Saturday, March 24, 2018

Remembering Philip Kerr

One feels the strong desire, when writing about Edinburgh-born novelist Philip Kerr—who passed away yesterday, March 23, at the early age of 62—to simply quote from his many books and be done with it; your own prose contributions seem trifling and etiolated by comparison. Kerr took particular delight in crafting his character descriptions. Here, for instance, is how—in 2008’s A Quiet Flame (one of my favorites among Kerr’s numerous works)—he depicts Carlos Fuldner, an Argentine-born member of Adolf Hitler’s SS, who helped Nazis flee to South America after World War II:
From the back of his well-oiled headed I judged Fuldner to be around forty. His German was fluent but with a little soft colour on the edges of the tones. To speak the language of Goethe and Schiller, you have to stick your vowels in a pencil sharpener. He liked to talk, that much was evident. He wasn’t tall and he wasn’t good-looking, but then he wasn’t short or ugly either, just ordinary, in a good suit with good manners and a nice manicure. … His mouth was wide and sensuous, his eyes were lazy but intelligent and his forehead was as high as a church cupola.
That same novel offers this sketch of a young woman, Anna Yagubsky, who will help the story’s protagonist, Berlin police detective-turned-private eye Bernie Gunther, solve a ghastly murder in Buenos Aires that appears similar to crimes committed years ago in Germany:
She was tall and slim with a spectacular waterfall of black curly hair. Her eyes were the shape and colour of chocolate-covered almonds. She wore a tailored tweed jacket buttoned tight at the waist, and a matching long pencil skirt that made me wish I had a couple of sheets of paper. Her figure was all right if you liked them built like expensive thoroughbreds. I happened to like them built that way just fine.
The Quiet Flame was the fifth novel Kerr produced in what he’d imagined originally as a trilogy starring Gunther, the sardonic, self-deprecating, Nazi-detesting, half-Jewish and sometimes wholly self-destructive Berliner who became famous for solving crimes during World War II and beyond. Gunther debuted in March Violets (1989), which was set in 1936—before the war broke out—and found him being hired by a steel millionaire who wanted to know not only what had become of diamonds owned by his recently slain daughter, but who had killed her and her husband. The sleuth returned in The Pale Criminal (1990) and again in A German Requiem (1991), that latter tale taking place in the war’s wake and dispatching Gunther to Vienna, where he was expected to help a former colleague accused of shooting an American Nazi-hunter.

“I never signed on to be a writer just to do a series …,” Kerr told me during a 2010 interview for The Rap Sheet. “Besides, it’s not always a good idea to give people what they want until they want it more. When I finished Book 3 (German Requiem) of the original trilogy, I didn’t have the impression that I was putting aside anything important.”

He went off, instead, to pen a succession of standalone thrillers, including A Philosophical Investigation (1992), Dead Meat (1993), Dark Matter: The Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton (2002), and finally Hitler’s Peace (2005), which builds around plots against Josef Stalin, President Franklin Roosevelt, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, all of whom are headed to a conference in Teheran, Iran, in 1943.

Not until 2006—a decade and a half after the publication of A German Requiem—did Bernie Gunther make his unlikely return, in The One from the Other. It has been followed since by almost annual sequels, among them If the Dead Rise Not (which won the 2009 Ellis Peters Historical Award), Prague Fatale (2011), The Lady From Zagreb (2015), The Other Side of Silence (2016), and last year’s Prussian Blue. The 13th Gunther outing, Greeks Bearing Gifts (Marian Wood Books/Putnam)—which finds him sent away to Athens, in 1957, to look into the sinking of a ship and the murder of an ex-Wehrmacht Navy man—is scheduled for release on April 3.

According to Agence France-Presse, prior to his death Kerr had completed the first draft of a 14th Gunther adventure, which is “due for publication next year.”

Philip Ballantyne Kerr, who took his first breath in Edinburgh. Scotland, on February 22, 1956, studied law and philosophy at England’s University of Birmingham, before embarking on what could well have become a lifelong career in advertising. However, Kerr hated being an advertising copywriter. The only good thing about it, he later insisted, was that it left him ample free time to indulge his interests in research and fiction-writing. Kerr had dreamed of concocting fiction ever since he was about 9 years old, so he chose to fill part of the free time his job allowed him scratching out a novel. The task took him three years, but resulted in March Violets. With the success of that endeavor, Kerr decided he was ready to become a full-time fictionist.

Some readers, mostly younger ones, may know Kerr as “P.B. Kerr,” the byline under which he created the “Children of the Lamp” series for young readers, the latest installment of which was 2011’s The Graves Robbers of Genghis Khan. Others will recognize him for False Nine (2012) and two preceding yarns featuring Scott Mason, a London football manager-cum-detective. Or they may be familiar with the pair of standalone thrillers for adults he premiered over the last decade: Prayer (2013) and Research (2014).

But it’s surely the Bernie Gunther series for which Kerr is destined to be best-remembered. Those intricate tales, contrasting mostly quotidian crimes against the larger, wider-ranging atrocities perpetrated by Nazi Germany, are filled with moral complexities and the pain of both war’s violence and war’s survival. These are social histories, really, and without question are also some of the best historical crime novels you’ll ever read. Gunther—who, Philip Kerr confessed, represented the “the dark side of my own character”—proves to be an ideal guide (if occasionally misguided himself) through Kerr’s blended world of fiction and non-fiction.

I like this description of the character, from the biographical page of Kerr’s Web site:
Gunther is … a gumshoe in the grand and seamy tradition of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade. But he surely has the toughest beat in detective fiction—not least because the definition of crime in his world is so strange, so skewed by ideology. ‘The [German] National Socialist regime had a weird and perverted idea of crime,’ says Kerr. ‘It was far more interested in rounding up Jews and Communists than in solving real crimes. And they spent a lot of time covering up true crime when it did happen, so that it didn’t reflect badly on the authorities. More than that, professional criminals could apply for jobs in the SS and the Gestapo. It didn’t matter that they were not committed Party members; the Nazis were masters at delegating cruelty.’

Throughout the books Gunther spends his time uncovering nasty truths while trying desperately not to get sucked into Nazism’s gaping maw. Does that make him a hero, a kind of reluctant resister? Kerr says not. ‘It’s perfectly possible to be a hero on a Monday and a coward on a Wednesday. Gunther is morally ambiguous. As a patriotic German watching his country being hijacked by a bunch of thugs, he has a dilemma: how to stay alive and try and prosper without selling out. I am looking to paint him into a corner so that he can’t cross the floor without getting paint on his shoes.’
I didn’t know Philip Kerr well. I had the chance to interview him only on two occasions, both times via e-mail—once for The Rap Sheet (as previously mentioned), and again for Kirkus Reviews, after his 2011 Gunther novel, Field Gray, was published. I was overjoyed, in 2016, for the chance to finally meet him in person, during a book-signing event at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. And I have heard since from people who’d enjoyed greater contact with him. They mention his gentlemanliness, his civility, the depth of his observations on life and history, his generosity in answering readers’ questions about his work. I am saddened by the idea that I will no longer have chances to communicate with Philip Kerr, and that his presence is gone from the community of crime-fiction writers.

But I will always have his books. Of that I am forever grateful.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Kerr Passes Away

I just read on Facebook about Philip Kerr's death, at age 62. It's been confirmed by Kerr's wife, fellow author Jane Thynne, in a Twitter posting. I can't tell you how saddened I am by this news. I am a huge fan of Kerr's Bernie Gunther historical crime series.

However, I am away from my office just now, and will have to learn and write more once I return.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

PaperBack: “You’ll Get Yours”

Part of a series honoring the late author and blogger Bill Crider.

You’ll Get Yours, by “Thomas Wills,” aka William Ard (Lion, 1956). Cover illustration by Harry Schaare.

Second Helpings

You might have presumed that yesterday’s huge “Bullet Points” post exhausted my current stock of links to crime-fiction news and information of interest. But you would be wrong.

• There are certain historical crimes that are of perpetual interest to me. One of those is the 1906 Madison Square Garden murder of Stanford White. I have more than a couple of books about that scandalous Manhattan homicide, which found Pittsburgh railroad heir Harry K. Thaw shooting the prominent but randy architect thrice in full public view, ostensibly because he had raped Thaw’s wife—actress and artist’s model Evelyn Nesbit—back when she was a teenager. Another book about White’s slaying and the twisted legal case that ensued from it, Simon Baatz’s The Girl on the Velvet Swing: Sex, Murder, and Madness at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century (Mulholland), was recently released, and provoked a Web site called The Crime Report to interview the author. That intriguing exchange is here.

• Let us turn now from historical misdeeds to Victorian-era mystery fiction, in order that I may direct you to Laura Purcell’s survey of gaslight Gothic tales and imaginary 19th-century sleuths.

• The Westlake Review presents a missive written, in 1941, by American film censor Joseph I. Breen to Warner Bros. Studios chief Jack L. Warner. It informs the latter of all the reasons why John Huston’s script for a big-screen adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart, was not appropriate for audience viewing. Clearly (and thank goodness!), director Huston decided to ignore Breen’s prissy complaints.

In a pretty snappy piece for Criminal Element, author Thomas Pluck (Bad Boy Boogie) offers a variety of reasons why folks should be watching the Sundance-TV series Hap and Leonard, the third season of which premiered on March 7. It begins:
Because it’s Joe Fucking Lansdale.

That really should be the end of this article. If you don’t know the work of Joe R. Lansdale,
Hap & Leonard is a wonderful introduction to his most popular books. If you already enjoy his work, watching the series on Sundance is like reading the books for the first time again. They capture the tone and spirit perfectly and bring the characters to life, right down to Hap’s hippie soul and Leonard’s irascible, rugged individualism (and Nilla wafers). Which is quite a feat because, while Joe is a champion storyteller, his voice is a large part of what makes his work so enjoyable. Like Robert Parker, Walter Mosley, and Laura Lippman, he can write about something mundane and make it as gripping as a thriller, because he writes with a voice that we follow like the little bouncing red ball over song lyrics, if you’re old enough to remember those.
• Although it’s been part of this page’s blogroll for awhile, only recently—and in association with my writing about the 50th anniversary of Lieutenant Columbo’s first TV appearance—did I rediscover The Columbophile. Naturally, I have been investigating that site ever since. Three posts to share from my browsing: this one about an evidently “official Columbo YouTube channel”; this list of the unnamed site manager’s 10 favorite Columbo episodes (to which I would definitely add 1973’s “Any Old Port in a Storm,” guest-starring Donald Pleasence and Julie Harris); and this recent piece addressing the matter of Columbo’s first name (a subject I’ve also tackled). I look forward to seeing what The Columbophile can come up with next.

