Posts Tagged ‘Target Lancer’

Better Dead

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016
Better Dead

Hardcover:
E-Book: Amazon Nook Kobo

The first Nathan Heller novel in three years, BETTER DEAD takes a step back in time from the JFK Trilogy (BYE BYE, BABY; TARGET LANCER; ASK NOT) to deal with the events of the Red Scare-era 1950s.

This book has been coming for a long time. It’s one of the projects that got set aside when it came time for Heller to make a comeback after about a decade away. To get Heller back out there, I proposed the Kennedy trio, a good bet for a sale because of the high-profile nature of the material; a trilogy with Marilyn Monroe, Jack Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy was appealing. But it meant skipping several things I had planned to do, including a Robert Kennedy/Jimmy Hoffa book that I hope eventually to get around to.

With BETTER DEAD, the tricky thing is that I have two cases for Nate to deal with. Neither seemed right for a single book, but together – with the shared era and a number of common characters beyond Heller himself – the whole just might exceed the sum of its parts.

Joe McCarthy is one of the characters – and factors – that joins the two stories: the Rosenberg “atom spies” case, and the Frank Olson murder. The latter has to do with the Army scientist who was dosed with LSD at a CIA retreat, which had unfortunate results.

Heller is working on the East Coast exclusively this time around – he’s just opened a branch office in the Empire State Building – which puts him right in the heart of Mike Hammer’s world circa 1953. Heller has always had things in common with Hammer, but this time – in this setting – those commonalities come out more prominently. In fact, as the guy completing the Hammer stories from Spillane’s files, I several times questioned whether I’d slipped out of Heller territory and into Hammer. And is that a bad thing? Certainly wouldn’t be the first time.

On the other hand, Heller’s victories can never be as complete as Hammer’s.

Others in the cast include Bettie Page, Dashiell Hammett, Roy Cohn, Bobby Kennedy, and Sidney Gottlieb (the CIA’s Dr. Feelbad).

It’s a wild one. Watch for it May 3rd.

– – –

Check out this cool QUARRY’S LIST review.

MURDER NEVER KNOCKS is a Pierce’s Pick this week!

Here’s a nice review of QUARRY’S DEAL.

And here’s a somewhat late-in-the-game review of DEAD STREET.

M.A.C.

Swap Talk & Bobby Darin

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Just hours ago, I shipped ANTIQUES SWAP off to our editor at Kensington. I say “shipped” out of habit – these days, there’s no rush to make it to a Fed-Ex drop to actually post packages. How many times did Barb and I work all day on final corrections, hoping to make it to the P.O., Fed Ex or UPS on time?

Hitting “send” is somehow not as satisfying as handing a clerk a package or shoving that package into the Fed Ex box. But I would never go back.

Barb and I spent a long day doing the final tweaks and corrections. Our standard operating procedure is that I read and revise a hard copy, using a red pen so that the corrections jump out, and she enters them. This is not just for “Barbara Allan” books, but everything of mine that’s book length.

I’m always afraid that, on the read-through, a novel isn’t going to hang together – as I go, I focus on one chapter at a time, as if I were doing a short story, and I rarely have a sense of how (or not) those chapters are coming together to make a book. Almost always I am pleasantly surprised, sometimes damn near thrilled, by how those chapters turn into something coherent and cohesive. That last read-through, for tweaks and typos, plays a key role, but it’s always nice to know that you’ve written a novel and not just a bunch of scenes.

ANTIQUES SWAP came out very well indeed. But you never know, and we both had our doubts along the way. The story starts at a swap meet and eventually deals with wife-swapping in small-town Serenity. This is delicate, even daring subject matter for a cozy, but I think we walked the tight rope successfully. There’s a scene Barb came up with where a concussed Vivian Borne thinks she’s on a USO Tour with Bob and Bing that is among our funniest.

Last week a number of you jumped on my offer of sending out signed copies of KING OF THE WEEDS for Amazon reviews. I offered 12 copies, but wound up digging into my personal stash for another five. Thanks to all of you who requested books, and my apologies to those who missed out this time. In a few weeks, there will be a similar giveaway with a dozen ARC’s of SUPREME JUSTICE. For those who haven’t noticed, these Updates go up every Tuesday at 9 a.m. Central Time.

