Posts Tagged ‘Road to Perdition’

The Happy Together Tour

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015
Happy Together Tour

Saturday evening, Barb and I went to see this year’s edition of the Happy Together Tour, mounted as always by Flo and Eddie of the Turtles. The acts on the bill were the Buckinghams, the Cowsills, the Grass Roots, the Association, Mark Lindsay, and of course the Turtles. My band the Daybreakers opened for the Buckinghams in the late ‘60s, and my ongoing band, Crusin’, opened for the Grass Roots and Turtles twice. So I was really curious and pumped to see the concert.

The Association were the big draw for Barb and me, because they were a shared favorite band going back to the earliest days of our going together. We’ve seen them over the years in concert probably six or seven times.

The show was a good one, the format including a top-notch band that travels with the tour and backs up two or three members of the original groups. This works out better in some cases than others. The Buckinghams had two original members but not the distinctive lead singer, Dennis Tufano. Of course, what I remember vividly when we played with the Buckinghams was how skillfully the keyboard player could mimic Tufano’s voice.

The venue, at Riverside Casino (in Riverside, Iowa, eventual birthplace of James T. Kirk), was at times not helpful. The casino/resort is most impressive, and Crusin’ has played their lounge four times, and that’s a wonderful venue. But concerts are held in an “event center” (i.e., ballroom) and not a theater, so you’re in chairs close together on one level (the size of most Baby Boomers makes that a real drawback). The acoustics were, shall we say, problematic. The Buckinghams, opening the concert, first, delivered vocals barely heard.

Later, the Grass Roots – minus late lead singer, Rob Grill – suffered similar vocal problems, specifically a lead singer difficult to hear who was not really the band’s lead singer.

The Association, represented by three members (two of them Jim Yester and Jules Alexander, both founding members and incredible talents), did well, in part thanks to the vocal skills of their back-up band. But even they suffered because most of their big hits were sung by Russ Giguere, who has apparently retired from touring.

Still, the show was very entertaining and fast-moving, with scant time between “bands” (really, just bringing out the two or three original members of each group, sharing the tour band), with everybody limited to five songs. And that meant the really big hits.

Very strong was Mark Lindsay, doing mostly Paul Revere stuff (“Kicks” was outstanding), still handsome, energetic, a real rock star prowling the stage. And of course the Turtles were wonderful, if at times too hip for the room. They are extremely loose and funny and off-the-wall, and yet still touch the required bases of their hits.

I got to know Flo and Eddie – Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan – a little bit when we opened for them in what must have been an early version of their Happy Together tour that included Crusin’ on the Moline, Illinois, bill. We shared a green room (a tent – it was an outdoor concert) with them, and both were friendly and down-to-earth. When they learned I was the writer of DICK TRACY – this was around 1986, I’m guessing – both were impressed. Mark called me a few times to discuss the possibility of us doing a mystery novel together, but it never went anywhere. I doubt he remembers me.

My group of poker-playing guys in high school loved the Turtles, loved their first album – they were a scruffier rock group pre-“Happy Together,” with “It Ain’t Me Babe” and “Let Me Be.” But we always wondered, seeing the group lip sync on “Where the Action Is” and other such shows, what the hell Volman’s function was. He was just this curly-haired pudgy guy who played tambourine. What was that about?

Then, around 1967, I saw them in concert. Good lord, Volman was the best showman I ever saw on a rock stage, bounding around, doing crazy tricks with his tambourine, and singing perfect harmony with Kaylan in a voice that mirrored the lead singer. Like the Buckinghams, the Turtles made use of vocal similarity to great effect.

But Volman’s function appeared to be to disguise the stiffness of great singer Kaylan, who just stood there, as if frozen with stage fright. So back in ‘67, I went in wondering why they kept the apparently useless Volman around, and came out realizing he was one of the two essential members – as the continued partnership of Volman and Kaylan demonstrates.

And over the years Kaylan has turned into just as loose and wild an entertainer as Volman, the opposite of stiff. I appreciate the way they taunt and to a degree make fun of an audience, which was always the style of Crusin’, although not everyone appreciates that.

But the real surprise was the Cowsills.

I never really cared for them. I knew they sang and played well, but the whole family-as-a-rock-act-that-included-mom-and-a-seven-year-old-sister thing turned my rock and roller’s stomach, as I’m sure it did many other such stomachs. The group inspired the Partridge Family (“inspired” being a euphemism for “got screwed over by the creators and producers of”) and after four or five monster hits, dropped off the charts and eventually disbanded.

When I told Barb about this concert, the one downside was that the Cowsills were on the bill. We both made superior-human “yucchs” from the very start. Now here’s the punchline.

They killed.

