Posts Tagged ‘Quarry’s Vote’

Quarry TV Sept. 9; Mike Hammer Book Sept. 6

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

How bizarre it seems – in a sense, it hasn’t registered – that the novel I began at the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop in late 1971 has spawned a 2016 TV series.

My instructor, William Price Fox, didn’t like it. Most of the class didn’t, either. But several smart people thought the first two chapters of QUARRY were the best thing they’d ever read in a Workshop class. Fox, a writer I admired, was spotty as a teacher. He shared some good stories about his Hollywood perils, but he also spent several classes reading his own stuff to us. The class was only two hours once a week, and I had to drive from Muscatine (forty miles) to attend. I thought then that Fox reading his own work was lazy and self-indulgent, and I still do. But he did teach me the “Indian behind a tree” concept (ask me sometime).

A week or so after my Workshop class with its mixed reviews of QUARRY’s first two chapters, I sold my first novel, BAIT MONEY, and, a couple of weeks later, I sold the second one, NO CURE FOR DEATH. Both were written at the Workshop when Richard Yates was my teacher and mentor – a great writer and a great guy. The NYC editor wanted sequels to both, so I put QUARRY aside (probably a third of it written) and proceeded with THE BABY BLUE RIP-OFF and BLOOD MONEY. I had graduated in early ‘72 by then.

Then I got back to QUARRY, probably in ‘74, and it sold in ‘75 and was finally published in ‘76 (initially published as THE BROKER).

How vividly I remember sitting in my office in our apartment in downtown Muscatine (over a beauty shop – the smells wafting up were not heavenly) and pounding away at those early books. I thought QUARRY was the best thing I’d come up with, as the Nolan books were glorified Richard Stark pastiches and Mallory was just me filtering my private eye jones through an amateur detective. QUARRY was something original. I was going places! This would, in a good way, leave a mark.

And at first it seemed it would. The editor wanted three more novels about the character, and of course I eagerly complied. By the fourth book, two things were obvious – QUARRY was not setting the world on fire, and I was having trouble keeping the black-comedy element from spinning out of control. THE SLASHER seemed to me over-the-top, or anyway a subsequent novel would have been.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t disappointed that no more books were requested by the editor. But the QUARRY series seemed, at four entries, to be complete. I was going places, all right – back to the typewriter to try again.

But a funny thing happened on the way to obscurity – a small cult of interest arose in QUARRY. Smart people like Jon Breen, Ed Gorman and Bill Crider said nice things about the books. The series started getting fan letters. So when I had some success with the Nate Heller novels, I decided to do just one more QUARRY – and I did, PRIMARY TARGET (since re-pubbed as QUARRY’S VOTE). The book was well-received, but that was the end of it.

The end of it, anyway, till the new millennium dawned and a young filmmaker named Jeffrey Goodman came knocking, and a new publisher/editor named Charles Ardai got in touch. From Goodman’s enthusiasm for the QUARRY short story, “A Matter of Principal,” came an award-winning short film written by me, and then a feature-length version co-written by me, THE LAST LULLABY. More or less simultaneously, Ardai asked me to do a QUARRY novel for his new retro-noir line, and I jumped at the chance to give the series a real ending – THE LAST QUARRY, a novelization of my version of the screenplay of the Goodman feature.

The surprisingly strong response to THE LAST QUARRY resulted in a conversation between Ardai and me that went something like this:

“I wouldn’t mind you doing another QUARRY for us,” he said.

“I wouldn’t mind myself.”

“But you ended the series. What book can you write after you’ve done THE LAST QUARRY?”


Now we’re at eleven novels – QUARRY IN THE BLACK next month – and, after a somewhat rough birth going back to 2012, the QUARRY TV series will debut on Cinemax this Friday, at 9 pm Central time.

I’ve seen all eight episodes and they are excellent. It’s essentially an extended origin story of how returning Marine Mac Conway (the character’s real name, according to the show anyway) becomes hitman Quarry. Michael Fuller and Graham Gordy, the creators of the series, initially did not reveal the character’s “real name,” but it became clumsy for the lead character not to have, well, a name. They dubbed him “Mac” after me – M.A.C. Nice gesture.

And they were smart enough to set the show in the early ‘70s. It’s a nice fit with my current approach, which is to do my new QUARRY novels in ‘70s/‘80s period. You know you are old when a series you began as contemporary is now historical.

So I hope you like the TV series. If you don’t, and are a fan of the books, pretend to, will you? If the show becomes a hit, I may get to write more QUARRY novels.

Stranger things have happened.

* * *
A Long Time Dead


E-Book: Amazon Nook Kobo iTunes

Limited Signed Hardcover: Mysterious Bookshop

Also this week, the Mike Hammer short story collection, A LONG TIME DEAD, will become available in print and e-book editions from Mysterious Press. This is an exciting project for me, as it represents the first collection of Hammer stories, and possibly the last, since I have exhausted the shorter fragments in the Spillane files.

My sincere thanks to Otto Penzler for publishing it. Otto, who edited and published the first three posthumous Hammer novels, has been a great friend to Mickey, Mike Hammer and me.

* * *

The advance reviews for the QUARRY TV show are strong, like this one.

And this one.

Here QUARRY is seen as one of the nine best shows of the fall season.

And here it’s seen as one of the ten best shows.

You’ll enjoy this interview with Michael Fuller, half of the creative team behind the writing of the QUARRY series.

Here’s a nice write-up on the forthcoming QUARRY comics mini-series.