In the next two months, we should be posting any number of interviews and reviews. This is one of those times when all my publishing worlds collide – ANTIQUES CON, KING OF THE WEEDS and SUPREME JUSTICE are all out at the same time. I’ve already done an interview for Jon Jordan at Crimespree (see below), and soon I’ll be offering a link to a very long, in-depth one for J. Kingston Pierce of the Rap Sheet and Kirkus on-line.

* * *

In the last year of his life, Bobby Darin did an NBC series called THE BOBBY DARIN SHOW. If you’ve been following my work for a while, chances are you know that I am the world’s biggest Bobby Darin fan. How can I make such a claim? Let’s start with: I own his Gold Record for “Mack the Knife.” Next!

The Bobby Darin Show

Anyway, Darin’s series is in many respects a typical early ‘70s variety show, which is to say a weird hybrid of what was “happening,” baby, and wheezy traditions that dated to vaudeville. Darin is very good at doing sketches and production numbers, and is naturally funny, too. But those ‘70s variety shows, with the partial exception of Carol Burnett, were really pretty terrible. And the reason to celebrate the release of THE BOBBY DARIN SHOW on DVD is chiefly the moments, two or three times a show, when Darin stands on stage in a tux and sings standards and current pop hits in his sophisticated, hip nightclub manner.

Also, every episode (there are thirteen) finds Darin singing to (and with) that week’s female musical guest star. Usually the two perch on stools as he gazes at her with open admiration, in a kind of seduction ending with Darin kissing the female guest tenderly (in near silhouette). What’s most fascinating here is how Darin modulates his performances according to the talents of his partner. Connie Stevens is shockingly weak, and Darin carries her, singing softly and gently. Much the same is true with Nancy Sinatra – but she is much better with him, with his help, than in her embarrassing solo performance of a lame “Boots are Made For Walkin’” follow-up flop.

But when Darin sings with Dusty Springfield – the greatest blue-eyed female soul singer of her generation – they stand facing each other, going toe to toe, delighted by each other’s talent, holding nothing back, although Dusty may be just a little bit surprised that the “Splish Splash”/”Mack the Knife” guy has such incredible r & b chops.

It’s not overstating it to say Darin was dying when he made these shows. Sometimes he clearly feels pretty good, and other times not. He doesn’t betray that, but I can tell. He phrases differently – grabbing more air than usual – when he’s under the weather. At the end of each show, he sings “Mack the Knife” while the credits roll and then recedes into a big empty soundstage in silhouette, which now plays hauntingly. If he’s feeling good, he dances and prances; if he’s having a rough week, he does just enough footwork and body language to fool you into thinking he’s still Bobby Darin. It’s said that he took oxygen off-stage before and after these performances, and that he was like a puppet with its strings snipped till the camera came on and the orchestra kicked in, and he came – for a time – alive.

Bobby Darin was a character Walden Robert Cassoto played. The coolness of the cat, swinging his songs on these shows, is startling in contrast to the goofy humor bits he does, like when he’s in drag as “the Godmother,” or sitting on a brownstone stoop jawing with a neighborhood pal. His acting talent comes to the fore in some excellent low-key production numbers in which he enacts a scene drawn from a song he’s singing, as in “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” where he’s a lower-class joe entertaining a prostitute in a cheap hotel room. Fairly startling, actually.

Darin could do anything. He was Oscar-nominated for a dramatic movie role and won a Golden Globe for a comedy. He was a genuine rocker. He was easily the greatest blue-eyed soul singer of his generation. He recorded some of the first country rock and folk rock, and was a songwriter of talent and versatility (he’s in the Songwriters Hall of Fame). At the start of his career, he opened for George Burns. In the last months of his life, he was the highest paid performer in Vegas.

If you buy this DVD set, know a couple of things. There are some things missing from these shows, apparently mostly guest-star performances that couldn’t be cleared. There are comedy bits you may wish to skip, and some dreadful musical performances by guest stars. I mean, it’s the early ‘70s. We’re talking the kind of era that makes people nostalgic for THE BRADY BUNCH.

But when Darin takes centerstage, with a big band behind him, a microphone in hand, and a rapt audience before him, prepare to get chills. There are performances here, by this dying young man, that are spellbinding and mesmerizing – “Cry Me a River,” “Some People,” “Once in a Lifetime.” A rare live performances of his great hit “Artificial Flowers” (one of his many songs about death) can be found here, and so can his thumbing-his-nose-at-the-reaper signature tune “Mack the Knife” – thirteen times, each different. The most astonishing performance is, perhaps surprisingly, his moving and electric rendition of Don McLean’s “Driedel.” Worth the price of admission.

