Posts Tagged ‘Road to Perdition’

Nathan Heller Confidential

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

Out of the blue came a lovely e-mail from Nate Heller fan Peter Roff, who is attempting to read the saga in chronological order. He had some questions for me, and I answered them. With his permission, I’m sharing them with you.

Peter writes: Not that you should care, particularly, but I’ve spent the summer re-reading what I refer to as the original Hellers – everything from True Detective through Chicago Confidential – in the order they were released.

It’s a very different thing to see Heller’s character progress and develop in the linear fashion you provide as the creator of his universe then it is to time travel through his life as I first did, having to find the books where I could online, used, and in some cases very hard to get. At onetime I despaired I would never find a copy of Million-Dollar Wound, for example.

They are, in a word, brilliant. Writing is hard enough. Developing a coherent story line even more so. But to interpose fact with conjecture and make it all believable is the work of a true artist.

I have, though, a couple of questions/comments:

1) After finishing Chicago Confidential this evening I had a singular thought: In Nate Heller’s universe, did he kill Sam Gianacana? For some reason, perhaps the solitary nature of his murder, suggests to me he did.

Well, that might have happened if Perdition and its sequels hadn’t come along. The trickiest thing was establishing (not that anyone cares) that Heller and O’Sullivan were in the same fictional universe. That was a decision I struggled with, because Perdition is looser with the facts than Heller. But Road to Purgatory seemed to me to obviously have to tackle the same material as Million-Dollar. So I chose to make them work together as a pair — fit together like a puzzle, if anybody cares.

2) Is it possible, after spending so much time building him up as a character in the second series of Hellers – the ones that begin with Bye Bye, Baby – that you will NOT have Nate tackle the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa? I ask only because it seems such a natural thing for him to be involved in some fashion but the murder (presumably) is outside the timeline you originally announced.

Where I go from here depends, quite frankly, on how long I’m around. I’m in good shape right now but the last two years were filled with nightmarish health problems that almost killed me. I went back and “picked up” Better Dead because I thought that period and the two stories that comprise it were essential to the overall saga. I’m doing Sam Sheppard next in part because it shouldn’t be as demanding as some of the bigger landscape stories. I hope to do both RFK/Hoffa (in a pair of books) and maybe some piece of Watergate. Anything after that would be filling in blanks. But I’m 69, so how much time I have left to play this game remains to be seen.

3) I have not yet read Better Dead – and am trying to decide if I want to continue reading the books in order through the fall – I’ve read them all, including the two collection of shorts – to stay within the chronology as written OR if I should read it now because, in the real world chronology, McCarthyism comes after Chicago Confidential (more or less) but before Marilyn Monroe. If you have a thought as to which direction I should take I would welcome it.

Read Better Dead. If you can do it after Confidential, that would be ideal. A proviso: I can’t guarantee consistency with a saga written over such a long period of time. Heller isn’t perfect as an old guy gathering his memories.

4) Have you considered a Ronald Reagan book. I know we differ politically BUT I have for many years had a sense there’s a mob story there to be told. His relationship to MCA, his tenure as head of the Screen Actors Guild – you touch on it all when Heller goes to Hollywood and gets close to the IATSE/Willie Bioff studio business. But, for sake of argument, follow it through – what if all the racket busting that happened during Reagan’s presidency – particularly the stuff Rudy Giuliani did to the five families in New York – wasn’t somehow, some way, an extremely sophisticated plot to disadvantage The Syndicate and its interests, perhaps even cripple it, for the benefit of The Outfit and the fellows in Chicago?

Not on my plate at the moment, but interesting. Reagan of course is in True Detective. I was never a fan of his presidency but, brother, is he looking good now. Thanks for not letting politics get in the way of reading the novels. I write the very conservative Mike Hammer, after all, and with Mickey Spillane’s blessing — and he and I weren’t exactly on the same political page…..

Peter ends with: I’ve taken up more than enough of your time. I’ll close here but not before thanking you once again for creating Nate Heller and his universe. It has provided me with hours – days really – full of enjoyment. First, through the pleasure of taking in the stories themselves, then in taking the time to delve into the actual history of the events through which he passes and, finally, to contemplate how close to the actual solution you may have come.

