Posts Tagged ‘What Doesn’t Kill Her’

Books on Sale at Amazon & The Last Word on Reviews

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

Perhaps to celebrate the release of Girl Most Likely – which is still on sale as a Kindle title and as a “real” book – Amazon is having a sale till the end of the month on my other thrillers for their Thomas & Mercer line. This includes What Doesn’t Kill Her and the Reeder and Rogers Trilogy, Supreme Justice, Fate of the Union and Executive Order.

For all the talk about Girl Most Likely being my take on Nordic Noir, the first attempt was What Doesn’t Kill Her, which was meant to be an American twist on The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, minus the social comment.

Matt Clemens co-wrote all four of those, though he only got cover and title page credit on Fate and Order. I had to push for that, but you should know that he was fully the co-author of the other two.

A very astute reader of mine told me he thought some of the pushback against Girl Most Likely (more on that later) had to do with my describing it in terms of an American version of Nordic Noir. For what it’s worth, that was never the intention or the plan. It just came up in the first interview I did about the book and it kind of took hold.

Not that it wasn’t an aspect of how the book came to be. I really liked such Scandinavian TV series as The Bridge, Wallander, Varg Veum, and The Killing, and wanted to do something in that vein. No thought of tying my wagon to somebody else’s star was in the mix, although obviously the “Girl” in the title followed that particular trend. Attracting some female readers makes only sense in a marketplace where the fairer sex outnumbers us loutish male readers something like ten to one. That kind of math I can do.

So, reviews. I’ve talked about them here quite a bit, more than anybody wants me to, but I am going to take one last (hooray) swing at it. Let’s start with professional reviews.

Understand that I have been writing fiction a long time, and am rather set in my ways, and arrogantly feel that I know what I’m doing. But to be honest I never did pay much attention to the advice I was given in professional reviews. Almost from the beginning, I had enough faith in my work to believe in it, and me, more than the opinions of others. I mean, once you’ve been schooled by Donald E. Westlake, Mickey Spillane, Walter Tevis and Richard Yates, who cares what anybody else thinks?

No, to me the professional reviewers are all about marketing – about libraries and booksellers seeing good comments from Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist and the irascible Kirkus, and then ordering books. Editors and publishers like to have good reviews from those sources to blurb on covers, fore and aft, and on the first page or two of reprint editions. This is not to say I don’t enjoy reading a positive review from one of those sources. But for me, it’s strictly business. A marketing tool or, if a review is bad, a marketing obstacle.

Now and then, particularly in a newspaper or a really good blog (like The Rap Sheet), I get a glowing review that is really, really smart. Where the reviewer understands what I was up to. Now and then a positive criticism actually does take hold with me, too. Mostly, though, I love it when somebody gets it.

This is often true of the magazine reviews in Mystery Scene, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Crimespree, and Deadly Pleasures, among others. These tend to be written by smart, knowledgeable people, and they are a great source for quotes, and often are positive and give me a nice little ego boost. When I do get criticism worth listening to, it’s frequently here. EQMM’s Jon Breen practically discovered me.

What’s interesting to me is how seldom reviewers notice the weaknesses in a book of mine that I knew were there. This may be because I know how to hide such things, through sleight of hand or sneaky execution. Let’s take Girl Most Likely. A major flaw about it drives me crazy – I did my best to figure out how to fix it or avoid it, and instead I merely had to finesse it largely through pace.

But the two things that the reviewers – mostly amateur ones – have complained about were done by me with full knowledge of the risks. It was absolutely intentional that I did a lot of clothing description, and the occasional brand names were on purpose, too (I’ve already said why in previous updates). The abrupt ending was a choice as well, very much in the Spillane tradition – story’s over, time to get out, let the credits roll. A good number of people hate that. I’m sorry – not really – but I felt it was called for. My book. My way.

Let’s get to the amateur reviewers, who specifically rule at Amazon, where a good deal of misbehavior is tolerated by Amazon itself, which ironically is the publisher of Girl Most Likely.

First, let me get this out of the way – the amateur reviews, overall, have been great. We are sitting at four-stars. The Associated Press review was, again overall, a fine one, and appeared all over God’s green earth. Of the pro publications, some of whom didn’t love it, Booklist was a near rave. So my difficulty with the reviews on Girl Most Likely has almost exclusively to do with the Amazon ones.