Bob, Paul and Susan Cowsill were the outstanding act of the night. Even the poor acoustics didn’t touch them. Their vocals were loud and strong and as beautifully harmonic as Abba at its best, only punchy. They were funny and fluid and had a wonderful time. I went in a detractor and came out a Cowsills fan.

(My Turtles and Cowsills stories demonstrate just how much you can change your mind about a rock act when you’ve seen them in concert. It can also work in the reverse, lowering you opinion drastically.)

At the merch table (isn’t “merch” a shitty slang word?) I bought a DVD of the documentary on the Cowsills, which I’d heard was good. Additionally, it was signed by the band, and I am a sucker for signed stuff. I watched it last night and it’s excellent. Spoiler alert: their Dad was an evil asshole.

Seeing what a rough ride these kids from a seemingly idyllic background suffered over the decades made it even more impressive that the two Cowsills brothers and their sister delivered such an energetic, joyful performance. It indicated the healing powers of rock ‘n’ roll. It may be temporary healing, lasting only as long as a gig lasts, but we’ll take what we can get.

* * *

Today I hope to write the final chapter of the new Mike Hammer, DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU.

In the meantime, check out some interesting stuff on the Net pertaining to my favorite subject (me).

I am honored and thrilled that J. Kingston Pierce, among the best and most important reviewers in contemporary mystery fiction, has singled out Nate Heller as his favorite character. Check it out here.

Here’s a swell review of THE TITANIC MURDERS.

Col’s Criminal Library continues its march through the Nolan series with this terrific write-up on HARD CASH.

Here’s another of those “movies you didn’t know came from a comic book” pieces featuring ROAD TO PERDITION.

Finally, here’s top scribe Ron Fortier’s nice review of the Dover reprint of STRIP FOR MURDER.

M.A.C.

Antiques Swap — Collect it!

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015
Antiques Swap
Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Google Play Nook Kobo iTunes

The latest entry in the Trash ‘n’ Treasures series (usually referred to as the ANTIQUES series) hit the bookstores last week. Barb and I (the co-authors, as “Barbara Allan”) spotted ANTIQUES SWAP nicely displayed in the Davenport Barnes and Noble.

This one begins at a swap meet but actually touches upon other, more risque meanings of “swap,” in a plotline we feared might be frowned upon by our editor, though we got away it. Cozies are supposed to be…cozy. The murders are supposed to be…nice. But for all the humor we put into the books – and we put a lot in – we try not to take homicide too lightly.

We also realize that our audience may include some readers – possibly you – who don’t regularly read cozy mysteries. After all, the great reviewer Jon Breen has called us a “subversive” take on the form, which he meant as a compliment. When we created the series, and were asked to include certain elements (exotic setting, cute pet, gimmick premise), we did so in an overtly tongue-in-cheek way that we thought would get us rejected.

Obviously we weren’t.

By the way, neither of us love the term “cozy,” and I suspect a lot of mystery writers feel that way. But the term seems to be the reigning one, much as “noir” has supplanted “hardboiled.” Cozy mysteries are more properly called “traditional.”

Ours are definitely in a sub-genre of comic mysteries. We don’t, however, consider ourselves to be spoofing the form or doing satire. Just as we take the murders in the stories seriously, we take our two main characters seriously and follow them through problems and challenges in their lives. Vivian Borne, Serenity’s theatrical diva, may seem larger-than-life, but I’ve met her at various times in various forms. You probably have, too.

Of everything I work on, the ANTIQUES series is the one that maintains the most constant presence. That’s largely because Barb spends almost all of her writing time on it. Of late we’ve been doing a novel and a novella every year, and that keeps her in production all but a few months in the summer. So we’re discussing the stories pretty much year-round.

Also, the nature of the book business is that once you’ve “finished” a book, you’ve just begun – a copy-edited manuscript will roll in unannounced for you to check through (and we both have to do that), and then galley proofs (which we both have to deal with). These never arrive at a good time, and always are due yesterday.

Barb and I had barely finished next year’s ANTIQUES FATE when the upcoming novella, ANTIQUES ST. NICKED, arrived in galley proof form. She’s gone through it already. I haven’t yet.

In the meantime, I continue work on THE BIG SHOWDOWN, the sequel to the current THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK. I admit to feeling something of an imposter, as I have read precious few western novels in my time. On the other hand, I love movie westerns and have a huge collection of them on DVD and Blu-ray. I’ve said here many times that MAVERICK was my favorite show in childhood (and still ranks high) and that the episode “Shady Deal at Sunny Acres” is the greatest hour of episodic television ever…an opinion that hasn’t changed.

While working on CALEB, I have subjected Barb to a festival of western movies…but “subjected” really isn’t right, because loves western movies, too. Right now we’re in the midst of a Joel McCrea festival. I rank McCrea in the upper reaches – in the top five western stars (John Wayne, Randolph Scott, Audie Murphy and Gary Cooper being the others). Regular readers of mine know I am an Italian western fan, since Nolan was largely based on Lee Van Cleef’s screen persona in those films.