He also provided a link to a fascinating story about a real-life Nate Heller in the 20th Century, which puts the lie to the notion that Heller’s life as I report it is far-fetched.

* * *

Last week Barb and I took in an appearance by Bruce Campbell at the beautifully restored Englert Theater in Iowa City. It was a kind of fancy book signing, with every attendee getting a pre-signed book by Bruce, and Bruce then doing some off-the-cuff stuff before reading a funny section of his new Hail to the Chin. He followed this with taking questions from the 700 in attendance, who were clearly the kind of people who longed to have their Ash action figure signed. He gave them a wonderfully wry bad time, humiliating the dumber questions with a light touch, and as for the intelligent questioners…well, there weren’t any.

Afterward he signed one item for anyone who cared to stay and line up to do so, and Barb and I bailed. We had our signed books, and I’d met Bruce before. So we tucked our Evil Dead Season Two blu-rays and DVD of the complete Jack of All Trades away and drowned our disappointment in Pagliai’s Pizza, the best pizza in Iowa City (and the universe).

Watching Bruce Campbell deal with his very special fan base is a study in patience, good humor and genuine understanding of the importance to him of the kind of geeky fan who would bring the complete Jack of All Trades DVD for signing.

* * *

Barb was down with a cold, so I took in IT by myself (she wasn’t that interested). I am lukewarm on Stephen King but I like horror, so I went. You probably did, too. Let me get the negative out of the way, with a little positive mixed in. I read Carrie before the film came out and was mightily impressed. The Shining, too, and a couple of other things. The original films from those two novels are masterpieces, and I include the Kubrick, which nobody seems to notice is a deal-with-the-devil movie.

Anyway, IT (never read the book and didn’t see the old TV mini-series) got off to a bad start with me when an outsider girl got garbage dumped on her by mean girls. Later she would be washed in blood, which the story ties to menstrual blood. In addition to this unimaginative reworking of Carrie (right down to a Travolta-esque bully) we have a fairly lazy reworking of Stand by Me, with kids as stereotypical as the G.I.s in a 1940s war movie. And predictably all the adults in the world of these young teens are monsters – grotesques, Hieronymous Bosch figures in bad eighties clothing. But what do you expect from a guy who wrote two haunted car novels?

Still, it’s a fine line between just repeating yourself and exploring recurring themes, and King is a law unto himself. Any writer has to stand in awe of an author who is so popular that a new section of the bookstore has to be created – that’s right, there were no “horror” sections at all in bookstores before King. Of course, now there are almost no bookstores. (Steve – have you done haunted bookstore yet?)

So did I like IT? Very much. It’s heavy-handed, but I am fine with melodrama, and most horror is very much that. This is a world where fear lurks in darkness – including the almost comically under-lit homes where the teens live with their awful single parents – and each kid must face his or her biggest fear to overcome the monster that their parents may have created. Not an new idea but a deeply resonating one.

This is a beautifully crafted movie, and the kid actors are so good, they don’t seem to be acting at all. Director Andy Muschietti handles the young cast very well, though he is stronger on creepy than scary (but I did jump a couple of times). Bill Skarsgård as the evil clown is a prime example of the creep factor, his smile oozing saliva and blood lust. And any hetrosexual male who does not fall in love with actress Sophia Lillis as Beverly needs medical attention, right now.

* * *

Crusin’s third gig with new guitarist Bill Anson is our last scheduled date of the year, though if something comes in, we’ll consider it. We’ll be rehearsing once a month over the winter. Here’s a shot of us playing bike night at Ducky’s Lagoon outside Andalusia, Illinois – a lovely night till it got cold, and reminded me why I don’t try to book anything in the winter.

* * *

Here’s a lovely review from the great Bill Crider of the upcoming Quarry’s Climax.

And check out this interesting take on A Killing in Comics. The reviewer suggests that I should be more successful and better known than Michael Chabon, and who I am to argue?

M.A.C.

Goodbye, Jerry; Hello, Nashville

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

I already did a brief post on Facebook about the passing of Jerry Lewis. I predicted that along with the tributes there would lots of snark, as some people feel the right moment to dis somebody is right after that person dies.