The DVD set is widely available, on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble, and featured in mail-order catalogues like Critic’s Choice.

For those of you who have no idea what the fuss is, check out this 1962 performance:

* * *

Here’s that interview that Jon Jordan did with me about KING OF THE WEEDS and more.

Barb and I are thrilled that the Washington Post mystery review chose ANTIQUES CON for part of their round-up of new cozies.

And my old pal Ron Fortier (terrific writer his own self) had wonderful things to say about KING OF THE WEEDS.

JFK assassination expert Vince Palamara – one of my unwitting resources – has some very nice things to say about TARGET LANCER here. I can’t tell you how much it means when somebody like Vince approves of my exploration of the key crime of the 20th Century.

M.A.C.

Target Japan

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

I was surprised and delighted to see Mike Carlson, one of the UK’s best and most respected crime fiction reviewers, give TARGET LANCER a rave. Carlson was apparently sparked by the mass-market paperback edition. He seems to share my interest in, and take on, the JFK assassination. I’ve got to get ASK NOT into his hands.

I recommend the film THE MONUMENT MEN and urge you to ignore the mostly negative reviews it’s been getting. It’s a determinedly old-fashioned movie from its star cast (essentially playing themselves or at least their movie personas), a rousing and intentionally Old School score, a compelling episodic structure cutting between story threads, and a respect for history that makes it a DIRTY DOZEN for people who respect art. There’s not a lot of slam-bang action, but the extent of the evil of the Hitler regime comes across effectively in a unique fashion. No, it’s not INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS. And 12 YEARS A SLAVE isn’t DJANGO UNCHAINED, either.

This will be an extremely short update because (A) I seem to be coming down with a cold, and (B) I am prepping to start the Spillane western novel.

So I’m turning the rest of this post over to son Nate, who with his wife Abby recently went to Japan. I’ve asked him to share some photos of that trip.

M.A.C.

* * *

Hi everyone. Nate here. Let’s get right to the pictures!

Japan 2014

Our first day, we went to the Comic Market (aka Comiket) in Tokyo, which is sort of like Japan’s San Diego Comic-Con, only even more massive (around 540,000 attendees over three days to Comic-Con’s 130,000 over four days), and with a heavy focus on self-publishing groups (some 35,000 of them divided across the three days—each day has an entirely different lineup) in endless rows of small folding tables and minimal displays (only the industry publishers can swing enough space for booths here, and only in a separate hall with a separate entry line). Sadly, I did not take any pictures of the inside, as there was no room to do so.

Our AirBNB hosts shared us this video of the Comiket line management. San Diego Comic-Con organizers should take note!

Japan 2014

The first few days of the new year are the most important holiday in Japan, and one of the many New Year’s traditions is to visit a shrine or a temple. Due to the increased number of visitors, carnival-esque booths selling food and toys often spring up around the holy sites, and if you’re lucky, you might come across performances by traditional entertainers. Above is a ladder acrobatics demonstration stemming from firefighting techniques of the 19th-Century Edo period, when a portable ladder could often provide the fastest vantage point to find the source of a fire. The poles barely visible at the base of the photo are axes held by the other members of the troupe, who balance the ladder for the climber as they await their turn to show off. Would you like to know more?

Japan 2014

This is a statue in Kyoto’s Yasaka Koshin-do Temple of Binzuru-Sonja, one of Buddha’s disciples popular in Japan. He is said to help those who touch or rub his statue on the part of the body where they are suffering an affliction.

Japan 2014

“Unryuzu” by Kaiho Yusho, Kennin-ji Temple, Kyoto. 16th Century. (Reproduction)

Japan 2014

Kamo River, Kyoto.

Japan 2014

On one of our favorite days, our friend (and two of her helpers!) dressed us in these lovely traditional Japanese wedding kimono. Truly an honor!

Nate

Embarrassing Media Performance

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

I couldn’t stomach much of the media coverage last week, for the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. Am I supposed to care what Angelina Jolie thinks of Kennedy? Or where a tearful Jane Fonda was when she heard? Hand me the air sickness bag, please.

The shameful media emphasis on Oswald as lone gunman and conspiracy theorists as fools came to a surprising head Friday night when Bill Maher, of all people, shrugged the assassination off as “shit happens.”

