Posts Tagged ‘Reviews’

An “Antiques” Stocking Stuffer and the Walmart Big Time

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Yes, here I am with another selfless suggestion for something you might give to your loved ones or yourself at Yuletide.


Amazon Indiebound Books A Million Barnes and Noble

Antiques Ho-Ho-Homicides collects, for the first time, the three e-book novellas Barb and I did over the last five years. It’s a paperback (hence a perfect stocking stuffer), and I know some collectors out there prefer hardcovers, but “Barbara Allan” is thrilled that these stories are finally gathered in a real book.

If you are one of the hold-outs who like my stuff but can’t bring yourself to cross the cozy divide, Antiques Ho-Ho-Homicides is an inexpensive way to see Brandy and her mother Vivian in action. A sampler, if you will, and much tastier than those Whitman samplers some people insist upon giving you at Christmas.

I’ve discussed this before, but I still get questions about how Barb and I work together on the Antiques books, and how we stay married doing them. One aspect is that my office is on one floor and Barb’s is on another. But basically it’s this: Barb writes the first draft, and I write the final draft.

The less basic explanation is that Barb is the lead writer. Although I have more experience, and have been doing this longer, the books reflect her sensibilities and storytelling skills. We plot them together, but I stay out of the way while Barb prepares her draft. Sometimes we’ve described that as a rough draft, but really it’s not. Barb polishes each chapter thoroughly and, after at least six months of work, she gives me a perfectly readable and well-crafted novel that happens to be fifty or sixty pages shorter than what our contract requires.

My job is to further polish, and expand, and do lots of jokes. Barb has already done plenty of humor at this stage, but then I add more, with the result being that these novels are damn funny. Barb is wonderful about staying out of my way (as I’ve stayed out of hers, unless asked for input, during her creation of the initial draft). She claims to be so sick of the book at this point that she doesn’t care what I do to it.

This is not true.

She cares a lot, and will ask me why I’ve cut or changed something, and – when I tell her – will either agree or explain why (for plot or character reasons) (these are female point-of-view first-person novels) I need to restore what she originally wrote. Which I do.

The only time we’ve squabbled is when I’ve gotten crabby because I’m overworked. She will not tolerate snippiness. And I’ve been known on rare occasions (somewhat rare) (tiny bit rare) to be snippy, so there you go.

Consider Antiques Ho-Ho-Homicides our Christmas gift to you, except for the part where you have to pay for it.

Kensington publishes the Antiques novels, and also the Caleb York westerns. The accompanying photo will demonstrate that these Spillane/Collins westerns have hit the big time: we are in the Muscatine, Iowa, Walmart with The Bloody Spur! In fact, the Walmart chain bought a whole bunch of copies, and you can buy your copy at your local temple to the memory of Sam Walton.

The Antiques books haven’t made it into Walmart and probably won’t – the chain is very narrow about the kind of books they buy…mostly it’s romances, romantic westerns and westerns, plus a few bestsellers. Not a cozy in sight – not even an hilarious one like Antiques Ho-Ho-Homicides. How do they expect to stay in business?

Speaking of Antiques, here is a terrific review of Ho-Ho-Homicides at King River Life Magazine, which will give you a good idea of what to expect, including discussions of each novella.

Okay, now what you’re wondering is…what can I give Max Allan Collins for Christmas? I will be facetious and serious at the same time: you could write reviews (however brief) for my novels at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, your own blogs and whatever site you deem appropriate. There is a real reason why you might want to consider doing this, if you want new work from me.

The books I write – Mike Hammer, Quarry, Antiques – are seldom reviewed by the mainstream (including lots of Internet reviewers). I do not have the cachet or sales punch of a Lehane or Connelly, who are always reviewed. I am largely ignored, even by people who love my work, in “Best of” lists at the end of the year. This is a bit of a head-scratcher, but it’s a reality. Even the widely, glowingly reviewed non-fiction book Scarface and the Untouchable: The Battle for Chicago isn’t turning up on such lists.

I probably write too much. That keeps work that, if other people did it, would be taken more seriously. I am not whining or complaining (well, I guess I am) but I do understand that even readers who follow my work can’t always keep up with me.

