Posts Tagged ‘Reviews’

Our Audie Murphy Film Festival

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

Killing Town, the “lost” first Mike Hammer novel, is now available on audio read by the great Dan John Miller. Read about it here. If you support this audio (and the previous Journalstone Mike Hammer release, The Will to Kill), more will follow!

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I am writing this week’s update on Memorial Day Weekend. It seems like a good time to say a few things about Audie Murphy.

First, let me share with you a part of my prep for writing the Caleb York novels for Kensington (under the Spillane & Collins byline) – essentially, how I get into the mood.

I am about to start the new Caleb, Last Stage to Hell Junction. Whenever I do a York novel, Barb and I have an appropriate western film festival, watching an “oater” each evening. For the first novel, The Legend of Caleb York (from Mickey’s screenplay, which started it all), we watched John Wayne westerns, as Mickey had written the screenplay for Wayne’s Batjac productions, though it had never been produced. My favorites, predictably, are The Searchers, Red River and Rio Bravo.

For The Big Showdown, we watched Randolph Scott, including all of his outstanding Budd Boetticher-directed westerns. For The Bloody Spur, our nightly western was a Joel McRae. And I have been gathering Audie Murphy’s westerns (and his other films) for several years now, with an eye on the festival Barb and I are beginning now.

Audie Murphy, of course, is celebrated as the most decorated American combat soldier of World War II. He received every military combat award, including the Medal of Honor, having – at age 19 – held off by himself an entire company of German soldiers for an hour, then (while wounded) leading a successful counterattack.

Murphy was a Texas boy from sharecropper stock who learned his skills with a rifle by putting food on the table for his six brothers and four sisters, after their father left their mother, who died when Audie was a teen. Murphy lied about his age to get into the U.S. Army, not long after Pearl Harbor (the Marines and Navy having turned him down).

After the war, making the cover of LIFE Magazine for his courageous service, he was taken under the wing of the great James Cagney. From the late forties until his tragic young death in 1971, Murphy was a movie star. Aside from a few A-pictures (like The Red Badge of Courage and The Unforgiven, both directed by John Huston), and several contemporary offerings, Murphy specialized in westerns, as well as a western TV series, Whispering Smith.

But his biggest success was starring as himself (a role he reluctantly accepted) in the film version of his autobiographical war account, To Hell and Back. He was a skilled horseman and a successful songwriter, his work recorded by such stars as Dean Martin, Harry Nillson, Eddy Arnold and Jimmy Dean, among many others. And, not surprisingly, he suffered from what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He slept with a .45 automatic under his pillow.

Stopped for speeding, Murphy pulled over and, when the officer noticed the .45 on the seat next to the easily recognizable Audie, the cop smiled and said he was a big fan and wanted an autograph. Murphy provided it. Accosted by a gangster at a horserace, Murphy stared him down and said, “I killed sixty of you bums in Sicily – one more won’t make a difference.” The thug moved on. Many a brawny challenger who figured he’d pick a fight with Murphy was quickly and brutally dispatched by the five-foot-five war hero turned movie star.

Or so go the stories. More easily verified is Murphy’s refusal to do ads for cigarettes or liquor, not wanting to set a bad example for young people. He died in a small plane crash.

My character, Quarry, was in part inspired by Murphy. David Morell told me Rambo had the same source. And Robert Stack said his Ness portrayl was inspired by Murphy.

Around Memorial Day, and all year frankly, Audie’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery is among the most visited. He is probably remembered more for his incredible valor as a teenaged war hero than for his movie career, and while that’s understandable, I’m here to tell you he was a fine actor.

In his day – and still today – his ability to star in a film is perceived as a sort of “talking dog” thing – the dog doesn’t haven’t to say anything impressive to qualify for that distinction. My feeling is the studios (chiefly Universal) often felt they had to pair Murphy with a strong character actor – Walter Matthau, Dean Jagger, Barry Sullivan – to carry him.

But anyone at all savvy about film and film-acting can look at Murphy in almost any of his pictures and see how his instinctive, charismatic under-playing seems modern and real while many of the actors around him appear to be shouting and hamming it up. He is present in every scene, quietly reacting, watching, then delivering lines naturally and effectively.

And in scenes of violence, just who this baby-faced boy/man is always comes to the fore. He’s a killer. Real deal. Not a murderer, but a soldier who unflinchingly does what he has to. But he’s not one note: he can be boyish, he can be scary, he can be romantic, he can be funny, he can be tough as hell – as much as I like Randolph Scott (and that’s a lot), Murphy has far more colors to his palette.

