Posts Tagged ‘Quarry’

15 Favorite Novels Challenge

Tuesday, July 4th, 2017

My writer pal Raymond Benson posted one of those “make a list” challenges, in which the premise is to enumerate your favorite fifteen novels, alphabetically arranged by author. I’ll take an annotated swing.

Every one of these books represents an author whose work I admire (and collect). I make no apology for the authors who don’t appear here, Hemingway and Fitzgerald for example, whose work I also like but would never describe as “favorites.” Decades ago, a teacher at the University of Iowa who I found patronizing told me once that anyone who had never read Proust was an uneducated lout. That has kept me Proust-free in my lifetime, unapologetically.

1. The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain. Cain’s novel is where I learned how dialogue can drive a narrative, and also how a crime novel about two terrible people can work as a love story. Without this, no Gun Grazy or Bonnie & Clyde, not to mention a third or so of all Gold Medal paperbacks. “I kissed her. Her eyes were shining up at me like two blue stars. It was like being in church.”

2. Farewell, My Lovely, Raymond Chandler. This is where it all came together for Chandler – a plot that actually works (unlike the shambling wonder that is The Big Sleep), filled with hardboiled poetry and a cast of memorable grotesques with Marlowe at his wise-ass best. “I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.”

3. Evil Under the Sun, Agatha Christie. Christie was such a underrated writer. The idea that she wrote mere puzzles is more a reflection on a reader’s lack of insight than any deficiency in the work of this tough-minded, tricky writer. She wrote excellent dialogue, playwright that she was, and remains the gold standard of mystery fiction. “The sun shines. The sea is blue. But you forget…there is evil everywhere under the sun.”

4. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons. I love this little book, with its vivid characters, running gags and self-serving protagonist, who views the rustic relatives she’s sponging off as a fix-‘er-up project. The original BBC adaptation with Alistair Sim is woefully absent on home video since an early VHS release. “I saw something nasty in the woodshed.”

5. Dr. No, Ian Fleming. I got into Fleming when he was marketed as a British Spillane, and thought his books were terrific. I still do, most of them anyway, and this is a fine example. From Russia with Love is arguably better, this one is pure Bond at his undiluted best. “What’s your name?” “Bond. James Bond.”

6. The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett. My favorite book. Hammett defines and perfects the private eye novel, and walks away, undefeated. “He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him see the works.”

7. The Southpaw, Mark Harris. Harris is somewhat forgotten, but he’s a wonderful, adventurous novelist. I am not a big baseball fan, but the four Henry Wiggen novels (Bang the Drum, Slowly is the most celebrated) use a first-person voice as American as Huck Finn and Philip Marlowe. “First off I must tell you something about myself, Henry Wiggen, and where I was born and my folks.”

8. The Bad Seed, William March. I have called March a coherent Faulkner, and I stand by that. If you’re familiar with the Mommy movies, you know how highly I regard his sad story of the mother of a monster. “It seemed to her suddenly that violence was an inescapable factor of the heart, perhaps the most important factor of all – an ineradicable thing that lay, like a bad seed, behind kindness, behind compassion, behind the embrace of love itself.”

9. Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, Horace McCoy. For a novel so little discussed, it could hardly be more influential – Jim Thompson comes from this ambitious first-person account of a brilliant psychopath, one of the most ambitious noir novels of the formative era. “I squeezed the trigger and the bullet hit him in the left eye and a drop of fluid squirted and the eyelid fell over the hole as a window shade falls over a pane of darkness.”

10. Prince of Foxes, Samuel Shellabarger. Shellabarger, once hugely popular, now unjustly forgotten, wrote sprawling novels wherein a swashbuckling fictional character was woven into a well-researched historical fabric. He was as much an influence on me as Hammett, Chandler, Cain and Spillane. “It illustrates the adage that the deeper the dung, the richer the rose. Who remembers the dung when the rose has blossomed?”

11. One Lonely Night, Mickey Spillane. The wildest and craziest of the early Mike Hammer novels also happens to be the first I read (at age thirteen). I have never been right-in-the-head since. “Nobody ever walked across the bridge, not on a night like this.”