Here’s the deal. If I don’t write, publishers do not send money to my house. That’s one thing. The other is that I am 70, have had some harrowing health issues (that I seem to have either overcome or am handling well) and realize that I don’t have forever to tell my stories.

And I have a lot more stories I want to tell.

Actually, I do not work as hard as I used to. Over the years, most Heller chapters were written in a day (25 to 30 double-spaced pages). I was a boy wonder till I got old. I slowed down starting with Better Dead. In general, my work load now is ten finished pages, six days a week. (Sometimes only five days.) It’s no different than with people with a “real” job – they work five or six days a week, and nobody applauds them, or tries to talk them out of it.

As I’ve mentioned, I have friends who have done these sort of interventions to get me to retire and get Barb and me to go take a cruise with other aging couples. I would rather write. Barb and I treat ourselves well and have a great time together, and don’t feel the need for a lot of travel to do that. She is a beautiful woman and lovely company, and is the one thing in my life that is worth hating me over.

She and I are watching one Christmas movie or television episode per evening right now. I may write about this soon. But I will say this – Holiday Inn is a wonderful movie, and White Christmas sort of stinks. Maybe my son Nathan is right: Die Hard is a better Christmas movie than White Christmas.

* * *

Here six great books (available inexpensively) are recommended, and one of them is True Detective (and I’m pleased and grateful, but it’s not “Allen,” okay?).

Shots looks at upcoming Titan titles, including the new Hammer, Murder, My Love.

The Strand magazine is on the stands now, with the key Spillane “Mike Hammer” short story, “Tonight, My Love.”

We’ve linked to this review before, but this time it’s attached to the mass market paperback of The Bloody Spur, out right now.

Finally, here’s a lovely write-up on the three Jack and Maggie Starr mysteries.

M.A.C.

Unbiased Gift-Giving (and Book Collecting) Advice

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018

Just when I was thinking the last update’s self-aggrandizing gift list suggestions were as far as even I could shamelessly go, along comes an Amazon sale to give me a chance to outdo myself.

Half a dozen of my Nathan Heller books are on sale all throughout the month of December at Amazon. The Kindle e-books are a mere 99 cents, and the physical books (remember those…books you can hold in your hands?) are half-price.

This includes True Crime, True Detective, The Million-Dollar Wound, Neon Mirage, Stolen Away, Angel in Black, Chicago Lightning and Triple Play. The latter two are a short story collection and a trio of short novels (the rest are novels).

You can find them right here.

Earlier I thought that all of the Heller novels prior to the recent batch at Tor Forge were included, but it’s a little more limited than that.

At any rate, if you have holes to fill in your collections, or are looking to turn others on to Nate Heller and me (and by so doing help insure more Heller books will come along in the future), this is the place to make that Christmas miracle come true.

I have other gift suggestions, too, for books I didn’t write. Sounds like the Christmas spirit, huh? Not so fast. I want now to recommend several books that originally appeared in Japanese but were translated by someone calling himself Nathan A. Collins (he claims the “A” stands for “Allan”).

Seriously, though, Nate is a wonderful writer (I said “unbiased”) and these are good books. One of them has a peculiar title – I Want to Eat Your Pancreas () – which is not a horror novel but a very good book about an unusual and oddly touching friendship. It was a bestseller in Japan, which I believe is why the American publisher did not want to change the title.

Nate also translated a thriller that was made into a rather famous anime feature – Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis () – which explores the phenomenon of young female pop stars (rather a creepy if real thing), one of whom attracts a particularly nasty stalker. Nate also translated Perfect Blue: Awaken from a Dream (), a collection of three stories by the same author on the same subject.

The most famous of Nate’s translations is Battle Royale (), which was the “inspiration” for Hunger Games, and an internationally successful film. That’s been out a while. Most current novel is Zodiac War () (Nate also translated the manga version (). This is a science-fiction/fantasy adventure, a super-hero/villain variation on Battle Royale.

* * *

Some recent things on the Net that you may wish to check out….

This is a fun discussion of movie tie-in novels, and several of mine are included.

Be sure to take in this nice appreciation of the Quarry TV series, which includes a celebration of Quarry’s creator, whose name I’m too modest to mention.

Once again Road to Perdition (the film and the graphic novel) are mentioned prominently on a list called (wait for it)“10 Obscure Comic Books That Were Turned Into Movies.”