I understand Lewis was both a complicated man and an inconsistent artist. My late friend Bruce Peters used to say, “The only thing funnier than Jerry Lewis at his best is Jerry Lewis at his worst.” And there’s some truth in that. He could be such a putz when he got in self-trained intellectual mode on talk shows (Martin Short, a fellow Lewis lover, could nail that perfectly). He could be notoriously thin-skinned with interviewers and he indulged in outrageously politically incorrect humor right to the end – Barb, Nate, Abby and I saw him in St. Louis not long ago, and he told an Asian joke that was in terrible taste (but I laughed at it, because at 69 I already understand what it is to be of another era and feel the urge to make your own generation smile and younger people squirm).

But I wasn’t always 69. Once I was six, and seven, and eight, and all the ages along the way through junior and senior high school, years when at the Uptown Theater in Muscatine, Iowa, I saw every movie Jerry made. I saw many of Dean and Jerry’s movies that way, too, but also saw them tear it up on TV, manic magic as performed by no other comedy team in history. Nobody could make me laugh harder, and I still find Dean and Jerry a perfectly mismatched pair. I remember seeing Pardners and being so relieved that Dean and Jerry were obviously still pals and partners and, despite what we’d been told, would never ever split. Right up till the day Dean Martin died I was hoping for a genuine reunion of the two. They were, as I said elsewhere, the comedy Beatles.

Jerry could be cloyingly sentimental in his films. This made some otherwise interesting movies – Cinderfella, for example – occasionally unbearable. And he had a thing for clowns that misses me entirely. On the other hand, his infamous unreleased The Day the Clown Cried seems pretty good to me, based upon the clips and readings from the script that were assembled a while back, despite its legendary reputation as an embarrassing disaster. A guy who could be as overbearing as Jerry, and who represented show business at its most phony/traditional, made a great target for smug people of my generation who turned on the whole Rat Pack crowd as part of our general anti-Establishment stance.

It was easy for us to forget that Jerry was an anarchic presence in a dull decade, he and Dean perhaps the first sign of the rebellion that was to come, a bridling against the cookie-cutter post-war world that would soon know Brando and James Dean. Like Elvis and Spillane, Jerry Lewis – and in his way, Dino, too – were rebels serving up gleeful chaos even as they let us know that all was not calm beneath the pablum-paved Arthur Godfrey surface of ‘50s America.

And when the sixties kicked in – really kicked in – it was tough on Jerry. He famously considered his screen persona to be eternally nine years old, and this worked for a long, long time, because of his naturally youthful looks. But when the hippie era asserted its glassy-eyed self, and the sexual revolution changed movies, he started looking like a guy approaching middle age, and his brand of traditional show biz was soon attracting derision from the Baby Boomers who had loved him. He started making some truly dreadful movies with sex farce aspects – Three on a Couch, for example, and Way…Way Out.

And when he took on the Nazis in Which Way to the Front? (not long after Mel Brooks and The Producers), his comic timing seemed oddly off – as a director, his usual mastery of cutting was absent. And yet there are very funny moments toward the end of that generally dire film – Hitler has never been funnier, not even when Dick Shawn was playing him. Jerry’s willingness to do whatever it took to get a laugh would, even in those misjudged circumstances, shine through. Even his comeback comedy, Hardly Working, for all its sketchiness and awkward product placement, had sublime moments of Lewis hysteria, as when a porthole in an art gallery issues gushing water, with Jerry breaking the fourth wall to ask us if we’d seen that, too.

I always watched the telethons selectively. I wanted to see the parts where Jerry himself was performing or interacting with guests. (I saw the Dean Martin reunion, orchestrated by Sinatra, as it happened.) And I sat through Jerry’s excruciating yet strangely thrilling performance of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” at least a dozen times.

So, yes, he was not perfect. But I’m here to tell you that he will join the pantheon of great screen comics. He’ll rank with W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers, Chaplin, and Keaton. He’s already outdistanced such contenders as Danny Kaye and Red Skelton (meaning no disrespect to either – I am a guy who adores the Ritz Brothers, after all). I hope Abbott and Costello will last, and Bob Hope, too (his pre-1960s comedies and the Road pictures with Crosby remain hugely entertaining). The Stooges seem impervious, which for Baby Boomers is a sweet surprise, though when we’re gone that may not continue. But I don’t think there’s any doubt that the best of Jerry Lewis will endure.