We’ve been watching him for a week or so now, and not all of the movies are good – toward the mid-1960s (particularly when he’s not working at Universal), his films are programmers, bottom-bill fodder for drive-ins. But he made some fine westerns, too, and worked with such great genre directors as Don Siegel, Budd Boetticher and Jack Arnold.

My favorite, the latter director’s work, is No Name on the Bullet. Murphy is an assassin who comes to a small western town, quietly checks in at the hotel and minds his own business – only his business is killing someone while he’s in town…but who. Everyone in the community seems to have a secret worth killing for. It’s a very Quarry-like role. The quiet killer side of him is in evidence – the film is thoughtful, a sort of High Noon turned inside out, and Murphy is great. Just great.

In collecting Murphy’s films, I’ve had to order DVDs and Blu-rays from all over the world. A few are available here (including No Name on the Bullet), and there’s a nice boxed set from Turner Classic Movies – check it out.

Oddly, Murphy is considered a major star in Germany. Think about that – our decorated hero is revered by the losers, and patronized and even ignored by the winners. This is much odder than Jerry Lewis being lionized in France (though the French are right about Lewis, and they like Murphy, too, for that matter).

Salute this Texas sharecropper’s son, while Memorial Day is still in the air, won’t you? For his service to his country, by all means. But track down some of his movies. He was a real movie star, and – unlikely as it seems – a fine actor.

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The forthcoming Scarface and the Untouchable is one of the ten summer books Chicago Magazine recommends.

Here’s a fine review of Killing Town.

Check out this advance look at the first issue of the Hammer four-issue comic book mini-series.

The Quarry TV series gets some love here.

Finally, here is a wonderful review of Antiques Wanted by a reviewer who really gets what Barb and I are up to.

M.A.C.

White Man’s Burdon

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

This past Saturday evening, Barb and I headed to Riverside, Iowa (future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk) to the casino resort there for a concert by Eric Burdon and the Animals.

The Riverside Casino and Golf Resort is a great venue that brings in major acts (within half an hour of our home!) and some of them, like this one (and the Happy Together Tour a while back), are top stars of the Baby Boomers’ youth. For example, they have Micky Dolenz and Paul Lindsay coming up on September 29. Crusin’ has appeared on the Riverside Casino’s smaller stage three times, and it’s always a thrill to get to entertain there.

The house for Burdon was packed and enthusiastic…also old. So is Burdon, at 73 a kind of wonderful train wreck, a grizzled, gifted survivor of the British Invasion. He’s a small but formidable man, and the only real Animal on stage – he’s surrounded by kids, relatively speaking, who mostly serve him well. Despite a cold that he apologized for, as it gave his voice even more gravel, he performed well, enthusiastically and long – an hour and a half, no break – giving the crowd most of his hits, the only really major omission being “It’s My Life.”

My only complaint is the current Animals line-up – the bass needs more definition, and the keyboards more balls. I wanted to rush the stage, yelling, “Let a man in!”, when the keyboard guy played piano all through “We Gotta Get Outa This Place.” His piano keyboard is a Nord, and a Nord is one of my two keyboards and a fine instrument…but right behind him was a Hammond B-3!

The Animals’ sound, in its first and most popular incarnation, was driven by organ – either Vox or Hammond, with Alan Price its famous keyboard player. Not bringing that Hammond into full, robust play was a blunder.

Okay, I realize I’m seeing that through my end of the telescope, and I don’t want to indicate the evening in Eric Burdon’s legendary presence wasn’t a wonderful thing, a real privilege. Burdon is the kind of dedicated singer who can bring brand-new passion to a song he’s sung literally hundreds and hundreds of times, every time.

Burdon is as much as anyone – and I include Mick Jagger – responsible for bringing the blues to white America (and the UK), exposing my generation to the joys and rewards of the African-American musical experience, sending us to Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, among many others. Is there a more unlikely smash hit single of the sixties than “House of the Rising Sun”?

Here’s a cool interview with Burdon done just before the Riverside appearance.

And now, because absolutely no one asked for it, here is my list of my 10 Most Influential Albums of the Sixties. These are the actual albums I listened to most, as opposed to my assembling something reflecting what I should be listing, i.e., black artists, female artists, and not just white boys (mostly British). But it was the British Invasion that sent me down a path that would have me still playing rock ‘n’ roll at 70 (thankfully not for a fulltime living).