• Here’s a book I missed when it was released last summer: I Watched Them Eat Me Alive: Killer Creatures in Men’s Adventure Magazines, edited by Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle (New Texture). Thankfully, Frank Campbell—the guy behind a blog carrying the rather ponderous name Frank the Movie Watcher, Book Lover, Pop Culture Fan—finally brought it to my attention in a new, quite complimentary post. “All in all,” Campbell opines, “I Watched Them Eat Me Alive just goes to prove the old adage about explosives coming in small packages. This one brings the dynamite in two fists along with a testosterone fuse of sweaty, desperate thrills as men battle killer animals to the death. Trust me, it doesn’t get any better than this.” Folks who follow Deis’ Men’s Pulp Mags should probably look up this slim, digest-size volume.

• I must confess that, despite my growth of interest in the book following Kelli Stanley’s promotion of it in The Rap Sheet, I still haven’t gotten around to reading William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel, Nightmare Alley. But it’s jumped back on my radar, thanks to Andrew Nette recapping its virtues in CrimeReads. “Gresham’s book,” Nette enthuses, “is a masterful story about the art of the grift and the best fictional depiction of the carny (slang for the traveling carnival employee). But most of all, it is a stone-cold classic piece of low-life noir fiction, dark, visceral, surprisingly sex-drenched for its time, and utterly devoid of redemption.”

The latest issue of Clues: A Journal of Detection is out.

• Three more author interviews worth your time: Walter Mosley chats with BookPage about Down the River Unto the Sea, which introduces private eye Joe King Oliver; Lee Goldberg discusses True Fiction with Speaking of Mysteries host Nancie Clare; and J. Todd Scott answers questions from The Real Book Spy about High White Sun, the sequel to his 2016 border-crimes thriller, The Far Empty.

• Finally, when I wrote back in 2010 about Gavilan, Robert Urich’s 1982-1983 NBC-TV crime-cum-espionage series, I never thought I would have another opportunity to watch that show. However, I recently stumbled across three of Gavilan’s 10 episodes on YouTube—here, here, and here. The picture quality isn’t anything to write home about, but the sheer improbability of seeing Urich’s Magnum, P.I. knockoff makes up for such deficiencies.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Bullet Points: Spring at Last! Edition

• I just caught up with this piece from The Economist, titled “To Understand Britian, Read Its Spy Novels,” in which Walter Bagehot asserts that “The spy novel is the quintessential British fictional form in the same way that the Western is quintessentially American. Britain’s best spy novelists are so good precisely because they use the genre to explore what it is that makes Britain British: the obsession with secrecy, the nature of the establishment, the agonies of imperial decline, and the complicated tug of patriotism.”

• Only the other day I was remarking on my astonishment at seeing Steve Scott’s fine John D. MacDonald blog, The Trap of Solid Gold, suddenly return from what I had feared was its grave. I should note as well that Bookgasm, which disappeared completely in early December of last year, is also back with new reviews. Hurrah!

• Now for the bad news: Pornokitsch, a popular culture blog that does not really have anything to do with pornography (a poor name choice, indeed) will be shutting down at the end of this month, after a full decade of operation. As its termination draws near, however, the site seems to have become more active than ever.

This comes from In Reference to Murder:
Frequency’s Peyton List has been tapped as the female lead opposite Joseph Morgan in Fox’s untitled drama pilot based on the best-selling book Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane. Laysla De Oliveira also has been cast as a series regular in the project, from 20th Century Fox TV and Miramax, which was behind the 2007 movie adaptation directed by Ben Affleck. Written by Black Sails co-creator Robert Levine and directed by Phillip Noyce, the untitled project centers on private detectives Patrick Kenzie (Joseph Morgan) and
Peyton List
Angela Gennaro (List) who, armed with their wits, their street knowledge and an undeniable chemistry, right wrongs the law can’t in the working-class Boston borough of Dorchester.
• In other small-screen casting news, Deadline Hollywood reports that “Sarah Jones (Damnation, The Path) is set as a female lead in [the] CBS drama pilot L.A. Confidential, based on James Ellroy’s classic noir novel.” It goes on to say this show will follow “three homicide detectives, a female reporter (Alana Arenas), and a Hollywood actress (Jones) whose paths intersect as the detectives pursue a sadistic serial killer among the secrets and lies of gritty, glamorous 1950s Los Angeles. Jones’s Lynn is a sharp Veronica Lake-like beauty, an aspiring Hollywood actress—and not one to compromise her principles. When she finds a best friend brutally murdered and Jack Vincennes (Walton Goggins) unexpectedly at the scene before she’s had time to call the police, Lynn knows she has something on the LAPD detective—and decides to use it to help solve the horrible crime. The role of Lynn was played by Kim Basinger in the 1997 movie L.A. Confidential, earning her an Oscar.”

• The fifth season of Endeavour, the acclaimed British crime drama and prequel to Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse tales, hasn’t even begun running in the States (at best, we can hope for a late-summer debut). But it has already been renewed for a sixth season.

• If you just can’t stand waiting around to take in the further exploits of a young Detective Sergeant Endeavour Morse (played by Shaun Evans) and his mentor, Detective Inspector Fred Thursday (Roger Allam), note that the British TV blog Killing Times contains reviews of all six episodes in Series 5. (Endeavour was broadcast in the UK earlier this year.) Just beware of inevitable spoilers! Here are the necessary links: Episode 1; Episode 2; Episode 3; Episode 4; Episode 5; and Episode 6. Those last two installments are labeled as belonging to Series 4, rather than 5, but that’s an error.

• Incidentally, it was a year ago tomorrow—on March 21, 2017—that Morse creator Colin Dexter passed away at age 86.

• Series 4 of Shetland, starring Douglas Henshall and based on/inspired by Ann Cleeves’ still-expanding series of novels, is another crime drama that hasn’t yet made it to U.S. screens. (The last of its six episodes was shown tonight in the UK.) Again, though, Killing Times has been recapping all of its episodes.

• Prior to the debut of either of those series, PBS-TV’s Masterpiece Mystery! has slated the broadcast of Unforgotten, described by Wikipedia as following “two London detectives, DCI Cassie Stuart (Nicola Walker) and DI Sunny Khan (Sanjeev Bhaskar), as they work together to solve cold cases involving historic disappearances and murders.” Janet Rudolph points out that this program is set to run on Sunday nights from April 8 through May 13. “Unforgotten,” she adds, “is a really thoughtful, well-acted and -plotted detective show, and there are two seasons that will be aired. I binged the first season and found it mesmerizing. I highly recommend it.”

• This is unfortunate—and rather weird—news. Last week, just a few months after Spinetingler Magazine debuted its first print edition in years (you can still purchase a copy here), editor and owner Jack Getze posted word that “current Fiction Editor Sandra Ruttan has resigned, effective immediately.” He went on to say,
We’ve had a serious and unsolvable disagreement about current and future issues. Since I cannot run this magazine by myself, Spinetingler will close sometime this Spring.

To those writers who have received acceptances from me, my plan is to publish your stories before we disappear. Let me know if you’d rather pull the story and resubmit elsewhere. As to the writers contacted by Sandra for an upcoming print issue, please contact me if you’d like your story to run online. There will not be another
Spinetingler print issue and you are free to resubmit elsewhere.
In a Facebook post appearing around the same time, Ruttan—who, in 2005, co-founded the magazine with K. Robert Einarson—wrote: “My vision for Spinetingler was always about finding the story I was excited to publish and putting out quality material, promoting great fiction. The direction is changing, so it’s time for me to go.”

• Just before I finished assembling this extensive edition of “Bullet Points,” I saw a note in Sandra Seamans’ My Little Corner blog, reading: “I’m not sure why, but the Spinetingler website has disappeared. I know they were closing down but they were supposed to be publishing more stories.” Seamans goes on to observe that “Spinetinger editors Sandra Ruttan and Brian Lindenmuth are starting up a new crime magazine called Toe Six Press.”

• CrimeReads, the new site from Literary Hub, has gotten off to a fairly healthy start, though there are definitely weaknesses to be worked on in the near future. Worth taking a look at there so far: senior editor Dwyer Murphy’s “25 Classic Crime Books You Can Read in an Afternoon”; Ned Beauman’s feature about conspiracy novels in the age of “fake news” and Trump; and Adrian McKinty’s “Everybody Loves to Hate a Dirty Cop: 10 Books of Corruption and Greed.”

• Kim Fay has a nice piece in the Los Angeles Review of Books about the cultural complexities Sujata Massey dealt with in writing The Widows of Malabar Hill, set in 1920s Bombay, India.

• Oh, how I wish I were in London, England! Through this coming Saturday, March 24, that city’s Lever Gallery, in Clerkenwell, is hosting “Uncovered: Illustrating the Sixties and Seventies,” a showcase of the original art from paperback covers of that era. “Artists selected for this exhibition,” explains the gallery’s Web site, “include Ian Robertson, Yorkshire born Michael Johnson, who, with his Fine Art background and distinctive style, soon became one of the most sought after illustrators of the period, and a group of Italian illustrators who worked and lived around Soho and Chelsea, including the highly influential and style-setting Renato Fratini, and other colleagues—many of whom had previously worked in the Italian film industry, such as Gianluigi Coppola, Giorgio De Gaspari, and Pino Dell’Orco.” Flashbak, a photo-obsessed Internet resource, collects a handful of the more than 40 works on display, including Fratini paintings that grace several Mickey Spillane books (The Twisted Thing, The Girl Hunters, etc.) and Johnson’s gorgeous artwork for the 1965 novel A Crowd of Voices, by Richard Lortz. Flashbak’s presentation of these pieces is so captivating, I can even forgive the site its misuse of “pulp fiction” and its misspelling of Erle Stanley Gardner’s name. To see more of the works on display (sadly, in smaller representations), click here.

• Have you been enjoying “PaperBack,” the twice-weekly feature The Rap Sheet picked up from the late Bill Crider’s blog, focused on vintage book fronts? If so, you might also wish to sample “Thrift Shop Book Covers” in Ben Boulden’s Gravetapping. As Boulden explained when he launched that series back in late December 2013, “Thrift Shop Book Covers” features “the cover art and miscellany of books I find at thrift stores and used bookshops. It is reserved for books I purchased as much for the cover art as the story or author.“

• In case you missed seeing it, Killer Covers posted the concluding entry in its Harry Bennett tribute this last Saturday. All in all, the blog showcased more than 190 of Bennett’s painted paperback covers. It also posted this lengthy interview with Bennett’s youngest son, Tom. You can scroll through the full series here.