Here is an oral history of how I created the new Robin and then DC fans rose up and killed him.

Finally, here’s a very good review of my first Quarry novel, which is called Quarry (and not The First Quarry).

M.A.C.

Stan Lee, William Goldman, Orson Welles and Much, Much More!

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018

By the time this appears, Brad Schwartz and I will have made our Chicago appearance at the American Writers Museum. But as I write this, Barb and I haven’t even left Muscatine yet. So any report will have to wait till next time, when I’ll also talk about Thanksgiving with son Nate, daughter-in-law Abby, and grandkids Sam and Lucy.

But there’s plenty to talk about first. Let’s start with two great names in American pop culture, both writers, who met their final deadlines recently.

I interacted with Stan Lee any number of times. Coincidentally, the first and most memorable was at WGN in Chicago, where Brad and I will be taping something the day before this update appears. Brad and I will be doing television, but Stan and I did a radio show, where he fielded questions about Marvel and I did the same about the Dick Tracy strip, which I was writing then. I’m guessing this was early ‘80s. Stan was friendly and everything you’d expect him to be, and we got along fine. In future, I would encounter him at comics conventions, mostly just saying hello. He always seemed to remember me, but I doubt he did.

While I have little interest in Marvel today, and have only written a handful of things for them, I was a big fan in junior high and high school (and even college). I knew of Stan Lee by his byline on pre-superhero monster comics and even Millie the Model (I read lots of different comics). I’m sure it made an impression on me that this was a writer getting a byline on comics without doing any of the drawing. I bought all his early superhero stuff at Cohn’s Newsland in Muscatine, including the first issues of Spiderman, Fantastic Four, The Hulk and The Avengers. I knew of Jack Kirby, too – I subscribed to Challengers of the Unknown in grade school. Kirby was why I was buying monster comic books featuring creatures like “Fin Fang Foom,” “Mechano” and (yes) “Groot” (many Marvel super-hero characters had earlier incarnations as monsters).

How long was I a Marvel fan? As long as Ditko (and then John Romita, Sr.) was drawing Spiderman and Kirby Fantastic Four, I was in.

What I liked about Stan was the humor he brought to his super-hero work, and the way he interacted with fans. I was a charter member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society. Some have tried to diminish his work by saying he screwed over Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, but I know nothing of that and don’t want to know. What I know is he entertained and inspired me, and was friendly to me in person. Excelsior, Stan.

I never met William Goldman, who was a friend of Don Westlake’s – occasionally Don told me stories about his buddy “Bill.” I admired Goldman as a novelist (Soldier in the Rain, Marathon Man), although his screenwriting was where I think he really made an impact. He brought a storytelling touch to the form that made scripts read like, well, stories, not blueprints. He did this to save his sanity and also to make the screenplays compelling to the studio execs and directors who read them.

Goldman is, of course, the man who revealed to the world that the first and only rule about Hollywood is, “Nobody knows anything.” And he gave us the book that became the film Princess Bride. I wrote the novelization of his Maverick, not his best screenplay by a longshot but still good and a pleasure to turn into a novel that some (myself included) consider superior to the film. I like having a small connection to the man.

By any yardstick, William Goldman was a writer who left the world a better place for what he did while he was here. Let’s say it all together now: “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!”

* * *

So Netflix is making theatrical movies now, and streaming those movies even as they are hitting theaters. This is a tragedy, because it almost certainly means I will have to buy an even bigger TV.

So are the movies any good? Having seen two, I may not have enough to go on. But both are worth talking about.

First, Outlaw King. This historical epic is essentially a sequel to Braveheart, although only the dismembered arm of William Wallace appears (apparently not contributed by Mel Gibson). Reviews on this have been mixed, but Barb and I thought it was terrific. Pine was fine (sorry) as Robert the Bruce, the Scottish warrior king who faced seemingly impossible odds in a struggle to win independence from Britain – as an American whose grandparents on my pop’s side were name MacGregor, I can relate. The filmmaking is first-rate, with an opening shot that goes on forever without a cut, just a dazzling piece of work from director, co-screenwriter David Mackenzie. There’s even a decent love story. Barb was happy with Chris Pine’s nudity (me not so much) but the final battle scene was a bloody wonder, making Braveheart look like a garden party. High marks for Netflix on this one.

