her two talented nephews. Remember those great Christie characters? Me either. But they got themselves caught up in a gauzy European horror film right out of Dario Argento, with a serial killer slaughtering everybody left and right. I was suddenly in the midst of it all, trying to move through one sheer curtain after another while the killer pursued me.

Now understand that I was not allowed to get out of bed without assistance. That I was essentially in the process of learning to walk again. That I was required to ring for help to use the bathroom. Nonetheless, I apparently ran out into the hall, shouting, “Murder! He’s killing everyone! Murder! Save me!” I don’t think I fell down – I certainly had no signs of that, after – but I remember vividly being on the floor while a nurse bent down before me like she was giving a water bowl to her dog.

“Do you know where you are?” she asked.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “But I think I’m in Max Allan Collins’ room.”

Time to go home.

NEXT WEEK: HOME AGAIN HOME AGAIN

– – –

Check out the Wikipedia page for the QUARRY TV series.

And the official QUARRY series web site.

Speaking of Quarry, top writer Mike Dennis provides this great QUARRY’S VOTE review at his web site.

M.A.C.