• Fox-TV’s longest-running animated sitcom, The Simpsons, saluted George Peppard’s 1972-1974 series, Banacek, in its most recent episode, “Homer Is Where the Art Isn’t.” The show found actor-comedian Bill Hader voicing the suave and sexy Manacek, described by AV Club as a “turtleneck-sporting [insurance] investigator who’ll either clear Homer of a major art theft or send the Simpson paterfamilias to prison for a very, very long time.” For folks (like me) who harbor fond memories of Banacek and the whole 1970s NBC Mystery Movie lineup, there was special delight to be found in this ep’s opening title sequence, which was based on the original Banacek intro, complete with Billy Goldenberg’s theme. Enjoy that segment below.

• You can read more about the episode here.

• It’s not easy keeping up with crime-fiction news. Yet David Nemeth is doing a bang-up job of it in his blog, Unlawful Acts. Nemeth’s weekly “Incident Report” posts are packed with leads to reviews, features, and other stories from all over the Web. He even provides an assortment of new and forthcoming genre releases.

• New Zealand professor and author Liam McIlvanney (whose Where the Dead Men Go won the 2014 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel) has posted a thoughtful piece on his Web site addressing the newly launched Staunch Book Prize and ways to deal with violence against women in crime writing. Find his comments here.

• Television Obscurities reports that “Warner Archive’s streaming service is shutting down [after April 26]. Launched in 2013 as Warner Archive Instant, the service offered subscribers a mix of films, TV shows, and made-for-TV movies drawn from the Warner Bros. library. Some of the [vintage] TV shows available at one time or another [were] Cain’s Hundred, The Gallant Men, Man from Atlantis, Maya, Logan’s Run, Beyond Westworld, Search, The Lieutenant, Jericho, The Jimmy Stewart Show, Lucan, and Bronk.”

• British author Colin Cotterill receives some love from the Nikkei Asian Review for his novels starring Dr. Siri Paiboun, the crime-solving state coroner at the morgue in Laos’ capital, Vientiane. “Cotterill can boast of being the only Western author of a murder-mystery series set in Laos,” declares the publication, “although the expat-penned detective genre abounds in Thailand.”

• Congratulations to all of the authors—Patricia Abbott, Craig Pittman, J.D. Allen, Hilary Davidson, and Alex Seguara among them—whose work has been selected to appear in the 2018 Bouchercon anthology, awaiting publication later this year.

Carter Brown fans, listen up! Stark House’s second collection of his work, featuring three early novels, has been scheduled for publication in late May. The previous collection was published last October.

• The 2002 film Road to Perdition, based on Max Allan Collins’ 1998 graphic novel of the same name, has found a place on Taste of Cinema’s list of “The 10 Most Stylish Movies of the 21st Century.”

Esquire magazine selectsThe 25 Best True-Crime Books Every Person Should Read.” I can claim to have read about half of them.

• While we’re on the subject of lists, take a look at Craig Sisterson’s choices of a dozen New Zealand crime writers “whose books will give you an insight into this faraway place and its people.” And yes, Paul Thomas and Vanda Symon are both included.

• Elsewhere, Florida author Steph Post fingers “11 Great Authors Defining Noir in the Sunshine State.”

• Your trivia lesson for the day: The Straight Dope’s Cecil Adams addresses that immortal question, “How did the gavel end up in American courtrooms?

• Barbara Gregorich, author of the new biography Charlie Chan’s Poppa: Earl Derr Biggers, writes in Mystery Fanfare about her long-standing interest in Biggers’ honorable Honolulu sleuth.

• Good question: Why are TV detectives always so sad?

• A few author interviews worth finding on the Web: Alison Gaylin (If I Die Tonight) and Naomi Hirahara (Hiroshima Boy) are Nancie Clare’s most recent guests on the podcast Speaking of Mysteries; Robert Goddard takes questions from Crime Fiction Lover’s Catherine Turnbull about his new thriller, Panic Room; Criminal Element chats with Christi Daugherty about her first novel for adults, The Echo Killing; blogger Colman Keane talks with Margot Kinberg about Downfall; and Crimespree Magazine goes one-on-one with Christopher Rice, discussing his fresh release, Bone Music.

• Calling Fox News a “propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration,” retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters, a frequent Fox contributor, has chosen not to renew his contract with that network. According to the Web site BuzzFeed, Peters sent a message to colleagues saying, “Fox News is assaulting our constitutional order and the rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers.” This wouldn’t usually have been fodder for a Rap Sheet item; however, you may recall that Peters, under the pseudonym Owen Parry, penned half a dozen mystery novels set during America’s Civil War and starring a detective named Abel Jones. (The first book in that series was 1999’s Faded Coat of Blue.) It’s good to see that Peters has been keeping himself busy since he stopped writing the Jones books in 2005.

Pick Up a Good Book—for Your Health

This is something I’ve long believed, and now Inc. magazine declares it to be true: “Reading fiction can help you be more open-minded and creative. According to research conducted at the University of Toronto, study participants who read short-story fiction experienced far less need for ‘cognitive closure’ compared with counterparts who read non-fiction essays. Essentially, they tested as more open-minded, compared with the readers of essays. ‘Although non-fiction reading allows students to learn the subject matter, it may not always help them in thinking about it,’ the authors write.”

Science shows, too, that “People who read books live longer.”

Sunday, March 18, 2018

PaperBack: “Assignment—Mara Tirana”

Part of a series honoring the late author and blogger Bill Crider.

Assignment—Mara Tirana, by Edward S. Aarons (Fawcett Gold Medal, 1960). This is apparently the 12th entry in Aarons’ once-popular series starring Cajun CIA agent Sam Durell.
Cover illustration by Robert McGinnis.

Going for the Gold

Supplementing The Rap Sheet’s regular and rather lengthy blogroll—found running down the right side of every page—I maintain a separate Archive Sites page. There I’ve installed links to crime fiction-oriented blogs and other Web sites that are no longer being updated, but that I think remain useful. I am always reluctant to move something from the active list to those dusty annals, especially if I think its author might one day get the itch to write again. Such revivals are few and far between, but they do happen.

Which brings us to Steve Scott’s The Trap of Solid Gold.

That blog, focused on the life and literary escapades of John D. MacDonald (and taking its name from the title of a 1960 MacDonald short story), debuted back in 2009. But it suddenly went dark after a post on November 16, 2016. Knowing that Scott, a onetime commercial banker living in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, had—for reasons only later explained—taken two previous years off (2012 and 2013) from contributing to his excellent blog, I tried to be patient about this latest dilatoriness. By the beginning of 2018, however, I had pretty much resigned myself to the notion that The Trap of Solid Gold had run its course. I was ready to add it to my list of Archive Sites.

Wouldn’t you know it, though? That’s exactly when Scott decided it was time to kick his blog back into gear. Since then, he’s been posting about once a week, covering topics that range from MacDonald’s early efforts to create a series character (before he gave birth to Travis McGee, of course) and his 1959 standalone novel, The Crossroads, to the 1968 TV pilot film Kona Coast (based on a MacDonald short story and starring Richard Boone) and the role MacDonald’s wife, Dorothy, played in his fiction-writing career.

If you haven’t been keeping track of The Trap of Solid Gold, it’s time to add it to your reading list. Let’s hope Steve Scott doesn’t take another vacation from updating it at anytime soon.

Another Record for the Books

Well, this is embarrassing. I noticed a couple of months ago that, according to our Blogger software, we were coming near to putting up our 7,000th post here at The Rap Sheet. I kept track for a while as that milestone approached. But then just as the crucial time arrived, I got busy and failed to check in. As it turns out, this post in our new “PaperBack” series was the 7,000th entry on the page.

I want to thank all of The Rap Sheet’s regular contributors, as well as our many guest posters over the years, for making this blog the valuable resource it has become. I couldn’t have been nearly so prolific or informative as we all have been together.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Revue of Reviewers, 3-16-18

Critiquing some of the most interesting recent crime, mystery, and thriller releases. Click on the individual covers to read more.

Catch a Glimpse of These

Today brought the posting, in my Killer Covers blog, of the first of two large galleries featuring vintage paperback fronts painted by distinguished American artist Harry Bennett. This pair of pieces will close out a celebration of Bennett’s work that began in December of last year. I hope you enjoy the show!

Preparing for the Nibbies

Shortlists of contenders for the 2018 British Book Awards—aka the Nibbies—have just been released in seven categories. Among those classifications is Crime & Thriller Book of the Year, which pits the following novels against one another:

The Girl Before, by J.P. Delaney (Quercus)
The Midnight Line, by Lee Child (Bantam Press)
The Dry, by Jane Harper (Abacus)
Behind Her Eyes, by Sarah Pinborough (HarperFiction)
Spook Street, by Mick Herron (John Murray)
He Said/She Said, by Erin Kelly (Mulholland)

In addition, Joseph Knox’s thriller Sirens (Doubleday) is vying with five rivals for Debut Book of the Year honors.

Winners of all this year’s Nibbies will be announced during a splashy ceremony on Monday, May 14, at London’s Grosvenor Hotel. The British Book Awards are organized by the UK magazine The Bookseller.

(Hat tip to Ali Karim, one of the 2018 Nibbies judges.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

PaperBack: “The Pale Door”

Part of a series honoring the late author and blogger Bill Crider.

The Pale Door, by “Lee Roberts,” aka Robert Martin (Bantam, 1956). Under his own name, Martin penned an earlier entry in this series, The Widow and the Web; and again as Roberts, he produced 1960’s If the Shoe Fits. Cover illustrator unknown.

Levinson Leaves Us

I haven’t yet seen any official obituary, but multiple Web sources are reporting that New York-born Los Angeles author Robert S. Levinson died yesterday, March 13, “after a hard-fought battle with pneumonia.” Levinson, a newspaper reporter turned advertising and public-relations director, and a former president of the Mystery Writers of America’s Southern California chapter, was the author of the Neil Gulliver and Stevie Marriner series (The Elvis and Marilyn Affair, Hot Paint—which I reviewed in this early newsletter version of The Rap Sheet—and The Stardom Affair), as well as standalone novels such as Ask a Dead Man (2004) and The Evil Deeds We Do (2015).

According to his Web site, the 76-year-old Levinson
won the Short Mystery Fiction Society’s Best Short Story Derringer Award for “The Quick Brown Fox,” a short that originally appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. The short is also featured in the anthology Between the Dark and the Daylight and 28 More of the Year’s Finest Crime and Mystery Stories [2009]. An original short, “Down in Capistrano,” appears in Orange County Noir, and another, “The Night of the Murder,” in the anthology Crime Square. Another original, “The Dead Detective,” appears in The Sound and the Furry: Stories to Benefit the International Fund for Animal Welfare, as well as [in] the Coast to Coast short-story collection.

Levinson, a Shamus Award nominee, was an
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Award winner three consecutive years. To date, his short stories have been selected for inclusion in “year’s best” anthologies eight consecutive years, including the cover title piece (from Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine) in A Prisoner of Memory and 24 of the Year’s Finest Crime and Mystery Stories [2008].
A list of this author’s novels, plus more biographical information, can be found at the Book Series in Order site.