Then there’s The Other Side of the Wind. Netflix backed this assembly of footage from 96 hours Orson Welles shot between 1970 and 1976. Welles was attempting something new, influenced and I think intimidated by the American wave of young filmmakers that included Dennis Hopper (who appears in the film) as well as Coppola, DePalma and Scorsese.

To call the production troubled is like saying Citizen Kane is pretty good. Cast members came and went, sometimes due to availability; locations meant to suggest California include Arizona, Connecticut, France, the Netherlands, England, Spain, Belgium and sometimes even California. The cast is stellar, to say the least, but the shifting players means nothing really coheres – Peter Bogdanovich plays (not particularly well) a role based on himself that was originally acted by Rich Little, who left the production to meet a prior Vegas gig. Lilli Palmer is in a few scenes (shot in Spain), interacting with almost nobody, though it’s supposed to be her house where the interminable Hollywood party is happening. John Huston reveals how limited his bag of acting tricks is, and does himself nothing but harm.

It’s a mess – something of a glorious mess, and that it works at all is due to editor Bob Murawski somehow stitching it all together. Cuts come quickly, from black-and-white to color and back again, creating an auto accident of a movie about a filmmaker’s (off-stage) auto accident. Much of Wind is a film-within-a-film spoof of pretentious European films of the Antonioni variety (at least I hope it’s meant to be a spoof) starring Welles’ female companion/partner, Oja Kodar, billed as co-writer, who is mostly nude (I did enjoy her nude scenes more than Chris Pine’s).

It’s a hateful, ridiculous film, clogged with Welles bitterly attacking Hollywood in general and critic Pauline Kael in particular (via Susan Strasberg, quite good), with side dishes of bile reserved for his supposed friend Bogdanovich, among others. But it is of course fascinating as well, and probably required viewing for any real film buff.

Better than The Other Side of the Wind is They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, a Netflix documentary, itself feature-length, that looks at the making of the beleaguered film.

For all the hoopla surrounding The Other Side of the Wind supposedly having been finished along lines that would have satisfied Welles (who did leave about 45 minutes of the two-hour feature in an edited form), a similar situation with a great French filmmaker has led to a different approach and a much better film than Wind or even the documentary about it.

Available from Arrow on Blu-ray, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno is a 2009 documentary by Serge Bromberg that deals with another legendarily unfinished film. Clouzot, the genius who gave the world Diabolique and Wages of Fear among other masterpieces, stumbled in 1964 with his film, Inferno. Similarly to Welles, Clouzot was dealing with changing times and specifically the changing approach to filmmaking represented by the French New Wave. As far as I’m concerned, no New Wave filmmaker can touch him, but filmmakers are human and Clouzot allowed himself to get caught up in fascinating but largely pointless visual experimentation. He landed the leading starlet of the moment, Romy Schnieder, and cast an actor who’d been in a previous film of his, Serge Reggiani, in a story of sexual obsession and jealousy. It’s essentially James M. Cain’s Postman Always Rings Twice, if the older man with a younger wife is only imaging an affair she’s having with a younger man, and is driven mad to the brink of violence.

Working from fifteen reels of film, with most of the soundtrack missing, the documentation assembles the unfinished Inferno into sequences that appear, roughly, in narrative order. But these scenes are interspersed with revealing test films and interviews with cast and crew. Some of the missing scenes (there actually don’t seem to be that many) are staged with actors Bérénice Bejo and Jacques Gamblin, who provide dialogue. The imagery, particularly of lovely Schneider, is stunning. Like Welles in Wind, Clouzot shot in both black-and-white and color; but the French auteur had a method to his madness – the color footage, which was processed to have bizarre coloration, represents only the would-be cuckold’s warped imaginings.

Clouzot ultimately crashed with Inferno because his authoritarian treatment of actors drove his leading man to quit, shortly after which the director had a heart attack and production was halted, never to be resumed. (Clouzot did make another film, La Prisonniere, before his death in 1977.)

Unlike Wind, Inferno might have been a great film, had Clouzot (who wrote the script, as usual) been able to finish it. (Claude Chabrol shot the screenplay years later, but I haven’t seen that…yet.)

