Posts Tagged ‘The Will to Kill’

A Gig, a Walk-Out, and More

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

Saturday night Crusin’ played for a benefit at the River Music Experience in Davenport. The cause was music education in the Muscatine school system. This was our first gig of the year (by choice), having last played in September for my high school 50th class reunion.

It was just an hour but felt good – nice to be back on stage with the guys, and our guitarist Jim Van Winkle’s son, Teddy, played trombone with us on a couple of songs. Teddy is a music major at the University of Iowa and really tore it up. This my first time performing since lung surgery, and I was of course concerned, but had no problems with either stamina or singing.

We have about half a dozen gigs lined up through the summer and fall.

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I am rather astonished to report that Barb and I walked out of a movie again, one we had been looking forward to all week. Kong – Skull Island has a high Rotten Tomatoes rating, and my pal Leonard Maltin loved it. We didn’t. The script was terrible – cringe-worthy dialogue and a ponderous set-up, and a cast that couldn’t overcome either. Tom Hiddleson, with his narrow face and slight build, is presented as some kind of bar brawler, which is unbelievable even without the notion that this makes him vital to a team going out to track monsters. John Goodman has lost so much weight, he looks ill, as if he’s wearing a baggy skin suit, and Samuel Jackson glowering at Kong and Kong glowering back has an uncomfortable racist tinge. Your results may vary, but we gave it fifty minutes before it got so stupid we couldn’t even stay to watch a bunch of characters we hated get killed.

Barb passed on Logan, but I saw it with Nate a weekend ago, and found it okay, with the trio of actors at its center (Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Dafne Keen) strong. Self-importantly dark and almost entirely humorless, Logan also suffers from underwhelming villains in actors Boyd Holbrook and Richard E. Grant, the former silly in his villainy, the latter hammy as an evil scientist. No Ian McKellan or Michael Fassbender in sight.

Some of you are suspecting I don’t like anything any more. But I like lots of things, mostly on TV, including lately Rowan Atkinson’s Maigret (and Michael Gambon’s and Bruno Cremer’s), the fourth season of Endeavor (the Morse prequel) and the Victoria series, though I wish it didn’t want to be Downton Abbey so bad.

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My editor at Hard Case Crime, Charles Ardai, is so fast and efficient I sometimes think I’m hallucinating. Less than a week after I turned in Quarry’s Climax, he gave me edits and then galley proofs, and the book is put to bed.

No sign of a second Quarry TV season, though there’s been no official cancellation.

I am working on the non-fiction book Scarface & the Untouchable, the joint Capone/Ness bio. It promises to be major, but brother is it tough. My co-authors Brad Schwartz and George Hagenauer have written their rough draft material and gathered research, and now I’m up to bat.

Looks like the manuscript could be in the 1200 – 1500 page range. Like we say in the funnies, gulp.

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Now in Paperback!

If you are going to Bouchercon this year, and have been sent an Anthony ballot, and like my work enough to be reading this, here’s a reminder of what’s eligible:

Road to Perdition: The New Expanded Version, paperback original.
The Nate Heller novel, Better Dead, hardcover.
Quarry in the Black, paperback.
Murder Never Knocks, hardcover.
Antiques Fate, hardcover.
A Dangerous Cat,” Hammer short story in the Strand.

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The Will to Kill is out and I hope some of you have already bought this new Mike Hammer by Mickey and me, and that the rest of you will do so soon. We need reviews at Amazon and elsewhere, including blogs, and your participation would be much appreciated.

Michael Carlson has done a most interesting Will to Kill review in his UK column, Irresistible Targets.

Also out in (mass-market paperback) is Hammer’s last year’s performance, Murder Never Knocks. Here’s a great Ron Fortier review of it.

Finally, here’s a Quarry’s Choice audio review, very nice.


New Mike Hammer Novel

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017


Available March 14, The Will to Kill is the ninth Mike Hammer novel I’ve completed from material in Mickey Spillane’s files.

Most people taking the time to read this weekly update already know that Mickey, in the last weeks of his life, asked me to complete his final Hammer novel in progress, The Goliath Bone, and that he told his wife Jane to round up everything in his files that wasn’t completed and give it to me – that “Max would know what to do.”

No greater honor has ever been paid me. Mickey’s work, which I discovered at age 13, was what made me transfer my enthusiasm for becoming a cartoonist to an obsession with becoming a writer…specifically, a writer of tough mystery fiction. Ironically, Mickey had been a comic book writer before the Mike Hammer novels turned him into a superstar, and one of the major projects we did together was a comic book – a science fiction variation on Hammer called Mike Danger (the original name for Hammer in the unsold comic book Mickey created right after the war that he turned into the novel I, the Jury).