1. Rubber Soul – the Beatles. 1965 (December). This list could be nothing but Beatles, as their albums and singles were what I listened to most. Rubber Soul is where the group blossoms into something even more special. I am in a minority, but I like least The White Album and everything that follows.

2. Along Comes the Association – The Association. 1966. Still, perhaps, their finest hour, with the possible exception of the follow-up, Renaissance. Includes “Enter the Young,” “Along Comes Mary,” “Cherish” and more. Barb and I saw them perform more often than other band of the era, the greatest vocal group that was also a fine rock band.

3. The Zombies – the Zombies. 1965. Their wonderful early material is here in this American release, including my two favorite singles of the ‘60s, “She’s Not There” and “Tell Her No.” Colin Blunstone’s breathy, heart-felt singing melds with Rod Argent’s great, inspiring (to me) piano and organ – this is pure pop bliss.

4. Them Again – Them. 1966 (January). My favorite Van Morrison material almost all dates to his days fronting Them. This second album made not much of a splash in the USA, but it’s great, with “Could You, Would You,” “Call My Name” and “I Can Only Give You Everything” outstanding.

5. Animal Tracks – The Animals. 1965. Their third album (a U.S. mongrel), it features “We Gotta Get Outa This Place,” which was Muscatine High School’s senior class of ‘66 song. As a listener caught up in the pop of the Beatles, the jolt of r & b from Eric Burdon (and also Van Morrison with Them) was the start of an education.

6. It Ain’t Me Babe – the Turtles. Before “Happy Together,” the Turtles were a folk-rock band with an edge, the Byrds but not precious. This album has not only the title track but a pre-Sinatra, rocking “It Was a Very Good Year,” P.F. Sloan’s “Let Me Be,” and some nice Dylan covers. Opening for Flo and Eddie (twice) was a real career highlight for this weathered garage band rocker.

7. Midnight Ride – Paul Revere and the Raiders. 1967. This was the last album that the Raiders – a great bar band from the Pacific Northwest – actually played on, with the famous Wrecking Crew taking over after, so the group could tour and tour and tour. This was their Rubber Soul, with such great tracks as “Kicks,” “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” and “Louie Go Home” (a sequel to “Louie Louie,” their version have been hijacked by another local band).

8. Eighteen Yellow Roses – Bobby Darin. 1963. My obsession with Bobby Darin was not entirely blotted out by the British Invasion. This album has Darin’s hit title track and a bunch of covers, including “On Broadway” and “Can’t Get Used to Losing You.” Not a major album, but I listened to it a lot. Ditto his later (1968) Bobby Darin Born Walden Robert Cassotto, a singer-songwriter effort of personal folk rock and protest material in his Bob Darin phase. My band played “Long Line Rider.”

9. Younger Than Yesterday– The Byrds. 1967. Such an influential band. I recall playing “Turn, Turn, Turn” at a frat party in Iowa City around ‘68 and the frat brothers having us play it over and over and over. Guitarist Bruce Peters of the Daybreakers had a 12-string Rickenbacker to give it the real McGuinn flavor. That track isn’t on this album, which is the “So You Wanna Be a Rock ‘n Roll Star” LP, with such wonderful songs/performances as “Have You Seen Her Face” and “My Back Pages.” This was our late bass player Chuck Bunn’s favorite album.

10. Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys. 1966. The great American answer to the question posed by the British Invasion: which of you stateside losers can compete with us? Well, these guys. It’s possibly the best, most beautiful rock album ever written, produced and performed.

Looking at this list – which is in no particular order – I realize how much of it centers around 1966, and just before and just after. Subjectively, it suggests that the music that appeared as I came of age – if 17 or 18 is coming of age – happened to be some of the best popular music ever…or was it just the stuff (objectively speaking) that was out when I was a junior and senior in high school?

Let me mention, too, that if this list continued further, the albums from my college years – everything from the frankly poppy Monkees to the likes of Vanilla Fudge, Cream and Deep Purple – would be on it.

So. Now that you’ve read it…aren’t you glad you didn’t ask?