That’s the standard take of the pro-lone nut crowd – people like me just can’t accept that a great man like JFK could be taken down by a little nobody. Hearing the ridiculous Warren Commission findings taken seriously while the later HSCA  finding for conspiracy are ignored shows just how all-pervasive this new whitewash is.

It doesn’t come from the government. It comes from my fellow liberals wanting to deify Kennedy, to make him a marble figure on a statue like Lincoln. Speaking of Lincoln, how many people out there think John Wilkes Booth was a lone nut “like Oswald”? That will come as a surprise to Booth’s co-conspirators, who swung from ropes.

I’m an admirer of JFK, but also a realist. I understand that a president who sanctions assassinations of other heads of state might just trip over a whole lot of karma. I understand that when you team the CIA up with the Mob (not a theory – an historical fact) to bump off Castro, some nasty ramifications might ensue.

On Maher’s REAL TIME panel, Paul Begala stated that his fellow George magazine founder John F. Kennedy Jr. made a point of saying their new magazine wouldn’t be looking into the assassination. JFK Jr. reportedly said he could spend his whole life doing that, and had decided to move on. The implication was, we should all do the same.

Maher accepted this strained logic – if a son doesn’t give a shit who killed his old man, why should we? But the Kennedy family has always kept a tight control over assassination documents – they knew the dirty laundry that would come out. RFK’s first reaction to hearing about the shooting was that Chicago had done it, and he used his own Rackets Committee veteran investigators to do a sub rosa inquiry (part of the basis for Heller’s activities in ASK NOT).

Let’s keep this very simple. The problem with dismissing as a fool or a crank anyone who thinks a conspiracy took down JFK is this: it only takes two to make a conspiracy, and in this case we have at least two – Oswald and Ruby.

Or let’s look at it this way – to believe Oswald was a lone nut who shot JFK, you also have to accept Ruby as a lone nut who shot Oswald. So the media/Maher theory isn’t the Lone Nut Theory – it’s the Two Lone Nuts theory…which is particularly ludicrous when you consider that Ruby was a mobbed-up guy from Chicago with ties all the way back to Capone and a history in Cuba with the Marcello crowd.

I’m generally a Maher fan. He’s a smug prick, but he’s funny and smart. But he can also be glib and shallow, and this is one of those times. Him and the rest of the media.

* * *

The ASK NOT signing went very well at Barnes & Noble in Davenport, Iowa, Saturday afternoon. Big bookstore chain signings often suck, but at this one – despite a Hawkeye game (even my collaborator Matt Clemens didn’t attend the signing) – we had a steady flow. A good stack of ASK NOT sold, quite a few TARGET LANCER paperbacks, plus a whole lot of ANTIQUES books, which Barb and I signed.

Speaking of ANTIQUES, three of the paperback reprints are going back to press – ANTIQUES ROADKILL, ANTIQUES DISPOSAL and ANTIQUES KNOCK-OFF – which reflects just how well this series continues to do. If you’re a hardboiled M.A.C. fan and haven’t tried one, now’s as good a time as any, and the current ANTIQUES CHOP is one of our best.

As for ASK NOT, we had some nice attention last week, although with so many JFK books out there, mine got a little lost in the shuffle. An appearance on Paula Sands Live on KWQC-TV Davenport no doubt boosted the Barnes & Noble appearance. Paula is so great – some of you will remember her from her acting stint (as herself!) in MOMMY’S DAY.

The reviews for ASK NOT at Amazon are generally raves, but we only have around a dozen at this point. If you’ve read and liked the book, could you please post a short review? If you didn’t like the book, keep in mind that I don’t come to where you work and criticize you.

My “WHY I WRITE” piece for Publisher’s Weekly was picked up by two of the best blogs in mystery fiction: Ed Gorman’s and Bill Crider’s.

The other non-Gorman Ed’s Blog posted a nice ASK NOT review here.

One of several radio interviews I did last week is available at this link.

My old pal David Burke at the Quad Cities Times did this short but sweet interview/write-up, promoting the Barnes & Noble signing.

Tony Isabella, great guy/terrific writer, gave his blog followers a nice heads up about the forthcoming WRONG QUARRY.

And here’s a fun review (read the comments, too) of THE GIRL HUNTERS. By the way, a blu-ray is coming and I will likely be involved.

M.A.C.