Like what, you ask?

Well, while the Martin & Lewis films don’t always capture the boys at their best, a handful do – Artists and Models (the comic book movie), Sailor Beware, You’re Never Too Young, The Caddy, Living It Up, The Stooge, Hollywood or Bust and Pardners. That’s quite a few, actually.

For Jerry at the top of his game, try The Nutty Professor, The Ladies’ Man, The Bellboy, The Patsy, and The Errand Boy, all of which he directed and co-wrote. His collaborations with Frank Tashlin are mostly worthwhile: It’s Only Money, The Disorderly Orderly, and Who’s Minding the Store among them. And of course there’s The King of Comedy.

Fanatics, like myself, have everything of Jerry’s on DVD and Blu-ray – including things you can only acquire from overseas. I even have bootlegs of the two (terrible) movies he made in France.

Nonetheless, France was right: he was a genius. Not everything I’ve said here is flattering about him, but make no mistake – I loved this man and his work. For probably twenty years I’ve dreaded the day when I would learn of his passing. I knew part of me would die with him.

So I’ll be as cloyingly sentimental as Jerry and say that he won’t be gone as long as his films are with us, including moments like this:

* * *

I am a guest of honor at Killer Nashville this weekend (Aug. 24 -27). Barb will be along, and we’ll be very active, doing scads of panels. It’s our first time at this event.

I’m receiving a life achievement “Legends” award – read about it here.

Here’s where you can get more general info about the conference/convention.

And here are the panels one or both of us are on:

Friday, Aug 25
2:20pm panel: M.A.C. Bad Boys and Girls (Hickory 20)
4:40pm signing: M.A.C.
5pm Author Readings (Birch MM)

Saturday, Aug. 26
12:30pm Road to Perdition interview; M.A.C. (Birch 34)
2pm panel: Barb; How to Write Cozy Mystery Series (Hickory 37)
3pm panel: M.A.C./Barb; Art of Collaboration (Sycamore 43)
5:10pm signing; M.A.C./Barb (Azalea S8)
7pm Awards Dinner (Birch KNA)

Sun. Aug 27
9:50am panel; M.A.C. Writing the Scene (Sycamore 49)
9:50am panel; Barb One Night: Lovers, Minor Characters (Redbud 50)
10:50am panel; Barb That’s Funny (Sycamore 54)

I have been in Nashville twice before. In 1967, to record “Psychedelic Siren” with the Daybreakers. And in 1994, to scout locations for The Expert with director Bill Lustig.

* * *

Take a look at these nice comments about Scar of the Bat, my Eliot Ness/Batman Elseworlds graphic novel, with a suggestion that it should be animated.

This nice look at Road to Perdition is, as usual, based on its being derived from a comics source.

Finally, here’s a nice review of The Pearl Harbor Murders (actually of Dan John Miller’s audio of it) with an overview of the entire “Disaster” series.

M.A.C.

Goings and Comings

Tuesday, August 15th, 2017

Dick Locher passed away last week.

As many of you know, I worked with Dick from 1983 until 1992, having taken over the writing of the Dick Tracy strip from Chester Gould in 1977, working first with Chet’s last assistant, Rick Fletcher. My relationship with Fletcher was occasionally rocky, due to my continuing friendship with Chet after Rick fell out with his former boss and father figure. But we did some very good work together.

I felt privileged to work with Locher, another former Gould assistant – one who went on to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist. Our relationship was generally a positive one, and we were friendly, though never really close. We lost contact when I was fired from the strip and I was somewhat resentful that he had not gone to bat for me. In my incredibly biased opinion, the strip under Dick never recovered from my exit.

A few years ago I joined Dick at Woodstock, Illinois (Gould’s home city), for the screening of a Tracy documentary we were both a part of. We re-bonded very nicely and any bumps in our past road was smoothed. It became clear he was equally unhappy with the editor who’d fired me, but as a company man he’d kept that to himself. We stayed in touch and exchanged e-mails, artwork and books. It was a nice way for our collaboration to evolve into a professional friendship.