What I find really difficult in the CALEB YORK novels is balancing the myth with the real west. Despite my reputation for historical accuracy with the Nathan Heller novels, I am much more interested in the mythic west than the real thing.

THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK seems to be a little tough to find in bookstores, so I recommend you order it online. It’s already in a second printing.

Incidentally, while writing ANTIQUES FATE – which touches upon the British school of mystery writer – we spent our evenings in a festival of UK crime fare, leaning heavily on MIDSOMER MURDERS and the new Blu-rays of the great Joan Hickson as MISS MARPLE.

* * *

This terrific ANTIQUES SWAP review just came in from one of our favorite writers (and favorite people), Bill Crider.

My writer pal Ed Gorman used this review of the Dover reprint of STRIP FOR MURDER at his terrific blog.

The QUARRY series gets great play in this article about Memphis trying to lure the series back there (it’s shooting in New Orleans currently with limited Memphis footage scheduled to be shot later).

A recurring cast member has been added to the QUARRY series.

Here’s another of those articles about movies you didn’t know were based on comics, with ROAD TO PERDITION included. But either I am getting very old or the world is getting very young when such movies include ANNIE and THE ADDAMS FAMILY (!!!).

And finally, of all things, here’s a review of the audio of DEAD STREET, the first Spillane novel I completed (though I took only limited credit for my polish and concluding chapters).

M.A.C.

Quarry & Mike Hammer News

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

The New Orleans Times-Picayune interviewed me recently and if you will follow this link, you’ll find pictures from the set of the Cinemax QUARRY TV series as well as a three-part interview with me that is the most in-depth look at Quarry and his creation that I’ve ever provided.

I admit I was shocked that they used my entire interview – I had thought I was being interviewed for background on a broader piece, and expected a handful of things I said to be used as “pull” quotes. But they ran the whole thing, which is great, although occasionally I seem to be speaking English as a second (or perhaps third) language.

I THE JURY 82

For Mike Hammer fans, there’s good news – the under-rated Armand Assante I, THE JURY has received its first (albeit no frills) DVD release in America. I would have much preferred a Blu-ray with special features (like a commentary from yours truly), but we take what we can get.

For years what I had was a Japanese laser-disc that blurred all the sexy bits, and there’s a lot of ‘em. This is a made-on-demand DVD from Fox Cinema Archives and can be found at Amazon and elsewhere for around twenty bucks. Some people are gun-shy about MOD DVD’s, but I have tons of ‘em and have never had a problem. One proviso: While the DVD is in my house as I type this, I have yet to break the shrink wrap and screen it. If I’m disappointed in the transfer, I’ll let you know next week. [Note from Nate: Amazon instant video also has it in HD.]

Mickey did not like this version of I, THE JURY, but I am a fan. I would put it in the upper tier of Spillane films, probably in this order: KISS ME DEADLY; I, THE JURY (‘53) and THE GIRL HUNTERS (a tie for second place); and the I, THE JURY remake with Assante. The latter was a hard movie to see back in ‘82. Terry Beatty and I drove to a Chicago suburb to see it (returning the same night).

Here’s a brief excerpt on the I, THE JURY remake from MICKEY SPILLANE ON SCREEN by Jim Traylor and myself:

Assante’s performance has a psychotic edge that makes his Hammer, updated or not, the definitive screen portrayal to date of the young Mike Hammer. Somewhere in there with the Brando and Stallone bits is a sense of the Mick himself: Assante has watched Spillane, obviously, and has the bantam walk down pat – as with Biff Elliot and Spillane, Assante confirms that a small, broad-chested Hammer has a bulldog rather than bully quality needed for character empathy in the page-to-screen transfer of the brawling hero.

The Assante Hammer is outraged; he’s prepared to risk anything for his goal, because his Hammer simply does not give a damn; if he dies in the course of his quest, so be it – “You take life too serious,” he advises several terrified unwilling participants in his various war games. Another time he tells Charlotte that he “may take a few suspects out along the way – I’m not perfect.” Dat’s Mike Hammer, ‘80s style.

Predictably, Spillane despised the film; most of his objections stemmed from (Larry) Cohen’s script, understandably displeased that his straightforward detective plot had been abandoned. He reserved his most dismissive comment for Assante: “He wore Italian heels,” as if this were enough to invalidate the film.

Even the update’s most obviously strong point did not impress Spillane – he dismissed the portrayal of Velda as “a preppie.” If so, this is a pistol-packing preppie, who likely shot the alligator on her shirt.

Very proud of that book, by the way. I believe it’s sold under 100 copies, and I wish I were kidding. If you like Hammer/Spillane, don’t be put off by the high price.