* * *

And now, my final verdict: Rotten Tomatoes, and the largely rotten reviewers whose opinions it gathers, is officially worthless.

Barb and I were very much looking forward to Widows. We were aware the source material was a two-season 1980s series from the dependable Lynda LaPlante, creator of Prime Suspect (but we had never seen it). The idea of a group of widows who take over for their late heist-artist husbands seemed pretty foolproof. The reviews for Widows are mostly raves. Rotten Tomatoes has it at 91%.

SPOILER ALERT: it stinks. We walked out, but not until we’d been subjected to an hour of poor direction and stupid scripting. Steve McQueen (much better an actor in The Great Escape than a director here) (yes, I know the British McQueen won a Best Picture Academy Award for 12 Years a Slave) co-wrote with Gillian Flynn. I suspect the original LaPlante series was good.

Virtually every sequence of Widows begins with a disorienting shot (for example, a substance that turns out to be hair being teased, when the camera pulls back; and a lengthy pointless sermon by a hypocritical black-church preacher, in close-up forever before revealing his stereotypical congregation). A sadistic diminutive thug (so sadistic he tortures a wheelchair-bound victim – he’s a baaaaaaad man!) constantly does things for no reason other than to shock the audience. Scenes go on endlessly, and are often staged in a ridiculously show-offy manner – how about a conversation between a Chicago candidate for alderman and his Lady Macbeth of a wife entirely from one-locked down angle on a car in motion, with no view of the people talking.

I seldom hate a film. I hated this. I knew at once (a real SPOILER ALERT sort of coming) where it was headed when Liam Neeson’s character was killed in the first five minutes (maybe I should saying “apparently killed”). I checked on line to see if I was right. And of course I was (Barb, too).

So Rotten Tomatoes gets a 0% fresh rating from the Collins household.

* * *

Paperback Warrior has posted an excellent review of Quarry’s Choice. This is really a wonderful, smart write-up of what is one of my two favorite books in the series (the other is The Wrong Quarry).

If you want to hear me talk about something that isn’t movies, go to Mystery Tribune for an interview with me on the new Mike Hammer: The Night I Died graphic novel.

Crimespree is giving away Scarface and the Untouchable. But, of course, you’ve already bought a copy.

The new issue of The Strand has the Spillane/Collins short story, “Tonight, My Love.” An important piece of the canon, though brief. It’s the holiday issue and a fine way to end the year in a Spillane centenary fashion. Check it out.

And here is a page with info about the next Caleb York western novel, Last Stage to Hell Junction. Next May, but why not start wanting it now?

M.A.C.

Untouchable Letterman

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018

The Blu-ray of Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life is out now. It’s available at any of the usual suspects among Internet retailers, but Amazon has it for about ten bucks off ($15.69).

I’m very proud of this one, which makes a good companion to Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle for Chicago by A. Brad Schwartz and me. It is, in fact, what brought Brad and me together – he went to the play in Des Moines and saw Mike Cornelison perform the one-man show in person.

Mike is gone, for several years now, and I am so grateful that we were able to have this one last, great project with the actor who was the backbone of all of my indie film projects. Mike starred in Mommy, Mommy’s Day and Real Time: Siege at Lucas Street Market. He narrated my two documentaries, Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane and Caveman: V.T. Hamlin and Alley Oop. He starred in two short films, one of which – “An Inconsequential Matter” – is a bonus feature on the Blu-ray. That short film was our last collaboration.

Whether, at my age, in the wake of some health issues, I can ever mount another film production is a question I can’t answer (Barb can – “NO!”). My other frequent collaborator, director of photography/editor Phil Dingeldein, is still raring to go. But I admit not having Mike on the team makes it tough to imagine.

For now, however, we have this fine Blu-ray, thanks to VCI Entertainment.

Treat yourself to this one, and it’s a perfect stocking stuffer….

* * *

For reasons I’ve never really understood, one of the questions I am most asked is, “What are you reading?” And, of course, a more general version: “What do you read?”