Now, if you follow this blog, you know that I encourage Amazon non-pro reviews – I give out books to readers specifically to increase the number of such reviews, and since people reading this weekly update tend to be longtime readers of mine, I can pretty much count on mostly decent reviews being generated by the book giveaways.

The negative reviews of Girl, among the many nice ones, fall into two camps. One appears to be young and female, and an unbiased reader named Barbara Collins thinks I am being punished for writing about a woman when I am apparently a man. (Lots of nice notices from the young women with book review blogs, though.) But I also see an occasional nastiness that reflects a certain breed of progressive that sees something sinister in a daughter who is a professional woman having respect for a father who is a longtime professional in that field himself. The worst of these criticized me for being “a white man.”

Now Amazon is supposed to reject reviews that are hate speech. Yet even the “white man” thing is okay with me. End of the day, it doesn’t bother me much because it’s the kind of review that reveals itself and its maker. Matt Clemens and I got a lot of those ugly reviews from alt-right nincompoops in regard to the Reeder and Rogers Trilogy. Certain early reviews of Supreme Justice were clearly written by people who had not read much if any of the book. Our sin? Of our two leads, one was a liberal, the other a conservative – and they got along!

The other negative reviews, and this reflects an almost surprisingly small number, are those from longtime readers of mine who don’t like the change of pace. For example, the book is billed as “a thriller,” although I have personally characterized it as a hybrid of thriller and mystery. And some have said that this novel – which includes three vicious butcher-knife murders, a street brawl, and the protagonists getting chased through the woods by a maniac – isn’t “thriller” enough. Perhaps this reaction comes from the world of Girl Most Likely not being the criminal one of Quarry, Nolan, Mike Hammer and Nate Heller. A new, more everyday milieu apparently jars some readers.

One particular review is a rather vicious attack on me by a self-professed longtime fan who claims to have read almost all of my stuff, some novels several times. But he is appalled by Girl Most Likely for all kinds of reasons. And you know what? That’s just fine. Everybody has a right to an opinion and to express it.

Of course, when he suggests I am selling out for “the sake of building a nest-egg to retire upon,” I have to wonder – does anybody who really follows my work think I look like I’m planning retirement soon?

Authors these days live and die on Amazon. Please support not just me, but all of your favorite authors – write positive reviews (again, even a line or two is fine), click on “helpful” on the more detailed reviews when you agree with whatever insights they provide.

Amazon is the biggest bookstore in the world. Go in there and support your favorite authors. If you read a book, particularly one you buy there, that you really like, tell the world about it, in a brief (or an extended) review. It’s a way to pay your favorites a favor, and to keep them in business.

Authors are real people, trying to make a living out of entertaining you. Any time you can express your satisfaction with a positive review at Amazon and other sites, you are helping the writers whose work you enjoy stay in business. If they disappoint you, you have every right to say so in a review.

Just don’t be a dick.

* * *

Check out this very smart review of Girl Most Likely.

This reviewer has an interesting take or two on the novel.

Finally, here’s a very nice look at the Nathan Heller series.

M.A.C.

Cover Story

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014
Supreme Justice

Over the last two weeks, Matt Clemens and I have been going over potential covers for the upcoming SUPREME JUSTICE, coming out June 1.

Thomas & Mercer, Amazon Publishing’s mystery/suspense line, has been very good about making me – and Matt, because he contributed so mightily to both novels – part of the book cover process for both WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER and SUPREME JUSTICE. This is hardly common in publishing – in fact, it’s the opposite of common.

What often happens is that I’m asked for my opinion – in the context of how important that opinion might be, given my background in visual arts like comics and film – but rarely has my input been given much if any consideration.

That’s been improving in recent years. Our editor at Kensington always asks Barb and me for ideas for the covers of the ANTIQUES books, and those ideas have been used for the most part.

Titan is careful to run covers past me, and I had considerable input on the Mike Hammer mass market editions, where initially the depiction of Hammer was wrong. The publisher of Titan himself, Nick Landau, enthusiastically presented the hardcover Hammer dust-jacket art over drinks at San Diego Con a few years ago.