12. Too Many Cooks, Rex Stout. Picking one Nero Wolfe novel is tough – I often cite the hardboiled Golden Spider as a particular favorite. But this is a delightful one, with Stout’s humanely leftist leanings coming through as well as his humor via Archie Goodwin and first-rate mystery plotting (an area in which he didn’t always excel). “Nothing is simpler than to kill a man; the difficulties arise in attempting to avoid the consequences.”

13. Pop. 1280, Jim Thompson. I discovered Thompson in high school and remember reading this in study hall. The psychotic sociopath as narrator/protagonist hit me hard, and played a role in the shaping of Quarry, although my guy is neither psycho nor sociopath, despite the opinion of some. “I’d been chasing females all my life, not paying no mind to the fact that whatever’s got tail at one end has teeth at the other, and now I was getting chomped.”

14. The Caine Mutiny, Herman Wouk. I love Wouk’s work and consider him underrated and unfairly dismissed. I tried to pay tribute in Red Sky in Morning, which will soon be reprinted by Brash Books under my preferred title, USS Powderkeg under my own name (not “Patrick Culhane”). Wouk, still around at 100, is a wonderful storyteller, and few writers have ever created a more memorable character than Captain Queeq. “Life is a dream, a little more coherent than most.”

15. Rambling Rose, Calder Willingham. Willingham was one of my first non-mystery-writer enthusiasms. This is a lovely book, but I like virtually everything of his, from End as a Man to Eternal Fire. He wrote about sex in a way that was at once playful and dead serious. He was one of the great screenwriters, too (Paths of Glory, The Graduate, Little Big Man, Rambling Rose). “I will call her Rose. On a broiling August afternoon in 1935 when I was close to thirteen years of age, a big towheaded girl came to our house with dusty shoes, runs in her stockings and a twinkle in her cornflower eyes.”

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The IMDB entry on Quarry is worth a look.

Here’s a write-up on Hard Case Crime and its move into comics with some nice (if brief) mentions of me and Ms. Tree.

Finally, here’s a nice little bit about the Spillane centenary from the great Rap Sheet.

100 Reasons to Love Mickey Spillane

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017
Spillane 100

How about an advance look at what’s planned for Mickey Spillane’s 100th birthday next year?

Two books will share centerstage – The Last Stand and Killing Town. Both are really special. The Last Stand will feature two novels – a short one circa early ‘50s, A Bullet for Satisfaction, which I co-authored from an unedited rough draft; and a full-length one, entitled (appropriately enough) The Last Stand.

The latter novel is the last book Mickey completed. My contribution has been to give it an edit, based upon comments Mickey made to me when he and I discussed the book shortly after I read it. This was probably around two weeks before he passed. Mickey was working on The Last Stand and two other novels simultaneously, The Goliath Bone and Dead Street (both of which I completed for him).

With his wife Jane Spillane’s permission, I held back The Last Stand until now for several reasons. First, it’s not a typical Spillane novel – it’s more of an adventure novel along the lines of Something’s Down There, the last book published during his lifetime. While we discussed having it published as the first book after his death, ultimately we decided to set it aside, probably for the centenary. I felt it was better to make the Mike Hammer novels a priority – to get them finished and out there. I’ve obviously been doing that, as well as completing (for publication by Hard Case Crime) Dead Street and The Consummata, both crime novels in keeping with a typical Spillane approach.

The Last Stand is a fun novel, a modern-day western and a disguised rumination on the tough guy entering old age, and readers will be very entertained. But I thought for those who might be confused by a lack of certain expected Spillane elements, including the more typical A Bullet for Satisfaction would make for a nicely balanced volume. Satisfaction is a rogue cop revenge tale with lots of sex and violence (the hero’s name is Rod Dexter).

Hard Case Crime will be doing the book in both hardcover and paperback, something they only do occasionally. Publisher Charles Ardai also brought a loving hand in the edit.

So we have the final Spillane novel.

And we have the first Mike Hammer novel.

Wait, what…?

Killing Town is another manuscript I salted away with the centenary in mind. It’s a substantial manuscript, longer than those I’ve been dealing with of late, and it represents Mickey’s first go at doing Mike Hammer, probably circa 1945…predating I, the Jury. I will tell more of the story behind it later, but it’s a novel that takes place in an industrial town in upstate New York with Mike Hammer running a dangerous errand for an army buddy. It could not be more typically vintage Spillane in tone and approach. Titan is publishing in hardcover.