Check out this terrific review of the Hammer novel, MURDER NEVER KNOCKS.

And, finally, here’s a positive review from Kirkus, of all people, for A LONG TIME DEAD.


Heller and York Score

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

J. Kingston Pierce at the excellent Rap Sheet has given BETTER DEAD a splashy rave as this week’s Pierce’s Pick. Also, in honor of Rap Sheet’s ten-year anniversary, Jeff Pierce is giving away five copies of BETTER DEAD and five more of ASK NOT (in hardcover). Read the rave and all about the free copies right here.

Also at Jeff’s terrific second blog, KILLER COVERS, which celebrates paperback covers of the ‘40s through the ‘70s, he has paid tribute to BETTER DEAD with a selection of sexy covers featuring redheads.

My pal Bill Crider has published his own BETTER DEAD rave at one of my favorite web sites, BILL CRIDER’S POP CULTURE MAGAZINE. There’s a fun discussion in which I participate in the comments section about the unlikelihood of Nate Heller being involved in so many famous cases. Take a look.

I am pleased and honored to have THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK (now available in paperback!) nominated for Best Novel by the Western Fictioneers. This link will take you to the entire list of nominees, plus one winner – my great friend Bob Randisi, who is receiving a life achievement award.

Since we seem to be leading off with links this week, check out this excellent review from writer Ron Fortier of QUARRY’S VOTE (the McGinnis-covered Hard Case Crime edition of PRIMARY TARGET).

NO ONE WILL HEAR YOU by Matt Clemens and me is a Kindle Bargain ($1.99), reachable at a link here.

In memoriam of Darwyn Cooke’s untimely passing, and Bobby Darin’s birthday (May 14), COMICS OUGHTA BE FUN prints a condensed version of THE BOBBY DARIN STORY by Terry Beatty and me.

* * *

I think I’ve had it with superhero movies.

BATMAN V. SUPERMAN was long, self-consciously dark and occasionally tedious, but I didn’t hate it, with the exception of Jesse Eisenberg’s vastly misjudged Lex Luther. Superman and Batman retain their charisma, and it was fun seeing Wonder Woman in one of these movies. Otherwise fun was in short supply in this and so many of the genre.

Barb and I walked out of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. We did so well into the movie, probably a couple of hours, but an endless fight scene between the two groups of superheroes warned me that the climax of taking on the super villains was yet to come, so we finally bailed, battered but breathing. So many characters and so little impact. And I think I’m finally bored with Robert Downey Jr.’s oh-so-cool schtick as Tony Stark.

The problem with the Marvel movies is the company’s willingness to scrape the bottom of the costumed hero barrel. Even Iron Man is a second-tier guy; and while Paul Rudd is likable as Antman (and his solo movie pretty good), what pop cultural purchase does that character have? At least Superman and Batman are iconic.

But where is the fucking fun? The first AVENGERS movie had that nicely hip/jokey feel thanks to Joss Whedon, without shortchanging the action. Since then it’s been a combination of flat one-liners, over-wrought seriousness, and mind-numbing battles, plus a continuity as convoluted and corny as five years of DAYS OF OUR LIVES. Take the laughable CIVIL WAR moment when Tony Stark gets flummoxed by the thought of Pepper Potts. Yes, we are expected to remember and care about a character with a silly name who isn’t even in the movie.

When Jack Kirby created Captain America (about whom Mickey Spillane occasionally wrote), Cap was a symbol of cheerful patriotism whose Robin-type sidekick, Bucky, rode a motorcycle, all jaunty and cheerful. Now Bucky still rides a motorcycle, but he has turned into a sullen, serious half-villain, half-good-guy, sturm und drang not slam bang.

Now I’m not completely cured. I bought DEADPOOL on Blu-ray the other day because it’s been so widely praised. Haven’t watched it yet, but will. I am looking forward, guardedly, to the new X-MEN movie. But stuff like DC’s SUICIDE SQUAD leaves me cold, the preview so unpleasant and struggling to be dark, I want to upchuck my popcorn. The Joker as hero (okay, anti-hero)? So wrong. So very wrong.

My problem is that as I age, so does the popular culture, and neither of us are what we used to be. I bought AMAZING FANTASY #15 at Cohn’s Newsland, as well as SPIDERMAN #1, FANTASTIC FOUR #1, AVENGERS #1 and X-MEN #1. To me it was all about Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko – from my perspective, the “new” SPIDERMAN artist is John Romita.

Say what you will about Stan Lee, he wrote fun comic books. He lightly spoofed the genre and seemed to be saying, “Yes, this stuff is inherently silly, but let’s have a good time with it.” So Peter Parker was a nerd who got picked on, and the Fantastic Four got evicted from their penthouse digs because being a superhero didn’t pay so good. And he probably cackled at his typewriter when he typed the name Pepper Potts.

Batman to me will always be cartoonist Dick Sprang’s giant props and a small cast of vivid, recurring villains, most of whom were comical (the Riddler, the Penguin, even the Joker). Wayne Boring’s Superman was never boring, but often funny, from the torturous attempts by Lois Lane to unmask Superman as Clark Kent to the bald super-villain, Lex Luthor, who always failed. And Bizarro! How much fun was that?

Are we having fun yet, at superhero movies? Or are we still suffering under the mantle of seriousness that has so choked a wonderful if inherently juvenile genre? Embrace your inner kid – don’t be ashamed of him.


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!


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.


– – –

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.