Elsewhere on the Hammer front, KILL ME, DARLING seems to be very well-received, but we could really use some more Amazon reviews. Last time I looked we only have five. I realize this is a very old song I’m singing, but if you like a book, if you like an author, take time to post at least a brief one or two sentence review and a nice high-star rating, to boost them. I speak mostly of myself here, obviously, but you really should be doing this for any author whose work you like.

Today (Monday as I write this), Barb and I will dig in on the first of two-days work on prepping ANTIQUES FATE for Kensington. I finished my draft on Friday, and we took Saturday off, meeting my research associate George Hagenauer for lunch at a great Italian restaurant in Dubuque called Vinnie Venucchi’s. Among other things, George and I (with Barb kibitzing) discussed the next Heller. The rest of the day Barb and I spent in that cool tourist trap Galena, where I was able to pick up the last two Richard Bissell books I needed at a used bookstore (Bissell wrote 7 ½ Cents, the basis for the musical Pajama Game, and is my favorite Iowa author other than Barb and me) (and Ed Gorman).

Sunday I did a draft of the pilot outline for the TV project that I can’t talk about yet.

So, anyway, today I will be reading the ANTIQUES FATE manuscript and making corrections and revisions in red pen, and Barb will be entering those and tweaking as she goes. For those keeping count, this is the third novel I’ve finished this year (two of them collaborative, of course). Actually, I finished four novels this year, but the Heller novel, BETTER DEAD, was completed early in January on the heels of several months of writing last year.

* * *

Here’s a very nice review of KILL ME, DARLING.

And finally here’s a graphic novels to film piece that highlights ROAD TO PERDITION.

M.A.C.

Road to Pernicious

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

A while back, I commented on JOHN WICK and how I thought I detected my fingerprints on it. Didn’t bother me, and (unless I was just being typically self-deluded) I even felt a little flattered. It’s nice to move out of the “being-influenced” category and into the “influence” one.

But I had a very different reaction to RUN ALL NIGHT, the Liam Neeson crime drama that co-stars Joel Kinnaman (of the American KILLING), whose presence is what got Barb and me there, since we are both fans of that series and in particular Kinnaman’s work. This is where I would normally give you a review, but I wasn’t able to tell much about the movie, other than the direction was distractingly flashy and that Ed Harris delivered another one of his strange over-acting and under-acting at the same time performances. Neeson was just doing his patented middle-aged-good-guy-who’s-depressed-he’s-been-a-killer-most-of-his-life turns.

Why I can’t discuss this film rationally is because it lifts so outrageously and shamelessly from both the film and graphic novel of ROAD TO PERDITION. There are differences – Kinnamon plays a grown son with a killer father, with whom he’s fallen out because daddy used to kill people…oh, and it’s present day. But almost every major story beat is PERDITION. Neeson is Michael O’Sullivan, Kinnamon is Michael O’Sullivan, Jr. (even named Michael!), Ed Harris is Paul Newman, and the conflict initiates when an innocent kid witnesses a vicious murder by Harris’ homicidal worthless son. The critics haven’t noticed this blatant borrowing (that I know of), but Barb and I picked up on it almost immediately. Maybe ten minutes in, I said to her, “I guess this is kind of a compliment, but it seems wrong that I should have to pay to see this.”

Barb would lean over and point out the parallels: “Now they’re doing the church scene,” “This is Newman calling Jude Law,” “This is Jude Law getting his face messed up so he can appear later ravaged-looking” (which he does – at a cabin on a lake, in the fucking kitchen!).

Some scenes from the graphic novel appear that weren’t in the Sam Mendes film – including one that I wish had been included, where Michael O’Sullivan takes a meeting with the top gangster (here Ed Harris as an amalgam of Looney/Rooney and Frank Nitti) in their stronghold and then shoots his way out.

Much of what I did in ROAD TO PERDITION drew upon novels and books I read as a kid and of course John Woo and LONE WOLF AND CUB (though there’s more Richard Stark in there than anything Japanese). There’s also some GUN CRAZY and BONNIE & CLYDE, because I wanted to merge the classic gangster story with the outlaw saga. My own Quarry was in the mix, and Nolan and Jon, and even MOMMY. But I didn’t lift, not even from myself. I wasn’t lazy. I put together something of my own, or at least I think I did.

I’m not shouting plagiarism, understand. But I am crying shamelessly lazy screenwriting that is an even bigger insult to the audience than it is to me.

* * *

Here’s a write-up that appeared on Mickey Spillane’s birthday a week ago, with a brief review of KILL ME, DARLING.

And if you scroll down to the bottom review here, you’ll find a nice one on KILL ME, DARLING (amusing referred to, at one point, as KILL ME, DEADLY).

M.A.C.