I had six substantial Hammer manuscripts to deal with – usually around 100 pages (of 300) and sometimes notes on plot and character, and even roughed-out endings. In some cases Mickey had told me what ending he had in mind for an uncompleted book. (Mickey’s shocking surprise endings were his trademark, or anyway one of them.)

A number of very short (two to five page) fragments became short stories, published in various magazines, and were collected last year as A Long Time Dead: A Mike Hammer Casebook. If you’ve never read a Hammer story, that’s a great place to start.

Another half dozen significant unfinished manuscripts remained, and so far they have become the novels Kill Me, Darling; Murder Never Knocks; and now The Will to Kill. Both Darling and Knocks are out in mass-market paperback now – Knocks came out in that format about a week ago. (I am contracted to do three more.)

The Will to Kill is an unusual Hammer, as Bill Crider’s review indicates. (See link below.) Before the success of I, the Jury, featuring what was then a shocking amount of sex and violence, Mickey appeared to have in mind for his private detective a more traditional approach. But the vengeance aspect of the surprise bestseller-list response to I, the Jury sent him down a path of Hammer rarely taking a client, and usually being on a mission of I’ll-find-the-killer-and-kill-him (or her).

I had only the first couple of chapters of The Will to Kill to deal with from Mickey, and while the opening is shocking, the set-up is like something out of Agatha Christie – a bunch of spoiled rich grown kids chasing their late daddy’s fortune in the mansion they share. In about thirty pages, Mickey set up the entire book and its characters. There are aspects that aren’t anything you’d find in Poirot or Miss Marple – a serial killer targeting young women who are on vacation in the Catskills (the setting of the story) – but Hammer is doing a favor for his cop pal, Pat Chambers, looking into the wealthy man’s “accidental death”…not seeking vengeance for a murdered friend (tip: don’t be Mike Hammer’s friend in a Mickey Spillane novel, unless you’re Pat Chambers).

I like the book a lot. It was fun and somewhat challenging to keep the novel and its main character feeling right in a story unusual for them. This is not to say that a bad guy or two don’t get bumped off by the impetuous hero, who also thumps some nasties who deserve it, here and there. And beautiful women come along, too, so…so it’s still Mike Hammer, and I hope you’ll also think it’s a lot of fun.

By the way, the murder victim that starts the story up is the rich man’s butler. So this may be an old-fashioned mystery, but the butler definitely did not do it.

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The new Quarry novel – Quarry’s Climax – has been delivered to editor Charles Ardai at Hard Case Crime. Charles is crazy fast and has already read, and approved, the book.

Usually I take a few weeks off between projects, but because of my various health issues last year, I fell desperately behind, and now must move immediately from one project to another, until I catch up.

Well, I still plan to take a few days off between finishing one project and starting another. We spent the weekend – my 69th birthday weekend (!) – with our son Nate and grandson Sam and daughter-in-law Abby. A lovely time. Sam is the cutest child I’ve ever seen, and I’m sure his resemblance to me hasn’t colored my opinion.

This week I start Scarface and the Untouchable, the massive dual bio of Al Capone and Eliot Ness. My co-authors, A. Brad Schwartz and George Hagenauer, have delivered their rough drafts of their respective sections (Brad, Ness; George, Capone) reflecting incredible, groundbreaking research on both their parts. My job: not screw it up.

Nate and Sam Collins
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Here’s Bill Crider’s lovely Will to Kill review.

Check out this nice review of the early Quarry novel, Quarry’s Deal, from the UK.

Here’s an article about fifteen people other than Bruce Wayne who have been Batman – and wait till you see who’s number one! Hint: more late-coming unexpected love for my Batman work.

Finally, more nice words about the Quarry TV series.


Grand Thanks

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

The announcement of my Edgar award as a Grand Master from the Mystery Writers of America has garnered congratulations and praise from all over the place. I’ve taken to posting a link to these updates on Facebook and that’s increased the activity.

First, I’m very grateful. It’s particularly fun or, in Facebook terms, to be “liked” (you like me, you really really like me) by old friends, some of whom I haven’t heard from in decades. The world at once seems bigger and smaller.

Second, I’m a little embarrassed. These updates have become more and more confessional. Originally I only wrote an update once or twice a year. My son Nate, who runs this website, said that was not enough – the only way to encourage traffic was with regular content.