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Barb and I thoroughly enjoyed Deadpool 2. We had discovered the first DP (so speak) movie on home video, and found it a hoot, if dark. This one isn’t quite as dark, and is even more joke-laden than the previous. There are smart people I know (like Terry Beatty) who hated the first Deadpool and are unlikely to try the second (and probably shouldn’t). But I enjoy the way the Deadpool films send up the super-hero genre while celebrating it – that it points out and revels in the absurdities of the genre (particularly the movie version of superhero comics) and still manages to be a terrific superhero movie. Deadpool 2, for all its smart-ass nastiness, even has a good heart.

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Here’s a fun, quirky review of Quarry’s Climax. I think the reviewer doesn’t quite get Quarry’s view of women (or humanity, actually), but he likes the book, which is what matters. Quarry has contempt for the entire human race, including himself, but he isn’t a dick about it.

And a nice Quarry write-up is here, in this look at post-Vietnam crime novels.

M.A.C.

Put Some Damn Clothes On!

Tuesday, April 17th, 2018

Below is an excerpt from a review of The Bloody Spur from the Western Writers of America Roundup Magazine. It’s what you’d call a mixed review, on the patronizing side, and is mostly a plot summary, which I’ve skipped. But it raises some issues I’ve been wanting to talk about.

“There’s an overdose of descriptions of setting and clothing, and characters are stereotypical. But it’s enjoyable in a conventional-Western way, and the murder mystery has some intriguing twists.”

Let me get the stereotypical charge out of the way first. Yes, the characters established in Mickey’s 1950s screenplay are stereotypical – the stranger in town who becomes sheriff, a beautiful dance hall girl, a blind rancher, a lovely tomboy, and a cantankerous coot who becomes a deputy. There’s also a local doctor. What Mickey did, and what I have continued to try to do, is make these types specific and sometimes surprising in their characterizations, and to bring a gritty, even shocking amount of Spillane-style violence to the party as well as a mystery/crime element.

I don’t mean to respond to the reviewer, just to make clear where Mickey and I are coming from.

What I want to discuss is the charge that I do too much description of setting and clothing. I have always done a good deal of that, but it’s only in recent years that the occasional reviewer (particularly the Amazon variety) has bitched about it. The same is true of the sexual element, but that doesn’t apply too much to the Caleb York novels, so I’ll save that for a future discussion.

From my point of view, too many authors send their characters running around in books stark naked, and I don’t mean in sex scenes. I view clothing as a tool of characterization. The clothing a character wears tells us who this person is, and how these characters perceive themselves, and wish to be perceived.

Setting is the same. A description of a house, interior or exterior, tells us who lives there – a bedroom, particularly, is revealing of character.

Any reader who thinks I can on too much about clothing or setting is free to skip or scan. No harm, no foul.

In an historical novel – which westerns like the Caleb York books are by definition – setting is particularly important. It is also a big part of my 20th Century-set mysteries. If I take Nate Heller to a Hooverville or a strip club, you can bet I’ll give you chapter and verse about those settings. If Heller – in a 1960s-era story, when he’s become prosperous – is something of a clothes horse, that speaks of character, of who is and what he’s become. He’s rather shallow in that regard, frankly – part of his characterization.

In a Caleb York story, if I take my hero into an apothecary or a general store, you can bet I will describe the damn thing, and in some detail. York isn’t walking into a Walgreen’s or a Safeway, after all. Part of this is taking what is a mythic western – having to do with movies and ‘50s/’60s TV, more than the reality of the west – and giving it some verisimilitude. By keeping the underpinnings real, making the setting authentic, I can get away with the melodrama.

And what I do is melodrama. Nobody uses that word anymore, at least not correctly. But much of what I have done as a writer for over forty years is present a realistic surface on which to present my somewhat over-the-top stories.

Again, feel free to skim or skip passages that bore you. Elmore Leonard, great writer that he was, pretty much left you on your own. What he did worked for him (but his “rules” of writing are worthwhile only if you want to be Elmore Leonard when you grow up, and we already have one of those).

I am well aware that I am involved in a collaborative process with the reader. It amuses me when two readers argue over whether a book is good or not, as if they shared the same experience. Obviously they didn’t. Sometimes the play or movie mounted in a reader’s mind is a big-budget, beautifully cast affair; other readers are capable only of amateur night productions.

Leonard and others may wish to cede their stories to the whims and abilities of their readers. I know to some extent that is inevitable – because no two readers will have the same experience reading fiction. But I believe in controlling the narrative to the fullest extent that I can. I consider a chief responsibility of my job is doing my job – to do the work for you, where setting and clothing are concerned and much more.