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

READ MORE:Lights! Camera! Levinson!” by Bob Levinson (Meanderings and Muses); “On the Bubble with Bob Levinson,” by Elaine Flinn (Murderati).

The Story Behind the Story:
“Newport Ave,” by Ken Kuhlken

(Editor’s note: Today we bring you the 76th entry in our “Story Behind the Story” series. Its author should, by now, be familiar to Rap Sheet readers: Ken Kuhlken, a California novelist and the co-founder [with his wife, Pam] of Perelandra College in La Mesa, where he also teaches creative writing. In addition to his having composed the Hickey family crime series [The Loud Adios, The Do-Re-Mi, The Good Know Nothing, etc.], Kuhlken has penned short stories, features, and essays for a variety of publications. He’s earned a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the Ernest Hemingway Award for Best First Novel, the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America Best First Private Eye Novel prize, and the Shamus Award for Best Novel. Below, he recalls the real-life family members on whom he based characters in his new noir novel, Newport Ave. Here’s the publisher’s brief on that book’s plot: “A fugitive from a manslaughter charge returns home to a foggy California beach town hoping to protect his sister Olivia from her estranged husband, a mob-connected gambler. He enlists the help of his closest old friend, now a devoted Christian family man and Sunday school teacher. After exploring all options, they decide the only sure way to protect Olivia is to kill the gambler.”)

My uncle Virgil, husband to my mom’s youngest sister, was a charming fellow. No wonder his children adored him. He owned a small grocery on Newport Avenue, the main commercial street in San Diego’s Ocean Beach neighborhood. His store was only a few blocks from the beach where my cousins and I spent summer days.

Then my aunt and uncle’s marriage failed, probably because he drank far too much. I imagine the drinking also led to the crime that landed him in prison.

His children, my cousins, were all remarkable people. Wade was a genius. According to our grandma, he scored highest in the country on college board exams. He was also a rebel who drove a hot-rod Ford and wasn’t wedded to laws. He won a scholarship to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but then lost it for breaking rules and conspiring in outlandish pranks such as detonating the initials “MIT” in the Harvard football field. Only after he served a hitch in the military (a frequent alternative to jail in those days) did MIT give him back the scholarship.

After graduation, and with a degree in electrical engineering, Wade’s financial prospects were practically limitless. But he worked for a corporation just long enough to buy a sailboat, then he and his woman sailed away and never returned. They settled in Rarotonga, in the vicinity of Tahiti, and lived modestly in a house they built.

Virgie, Wade’s oldest sister, became something of a local celebrity. Both gorgeous and kind, she was voted most popular and prettiest in her high school every year. But her choice in boys, and later men, was problematic. During that era, Portuguese families from her neighborhood owned much of the tuna fleet. The boys, knowing they could make large money working on the boats, often didn’t bother with high school. When teenage boys lack structured lives, they can get into plenty of trouble. Boys Virgie favored did just that. Later, as a flight attendant, she met and married Chris Petti, a gambler and onetime bodyguard for Los Angeles mob boss Mickey Cohen. My mom theorized that because Virgie adored her dad, she chose men who, like him, were likely bound for prison.

They were married for some years, then Chris got convicted on a racketeering charge. After his release, while he lived with his son George, my editor at the San Diego Reader was doing research for a feature on the history of the mob in San Diego. She asked me if I could get Chris to give me his life story.

I called and asked.

“I’m not that kinda guy,” Chris said.

I said, “No, anything you don’t want published, don’t tell me. It’s your story. You get to be the hero and tell it anyway you like.”

Again, he said, “I’m not that kinda guy.”

So Chris’ life story never came out. But after his death in 2006, George told me that during Chris’ last days, he’d confided, “I wish I would’ve told Skip (my family nickname) my story.”

And since I believe good stories should never get wasted, Virgie became Olivia in Newport Ave, Wade became James, and Chris—well, I’d bet he was a more worthy guy than Maurice, but he didn’t give me his story in time.

Are You Green with Envy?

I don’t know what you might have planned, but I shall be spending part of this coming St. Patrick’s Day at my local gastropub, dining on corned beef and cabbage with my favorite niece. Maybe then (if a postprandial nap isn’t required), I shall pick up one of the holiday-appropriate crime novels Janet Rudolph lists today in her blog, Mystery Fanfare.

A Return to “Bennett’s Beauties”

You may remember that from early December of last year through the first week of 2018, my other blog, Killer Covers, ran a 43-post tribute to American artist and paperback illustrator Harry Bennett. Prior to the series’ completion, I began an e-mail interview with Bennett’s youngest son, Tom. Unfortunately, the series concluded before our exchange was finished. Only now am I finally able to present the results of that conversation, which covers everything from Harry Bennett’s personal history and education to his ultimate retirement and declining health in old age. You can now read the interview here.

And over the next couple of days, Killer Covers will carry two galleries of Bennett’s remarkable book fronts. Keep a watch for them.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

PaperBack: “The Frightened Stiff”

Part of a series honoring the late author and blogger Bill Crider.

The Frightened Stiff, by “Kelley Roos,” aka William and Audrey Roos (Dell, 1953). This is the third book in that husband-and-wife writing team’s series starring happily married amateur sleuths Haila and Jeff Troy. Cover illustration by Len Oehmen.

Temple, Wilhelm Pass Away on Same Day

The crime-fiction world lost two of its notable creators last week: South Africa-born Australian novelist Peter Temple, who died on Thursday at age 71; and American mystery and science-fiction writer Kate Wilhelm, who expired on that very same day, aged 89, after what’s described as “a brief illness.”

In its Temple obituary, The Sydney Morning Herald explains that, in addition to his being “the first crime writer to win Australia’s most significant literary award, the Miles Franklin [in 2010], ...
Temple was also the first Australian writer to win the British Crime Writers’ Association major award, the Gold Dagger, which he did for The Broken Shore in 2007. It was Truth, the follow-up to that novel, that won the Miles Franklin in 2010. He won five Ned Kelly Awards, the local crime-writing prizes, beginning in 1997 for his first book, Bad Debts.

Temple was perhaps best-known for his Jack Irish novels, which featured his Fitzroy-based solicitor-cum-fixer hero. The Jack Irish books—there were four—had a magnificent stable of recurring characters, many of whom drank in a fictional pub, The Prince of Prussia. In total he wrote nine novels.
To all of that information, The Australian adds:
His unexpected passing puts doubt over the much-anticipated third novel in the series that started with The Broken Shore in 2005 and went on with Truth, which won the Miles in 2010.

It’s understood Temple was working on the third book, tentatively titled
The Light on the Hill, but was not happy enough with it to submit a manuscript to his publisher, Melbourne-based Text.

His death also draws a curtain on the loveable rogue Jack Irish. The popular books were made into a television series with Guy Pearce in the title role. As well as boxing, cabinet making and following the AFL, Irish liked to bet on the horses, something he shared with the author.
The Morning Herald notes that Temple “had had cancer for the past six months, having dealt with a bout of the disease several years ago. He is survived by his wife, Anita, and his son, Nicholas.”

I was fortunate to have commissioned, in 2002 and on behalf of January Magazine, an interview with Temple, conducted by David Honeybone, the founding editor of Oz’s Crime Factory magazine. In the years since, Temple occasionally dropped me e-mail notes, commenting on both literary and political matters, and lightly suggesting that I sample his latest published work. Thus I amassed not only all four of his Jack Irish books (including the last, 2003’s White Dog, which I wrote about in an early newsletter version of The Rap Sheet), but also Broken Shore and Truth. I can only hope to someday read the third Victoria-set novel in that trilogy, even if it’s not in the condition Temple would have found perfect.

Meanwhile, it’s Janet Rudolph of Mystery Fanfare who brings word of author Wilhelm’s demise. “Kate Wilhelm was what I consider a Renaissance writer,” her post begins.
She wrote award-winning science fiction, fantasy,
speculative fiction, magical realism, and mystery. She wrote standalones and series, poetry and non-fiction, short stories, and edited many collections. She was extremely prolific, and she was extremely good.

Kate Wilhelm wrote 14 novels in the Barbara Holloway legal mystery series and six novels in the Constance Leidl and Charlie Meiklejohn P.I./psychologist series, as well as several collections, short stories in
EQMM [Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine], and standalone mystery/suspense novels. Her works have been adapted for television and movies in the United States, England, and Germany. Wilhelm’s novels and stories have been translated to more than a dozen languages. …

Kate Wilhelm won three Nebulas, two Hugos, and two
Locus awards, and was an inductee to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.
The Ohio-born Wilhelm was married to science-fiction writer Damon Knight (her second marriage) from 1963 until his death in 2002. She lived in Eugene, Oregon. According to a note on Facebook, a Wilhelm obituary will run in that city’s Register-Guard next Sunday, and “a celebration of [her] life will be held in Eugene on Friday, June 8, 2018, Kate’s birthday. Details will be announced.”

* * *

Finally, a follow-up to our reporting on the mid-February passing of Aussie crime-fiction reviewer Bernadette Bean, author of the blog Reactions to Reading. In a piece for the Australian Crime Writers Association’s official site, Ngaio Marsh Awards founder and former Ned Kelly Awards judge Craig Sisterson recalls that
Bernadette loved books. She loved good storytelling. And she believed it was vital that everyone had access to books, and a chance to learn about the array of good writing, particularly Australian crime writing, that was out there. She was a book critic who could cast a scathing eye over stories, when required, but was always supportive of authors and those in the books world. “Bernadette pulled no punches in her reviews,” says [her friend and fellow reviewer Kerrie] Smith. “She was very thorough in identifying where she thought the author had got it wrong, and fulsome in her praise of those she thought had written a great book.”

Two mystery writers I’ve spoken to since Bernadette’s death, British and American, both shared how nervous they were when Bernadette was going to review their debuts, because of her “fearsome,” pull-no-punches style which left no doubt about what she liked or felt didn’t meet muster.

“I knew how skilled she was at reviewing, and thought, 'Oh, here it goes!,’” said the American. “But she liked it. That feeling that someone whose opinion I respected so much liked my work was so special.”
You can find Sisterson’s full remembrance here.

READ MORE:‘The Novel Is About Making Believe Your World Is Real’: An Interview with Peter Temple,” by David Honeybone (Pulp Curry).

Friday, March 09, 2018

Spillane’s Hundred

Were it not for the small inconvenience of his having died back in 2006, hard-boiled American crime-fiction writer Mickey Spillane—the self-proclaimed “Bubble Gum Champ of American Literature”—would today be trying to blow out candles on his 100th birthday cake. Even in his absence, commemorations of Spillane’s lengthy and successful career are imminent, or are at least in the process of being rolled out for the reading public’s enjoyment.