At Hard Case Crime, Charles Ardai often discusses what artists might be available for my next book – obviously the first thing out of my mouth is, “How about McGinnis?” But I essentially chose the cover artists for THE WRONG QUARRY (Tyler Jacobsen) out of three or four Charles showed me examples by. And THE WRONG QUARRY seems to be universally regarded as one of (if not the) strongest of my Hard Case covers.

As I may have mentioned here before, those covers are usually done before I’ve written the novel, with just a paragraph precise of the unwritten book for the artist to go by. That means I often have to work to get the cover image into the book.

On the other hand, I provided Forge with lots of input into BYE BYE, BABY’s hardcover jacket that was eventually ignored, due to worries that the Monroe estate would sue. I hate that cover (though the mass market paperback is much better). Where both TARGET LANCER and ASK NOT were concerned, however, I was given the opportunity to give my two cents, and was listened to. Often I write the cover copy, even the front “reading lines” (blurbs), when what is submitted to me seems weak.

So it has improved a lot. I’ve come a long way from when I received BAIT MONEY and BLOOD MONEY in the mail in December 1972 and found fairly terrible photo covers and my name changed from Allan Collins to Max Collins, and my character Nolan given an unwanted first name (“Frank”) which to this day dogs both Nolan and me. Then there’s the day I opened a package and saw that my novel QUARRY and its sequel HIT LIST were now THE BROKER and THE BROKER’S WIFE, the latter title a spoiler for a major plot turn…again, with photo covers, though slightly better ones.

But now Thomas & Mercer has given me a chance not only to suggest cover images, but provides me with half a dozen to choose from, and does tweaks on the art that I’ve suggested. I wish I could include the SUPREME JUSTICE rejects here, because they were strong, too. But I don’t know the legality of that.

Maybe next time I do a book for them, I can put the proposed covers up here and seek your input.

For now, I am delighted with the cover for SUPREME JUSTICE.

* * *

Brief movie report.

We liked MR. PEABODY AND SHERMAN, me more than Barb. It captured the Jay Ward cartoons well and was very smart in its storytelling – a little long, though. See it in 3-D.

NON-STOP was a good thriller, somewhat stupid in the motivation of the villains, but a ride worth taking.

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE is better than the original, and is a rousing battle picture with an eye-popping sex scene (see that in 3-D, too). But it’s fairly numbing in its more-and-more-of-the-same gory action, and at heart is a very brain-dead right-wing screed. Still, I dug it. I am, as should be evident by now, a sucker for anything in 3-D that doesn’t outright suck.

Speaking of sucking, we walked out of DIVERGENT about half an hour in. I’d read some promising reviews, but this is a really poorly thought-out imitation of HUNGER GAMES (which is a poorly thought-out imitation of BATTLE ROYALE). Really, really dumb, and also dreary and dull. We bailed when some recruits in the Dauntless faction (don’t ask) said, “Let’s do something fun! Let’s get tattoos!”

* * *

Let’s wind up this update with a link to a very nice WRONG QUARRY review from Blog Critics.

ASK NOT Appearances

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

I’m not doing a tour for ASK NOT, which I admit surprises me a little – I had figured the nature of the novel, its publication date exactly a month from the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination, would attract a lot of attention, possibly from the publisher. But I didn’t count on the avalanche of other JFK books that ASK NOT would have to fight its way through. Round-ups in magazines and newspapers about JFK assassination books seem to focus largely on non-fiction works – understandably – although J. Kingston Pierce did right by the novel at his Kirkus blog column, and I was interviewed recently for Publisher’s Weekly about the book (nothing’s appeared yet – when it does, I’ll report).

And I admit Barb and I are weary of book signings. That’s not to imply at all that we don’t enjoy, in fact relish, contact with readers (and bookstore owners/employees). Getting to talk to fans of the books is incredibly gratifying. But the time and expense involved are considerable, and the last time my publisher and I collaborated on putting a tour together, several disastrous appearances marred an otherwise good experience. At the St. Louis stop, for example, exactly one person showed up, not counting my son and daughter-in-law. That one person did not buy a book, by the way.

I have come to feel that attending Bouchercon and San Diego Con puts me in touch with the greatest number of readers, in the most efficient way, and Barb and I are considering adding another con or two to the mix.