Regular readers of this update/blog know that I read little contemporary crime fiction, because of my desire not to be influenced by anyone working currently and also the busman’s holiday nature of it. Barb and I do watch a lot of British crime series, which slakes my thirst for mystery narrative – I generally find Brit TV crime more compelling and just, well, better than the American variety. Recently we watched the third season of The Forgotten and the first season of Bodyguard, and both were outstanding (I buy these from Amazon UK).

I also watch a lot of vintage noir, catching up with things I have never seen that have become suddenly available (the very interesting The Man Who Cheated Himself, for example, now on Blu-ray) and revisiting things I haven’t watched in ages.

My reading tends to be in bed, for a half hour or hour before I attempt sleep (not always a successful endeavor). I usually read books about film or other aspects of pop culture, including biographies. Recently I read a good book on Randolph Scott’s key director, The Films of Budd Boetticher by Robert Knott. I also gobbled up Christmas Movies by Jeremy Arnold (a TCM book), which looks at such movies with nice little well-illustrated articles combining making-of info and critical assessment, including my favorites – It’s a Wonderful Life, the Alastair Sim Scrooge and the original Miracle on 34th Street. (I skipped certain later films that I had no interest in, like Home Alone and Little Women. Not all of the author’s selections seem like real Christmas movies to me. Die Hard?) [note from Nate: It absolutely is!]

The only novel I’ve read lately is Night of Camp David by Fletcher Knebel, co-author of Seven Days in May. I dug this out of my basement storehouse of old paperbacks when I learned it was now a collector’s item. The subject is a president of the United States who goes mad.

Now and then I read a book that serves to do more than just lull me to sleep in a pleasant way. Such a book is The Last Days of Letterman: The Final 6 Weeks. I would say it’s a book that I enjoyed more than any in my recent memory, and yet I’m not sure exactly what compelled me to pick it up.

I loved Letterman’s Late Night at NBC and am fairly sure I never missed an episode. Letterman’s wry, self-deprecating humor resonated with this Midwestern boy, and he peopled his show with guests ranging from oddball to brilliant. I could see Norm Macdonald one night and Andy Kaufmann the next. Pee Wee Herman (my pal Paul Reubens) was often a guest. Band leader Paul Shaffer, with his tongue-in-cheek show biz sensibility, was both funny and hip, an incredible musician who had hung out in Canada with SNL and SCTV stars-to-be. Dave showcased top-notch musical acts. For someone my age, this was the natural next step from Johnny Carson.

And I grew up on Carson, but also Jack Paar and even Steve Allen, the original Tonight Show host. Our house was set up with my bedroom adjacent to where my father watched television; he often fell asleep, while I couldn’t due to the blaring TV and frankly didn’t want to, because I was listening to Allen or Parr or Carson. Sometimes, knowing my dad was likely cutting zee’s, I would go out there and sit on the floor right in front of the tube and watch till he woke up and shooed me back to bed. (I learned to write dialogue listening to old Dragnet episodes that way, as if they were radio shows, and of course they had been – Jack Webb came on at midnight after Carson signed off.)

So late night TV was a part of the fabric of my life. I remember dreaming about being a Carson guest some day – he was a Midwestern boy, too – and later I hoped I might get successful enough to be invited onto Letterman’s Late Show. Didn’t happen. Well, it sort of did. Stay tuned through the rest of this essay.

The Last Days of Letterman, written by Scott Ryan, hit me surprisingly hard. I realized that Letterman, of all the great late-night hosts I’d grown up with, was the most intimately, intricately woven into the aforementioned fabric of my life. He was on air for over thirty years. And for a long time, I never missed a show, including when he moved to CBS with the Late Show. I saw it all, for a long while, from Drew Barrymore dancing topless on Dave’s desk to Stupid Human Tricks, from Darlene Love singing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” every year to Chris Elliot’s ongoing insanity. I also met Larry “Bud” Melman, Dave’s mom and her pies, Rupert Jee, Biff Henderson, and so many and so much more. For me a particularly memorable thing about Letterman and Late Show was the host’s love for Warren Zevon’s work and the way he and Zevon dealt with the latter’s oncoming death. Zevon’s advice to the rest of us is something I think of frequently, and did even before I (like Dave) had open-heart surgery: “Enjoy every sandwich.”