Born in Brooklyn, New York, on March 9, 1918, Frank Morrison Spillane (“Mickey” was a sobriquet derived from his baptismal name, Michael) began his writing career “after his 1935 graduation from St. Erasmus High School in Brooklyn,” his longtime friend and collaborator, Iowa author Max Allan Collins, explains in a piece for the Winter 2018 edition of Mystery Scene magazine. “Working under house names and pseudonyms (Frank Morrison, among others), Spillane contributed short fiction to various slicks and pulps, including Collier’s and Hollywood Detective. He continued to sell short stories during his brief stint in 1939 at Kansas State Teacher’s College, where his attention went to football and intramural swimming, not his studies.” Following his move back to the Empire State, Spillane briefly got into the comic-book business before enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps (what is today’s Air Force) on the day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor—the disaster that drew America into World War II.

Collins says Spillane—who’d “learned to fly as a teenager”—spent most of his military stint “as a fighter pilot instructor” at an airbase in Greenwood, Mississippi. It was in that same state where he met and wed his first wife (of three). After returning to New York, he purchased property on the Hudson River with the intention of building a home there for his young family. To finance that dream, Spillane intended to join the ranks of detective-story writers. “The comic-book industry was in a slump,” writes Collins, “and a stalled independent comics project of his—a private-eye character, ‘Mike Danger’—would provide the basis for his book, he told his friends. They laughed. He turned the comic story into a mystery novel in less than three weeks (possibly in as few as nine days). The book was I, the Jury.”

Although the 1947 hardcover edition of I, the Jury—marking the initial appearance of Mike Hammer—didn’t set any sales records, its subsequent paperback version “sold more than eight million copies,” according to Collins, “a figure not including its many translations and hardbound editions.” It was enough to guarantee Spillane the writing career he needed and wanted. Over the next half-century, he’d deliver another dozen Mike Hammer yarns (along with more than 20 non-Hammer novels) and influence generations of younger storytellers. Spillane’s hard-headed, well-armed, and sometimes remorseless principal protagonist would not be confined to the printed page, but also won a life on radio, the silver screen, and (on and off) television. Despite critics who denounced Spillane’s stories as unduly violent and sexually provocative, in 1995 he received a Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America, placing him among a distinguished contingent of crime-fictionists that by then already included Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner, Ross Macdonald, Dorothy B. Hughes, Ellery Queen, John le Carré, and Lawrence Block.

Not even Spillane’s demise at the arguably ripe old age of 88 brought an end to his publishing career.

Prior to his passing, the writer (he reportedly hated being called a “novelist”) asked Max Allan Collins to complete the Hammer book he was then laboring over, should he be unable to do so himself. Collins—familiar as the author of series starring Chicago gumshoe Nate Heller (Better Dead) and professional hit man Quarry (Quarry’s Climax)—not only fulfilled Spillane’s request, finishing the tale and seeing it released in 2008 as The Goliath Bone, but he gathered up stacks of the writer’s other unpublished and partial manuscripts from his residence in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina. He has since been turning those into full-blown novels, short stories, and audiobooks.

Collins has a 10th Hammer book, Killing Town, due out from Titan in mid-April, with two more installments in the series—Murder, My Love and Masquerade for Murder—scheduled for publication between now and the spring of 2020. (Click here to find a chronology of the 23 Hammer novels already in existence.) Before then, on March 20, Hard Case Crime will issue The Last Stand, a hardcover combination of two non-Hammer Spillane yarns: the novella A Bullet for Satisfaction, a grim-toned, early career mystery about corruption in a small town and a tarnished cop on a crusade; and the more polished title story—the last book Spillane completed on his own—about an older, Spillane-esque pilot who makes an emergency landing in a desert region of the American Southwest and gets involved with a terrifically sarcastic Native American, the FBI, and less-than-compassionate fortune hunters. Collins acknowledges that he long ago squirreled all three of those manuscripts away, with the intention of bringing them to readers in association with the centenary of Spillane’s birth.

As if all of this weren’t enough by way of celebrating Spillane’s 100th birthday, Collins and Hard Case have planned a four-issue Mike Hammer comic-book series set to debut in June. And publisher Berkley has finally brought out The Mike Hammer Collection, Volume IV, comprising the concluding quartet of Spillane’s Hammer novels. (Sadly, Berkeley has put that collection on sale only in e-book format, while the preceding volumes were made available as paperbacks. We’ll have to see whether sales warrant a later print edition.)

(Above) Mickey Spillane and collaborator Max Allan Collins pose together at the San Diego Comic Con in 1994, where they were touting their Mike Danger comic book.

Hoping to learn more about all of these plans, I turned for help to Collins (who celebrated his own birthday last weekend—his 70th). He patiently answered my many questions, covering everything from the roots of his relationship with Spillane and his efforts to expand that writer’s oeuvre, to his impressions of Killing Town (starring a pre-I, the Jury Hammer), how he readies himself to work on new Spillane stories, and his favorite Hammer outings. I also inquired about Collins’ own next book projects—another Heller tale, plus a dual biography about mob boss Al Capone and Prohibition agent Eliot Ness.

J. Kingston Pierce: First off, could you please remind us of the circumstances involved in your meeting Mickey Spillane for the first time, and how your friendship with him grew over the years?

Max Allan Collins: I’ve told this story a lot, so anyone who wishes to skip to the next question has my blessing. At age 11 or so, I was caught up in the TV private-eye craze, typified by Peter Gunn and 77 Sunset Strip. Many of the series had a basis in novels, so The Thin Man led me to Dashiell Hammett, Philip Marlowe to I-think-you-know-who, and Mike Hammer to you-really-should-know-who.

I was always obsessive about reading the fiction that inspired TV shows and movies that I liked, and to look into the real history behind history-based TV and movies—still am. I researched Hammett and [Raymond] Chandler, in that order, and discovered that they were pretty much revered out of the gate. But when I researched my other favorite author, Mickey Spillane, I was flabbergasted to find that he was roundly reviled by reviewers as well as social commentators, who blamed him for everything from juvenile delinquency to the coarsening of popular culture.

So I became a defender of the most popular American mystery writer of the 20th century, writing about him in classes at the University of Iowa, publishing articles and essays that praised his work. I became known as the “go to” Spillane guy. That led, in 1981, to my being invited to be the liaison between Bouchercon (held in Milwaukee that year) and Mickey, who was a guest of honor. He was then doing the famous Miller Lite commercials—Miller made the convention appearance happen.

Now, I had written countless fan letters to Mickey since I was in junior high. I never received a reply, until finally in 1973, when my first two novels were published (Bait Money and Blood Money), he wrote me a warm letter welcoming me to the business.

So at the con, the organizers took me to Mickey’s hotel room and knocked. Mickey answered, looking just like himself, and the con folks introduced themselves and then pointed to me and said, “Mickey, this is Max Collins,” and Mickey grinned and said, “Oh, I know Max! We’ve been corresponding for years.” And I said, “That’s right, Mickey—a hundred letters from me and one letter from you!” He grinned and we were immediate friends. I interviewed him before the entire convention and we were a smash. And Mickey discovered that, despite the many attacks on him over the years, he was beloved by mystery fans.

I began visiting him at his South Carolina home about twice a year. Other than Dave Gerrity, who passed away after a year or two, I was the only writer Mickey had to talk to. We would talk deep into the night, and he would share the endings of Hammer stories not yet finished, sometimes not yet begun. We began doing projects together—anthologies of his work, and the work of others in the genre, and co-created a comic book, a science-fiction take on his Mike Danger character, which ran several years. And he was involved in my indie film projects—appearing in Mommy and Mommy’s Day, and cooperating on a documentary on his life and career, Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane, which appears in somewhat condensed form on the Criterion release of Kiss Me Deadly.

We were close. His wife Jane says I was his literary son, and I certainly agree that he was my literary father. He was also my son Nate’s godfather.

JKP: Were you surprised, after Spillane died in 2006, that he had entrusted his many unfinished works to your care? And how useful was it, when you were struggling to turn those partial manuscripts into full novels or short stories, to know that Spillane had trusted your ability and judgment to do so?

MAC: Not long before his passing—pancreatic cancer took him down quickly—he called and asked if I would complete the Mike Hammer novel he was working on, The Goliath Bone—if necessary, as he still hoped to finish it himself. Of course, I said yes. Jane says a few days later he told her there’d be a “treasure hunt around here” after he was gone, and that she should give everything she found to me. That I would know what to do.

So, no, I have never felt intimidated or frightened or whatever about working on these manuscripts. And I’ve never had to struggle. If Mickey believed in me, why should I argue with him? And, remember, I was Chester Gould’s successor on [the comic strip] Dick Tracy, which had been my first obsession as a kid. And Chet was still around to look over my shoulder.

JKP: Break down for me how many substantive manuscripts Spillane left behind for you to complete, and how many partial stories you have managed to also turn into novels or short stories. And do you think that he, left with those same resources, would ever have brought such a trove of reading matter to market in the way you have?

MAC: I started out with six substantial manuscripts of 100 or more pages each, sometimes with character and plot notes, but not always. Two rough endings were part of the mix, but he had acted out the endings of three or four others in our late-night bull sessions in South Carolina. Sometimes there were alternate versions of chapters, in which case I would use portions of both. Now and then he started over—as when he misplaced the manuscript-in-progress of The Goliath Bone and just began again, only later to find the first version. And of course I combined and interspersed those as much as possible. What became Kiss Her Goodbye, one of the best of the collaborative novels, was two manuscripts with essentially the same opening but going in different directions as to plot—I used both, managing to make the two plots intersect. The unfinished follow-up to I, the JuryLady, Go Die!—was about 70 double-spaced pages, but was missing Chapter One. I didn’t tackle that for a while, in that one case somewhat intimidated, because writing the opening chapter of a Spillane novel was a big challenge. I had a first chapter to another otherwise unwritten Hammer novel that dealt with a similar situation, and I managed to use that in combination with those 70 pages.

Three manuscripts were not as substantial, 40 or 50 pages and sometimes notes, and in one case a rough ending (Murder Never Knocks). The most recent novel, The Will to Kill, was just two chapters—but in them Mickey set up the entire book, introducing all the major characters and the mystery itself, a rather Christie-esque hard-boiled novel.

Killing Town is a special case—fairly substantial, 60 or 70 double-spaced pages. To put it in context, a finished Hammer is around 300 double-spaced manuscript pages. The next two novels will be developed primarily from plot synopses and notes.

There were eight fragments that weren’t long enough to provide enough to properly develop a novel. These became short stories, which have been particularly well-received, with several Shamus nominations including a win [in 2014, for “So Long, Chief”), an Edgar nomination, and Scribe nominations and awards.