Ed Gorman, M.A.C., Barb Collins signing at Mystery Cat Bookstore, Cedar Rapids
Ed Gorman, M.A.C., Barb Collins signing at Mystery Cat Bookstore, Cedar Rapids

For ASK NOT, we arranged only three signings, two of which have already taken place. Both events were a lot of fun and very successful. At Mystery Cat (a hidden treasure in Cedar Rapids), my friend Ed Gorman made a rare signing appearance, and Barb and Matt Clemens joined in as well. The only downside was the unexpectedly large crowd – 75 in a small bookstore, with seating available for maybe thirty. Having four authors, talking up their current books and then taking questions, made the presentation go a little long, and some of those attending fled for the door ASAP, without buying a book. It’s always tough to know how long to speak at these things – you don’t want to bore anybody, but you also don’t want to shortchange people who make the effort of attending.

Augie introduces Max & Barbara Collins to their fans
Augie introduces Max & Barbara Collins to their fans at Centuries and Sleuths

Barb & Max Collins sharing a story with their fans
Barb & Max Collins sharing a story with their fans

We’ve done many signings at Forest Park’s wonderful Centuries and Sleuths bookstore. A nice group met with us on this Sunday afternoon past as Barb spoke about ANTIQUES CHOP and I talked about ASK NOT. Mostly we took questions, and one great fan brought doughnuts for everybody. Everybody bought books, everybody had a question. Augie and Tracy, the owners, were as always gracious hosts. We’ll keep doing signings there as long as they want us.

The final of the three signings is coming up. Here’s the info:

Nov 23, 2013 1:00 PM

Barnes & Noble Booksellers
North Park Mall
320 W. Kimberly Road
Davenport, IA 52806 (map)
563-445-8760

Come see us if you’re in the area. These big chain bookstore signings are always the biggest risk.

* * *

The excellent ASK NOT reviews continue, I’m pleased to report. Check out this very nice one at Jerry’s House of Everything.

And here’s another strong one at Scene of the Crime.

The first review of THE WRONG QUARRY has appeared (at Dangerous Dan’s Bookblog). He likes it.

Here’s a decent review of WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER, not a rave but appreciated nonetheless.

A nice appreciation of Mickey Spillane is here.

Finally, here’s a review of the multiple author thriller, INHERIT THE DEAD.

M.A.C.

Nate Heller Will Return

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

I’m pleased to report that Forge has exercised its option for me to write two more Nathan Heller novels. I have asked for fifteen months for each book, which means the one-a-year schedule the JFK trilogy established won’t be met this time. Lots of research for me (and George Hagenauer) to do.

The first book, currently titled RED SCARE (although I’m also considering BETTER DEAD – any thoughts?) will deal with the McCarthy era. Regular followers of the series will note that we have moved backward for this one, to the early 1950s. Right now the book rather ambitiously deals with the Rosenbergs, Dashiell Hammett, McCarthy, and CIA LSD murder. I hope to cover all of this, but discussions with George (and research) may convince me to tighten the scope.

The second book is also ambitious in scope – dealing with both Robert Kennedy’s assassination and a lengthy flashback finally exploring Heller’s role on the Rackets Committee as an undercover operative infiltrating Jimmy Hoffa’s organization. Right now I’m calling this THE SECOND GUNMAN, but I’m not married to that title.

Both of these novels deal with material I always knew I wanted to explore with but skipped over because, in order to get Heller back with a publisher, I felt the Kennedy trilogy was the more commercial bet. Part of my strategy was to get JFK done, because that was always the end game for the series. We haven’t set the world on fire with the JFK novels, at least not so far, but we’ve done well enough for me to get offered another two books.

Of course, I am now not sure that JFK is the chronological end of the saga. I am considering MLK and Watergate. But that’s another contract.

* * *

A couple of movie and TV notes.