The Tribune did a nice write-up about him, but I’m too petty to give you a link, because the Trib has conveniently written me out of Dick Tracy’s history. So I’ll give you this nice link instead.

Here’s one last fond fedora tip to my partner Dick Locher.

* * *

I think I’ve quoted this before, but where Tracy is concerned I often recall what Dean Martin reportedly said about Jerry Lewis: “The two best things that ever happened to me were meeting Jerry Lewis, and splitting with Jerry Lewis.”

I hated getting fired off Dick Tracy. I felt I had revitalized the strip. Friends, like Mike Gold, told me I should only do ten years, since it wasn’t my creation, and Chet Gould himself advised me not to let Tracy dominate my career, since he would always be the creator.

But Tracy was my childhood obsession and I would be still be writing it, had I not been fired by an editor who despised me almost as much as I despised him.

And yet, just as getting Tracy was the best thing that happened in my early career, losing it was the other “best thing.” Road to Perdition came about because I was scrambling to find a new comics project. The dust had barely settled on my Tracy firing when Andrew Helfer approached me to create a noir graphic novel for DC. Off the top of my head I pitched Gun and Son (which became Perdition), combining my love for Lone Wolf and Cub with the real-life story of John and Connor Looney and a betrayed lieutenant in Rock Island’s mob scene of the early 20th Century. The latter had been something I ran across researching my novel True Detective but couldn’t find a way to use, except in passing.

The rest, as they say, is history. No Tracy firing, almost certainly no Road to Perdition. For a lot of years, the famous thing I was known for was Tracy. Now the strip has receded into something of an interesting footnote and “author of Road to Perdition” is the famous thing.

I am leading up here to a wonderful review by that talented writer Ron Fortier about my prose novel version of Road to Perdition. You need to read this review, and if you have not yet purchased for your reading pleasure and edification the Brash Books edition of the complete version of the novel, what are you waiting for?

* * *

Yesterday Crusin’ performed for a late afternoon concert on the patio at Pearl City Plaza in Muscatine.

It could have been a nightmare. A couple of weeks ago our guitarist walked out on the band at rehearsal and I had a very limited time to decide whether to cancel our remaining two gigs of the year, or find a replacement.

My way is not to roll over and die, however, and with the recommendation of our drummer, Steve Kundel, I approached a well-known area musician, Bill Anson, to fill in. We rehearsed four times, one of them a marathon session, and Bill proved to be a great guy as well as a skilled, gifted guitarist/singer. What we do is not really his genre of choice, but I am hopeful he will stick around for a while. (I have offered him the position of Permanent Temporary Guitarist, perhaps channeling “Permanent Latrine Orderly” from No Time for Sergeants.)

How did the gig go? The audience was large and appreciative, and while there were occasional train wrecks, there were also no fatalities, and I can say in all honesty I haven’t had a better, looser time on a band job in years.

Thanks, Bill. And thanks to Brian Van Winkle, our bassist extraordinaire, for sticking with us in a sticky personal situation.

We play at least one more time this year, at Ardon Creek Winery on September 1, 6 to 9 pm. It’s a wonderful outdoor venue. Check it out, if you’re in the area.

* * *

Here’s a lovely piece on the Quarry TV series.

Here’s a nice write-up on the new Bibliomysteries collection that includes “It’s in the Book” by Mickey and me – my favorite of the Hammer short stories.

Scroll down and read nice things about the forthcoming Quarry’s Climax.

M.A.C.

Browsing at B & N

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

Remember a few weeks ago when I encouraged everyone to buy books at their favorite brick-and-mortar store? By this I wasn’t suggesting that you find a store where you can buy brick and mortar. Rather, I was hoping you would not spend all of your money online, hastening the death of retail.

One of the bookstores I encouraged you to frequent was Barnes & Noble. With Borders gone, and some communities having no indie bookstore, B & N is about all that’s still standing. We have a BAM! (Books-a-Million) in nearby Davenport, and I trade there a lot. If you’re a member of their frequent buyer club, you get a discount coupon for at least $5 on a $25 purchase every week. Nice store.