I should note that I edited, and wrote the last three chapters of Dead Street, a non-Hammer, and developed The Consummata, the sequel to The Delta Factor [1967], from a 100-page substantial Spillane manuscript.

Some of the things in Mickey’s files he would have got around to finishing, most likely—King of the Weeds was a book he was proud of, and Dead Street was active in one of his three offices. I also think he had, for some time, intended for me to use the unpublished material and complete and develop them for publication, to keep his legacy alive and make some bread for his beloved Jane. Ten years before his passing, he sent two of the unfinished manuscripts home with me for safekeeping—The Big Bang and Complex 90. Any number of times he’d give me an older partial manuscript of his, including what became Killing Town, and would say, “Maybe someday we’ll do something with this.”

JKP: We’ve talked several times over the last dozen years, and I don’t remember your ever saying a word about the two non-Mike Hammer stories that make up The Last Stand. Were you holding out on me and other poor interviewers, thinking that those works needed to be saved—in secret—for publication on what would have been the author’ s 100th birthday?

MAC: Jane and I, and several publishers including Charles Ardai [of Hard Case Crime], discussed starting a posthumous program for Mickey with The Last Stand, as it was his final completed work. Near completion was Dead Street, and The Goliath Bone existed in a nearly complete but essentially condensed form. The latter reflected Mickey racing to finish it with his own end breathing down on him.

But The Last Stand was not typical Spillane and it did not feature Mike Hammer. I felt that we had to put the emphasis on Hammer, who Mickey called his “bread and butter boy.” Dead Street was also a good one to bring out early on, because it dealt with the aging tough guy in a more direct way than The Last Stand.

So I was waiting for the right moment, specifically after I had gotten the six substantial manuscripts completed—The Goliath Bone, The Big Bang, Kiss Her Goodbye, Lady, Go Die!, Complex 90, and King of the Weeds. I felt those novels, on which Mickey had invested a lot of effort, several of which had been announced at various times by his publisher, were the novels that we had to get out there. And to these I would add the non-Hammer Dead Street and The Consummata.

That was the minimal goal I gave myself. It went well enough to continue with the shorter but significant manuscripts, and to develop short stories from the more fragmentary Hammer material.

JKP: When did you begin planning this 100th birthday celebration?

MAC: Well, in 2006, I was not thinking about 2018. But several years ago it seemed to me that the two special manuscripts—The Last Stand and Killing Town—that I had put away early on would make perfect bookends for the centenary … the last solo Spillane novel, and the first Mike Hammer.

JKP: Let’s talk about the stories included in The Last Stand. Were they both pretty much completed by the time you acquired them, or did you have to piece together versions and scraps and add a lot of your own writing before they could be published?

MAC: I was strictly an editor on The Last Stand. Sometimes I was an intrusive and presumptuous one, but my job was editorial, based on a conversation with Mickey, who had wanted to tighten and touch it up. That’s what I did. The story is driven by the quite wonderful dialogue, but occasionally dialogue exchanges went on too long and the book did have some redundancy that I pruned. But that novel is pure Spillane.

A Bullet for Satisfaction was a mysterious manuscript. It was written on Spillane’s distinctive yellow typescript, but the first and last sections were double-spaced, while the middle section was single-spaced as was Mickey’s habit, and was more obviously his work. I suspect that Mickey was collaborating with one of the so-called “satellite” writers—Joe Gill, Earle Baskinsky, Charlie Wells, or most likely Dave Gerrity—doing the plotting and supervising, then at a key point stepping in and taking over, before tossing it back to one of his pals. This is only a theory, and it’s certainly a typical pre-1960 Spillane novella.

One of the reasons I think Spillane only wrote the middle part by himself is that the rest of it was rough and needed some love. I provided that. I wound up being the co-writer of what is almost a crystallization of every Gold Medal Books-era theme and convention. In that way, I think it’s a lot of fun.

Also, The Last Stand, the novel, is on the short side—40-some-thousand words. And editor Charles Ardai and I thought the book could use some extra heft. An unpublished novella from early in Mickey’s career seemed like a fun way to introduce his final work, and satisfy readers who wanted the sex-and-violence melodrama they expect from Spillane.

JKP: You’re right, A Bullet for Satisfaction is straight out of the 1950s hard-boiled realm, with a brutish protagonist, more than one easily available woman, and abundant duplicity. You suggest in your introduction to this new book that Spillane could have sold it to one of his regular magazine markets. Yet I have to wonder whether Spillane didn’t see it as too typical of the breed, too full of familiar tropes, and too much like other stories he had penned to get excited about peddling it. What do you think?

MAC: Mickey sold many novellas to Cavalier, Saga, and Manhunt in the period between Kiss Me, Deadly (1952) and The Deep (1960). A Bullet for Satisfaction was fairly typical. I think it was never marketed because it needed more work, which I put into it, something Mickey hadn’t bothered to do.

JKP: While readers can enjoy The Last Stand later this month, it won’t be till mid-April that the 10th Mike Hammer novel you’ve issued into the world, Killing Town, will become available. As I understand it, Spillane began that book even before he concocted I, the Jury, his first published Hammer yarn. Why did Mickey abandon this novel? And what sort of polishing did you have to do to make it publishable?

MAC: Mickey actually sat and watched me reading the partial manuscript, grinning, very pleased by my astonished reaction to the very brown, brittle manuscript. It was very substantial—between 60 and 70 double-spaced pagers. Very well written. I didn’t have to polish it much at all. The trick was finding a way to pay off his very intriguing, imaginative premise, which I frankly think may have stumped him, as a young writer. I think he painted himself into a bit of a corner, because the story would seem inevitably to lead to Hammer marrying the heroine. The alternative would be to have her die, which was tonally wrong for the story, which was brutal in its violence but oddly good-hearted. It’s far, far superior to, say, A Bullet for Satisfaction.

JKP: Is the Mike Hammer we see in Killing Town very different from the pistol-packing P.I. we’ve grown to know and love?

MAC: He’s recognizable as the same guy, but he’s young—fresh back from combat in the Pacific. He’s absolutely just as prone to violence as the Hammer of the early six books.

JKP: Also, as I’ve heard, there’s no Velda Sterling in Killing Town. At what point in his development of Hammer did he decide the gumshoe needed a buxom secretary-cum-partner to smooth his harder edges?

MAC: I can’t say. He never shared that with me. I think you have to look at Killing Town as Mickey getting the character up on its feet, but realizing that the character would need, if taken into a series, a secondary cast, a support system. Interestingly, in Lady, Go Die!, his abandoned follow-up to I, the Jury that I completed, Hammer is overtly in love with Velda, and I think that’s why he dropped it—he didn’t want Hammer tied down yet. The next Hammer he wrote was The Twisted Thing [1966], and Velda isn’t in that one—as in Lady and for that matter Killing Town, Hammer is not in New York, but has hopped a rail to a smaller town north of the city. Killing Town has more in common with the non-Hammer The Long Wait [1951] than with I, the Jury.

JKP: How do you view this new Killing Town in relation to the remainder of the Mike Hammer canon?

MAC: I think it works well as the first book, as an introduction to the character. One way I tried to enhance that, to help Mickey set things up in a way, is by introducing Pat Chambers (via a phone call) as Mike’s pal at the NYPD. Pat, however, is in uniform at this point. I even have Pat complain about running interference for Mike, and advising him to get a secretary.

A big part of this effort has been to place these “new” old manuscripts in the context of the Hammers that Mickey published. To make clear where both Mickey and Mike are, in the context of the times, of the canon. Where their heads are at.

JKP: Do you have favorite works among the now 23 Hammer novels? Which do you think most deserve to be read by crime-fiction fans who’ve never sampled the series?

MAC: My favorite, of course, is One Lonely Night [1951]. But it’s awfully strong medicine for a first-time reader. I, the Jury still works, because everything builds from there (so would Killing Town, I believe). Really any of the first six will tell you what you need to know about the character.

I frankly am proud of, and like very much, all of the Hammer books I’ve completed. It tickles me no end to see those books next to Mickey’s on a shelf in my office, a number of the titles having been announced when I was a teenage fan of his, and now finally being able to put them there.

I am particularly fond, where the collaborations are concerned, of Kiss Her Goodbye and King of the Weeds. From a craft standpoint, I like Complex 90 because Mickey had begun his manuscript with Hammer telling a very condensed version of his adventures behind the Iron Curtain. I dropped a lot of that, though left the context of Hammer being interrogated at the Pentagon, then flashing back for a lengthy section taking the readers to Russia with Hammer—seeing those adventures. That’s a rare book among the collaborations, because the Mickey stuff isn’t at the beginning, except for Chapter One, it’s in the middle. I also like that it’s a sequel to The Girl Hunters [1962].

JKP: What do you think you have brought to the Hammer stories over these last dozen years? How have you affected the protagonist (or Velda and Pat Chambers), either deliberately or unintentionally?

MAC: I am confident that I have been true to them. Because all of these novels and stories have real Spillane content, staying in Mickey’s zone is natural and necessary. The only difference, and perhaps it’s significant, is the humor. I employ more humor, and you often see in the reviews mention of Mike being “a wisecracking private eye.” That had already been true; a humor element—a self-aware irony—is part of Spillane, but my natural bent in that direction comes through. But Mickey was a scamp, as my wife would say, very aware that he was doing outrageous, over-the-top things, particularly by way of black humor.

JKP: Spillane didn’t seem as fond of the short-story form as you are; I believe he published only four such abbreviated tales during his lifetime, and two of those he eventually turned into novels. Could one of your chief contributions to the Hammer canon, then, be that you’ve published at least twice as many Hammer short stories as Spillane did?

MAC: Mickey’s favorite form was the novella. Why he never wrote a novella about Hammer, I can’t say—I think perhaps he wanted to reserve him for novels and the income those represented. Certainly the heroes of his novellas are cut from Hammer’s cloth.

The two short stories [Spillane sold himself] were actually condensations of The Killing Man and Black Alley [1996], and I believe that was done editorially at Playboy, which published them. [“The Killing Man,” featured in the December 1989 edition of Playboy, went on to win the 1990 Shamus Award for Best P.I. Short Story.] The other two stories include an atypical humorous tale that Lynn Myers [the co-editor, with Collins, of 2004’s Byline: Mickey Spillane) and I discovered in Mickey’s files, and a short story that I developed from an unproduced radio play that Mickey wrote in the early ’50s. We needed a Hammer story for one of our anthologies, and with Mickey’s blessing, I short-story-ized the script, intended for a half-hour show. It appeared under Mickey’s byline, and really it was his work, just transferred to prose.

The short stories I have done were a result of wanting to utilize fragments that could not reasonably be developed into novels. There were eight such fragments and they have been collected in A Long Time Dead: A Mike Hammer Casebook [2016]—another good place for a reader to meet Hammer for the first time.

