[Before we get to this week’s post, a quick update from Nate: Dad has graduated from the ICU to the step-down unit and now on to the inpatient rehabilitation unit where he’s working hard to get back on his feet. Thank you everyone for your outpouring of support, which gave us something we could always turn to when we needed a boost.]
As some of you may know, MURDER NEVER KNOCKS was originally announced – and even listed at Amazon, including cover art – as DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU. I was asked to come up with a different title, more overtly noir/PI, when the Titan sales force noted that sales were better for LADY, GO DIE! and KILL ME, DARLING than for COMPLEX 90 and KING OF THE WEEDS.
Stacy Keach pointed out to me, when we were doing the radio-play-style novels-for-audio, THE LITTLE DEATH and ENCORE FOR MURDER, that all of the Hammer TV movies he starred in had “murder” in the title. That steered me toward the title I finally picked for this novel…or I should say that Titan finally picked, as I gave them half a dozen possibilities.
Mickey’s title, DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU, was in part a tribute to his favorite crime writer, Frederic Brown, who wrote a famous and wonderful story of that title about a demented typesetter. Mickey had two alternate titles, THE CONTROLLED KILL and THE CONTROLLER, which I didn’t think were right for the novel as it developed. Mickey devised some of the greatest titles in mystery fiction – hard to top I, THE JURY and KISS ME, DEADLY – so it’s important that I go with titles that serve him well. I happen to like both COMPLEX 90 and KING OF THE WEEDS as titles – both were Mickey’s choice – but I understand that neither one immediately suggests mystery or suspense. Still, terrific titles, I think.
This time I worked from around thirty pages of Mickey’s, plus some plot notes and the ending of the book. Mickey often spoke about writing the ending first, but this is only one of two times (the other being THE GOLIATH BONE) that I found those endings. By the way, Mickey’s ending for THE GOLIATH BONE was reworked into that of the second-to-the-last chapter of that novel; the actual last chapter is mine, as Mickey’s manuscript was a thriller and did not contain a murder mystery aspect…and I felt it necessary to add that.
On the other hand, several of our collaborative novels reflect endings that Mickey told me about – THE BIG BANG and KING OF THE WEEDS in particular.
It’s also necessary for me to try to figure out when Mickey’s partial manuscripts were written, so that I can set them properly within the chronology, as well as know what books of Mickey’s to read to get me in the right mind set. Initially, I thought MURDER NEVER KNOCKS/DON’T LOOK BEHIND YOU was a ’50s manuscript. But interior evidence – for example, mention of certain NYC newspapers that had recently gone out of business – indicated the late ’60s. That allowed me to do some Greenwich Village characters and scenes that reflect the hippie era.
The basic plot has Hammer up against a Moriarty-type villain (as was the case in KING OF THE WEEDS). This time Hammer has been selected by the superstar hitman among hitmen, preparing to retire, for the honor of being his last kill.
MURDER NEVER KNOCKS will be out March 8 – in time for Mickey’s 98th birthday on March 9.
In celebration of that, here’s a fun excerpt from a great interview with Woody Allen in the January issue of WRITTEN BY, the Screen Writer’s Guild magazine. The interviewer notes that the filmmaker became a great reader, despite a lack of a university education. Woody says:
[Nate here:] Two early reviews came in for MURDER NEVER KNOCKS this week. One from the great Mike Dennis (“Score another winner for Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins,” and another from the Garbage File that was decidedly not garbage (“Very enjoyable indeed!”).