But at some point, probably around fifteen years ago, I started missing episodes. It began when a guest was announced – usually a sports figure – that I had no interest in. At some point politics had Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert tempting me away, now and then, and finally regularly. Things evolved into my having to know that someone I was a fan of (Elvis Costello, for example) was going to be on Letterman for me to watch. And I would tune back into Dave, and bask in the familiarity of Dave and Paul’s effortless banter, and slip back into that comfy shoe of Late Show.

Funny thing is, what made Letterman and his show so comfy was how uncomfortable Dave himself seemed. He was embarrassed by his success. He always seemed like somebody just waiting to get found out and hauled off the stage. He was anything but comfortable in his skin. In a way Johnny Carson only pretended to be, Dave Letterman was us – particularly Baby Boomer boys like myself.

The genius of Scott Ryan’s book is the writer’s decision to focus on the final six weeks of this long-running show (and, let’s face it, Late Night and Late Show were one show). It gives Ryan a framework to discuss all the frequent guests, the famous show business figures who were indebted to Dave and (to Dave’s embarrassment) loved him. Ryan can look at the Top Ten List and various other running gags and traditions, in between describing each individual episode of those last six weeks and who was on and what happened.

Because the show is coming to its conclusion, there’s a sort of suspense-novel engine at play. How will Dave handle the loss of the thing that has been his life? How will the staff around him deal with the pressures of expectation for one special episode after another? How will Letterman endure the love fest that is being flung at him and smothering him into full-throttle embarrassment? Did anyone in bigtime show business ever deal so poorly with praise?

The second stroke of genius in this fine book is Ryan’s decision to tell the story as an oral history. He gets interviews not from Dave and Paul (who would never cooperate, of course, but Ryan seems not to have bothered approaching them) but to the army those two generals commanded. We hear from the officers – directors and producers – and from the grunts – stagehands and bookers. We experience the war of those last six weeks from the trenches. And it’s fascinating. And strangely moving.

As I say, I had not been regularly watching Letterman. I didn’t see the final episode. I think I caught one or two of the shows during that last six weeks. But here’s the thing – as I read about these episodes that I had missed, they nonetheless played in my mind as if I had. I was so familiar, so much a part of the Letterman experience, that a few words could blossom in my imagination into the feeling that I had indeed seen them…or maybe I should say, knew them.

Letterman is my age, more or less. We are Midwestern boys. I’ve had a little success and am not at all embarrassed about it, though mixed in with my egotism is some of that self-deprecation that Letterman – a huge success and extremely embarrassed about it – is so successful at conveying. Again, he also had open-heart surgery. He seemed to like a lot of the same things I did – Elvis Costello, Warren Zevon, Darlene Love – and he introduced me to the pleasures of Norm Macdonald, Chris Elliott, and Amy Sedaris. He also gave us new sides of superstars like Bruce Willis, Steve Martin, Bill Murray and Tom Hanks.

Speaking of Tom Hanks.

This is the closest I ever got to being on Letterman, and frankly it was enough. Okay, almost enough. Dave made it clear, usually when Hanks was a guest but other times too, that he loved Road to Perdition. That got my attention. I talked to the TV and raised my hand like a kid in class.

“Dave! I wrote that! Not the movie, but the book – you could ask me what a graphic novel is! You could call it a ‘funny book’ and make me smile in embarrassment, because you are a Midwestern boy! And so am! Dave! I’m right here!”

As it happens, not long after, I began to leave the fold. I decided that watching talk shows (and I don’t watch any now, though I know Colbert, Fallon, Conan and others are worthwhile) was ultimately an ephemeral waste of time. I stopped watching Colbert when, at the Second City reunion, he refused to sign an autograph (I am a petty fucker). And even Stewart faded away for me, when some of his recurring players went off to have careers. I started watching a movie on DVD and later Blu-ray at night, in the talk-show time slot, wanting to catch up with old films noir and various terrible movies for which I have an inexplicable affection.

Reading The Last Days of Letterman gave the Late Show back to me. Those last six weeks, anyway. If you are or ever were a Letterman fan, you are in for a bittersweet treat.

* * *

This review of Scarface and the Untouchable has a peculiar headline, but the piece itself is fine.

Finally, here’s a great review of Kiss Her Goodbye, a Mike Hammer by Mickey and me.

M.A.C.