JKP: Are there still more Hammer short stories to come?

MAC: Probably not. There are some good fragments and first chapters left, but they are non-Hammer and would need to be converted, if possible. Every story in A Long Time Dead was conceived by Mickey for Mike Hammer.

JKP: If I remember correctly, you told me once that a principal contribution you have made to the Hammer books you’ve completed is adding more sex and violence to their plots. I find that surprising and amusing, given that Spillane wasn’t exactly known for his restraint in such matters. How can this be?

MAC: First of all, that was me being glib. But in The Goliath Bone, there was wonderful action in the opening, and also in the last chapter he roughed out, but that was all. He also didn’t include a murder mystery aspect. I added that, and more action and a little sex. Certain things are expected in a Hammer novel.

His somewhat on-again/off-again relationship with the Jehovah's Witnesses is why some of his manuscripts were lacking in typical Spillane elements. Interestingly, a few days before he died, his wife said, “You do know if you hand these things off to Max, he won’t hesitate where sex and violence are concerned. Max is not a Jehovah’s Witness, after all.” Mickey told her he was well aware of that and was fine with whatever I did in that regard. Of course, maybe he just figured he was going to heaven and if I wanted to go in another direction, that was my choice.

The most important point I want to make is that these are collaborations. Mickey himself started each of them and then, in a blanket manner, I admit, handed them off to me. I am not “continuing” Mike Hammer. I’m completing work Mickey began. That’s unique in the history of the genre, I think, at least with somebody on Spillane’s level.

Purists may be outraged, but I never just plop down Mickey’s partial manuscript and pick up where he left off. I do some polishing and also expand scenes and add scenes, in particular, putting things on stage that Mike only refers to. My cutting Mike’s brief description of his Russian adventures in Complex 90 and replacing them with a number of chapters fleshing those adventures out—putting them on stage—is perhaps the best example. More typical would be The Big Bang, where in the first chapter I put on stage a scene describing the D.A. and Hammer going at each other, which Mickey only had Mike refer to. Where the 100-page manuscripts were concerned, I usually turned them into 200 of the 300 pages—that served to put Spillane material deeper in the novel, and it also created a joint style that has had a lot to do with reviewers saying they can’t tell where Mickey’s stuff ends and mine begins.

JKP: With Killing Town, you will have brought out 10 additional Hammer novels since the author’s demise. You have a couple more scheduled for release over the next two years. But will those 12, then, signal the end of your contribution to this famous series—one fewer book than Spillane wrote? Or is there still material to plumb beyond that?

MAC: There is probably enough material for another three. But if it ends at 12, plus the short-story collection, that would have me doubling the number of Hammer books, which has been a goal of mine as this project really got going.

JKP: Can you see yourself writing a Hammer novel completely from your own imagination in the future?

MAC: No. I see my job as not “continuing” the Mike Hammer series, but completing Spillane’s unfinished or unrealized works. There is such a wealth of material in the remaining unpublished material that I would, for example, rather complete a non-Mike Hammer thriller he began than do my own Mike Hammer. Or to convert that non-Hammer material, where possible, into Hammers.

Yet I view these Mike Hammer novels, and The Consummata and Dead Street, as “my own” as well, because I consider the work as collaborative—reflecting both my late co-author and myself. I bridle when I see a reviewer—and they’ve been almost universally kind to me about the Spillane continuations, so I’m probably petty to complain—describing these books as “pastiche.” When Spillane enlisted me, it was to be his co-writer. I am not trying to write ersatz Spillane, I am writing authentic Spillane/Collins. I consider myself part of the mid-20th-century group of writers that begins with Hammett and probably ends with Donald E. Westlake, [Lawrence] Block and myself, among a few others of course. I began writing in the ’60s, publishing in the early ’70s, and—as I’ve mentioned—my first agent, Knox Burger, called me (when he took me on in ’71) “a blacksmith in an automotive age.”

Whatever my faults, I’m the real thing. The tail-end real thing, perhaps. But part of that group and proud to be so. Rex Stout and Agatha Christie and Ed McBain were still writing when I first published a crime novel. So, significantly, was Mickey.

JKP: What do you do to get yourself into the right frame of mind to tackle a Hammer novel? How differently do you approach those tales than you do your own books?

MAC: First off, I read Spillane at an early age—took his prose like vitamins. He’s in my blood. Second, when I’m going to start one of the collaborative novels, I work hard to figure out when Mickey wrote it. Then I re-read several novels from that same time frame. For The Big Bang, I re-read The Body Lovers [1967] and Survival…Zero! [1970]. Marked them up like a lesson for school, highlight pen and all. For Lady, Go Die! I obviously re-read I, the Jury as well as The Twisted Thing, which to some degree was an elaborate reworking of what he began in the unfinished Lady. King of the Weeds is a direct sequel to Black Alley, which I read and re-read, as well as the previous Hammer, The Killing Man [1989].

I don’t try to write like Mickey. I just try to stay consistent with the tone and approach of the partial manuscript at hand, and get Mike Hammer right.

JKP: You’re more liberal-minded than Spillane. Do you ever find yourself overcompensating to stay true to Hammer’s perspective?

MAC: No. When I enter a character, I stay there. That’s a big part of my job. Do you think Quarry and I share politics? That Nolan, Eliot Ness, Ms. Tree, and I would see eye-to-eye on everything?

JKP: Since Mike Hammer and your man, Nate Heller, are contemporaries in the world of fiction, how do you think they would view each other, were they ever to meet?

MAC: They would each think, “There goes one dangerous, crazy son of a bitch.”

JKP: Let’s go back a bit: Spillane started out as a writer working in the pre-World War II comic-books industry. How did he embark on a career penning detective novels, instead?

MAC: Mickey was a prolific writer in the pre-war comics field and rejoined it immediately after the war. He did a lot of one- and two-page prose stories for comic books, to fill a postal requirement of a comic book having to contain a certain minimum number of pages of prose. He also wrote characters like Submariner and Captain America. Before the war he developed a P.I. character for comics called Mike Lancer, which appeared for a single story in a Green Hornet issue. He re-named the character Mike Danger, and tried to market it around 1945, didn’t get anywhere, and re-named Mike again and tried him in a prose novel … I, the Jury.

JKP: How did his start in comics wind up benefiting him as a novelist?

MAC: Several ways. Because he’d published in the pulps and slicks as early as college, he was tapped by editors to write those prose pieces. As a comics writer, he learned to think visually and to write efficiently. And of course he was a fulltime working writer, a pro, even before he moved into novel writing.

JKP: Is it true that Spillane’s first novel, I, the Jury, didn’t sell well in hardcover, and it was only because the book was released later in paperback that his publishing career took off?

MAC: I, the Jury in hardcover was not a bomb, but neither was it a hit. Mickey’s second completed novel, not published till 1966—For Whom the Gods Would Destroy, which became The Twisted Thing—was rejected by Dutton. But I, the Jury in paperback was an explosive success. That changed everything, not just for Mickey, but in mystery fiction, specifically, and in the paperback realm, generally.

JKP: So what has often been said, that Spillane changed the whole crime-fiction publishing scene in America during the mid-20th century, is correct? It was largely he who brought about the explosion in paperback crime-novel publishing?

MAC: He was entirely responsible. More mainstream fiction, like God’s Little Acre [by Erskine Caldwell] and [Kathleen Winsor’s] Forever Amber, brought a new rawness, in particular regarding sexuality, to the fore, but it was I, the Jury that took the traditional tough mystery and revitalized it with Mickey’s sex, violence, and mastery of engaging first-person narration. Gold Medal Books from Mickey’s distributor, Fawcett, created the first truly successful paperback-originals line to service the huge audience that Mickey had uncovered.

JKP: And how quickly did Spillane’s commercial success start influencing other authors? A few writers, such as the aforementioned Charlie Wells and Dave Gerrity, touted their Spillane influences. But who else was affected by Spillane’s style, early on?

MAC: Well, everybody who wrote tough mysteries. They may not have been stylistically influenced, but taking advantage of the newly unleashed sex and violence aspects were such writers as Richard S. Prather (Mickey’s most successful imitator), Stephen Marlowe, John D. MacDonald, Charles Williams, David Goodis, and a host of forgotten writers who worked the sex-and-violence mines. The other influential writer was James M. Cain. In the 1950s, it was tough to find a hard-boiled mystery that wasn’t either a reworking of I, the Jury or The Postman Always Rings Twice.

JKP: By the time he published his final Hammer novels, in the 1980s and ’90s, Spillane was no longer considered such a pariah in the crime-fiction arena. He was even given the Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master Award in 1995. But did the author still hold a grudge for all the years he’d been rejected by critics and other writers alike?

MAC: Let’s establish, first, that writers like Robert L. Fish were adamant about deriding Mickey. He was the only writer I know of who was blacklisted where the Mystery Writers of America is concerned. Stories vary, but either Mickey was turned down or it was made known that he was not welcome. He was lumped in with comic books as a bad influence on kids and adults alike by Dr. Fredric Wertham, whose comics screed, Seduction of the Innocent, focused on comic books and one prose writer—Spillane.

So after all of my efforts—and that of others, like Otto Penzler and Don Westlake—the MWA was convinced to finally recognize Mickey. At the Edgar banquet, where he was presented with the Grand Master, Mickey was warmly received—really, a hero’s welcome, albeit decades late. As for Mickey, he was gracious and held no grudge. Not at all. He loved other writers.

JKP: When you set out to expand the Hammer series, were you at all concerned there might no longer be an audience for Spillane’s P.I.?

MAC: I understood that largely because Mickey’s output had been less than prolific in his later years, Hammer would not have the purchase today that he deserved. But I knew that for a writer who’d sold in his numbers and who had generated fairly recent TV series—Stacy Keach was Hammer in three series and a bunch of TV movies as late as the ’90s—a sufficient audience would be waiting. Also, [the 1955 film] Kiss Me Deadly was gaining recognition at a startling rate as a key film noir.

JKP: In addition to The Last Stand and Killing Town, this 100th anniversary of Spillane’s birth will be celebrated with a four-issue comic-book series, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, that Hard Case Crime is launching in June. You’ve already had experience turning Spillane characters into comic-book protagonists, and were instrumental in bringing out a handsome hardcover collection of his 1950s comic strip, From the Files of … Mike Hammer. But this new Hard Case series is something distinctive. My understanding is that its storyline is adapted from a never-produced screenplay Spillane wrote in the ’50s, titled “The Night I Died.” Is that correct?

MAC: Mickey wrote “The Night I Died” in a number of versions. The chief sources for the graphic novel are a one-hour unproduced Hammer teleplay written in the late ’50s and a screenplay I based on and expanded from that, with Mickey’s blessing, around 20 years ago. Mickey’s friend and TV producer, Jay Bernstein, was interested in doing it, but passed away before he could.

