Tag Archive: Max Allan Collins


Review by C.J. Bunce

Fifty years after author Max Allan Collins wrote his first novel while in college at the University of Iowa, titled Bait Money.  The novel featured Nolan, a 48-year-old thief tied in with the mob toward the end of his career in crime, inspired by Donald Westlake’s popular character Parker.  Collins would write eight more Nolan stories, but now 33 years after the last he’s released an all-new Nolan sequel through the Hard Case Crime imprint, the cleverly titled Skim Deep.  In 1987 Nolan is 55 now and thinking about tying the knot with long-time girlfriend Sherry, who he saved from Coleman Comfort, the villain in earlier novels, years ago.  But can someone like Nolan ever quit the business?  Will his past let him settle down in his house with Sherry in the Quad Cities on the Iowa-Illinois border?  Count Skim Deep as another in the win column for author Collins, and a great read that will usher in coming reprints of all his Nolan novels.

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Our borg Best of 2020 list continues today with the Best Books of 2020.  If you missed them, check out our reviews of the Best Movies of 2020 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2020 here, and the Best in TV 2020 here.  Our list continues tomorrow with the Best Comics and Games of 2020.  And we wrap-up the year with our additions to the borg Hall of Fame later this month.

We reviewed more than 100 books that we recommended to our readers this year, and some even made it onto our favorites shelf.  We don’t publish reviews of books that we read and don’t recommend, so this shortlist reflects only this year’s cream of the crop.

So let’s get going!

Best Sci-Fi, Best Thriller Novel Hearts of Oak by Eddie Robson (Tor Books).  It’s a far-out science fiction novel with all the right notes of a good supernatural fantasy.  And it has an easy pace and an impending, looming darkness waiting ahead that will keep you planted firmly in your seat until you get to the last page.

Best Tie-In NovelBloodshot novelization by Gavin Smith (Titan Books).  A great update to the genre that began with Martin Caidin’s Cyborg, Smith creates an exciting, vivid novelization of the comic book character adapted to the big screen.  Honorable mention: Firefly: The Ghost Machine by James Lovegrove (Titan Books).

There are many more best book selections to go…

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Review by C.J. Bunce

From 1977 to 1993, noted crime writer Max Allan Collins was writing stories “ripped from the headlines” in the Dick Tracy comic strip.  Some of Collins’ proposed stories were too racy for the average daily newspaper, so Collins took this as an opportunity to introduce the stories in the pages of Ms. Tree, a series published then by Eclipse.   A year ago, I reviewed a new collection of classic Ms. Tree stories from the 1980s, penned twenty years before Jessica Jones, written by Collins and illustrated by artist Terry BeattyMs. Tree: One Mean Mother.  Ms. Michael Tree is the 6-foot tall, 9 mm pistol-toting private eye with a clever homonym name, referred to as the “female Mike Hammer” in the stories written by the man who would take over the character from Mickey Spillane.  She borrows something real and gritty from Erle Stanley Gardner’s detective Bertha Cool and her brand of sleuthing, certainly unique for the 1980s.  The Hard Case Crime imprint of Titan Comics is publishing the second volume of Ms. Tree stories next month, five more stories from the dark corners of big city life, in Ms. Tree: Skeleton in the Closet.  Classic Collins crime tales in the comics are like his 21st century crime novels–they do not disappoint.

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Masquerade for Murder

Review by C.J. Bunce

Max Allan Collins is back with another nugget of gold from the files of Mickey Spillane.  It’s this month’s first published release of Masquerade for Murder, a Mike Hammer story from the 1980s.  Like a few other novels released by Collins I’ve reviewed here at borg, this is the latest published posthumously with the late Mickey Spillane.  As Collins discusses in a foreword to the novel, this story came from a story synopsis left behind with many others with express instructions by Spillane for Collins to finish and introduce to the public.  Coming from more than four decades across the life of the famous detective, Collins has seamlessly taken over the Hammer stories as if Spillane never really left.

As soon as Hammer takes his next job, his client’s son is clipped right in front of him, a hit-and-run by a red Ferrari.  Soon the bodies begin piling up.  They all have in common the firm where the son works.  And the cause of death is incomprehensible to Hammer and the police: people are found dead whose chests were smashed in as if by a battering ram.  Who is behind this, why are they doing it, and how the heck are they inflicting so much damage?  Masquerade for Murder is Collins at his best, vintage Hammer, and indistinguishable from classic Mickey Spillane.