I understand and accept that I’m blessed and sometimes burdened with readers who are my inevitable collaborators. But I want them to come as close to experiencing the movie I saw in my head, and put down on paper for them, as I possibly can.

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This past Saturday, Crusin’ played the first gig of the season (defined as: not winter, though we were somewhat double-crossed by April sleet and snow). We performed for the Wilton, Iowa, High School Alumni banquet, a very well-attended event that had been going since five p.m. when we went on stage around nine-thirty. We held a good share of the audience for two sets (we took no break) and debuted a lot of new material…well, old material, although a new original was included.


L to R: M.A.C., Joe McClean, Steve Kundel, Bill Anson and Brian Van Winkle.

It went well, and our old friend Joe McClean, a Wilton area boy, joined us on several numbers. Joe was the heart and soul of the great Midwestern band the XL’s, who are also in the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

Our new guitar player, Bill Anson, is doing a fine job, as are longtime drummer Steve Kundel and our bassist Brian Van Winkle, the “new guy” who has been with us seven years.

It felt great playing again. Loading afterward, not so much. And two days later I still am in anybody-get-the-name-of-that-truck mode.


M.A.C., Joe McClean.
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My Scarface and the Untouchable co-author, A. Brad Schwartz, has written an op-ed piece for the Washington Post that has just appeared. Though I didn’t co-write it, I did some friendly editing and the piece beautifully discusses the somewhat facile comparisons being made of Trump as Capone and Comey/Mueller as Eliot Ness.

Wild Dog is back on Arrow this year. I haven’t watched the previous year yet.

Here’s a great review by Ron Fortier of the complete version of the Road to Perdition novel published by Brash Books.

Here’s where you can get signed copies of my books, including Killing Town and The Last Stand.

Road to Perdition the film is number three on this list of the best twelve Jude Law movies.

Finally, thanks to everyone who responded to the book giveaway posted last week. The books went quickly, and my apologies to those of you who missed out. Another will follow before too very long!

M.A.C.

Book Giveaway and C2E2

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

I have four copies each of The Last Stand, Killing Town, The Bloody Spur and advance bound galley proofs of Antiques Wanted.

When these sixteen are gone, they are gone. [They’re gone! Thank you!]

E-mail me at REDACTED and list in order of preference which of these you’d like. If there’s one you don’t want, list only those you do. I need you to include your snail mail address – and it’s USA addresses only. I ask only that you post a review on Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble, or your own blog.

Today we are recuperating from Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2). The con itself was great. We had some issues with the hotel (Marriott Marquis), which despite its proximity to the event itself at McCormick Place, required endless walking of skywalks to get to the sprawling facility. The very modern hotel did not include hot water in the shower. And at a con, brother is a shower a necessity.

Not surprisingly, a con like this requires more security than ever, pretty much the same as an airport. Signs of the times (literal signs) were posted everywhere informing attendees that “COSPLAY IS NOT CONSENT.” It shows how schitzy our culture is – young women in the MeToo era walking around near naked, representing themselves as characters mostly created by men at their most objectifying.

I would say perhaps as many as 25% of attendees were in costume, some changing two or three times a day. Fun and sometimes disturbing stuff, and always a roadblock in aisles as the momentarily famous pause to pose for photographs.

From my standpoint – Barb was not appearing, just being my support staff – it was a fine con. Both panels I did – one on horror, the other on Chicago crime – were extremely well-attended. The horror one was aided by the presence of James S. Murray, of the Impractical Jokers TV show (he’s written a horror novel, The Awakened). Very nice guy.

My signings, particularly the Saturday one, were well-attended. I met a lot of readers and had some fun conversations. Many of them brought books from home and the material was wide-ranging – I signed things I’d forgotten about and even a few I’d never seen before. A veteran told me of buying my books on a military base overseas – some of the books I signed for him had the PX’s mark. Cool and humbling.

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Here’s a nice review of The Last Stand, including comments on “A Bullet for Satisfaction.”

The rest of this update will be photos from the con, courtesy of Barbara Collins.

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Chicago Crime Panel, l to r, Crimespree editor Jon Jordan, M.A.C., David L. Carlson, Landis Blair (writer and artist of The Hunting Accident)


M.A.C. at Anderson Bookshop Booth


M.A.C. signing.


James Murray, M.A.C.