So I went weekly, and for some time all I did was talk about books that had recently become available and share links to reviews (I still do that, obviously). Then Nate encouraged me to do updates that gave a behind-the-scenes look at the writing process and what it’s like to be a freelance writer.

People seemed to like hearing about such things, but gradually more personal stuff got into the mix – the major one being my health issues. I didn’t post anything till the day I was set to take my first heart surgery (we had been going through hell for five months prior and I hadn’t made a peep about it here), and what I wrote wasn’t intended to appear till the day I was in surgery.

Then the surgery was postponed, and a second, preliminary surgery scheduled, and suddenly everybody knew about what was going on with my health. As I say, that wasn’t my intention. But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that all the good wishes, which included prayers, didn’t give me a real boost. In the subsequent lung surgery, I found that support similarly spirit-lifting.

I thank you all.

And I thank you, too, for the congratulations about the Grand Master award, which won’t be presented till next April, by the way. This is even more embarrassing than courting good wishes for health reasons, as it falls into the “rah yay me” category.

I’ve been reflecting on the Grand Master this past week, the only troubling aspect of which is that it’s a reminder that a long career preceded it, and that the remainder of that career will be much shorter. Life achievement awards are something people try to give you while you’re not dead. So that part of it is sobering.

Throughout my career – and I will be painfully honest here – I longed for, even dreamed of, receiving an Edgar from the MWA. I have been ridiculously well-honored by the Private Eye Writers of America, also by the Iowa Motion Picture Association; even won an Anthony from Bouchercon, and an award from the Edgar Rice Burroughs bibliophile group. “Barbara Allan” won a major award, too (not a leg lamp, though). But the Edgar, despite half a dozen nominations, has remained elusive.

When I see the array of trophies and plaques, which reflect not only achievement but my own needy efforts to land them – you have to enter many of these competitions to win them – I am a little embarrassed. I obviously need validation. Like most people with big egos, I have self-doubts that are even bigger.

What’s really, really nice about the Grand Master is that you don’t enter to try to win it. A group of your peers just agrees that you should get it. That feels really good.

And the company I’m in includes many of my favorite writers as well as others I admire. For example, Agatha Christie; Rex Stout; Ellery Queen; Erle Stanley Gardner; James M. Cain; John D. MacDonald; Alfred Hitchcock; Ross Macdonald; Graham Greene; Daphne Du Marier; Dorothy B. Hughes; W.R. Burnett; John Le Carre; Ed McBain; Elmore Leonard; Donald E. Westlake; Lawrence Block; Sara Paretsky; Sue Grafton; Stephen King; and Mickey Spillane. That’s just the ones that were influential in my writing life. Two (Westlake and Spillane) were mentors. I omit names of stellar types whose work I am not familiar with, and a handful whose work I dislike (here’s a hint – Angel in Black is a response to one).

I am notorious for not reading much contemporary crime fiction. My glib reason is that contemporary writers in the genre fall into three areas: (A) not as good as I am, so why bother reading ‘em; (B) as good as I am, so why bother reading them, either; and (C) better than I am, and screw those guys, anyway.

The real reasons I don’t read my contemporaries much are less smart-alecky.

First, I am a natural mimic and I tend to pick up the style and habits of other fiction writers. I discovered this writing Blood Money (my second published book) while reading The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins. That writer, a very good one, wrote such distinctive dialogue that I could not shake the cadence of it. Some of it is still in that book.

Second, much of what I write is historical, and that requires a lot of research reading. So what reading I do falls largely into that category. And my pleasure reading tends to be non-fiction, too. Again, reading fiction is dangerous for me.

That’s not to say I don’t read some. I re-read my favorite authors (many of them in my Grand Master list above) and, if I’m on a committee for the MWA or PWA, I read the works submitted for award consideration. Plus, I have friends in the field whose work I often read. Also, if somebody gets really, really popular, I check them out. That’s how I came to read some Robert B. Parker, for example, whose work I don’t care for but whose impact on the field I greatly respect.

He won the Grand Master, too.

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This week past the third Caleb York, The Bloody Spur, was shipped to Kensington. In addition, I did final corrections and tweaks on the proofs of The Will to Kill for Titan (Mike Hammer) and Executive Order for Thomas & Mercer (Reeder & Rogers). The proofs of Antiques Frame await.

The Grand Master news was all over the Net, but in some cases it was more than just a regurgitation of the MWA news release. This, from Mysterious Press, for example, includes ordering info on the Mike Hammer collection, A Long Time Dead.

Brash Books, who published the complete Road to Perdition novel recently, did their own write-up as well.

Here’s a brief discussion of the use of history in Quarry in the Black.