I have not begun my work yet, but it’s the next big project.

We will also in 2018 have the mass market edition of The Will to Kill, the paperback of the Caleb York novel The Bloody Spur, various new audios, and more.

Those of you with blogs might want to think about doing a Spillane piece for 2018. (His birthday is March 9.) I will be writing something for Mystery Scene, and hope to complete a non-Hammer short story for The Strand.

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Here’s a nice piece on Hard Case Crime with an emphasis on comics.

Publisher’s Weekly includes Quarry’s Climax in upcoming books they’re showcasing.

Here’s an audiobook review of The Titanic Murders.

And finally here’s a NSFW link that shows a reader enjoying an advance look at Quarry’s Climax.

M.A.C.

How to Buy Books

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017
Quarry's Climax

A few months from now, Quarry’s Climax will appear. How the demise of the TV show will impact the book series remains to be seen. A graphic novel is coming, for sure, from Hard Case Crime Comics – Quarry’s War (in four issues, then collected). I have discussed a novel called Quarry in the Cross Hairs (or possible Quarry on Target) with my editor at Hard Case, but don’t have a contract yet.

I would like to keep going, and I hope the higher profile given Quarry by the TV series will keep us alive. But it’s a small miracle – maybe not so small – that after all these years, I was able to produce more novels about the character than I did on the first go-round back in the mid-‘70s.

The book business, from the author’s end, is a weird and troubled one, and unless you are an airport author, not terribly secure. But then the book business from the retailer’s end is just as bad – maybe worse.

Barb and I have always made shopping a big part of our recreation, particularly when we go off on a day trip to the Chicago suburbs or Des Moines. I now realize – looking back on the book-, record- and video stores I have frequented – that we experienced a kind of Golden Age of shopping. It says something that my favorite shop of all time was a laser disc outlet. I would spend about three hours there.

Yesterday (Father’s Day), we celebrated my day and Barb’s birthday with a Des Moines trip – actually, we mostly go to Clive. There’s a fine Half-Price Books on offer – the place where all my enthusiasms have gone to die – and a big, well-stocked Barnes & Noble. I shop at Barnes & Noble in Davenport, Oak Brook and Cedar Rapids, as well, and another Barnes & Noble in a different part of Des Moines.

Picking a few things out in the DVD and CD area of the store, taking advantage of a 40% off sale, I noticed no one was at the register – no one around to ask me if I needed help, which I never do (not in a bookstore, anyway). I had noted the same thing at both the Cedar Rapids and Davenport stores over the past month or so. A sales person came back to see how things were going, and I asked about the lack of personnel in this department, apparently chain-wide.

“I used to work with fifteen others,” she said. “Now I’m one of five.”

And it’s a big store.

Those of us who love books need to support bookstores. That sounds obvious, and there’s no question that Barnes & Noble helped drive many indie bookstores out, even pushing Border’s off a corporate cliff. But they are what we browsers have left. I also trade at BAM! (Books-a-Million), who took over the space of a much-missed Border’s in Davenport, and have filled the gap well.

The decline of retail, obviously, is one half of the story, the other half being the rise of Amazon and other on-line ordering options. I am not anti-Amazon. One of my publishers is Amazon’s in-house suspense line, Thomas & Mercer, and all of my books at various publishers have benefitted from the success of my T & M books – none of which are easily found in any brick-and-mortar outlets…as if not selling Amazon-published books will “show them.” As we say in the comics business, “Sigh.”

What can a consumer of books and magazines and DVDs and Blu-rays and CDs do about the apparent slow death of bookstores?

I don’t suggest never ordering from Amazon. I order there a lot, particularly Blu-rays, mostly because Best Buy (where I used to buy my movies) has cut back so far on what they carry. With Amazon and other on-line services, I can pre-order discs and often get guaranteed lowest prices.

The nastiest thing Amazon does, where books and so on are concerned, is give prominence to secondary sellers – who offer used or even new copies at somewhat lower prices than even buying from Amazon itself. Book publishers send out a ton of review copies, and a lot of those freebies wind up as copies available from secondary sellers. When you use that option to buy, you are denying both author and publisher any income.