Freaks and Geeks

Barb and I recently re-watched FREAKS & GEEKS, which is among the greatest TV shows of all time. This is where Seth Rogen, Jason Seigel and James Franco began (and arguably so did Judd Apatow, but the cast includes so many other great people. The regular cast (my favorite is Martin Starr, who went on to co-star in the also wonderful PARTY DOWN) is supported by all sorts of stars to be – Shia LeBeouf (a little kid here), Lizzy Caplan (also with PARTY DOWN in her future), Rashida Jones (THE OFFICE, PARKS & RECREATION). It’s merely the best show ever done about high school (set in the ‘80s but timeless). Tom Wilson (Biff in BACK TO THE FUTURE!) is a semi-regular, and so are Joel Hodgson and Trace Beaulieu of MST3K. MST3K veteran and CINEMATIC TITANIC cast member J. Elvis Weinstein is a writer/producer on the show. 18 classic episodes.

The one-season follow-up, UNDECLARED, about first-year college students, is a worthy add-on, with Rogen back and really developing as both writer and actor, and lots of FREAKS & GEEKS actors returning as semi-regulars or guest stars. Judd Apatow is the creator, while FREAKS & GEEKS creator Paul Feig directs an episode.

On the film front, Barb and I took in the wonderful I-MAX 3-D version of THE WIZARD OF OZ (this may not be in theaters now – I think it was a one-week limited engagement) and a screening of VERTIGO at the same multi-plex. As Terry Beatty has pointed out, the 3-D restored OZ is oddly more intimate than before. VERTIGO remains my favorite film and an incredibly layered piece of work – the only private eye story that really rivals THE MALTESE FALCON for first position in the genre. James Stewart, in a career littered with great performances and classic films, delivers his finest performance.

Of new movies, we caught DeNiro in Luc Besson’s underrated black comedy, THE FAMILY. Barb and I were very surprised by how much we liked that one. Dark and funny and with a (warped) good heart.

There are several much-hyped movies, some well-reviewed, that I can’t make myself see. RUSH is a subject I don’t care about, and director Ron Howard is notorious for his movies going on too long. DON JON – really? The story of a New Jersey lummox who gives up porn for Scarlett Johansson? How’s that for a conflict….

* * *

Booklist gave us a very good review on WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER. Don’t know how to link this, so here it is:

Jordan Rivera has spent the last 10 years at Cleveland’s St. Dymphna’s psychiatric clinic, refusing to speak after her family was murdered in an attack she managed to survive. But when she sees a news report on a similar killing, she’s convinced her attacker is still targeting families. Resolved to avenge her family’s deaths, Jordan starts talking, and soon she’s released and making connections in a victims’ support group. As the group shares stories, they find that they are all sole survivors of unsolved attacks on their families, and they feed their hunger to fight back by reinvestigating their cases as serial killings. They find unexpected assistance from Mark Pryor, Jordan’s high-school crush, now a police detective working Jordan’s case off the books. But that may not protect them from their quarry, who’s been waiting for Jordan to abandon the clinic’s protective walls. Collins, known for his outstanding Nathan Heller historical series, courts contemporary thriller fans with the victims-turned-hunters premise and riveting amateur investigation. Some suspension of disbelief is necessary, but the ride offers sure thrills, and the company is great.

Here’s a Spinetingler review of COMPLEX 90:

Reviewed by Theodore FeitThis novel is based on an original manuscript written by Mickey Spillane, one of two entrusted “for safekeeping” to Mr. Collins shortly before his death. It was originally scheduled for publication in the 1960’s, but never appeared. It is now made possible through Collins’ collaborative effort.Complex 90 is set during the Cold War, pitting one-man army Mike Hammer against the entire might of the USSR. It begins when he takes on a job as a bodyguard to protect a U.S. Senator during a party in his home. A gunman invades the home, shoots and kills another security person, a friend named Marley, and a bullet hits Mike in the thigh. Mike replaces Marley as the Senator’s bodyguard on a trip to Moscow on a fact-finding tour. There Mike is arrested and taken to a prison, from which he escapes, killing 45 Russians, and, after two months, crossing into Turkey, where he gets on a plane to return to the U.S. Russia demands extradition, and Mike thumbs his nose. (All of this action transpires very early in the book.)

Will it be a major international incident, or will Mike overpower both the American and Soviet governments? Of course, the gore and sex which play a prominent part in the novel are trademarks of Spillane, purely Mike Hammer at his wise-cracking best. It’s hard to tell where Spillane leaves off and Collins picks up.

Recommended.

Finally, here’s a wonderful review of TRUE CRIME. Never too late!

M.A.C.