JKP: Can you tell us what the plot of “The Night I Died” entails? Did the original screenplay feature Hammer or another protagonist? And what made you think this story was the right one for comic-book treatment?

MAC: It’s a classic noir set-up—Mike Hammer helps a damsel in distress who has been targeted by mobsters who think her late mobster boyfriend entrusted her with his considerable ill-gotten gains. Mickey had used all of the elements that made I, the Jury famous in his teleplay. There were several versions of it in his files, sometimes with Hammer, sometimes with “the Mick,” essentially a renamed Hammer because at that moment the character was tied up where TV and movie rights were concerned. What my screenplay added, expanding Mickey’s, were visual elements and action scenes that make it even more right for graphic-novel treatment.

I should add that having a comic book out there for the centenary seemed like a must to everybody at Titan and Hard Case Crime.

JKP: I see that the primary cover for Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer was painted by Robert McGinnis. You’ve been awfully lucky to have so many of your own, non-Hammer works graced by McGinnis paintings. Was the one we see on this forthcoming comic rendered specifically for that publication? If not, how did you snag it for this project? Will more of McGinnis’ work grace the fronts of the next three installments of this comic-book series?

MAC: As I think you know, Quarry was revived when Charles Ardai asked me to do a new novel about the character, and I said yes—but only if McGinnis did the cover [see 2006’s The Last Quarry]. What a dream come true—I’ve had five now, I think. To be honest, this cover was intended for a Quarry, but Charles and I thought it would make a better Mike Hammer. The other comic-book covers are also terrific, by several other wonderful artists. Hard Case Crime is justly famous for its fantastic retro cover art.

JKP: In 1954, writer/director Blake Edwards—who would later go on to create the popular Peter Gunn—made a pilot for a Mike Hammer TV series starring Brian Keith. Have you seen that pilot, and do you have any insight into why it was rejected? Incidentally, to which network did Edwards try to sell the series?

MAC: I imagine all the networks looked at the Edwards pilot, which was rejected because of its violence. I located a print of the pilot, after a lot of digging, and it appeared on my anthology DVD, Shades of Neo-Noir, a few years ago. We may bring it out again on a projected double-feature DVD of my complete Spillane documentary and the one I did on Alley Oop cartoonist V.T. Hamlin, a fellow Iowan.

Edwards, of course, then created the slicked-up Hammer variation, Peter Gunn. The feature film version, Gunn, lifts the ending of Vengeance Is Mine! [1950].

JKP: Hammer finally made it to TV with the syndicated Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (1958-1960), starring Darren McGavin. TV Guide decried that half-hour show as “easily the worst series on TV,” and McGavin said of it: “I thought it was a comedy. In fact, I played it camp.” How much influence did Spillane have on that program?

MAC: Mickey was sent the scripts. He may have given notes. His chief complaint was McGavin using a .38 revolver, not Hammer’s trademark .45. Mickey thought the show was pretty good otherwise, and liked McGavin’s take. McGavin did bring humor to the series, but it was still very, very tough. Despite the absence of Velda, it’s among the best Hammer-to-screen transfers. McGavin resembled Mickey, who was posing in a fedora with .45 in hand on the paperback covers around then.

JKP: Which leads me to ask, of course, what Spillane thought of the better-remembered Hammer TV series, also titled Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (later The New Mike Hammer and eventually re-introduced as Mike Hammer, Private Eye). It took two pilot films to sell that show to CBS-TV—the first one starring Kojak alumnus Kevin Dobson, the second headlined by Stacy Keach. Was Spillane much interested in what the boob-tube did with his gumshoe by this time?

MAC: Mickey and [Mike Hammer] producer Jay Bernstein were very, very close. Mickey loved Stacy Keach as a man and an actor, and liked the show, but privately didn’t care for the handling of the women, who all mooned instantly over Keach’s Hammer. But the show was a great latter-day, slightly spoofy version of Hammer in line with Mickey’s 18-year run doing his Hammer-esque version of himself in Miller Lite commercials.

I’ve done a number of Hammer projects with Stacy, and he is a wonderful guy, and remains a booster of the character and of Mickey.

Spillane played Mike Hammer in 1963’s The Girl Hunters.

JKP: There were also several big-screen films made from the Hammer yarns, in one of which (The Girl Hunters, 1963) the author himself starred as his hard-boiled creation. Other than himself, perhaps, did Spillane think any of the actors in those flicks did Hammer justice? Or did he really care? After all, we are led to understand that Spillane was concerned more with money than art, and of course he would have been paid for Hollywood’s use of his character.

MAC: Mickey didn’t like any of the movies. I think he was wrong and told him so. Jim Traylor and I went into this in detail in our Mickey Spillane on Screen [2012]. I made the case for Kiss Me Deadly to Mickey and he gradually came around. By the end of his life he was citing Ralph Meeker as the best screen Hammer … next to himself.

JKP: I think many readers aren’t aware that in addition to bringing more Hammer novels to bookstores, you’ve also been working on a Western-fiction series featuring a “larger-than-life lawman” by the name of Caleb York. That, too, is based on a character Spillane created—specifically for his friend John Wayne. No motion picture was ever produced from Spillane’s original York screenplay, but you adapted it as The Legend of Caleb York (2015), the initial book in the series. There have since been two sequels, including The Bloody Spur, which was released this last January by publisher Kensington. How did you decided to build a series around this character, and had you ever discussed the idea with Spillane?

MAC: That was Kensington editor Michaela Hamilton’s doing. My wife, Barb, and I do the Antiques cozy series for Michaela, who is a big Spillane fan—she was my Nate Heller editor at NAL [New American Library] and appears in my Spillane documentary. Knowing that Kensington is big in the Western area, I mentioned to her that I had a Western screenplay Mickey had done for John Wayne. Immediately she said, “I want three.” Flabbergasted, I said, “There’s only one screenplay.” She didn’t care—she wanted to launch a series with a three-book contract. I discussed it with Jane Spillane and we decided to say yes. A lot of baby boomers are into Westerns and I knew the Spillane byline would still resonate there.

JKP: So what are you using as source material for these novels you credit first to Mickey Spillane?

MAC: The novels following the first one are my work. They’re the only Spillane books with both our names on them that are exclusively me. But I refer to various drafts of the screenplay, and explore the back-story Mickey created. My wife, Barb, encouraged me to stick with the town and secondary characters established in the screenplay, to keep the series grounded in Mickey’s vision.

JKP: What are your future plans for the York series?

MAC: I have two more to do, at least. I’m viewing it as an ongoing saga. Trinidad, New Mexico, will grow; some recurring characters will die. It’s also possible I’ll flashback to York’s days as a Wells Fargo detective. The key is to make sure there’s a strong mystery or crime element, which a book with Mickey’s name on it needs.

JKP: Since I have your attention, let me ask about a couple of your own writing projects. You’ve been working for some while now on a 17th Nate Heller novel, which will involve your Chicago-based P.I. in the 1954 Sam Sheppard murder case. Can you tell us anything about how you’ve inserted Heller into that infamous Ohio mystery? Does this book have a title yet, and when might we expect it to go on sale? And how has the writing of this latest Heller outing compared with the work you’ve done on earlier entries in that series?

MAC: The book, Do No Harm, has been completed and delivered to my Forge editor. I think it comes out in the late fall. It differs from previous Hellers somewhat, because the on-stage sex and violence quotient is lower than usual—it’s a genuine mystery novel. There are two sections—in one, Heller is working for Erle Stanley Gardner and the Court of Last Resort, and in the second he’s an investigator hired by [criminal defense attorney] F. Lee Bailey.

It was unexpectedly a hard book to research and write. I thought the subject would be more manageable than, say, Amelia Earhart or the JFK assassination. But the complexities of the Sheppard case are massive. Also, I pulled back on the sex because the crime is in part a sex crime and scenes of Heller having happy sex would have been tonally wrong, and in bad taste even for me. Also, opportunities for action scenes were scant. This was just not that kind of case. But I think Heller fans, and new readers too, will like it.

A Heller novel is dictated, to a very large degree, by the true crime it explores.

JKP: Also, I see that Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle for Chicago—the non-fiction book you wrote with A. Brad Schwartz—is finally due out from publisher Morrow in August. The book is touted as “groundbreaking,” but can you tell us what makes it so? There have been a lot of books written over the decades about both Ness and Capone. What about their stories has not been told already? And how challenging was it to write a non-fiction biography, after training yourself for so many years as a fiction writer?

MAC: Frankly, neither the Capone nor the Ness story has been adequately, accurately told. A level of research here, much of it conducted by my co-writer, Brad Schwartz, really is groundbreaking and will change how Capone’s tax trial is viewed, for one thing, and what the role of Ness and The Untouchables was—which was much more significant than the Ness naysayers would have you believe.

It was indeed a challenging, difficult book—a hard birth for a beautiful baby, though. And, remember, I’ve done my share of non-fiction before. Also, the Hellers and other historical novels of mine have been extensively researched. This book grows out of theories and discoveries I made in the Heller and Ness novels I’ve written.

JKP: What did co-author Schwartz bring to this endeavor?

MAC: Brad is a terrific writer and a dogged, inventive researcher. He did rough draft material for me on half of the book and provided specific research material for the other half. He also came up with an epilogue about Chicago that is really masterful—I did little more than tweak that part.

He wrote an excellent book about Orson Welles and the “War of the Worlds” radio show, Broadcast Hysteria. He’s also going for a doctorate in history at Princeton. Apparently, he couldn’t get into Muscatine Community College like I did.

JKP: Finally, let me ask after your health. Back in 2016, you had some heart problems that necessitated bypass surgery and the installation in your chest of a heart value (if I understand the extent of your treatment properly). Have you had any further complications since? How are you feeling in general these days?

MAC: I won’t bore you with the details, but I’m doing very well. This is my 70th birthday as I write this, and I even seem to have survived this endless interview. My heart surgery was a success, two years ago now, and last year I had equally successful lung surgery. Now and then something crops up, but we deal with it. I am working harder and am happier than ever, delighted to be on the green side of the grass. And no one ever had a more beautiful, talented, supportive wife than Barb Collins.

READ MORE:Isn’t It About Time We Stopped Loathing Mickey Spillane?” by Bill Morris (Daily Beast); “Mickey Spillane: American Master of Sex and Violence,” by Jeff Nilsson (The Saturday Evening Post); “10 Wry Quotes from Mickey Spillane,” by Rowan Jones (For Reading Addicts); “The Man Who Gave Us Mike Hammer” (National Public Radio); “Interview with Mickey Spillane” (The Strand Magazine); “Mickey and Me,” by Max Allan Collins (January Magazine); “Mickey Spillane,” by Lawrence Block (Mystery Scene).