Few characters and genres are as easy to sink into as Mike Hammer crime novels.  Hammer in the 1980s is a combination of all the great detectives from the then-recent past, some Thomas Magnum, some Jim Rockford, some Columbo, and some Lennie Briscoe from Law & Order to come years later.  Of course, Hammer was a major influence behind them all.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Forty-three years after author Max Allan Collins published his novel Quarry’s Deal in 1976, he has penned the sequel, Killing Quarry, what he calls the last of a sub-series of his famous anti-hero Quarry’s exploits selling his hitman services to targets of other hitmen.  Killing Quarry is available now from Hard Case Crime, the 15th novel of the Vietnam vet whose return from the service wasn’t at all what he expected, and the subject of his own Cinemax series, Quarry, reviewed here at borg last year.  Collins has finished or co-authored nearly as many crime novels with crime writer Mickey Spillane posthumously, reflecting the prolific nature of Collins’ crime writing and expertise, plus Collins’ noteworthy Road to Perdition, five other book series and countless tie-in novels.  Killing Quarry is great fun, a solid retro fix, and true throwback to those action-packed, guns and sex pulp novels of the 1970s.

Collins catches up with Quarry as he’s pulled another name from the Broker’s hit list, acquired after the Broker’s death more than a decade ago.  The Broker was the man who first tapped Quarry for a life of murder for money when he returned from the war with few prospects and a cheating wife.  Quarry takes on both roles as hitman this time, both planning and monitoring the target in a town a few hours away, ultimately to make the hit himself, an enterprise usually split between two partners to the job.  But it doesn’t take long for Quarry to realize the hitman he is after is pursuing his own target, right back to Quarry’s own neighborhood, right across the street in direct eyeshot to Quarry’s own retreat.  The killing life is wearing on Quarry after all these years, but at least he is prepared and knows what is coming for him.  He’ll be ready, so long as he doesn’t fall asleep on the job.

Cinemax’s Quarry television series.

Quarry is joined in the 1980s this time by Lu, the blonde Asian-American woman who became his lover in Quarry’s Deal in the 1970s.  She’s a killer in her own right, and enmeshed with the system of brokers and hitmen that have now become a regional game of hitmen and agents beginning to trip over each other’s territories.  Both Quarry and Lu deserve each other–they are both getting too old for killing and want to stack up their funds and retire to some tropical paradise.  They walked away from each other years ago.  Maybe this time it will work out for them?

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Our borg Best of 2019 list continues today with the Best Books of 2019.  If you missed them, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2019 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2019 here, the Best in Television 2019 here, and the Best Comics of 2019 here.

We reviewed more than 100 books that we recommended to our readers this year, and some even made it onto our favorites shelf.  We don’t print reviews of books that we read and don’t recommend, so this shortlist reflects only this year’s cream of the crop.

So let’s get going.  Here are our selections for this year:

Best Read, Best Fantasy Read, Best New Edition of Previous Published Work, Best Translated Work – A Hero Born: Legends of the Condor Heroes 1 by Jin Yong, translated by Anna Holmwood (St. Martin’s Press).  The first book in one of the most read books of all time finally makes its way to the U.S. after its premiere in Great Britain.  Readers will learn why George Lucas pulled its concepts for his Skywalker saga, and why generations of Chinese fans of fantasy of flocked to its heroes and villains.  Honorable mention for Best Fantasy Read: A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery by Curtis Craddock (Tor Books), The Dark Lord Clementine by Sarah Jean Horwitz (Algonquin Young Readers).

Best New Novel, Best Horror Novel, Best Historical Novel, Best Mystery Novel – The Cthulhu Casebooks: Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils by James Lovegrove (Titan Books).  A truly literary work combining a smart Holmesian adventure and the dark mind of H.P. Lovecraft.  Readers will love Lovegrove’s approach, Holmes and Watson’s journey, and all the creepy surprises.