What do I suggest?

Well, I can share my personal policies, as a consumer of books and more. When I see a book in Barnes & Noble, or any bookstore, I didn’t know existed, that is where I buy it. I don’t look it up on Amazon to see how much cheaper it is. And when I do buy a book (or any media-type item) from Amazon, I buy it from them, not a secondary seller – I want the author and the publisher to benefit, so that more books can happen.

I also buy magazines from B & N and BAM!, unless the title has become hard to find, in which case I subscribe. But I enjoy the little thrill of seeing the new issues of my favorite mags, just as I have since childhood. If the editors/publishers of your favorite magazine request that you subscribe, because it will help them more than newsstand sales, by all means do so.

Just last week I received the final issue of one of my favorites, Video Watchdog, in the mail – a long, glorious run from Tim and Donna Lucas. Bless them both. Such deaths are small things but they add up to a publishing apocalypse.

Keep ‘em flyin’ – keep buying.

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My pal Bill Crider, at his indispensable blog, has revisited a book of mine from the misty past of the ‘80s.

M.A.C.

A Cancellation, a Nomination & an Anniversary

Tuesday, June 6th, 2017

HBO/Cinemax has finally officially cancelled the Quarry series, but this comes as no surprise. A shake-up at the network, as well as a conflict between the star (who is committed to another series pilot) and the director of all eight episodes, spelled it out long ago.

What’s most disappointing to me is that my script for season two will not be produced, and I was really happy with it. We had thought some other network might pick the show up, but that now seems unlikely.

I am happy to have had a quality show that gave my Quarry books a higher profile. My hitman has now generated an award-winning short film, a festival-winning feature, and now a first-rate series, and my writing was a part of all three. Maybe we’ll see more of him on screen yet.

More pleasant news came by way of a Shamus nomination for the Spillane/Collins short story, “A Dangerous Cat,” which appeared in The Strand magazine and is also in the collection A Long Time Dead: A Mike Hammer Casebook from Mysterious Press.

Barb and Al, early 1970s
Barb and Al, early 1970s

But the biggest event of the past week was our 49th wedding anniversary, on June 1, which we celebrated with an overnight stay at Galena, Illinois, where always have a wonderful time. For me, it was especially gratifying because – after the various operations and the stroke and all – I was able to spend a long day walking and enjoying myself, feeling very much back to normal (or as close to normal as I ever get). Galena is a quaint, pretty little town of 3500, with lots of boutique shopping and some 65 restaurants. I will be doing a thriller next year set in this scenic community.

On the trip to and from Galena, we finished listening to the audio book of Antiques Frame, so beautifully read by Amy McFadden. It was a reminder to me about how much Barb has grown and flourished as a writer, a profession she never dreamed of entering. Having such a beautiful, talented, smart, funny, patient wife for all these years is the best award/reward I could ever hope for.

The week leading up to the two-way getaway was a busy one, as was the weekend following. I did final edits on the Spillane volume, The Last Stand, which includes the previously unpublished novel of that name, as well as an early ‘50s novella, also previously unpublished, A Bullet for Satisfaction. The latter is a Spillane/Collins collaboration, the former the last solo effort by Mickey. There’s also an introduction explaining the history of both novels. Hard Case Crime will be publishing in both hardcover and soft.

In addition, I wrote the introduction for the collected Dick Tracy Volume 23, for IDW, and dealt with the copy-edited versions of two short stories written by Matt Clemens and me for a pair of horror anthologies. Finally, I wrote the introduction to Scarface & the Untouchable, the joint Capone/Ness bio.

That book now focuses on the Chicago years, with a second volume projected to deal with the rest of Ness’s life. This week I’ll start work on my polish/tweak of the nearly 900-page manuscript. Co-author A. Brad Schwartz and our writing/research associate, George Hagenauer, are working on the bibliography and end notes.

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The complete list of Shamus nominations can be seen at the great site, The Rap Sheet.

Here’s a good current interview with me.

A ton of articles on the cancellation of the QUARRY series are out there, many quoting Michael D. Fuller’s blog post about it. Here’s a good example.

M.A.C.