Barnes & Noble is good about giving members of their club 20%-off-a-single-item coupons frequently. These are nice little surprises in the snail mail every couple of months. Such things take the sting out of buying a book or blu-ray at a price higher than the online option. B & N is weird in that department, by the way – they are routinely cheaper online, and the stores don’t (or won’t or can’t afford to) match their own online price.

A bigger problem is that B & N corporate has made some decisions about their brick-and-mortars that are not helping the whole decline of retail thing. And now a personal story. (Warning: I’ve told better ones.)

I tend to work six days a week and take one unashamed day off. But when I am really swamped, as I have been lately, Barb and I will take half-days off, usually a morning where we drive to the nearby Quad Cities, have breakfast or an early lunch, shop at BAM! and B & N (that’s where I go – Barb usually has other retail destinations), and are back very early afternoon for more work. Such is our devotion to our readers. And the bill collectors.

On my last two trips to the Davenport Barnes & Noble – a lovely, big store with very nice and often knowledgeable staff – I have had several of those 20% off coupons burning a hole in my billfold. Now I am about as hard to get money out of at a bookstore as convincing a sailor on leave that debauchery is worth paying for.

And twice I have spent not a dime.

Here’s the problem. Barnes & Noble has been rearranging their stores in a fashion that indicates either (a) someone is secretly trying to end the brick-and-mortar aspect of their business, or (b) is desperately trying to get fired. For some years, B & N has had – in each section (Mystery, Biography, what have you) – a display at the head of that section that showcases new titles, face out. The corporate genius in question has decided to instead salt those new titles through the existing stock. Occasionally the new titles are face out, and of course the bestseller type books sit out on various new releases tables.

But for the most part, as a shopper, you either have to have the patience to sort through everything in a section to find new titles, or know exactly what you’re looking for. In the latter case, it’s obviously easier to do that online.

Someone clearly doesn’t understand the shopping experience. Someone associated with bookselling actually doesn’t seem familiar with the term “browsing.”

If searching within a section (Science Fiction, Humor, whatever) isn’t enough to frustrate you, might I suggest the B & N blu-ray/DVD/CD section? (Not all B & Ns have those, but many do.) To further make your shopping experience a Bataan Death March chore, B & N has abandoned individual sections to put all CDs (except classical) together, alphabetically. So you can pick up both the Sid Vicious and Frank Sinatra versions of “My Way” in the same area, if you know your alphabet.

For a blu-ray collector like me, the best (and by that I mean “worst”) is yet to come. The blu-ray section is no more. Instead, a massive section combining DVDs and blu-rays now awaits your browsing pleasure (I also don’t really mean “pleasure”) (sarcasm is fun). Blu-ray buyers tend to be snobs – they avoid DVD unless absolutely necessary. I’m not sure my son buys any DVDs any more. And I would under no circumstances buy a DVD of something available on blu-ray.

Also, the new release blu-rays were formerly displayed on a little shelf above the bins. No more. End caps and other displays may showcase new titles, but again blu-rays and DVDs are mixed.

This may in part reflect the cutting back on help in that section of the B & N stores. With no one to ask, “May I help you,” there are fewer places to look. If you know your alphabet, you’re in business! Hope you have plenty of time on your hands and don’t have to get home to entertain America with your fiction.

What these new policies at B & N are doing is discouraging the brick-and-mortar shopping experience. It’s now not only cheaper and easier to shop online, it’s no longer less fun. By which I mean, it’s more fun.

I still encourage you to shop at B & N, but also to politely complain about the new user-unfriendly sections throughout their stores. If I can go there twice on shopping expedition and return with my 20% off coupons still tucked away, something is seriously, seriously wrong.

* * *

Here’s a nice Jon Breen EQMM review of A Long Time Dead. Jon doesn’t really like Mickey Spillane, but he likes me. Watch him deal with that. (Answer to his question: Collins.)

This is an article on the newly turned-up photographic evidence that supports my Amelia Earhart theory as expressed in Flying Blind – back in 1999! That book is mentioned in the comments.

Here’s yet another of those write-ups about movies you didn’t know were from graphic novels, with Road to Perdition nicely mentioned.

Finally, here’s a lovely review of Quarry’s Vote.

M.A.C.