Best Sci-Fi Novel, Best Thriller – The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel H. Wilson (HarperCollins).  Wilson successfully conjured the spirit of Michael Crichton for this smart, creepy, and oddly current sci-fi sequel to The Andromeda Strain.  A cast of characters just like Crichton would have put together, and a must-read.

Best Franchise Tie-In Novel – Firefly: Magnificent Nine by James Lovegrove (Titan Books).  One of the best authors around crafts a worthy story to expand the Firefly canon and give fans their own new movie of sorts for the franchise.  Runner-up: Alien: Prototype by Tim Waggoner (Titan Books).  Honorable Mention: Death of the Planet of the Apes by Andrew E.C. Gaska (Titan Books).

Best Retro Read – Mike Hammer: Murder, My Love, by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (Titan Books).  Collins continues to bring Spillane’s characters to life with thrilling prose and all the best pieces of noir drama and action.  Honorable mention: Brothers Keepers by Donald E. Westlake (Hard Case Crime).

Best Genre Non-Fiction – Industrial Light & Magic Presents: Making of Solo: A Star Wars Story by Rob Bredow (Harry N. Abrams).  Bredow’s unique access to the production made for a rare opportunity in any production to see details of the filmmaking process.  Every movie should have such a great deep dive behind the scenes.  Honorable mention: The Making of Alien by J.W. Rinzler (Titan Books).

There’s much more of our selections for 2019’s Best in Print to go…

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Our borg Best of 2019 list continues today with the Best in Comics.  If you missed them, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2019 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2019 here, and the Best in Television 2019 here.

We reviewed comics from every major publisher this year, and were pleasantly surprised with all the new characters and content available.  You’ll find both some new creators on the list this year and some fan favorites who keep making better comic books each new year.

Here are the best comic books for 2019:

 

Best Limited Comic Series (tie) – Sara by Garth Ennis and Steve Epting (TKO Studios) and Goodnight Paradise by Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli (TKO Studios).  The new publisher TKO Studios began with a bang with these two incredible stories.  Sara is what every fan of war comics hopes for, and Goodnight Paradise brings the realities of life in the 21st century to the comics page in a story that will stay with readers a long time.

Best Ongoing Comic Book SeriesGhost Tree by Bobby Curnow and Simon Gane (IDW Publishing). Haunting, mythic, and sweeping, this story of a man reflecting on his past and coming to terms with the present combines with Asian legend tropes to form an emotional and curiously funny tale. Sure to leave readers begging for more.

 

Best Sci-Fi Comic Series, Best Comic Book WritingAscender by writer Jeff Lemire and artist Dustin Nguyen (Image Comics).  Lemire owned this category with two fabulous science fiction tales, both with strong female lead characters. Runner-up: Sentient by Jeff Lemire and Gabriel Walta (TKO Studios).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We scuffled.  He had a gun.  So did I.  I’m alive.  He’s dead.

Twenty years before Jessica Jones, there was Ms. Tree, writer Max Allan Collins and artist Terry Beatty′s 1980s private eye with the clever homonym name.  Her husband a cop, killed by the head of a crime family, she sought her revenge and went to jail for it.  Now she’s back and the killer’s sister is looking to get her own revenge.  A private detective running her own agency, she finds her son has fallen in love with the niece of his father’s killer, the daughter of the woman who is now reaching out to her.  That’s where readers meet Ms. Tree in the first chapter of Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother, a new collection of classic stories that will bring readers unfamiliar with Ms. Tree’s exploits current as she’s embroiled in her never-ending conflict with the Muerta crime family.  The 268 pages play out like a crime TV series, like Magnum, p.i. or Simon & Simon, maybe with some Rockford Files thrown in thanks to Collins’ ever-present noir style.

Ms. Tree is her own character.  She doesn’t have the quirks and antics of progenitors like Erle Stanley Gardner’s Bertha Cool or the meticulous process of a Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher.  But she does have the edginess we’d later see with Veronica Mars and Jessica Jones.  She’s a bit older, and because of Terry Beatty’s classic artistic style (reminiscent of Crime Does Not Pay and Dick Tracy), you may just wonder if she’s going to duck behind the curtains and emerge with a Miss Fury catsuit at some point.  Drawn by Beatty like a V.I. Warshawski era Kathleen Turner, she’s also not Jackie Brown–this woman plays by the rules, but the aura of her agency has that feel of Max Cherry’s agency in Elmore Leonard’s story.