My old pal Jan Grape talks about how authors deal with errors in books, leading off with an anecdote that shows me in a perhaps unflattering (but highly accurate) light.

Here’s a brief Quarry TV write-up, with a deleted scene that I (partially) wrote.

The Quarry show makes this Best list.

And here’s a really great review of the finale episode of Quarry, with a look back at the entire world of the series.


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(Note from Nate: Quarry is available for pre-order on Amazon on Blu-Ray and DVD, although the release date hasn’t yet been determined. Here’s the link!)

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Thanksgiving 2016

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

In a year like the one I’ve experienced, it might seem tough to be thankful.

Those of you follow these updates know that I’ve had some health issues. The year began with carotid surgery preceding open-heart surgery, during which I had a stroke. While not major, the stroke left me with a fairly useless right hand – couldn’t type, didn’t even have a signature. And a writer losing his or her signature has lost a key piece of identity.

What followed was a lot of work getting my hand functional again and recovering from the surgery with physical and occupational therapy. Also, in the run-up to the heart surgery, something growing in my lower right lung lobe made itself known, requiring keeping an eye on. Eventually I was scheduled to go in for surgery that would probably be just a closer look, but might result in more serious surgery.

While all of this was going on, my son Nate’s bride Abby gave birth to Sam Collins, a preemie who fought a brave battle for life. Nate and Abby practically lived in the hospital for a month while this little tadpole of a kid fought to be a baby. We visited as often as we could, though this was going on concurrent with my heart condition stuff, and that limited us some.

Then both Barb and I managed to get pertussis, which is to say whooping cough. I got mine in August and she got hers a few weeks later, and we are still coughing (the hundred-day cough, they call it). My adventures, recounted in detail in previous updates, included rushing back from New Orleans the moment I landed because Barb’s pertussis had sent her to the emergency room; and having my lung surgery postponed for a month to allow me to get over my bout with the stuff.

The surgery wound up being more serious. A baseball-size thingie was taken out of my lower right lobe. It’s now been diagnosed as MALT-lymphoma, which has nothing to do with old Pop Jenkins down at the soda shop.

Then, while I was recovering from the lung surgery, glued to the TV, I witnessed Donald Trump being elected president of the United States.

So what the hell do I have to be thankful for?

Almost everything (except for the Trump part).

We can start with this career that has allowed me to concoct stories and get paid for it for four decades. We can move from there to my wife Barb, whose love and support got me through all of the bullshit above – she always knows when I need a tender shoulder and also when I need a kick in the pants. She is not a self-pity fan.

From there we can move to my great son and his equally great wife, who gave me this wonderful grandson who has overcome all of the obstacles and is now smart and healthy and very funny. You may have a baby or a baby grandkid who seems pretty cool, but can yours do an evil maniacal laugh at sixteen months?

As for my travails, I was typing almost immediately when I got home from the hospital. Initially all I could move was the mouse, and for some weeks the sensitivity of the computer keyboard was how my weak right hand was able to register anything. But two weeks home after my three-week hospital stay (two of it in O.T. and P.T.), I was working on my draft of Antiques Frame. Before long I was writing The Will to Kill, the new Mike Hammer, and Executive Order with my pal Matt Clemens. Throughout every stage of various recoveries, I have found that my writing has been unimpeded, that it is a place I can go and think of nothing but the story at hand.

Every day I filled at least a full notebook page with my signature, and within a month I had it back. If you ever need an M.A.C signature, my wife can tear one of out the notebook I filled with them. (Ask for one from a later page.)

The pertussis Barb and I shared brought us even closer together, because we were dealing with it at the same time. I won’t pretend it didn’t suck, but something odd happens when you are sick and have a reasonable expectation to get well – you start to really, really appreciate normal, everyday life. To look forward to the most trivial damn things – a meal out, a movie, a walk on an autumn day.

As for the lung thing, I am in a wait-and-see mode, and have a few more tests to take, but I am assured this is a treatable, very survivable condition…and I may have no recurrence. At this point there’s been no talk of chemo or radiation.

If that comes, rest assured I will do everything I can to keep writing, and taking advantage of the support and friendship my readers, editors and my great agent Dominick Abel have always provided. Do not worry about me. I am fine, and I am blessed.


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Here’s the Brash Books blog with stuff about Road to Perdition the novel and Quarry as well.

Here’s a nice latterday review of Kill Your Darlings, though oddly the Bouchercon aspect of the story (usually the favorite aspect of readers) is not so favored here.

Finally, here’s a cool review of Dan John Miller reading Better Dead.