With a style (in both writing and artwork) like Mike Grell’s Green Arrow, Collins populates his story with a variety of supporting characters like you’d find in the world of his Quarry series.  Characters like her friend on the police force Rafe Valer, and her colleague Dan Green, who has a hook for a hand in a call-out to J.J. Armes, the famous real-life detective in the 1970s (who had two hooks for hands).  The first book in this series, Ms. Tree: One Mean Mother, includes reprints of the stories Gift of Death, Drop Dead Handsome, The Family Way, Maternity Leave, and One Mean Mother, with an appendix featuring Collins discussing why Ms. Tree hasn’t made it to the small or big screen, and a related tie-in short story with a more modern take on the character (and without the pictures), Inconvenience Store.  Ms. Tree was featured in an earlier Hard Case Crime novel by Collins, Deadly Beloved.  In this volume Ms. Tree reads like it must have been the inspiration for Marge Gunderson’s storyline in Fargo, and the final seasons of In Plain Sight’s Mary Shannon.

Take a look at Beatty’s use of color, 1980s style, in these excerpts from the book:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

With his Vietnam veteran-turned-hitman Quarry, author Max Allan Collins has built a substantial, possibly never-ending crime noir series.  Now at book 14 and adding a 15th this November with Hard Case Crime’s release of Killing Quarry, Collins has surpassed the number of books Collins’ pal Mickey Spillane published about Mike Hammer.  Collins has finished or co-authored nearly as many crime novels with Spillane posthumously, reflecting the prolific nature of Collins’ crime writing and expertise.  And that’s not even addressing Collins’ noteworthy Road to Perdition, five other book series and countless tie-in novels.  Cinemax′s 2016 series Quarry is inspired by Collins’ character, and thanks to writers/show creators Graham Gordy, Michael D. Fuller, with an episode by Collins and another by Jennifer Schuur, you have eight intriguing episodes of television waiting for you.  Its eight episodes are now streaming on Vudu, Amazon Prime, other platforms, as well as home video.

Director Greg Yaitanes created a rarely seen snippet of history as the backdrop for the series, with show lead Logan Marshall-Green (Spider-Man: Homecoming, Prometheus) as Mac Conway, dubbed Quarry as the show progresses, accused with his friend of misdeeds in Vietnam as he returns home to Memphis after his second tour.  Along with the Vietnam War and its aftermath is turmoil with bussing a desegration that envelopes his friend’s family.  Costume designer Patia Prouty, who worked on Almost Famous, Justified, and Pulp Fiction, re-creates the good but mainly the bad designs of the era, with equally good art and production design that will have you feeling like you’re been transported back in time.  Conway is quickly reeled into a local (and somewhat yokel) crime underworld, resulting in his friend’s death and requiring him to kill for the local, quirky kingpin to earn off the amount his buddy owed.

It’s Cinemax, so expect more sex and bloody gore than necessary, but you’ll feel enough sympathy for Marshall-Green’s Conway as a put-upon anti-hero that you’ll keep coming back for more as ugly and as strange as he finds his circumstances.  The supporting cast fills into the layered characters nicely, with Jodi Balfour (True Detective) as his wife, Peter Mullan (Children of Men) as the kingpin called The Broker, Nikki Amuka-Bird (Doctor Who, Jupiter Ascending) as his friend’s widow, and Mustafa Shakir (Marvel’s Luke Cage) as her mysterious new admirer.  Damon Herriman (Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood) is outstanding as an intermediary with The Broker, a layered character who has his own problems beyond his job as killer and killer’s aide.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Fans of any character or universe love their fandom and often can’t get enough of it.  It’s why writers keep writing new versions of Frankenstein 201 years later and new stories featuring James Bond 66 years later and Sherlock Holmes 132 years later.  Fans of writer Mickey Spillane′s Mike Hammer novels (or the Darren McGavin or Stacy Keach television series) have not just the 13 novels Spillane wrote beginning 72 years ago, but now a full two dozen thanks to Spillane’s co-conspirator of hard-boiled crime and his successor, Max Allan Collins.  In last year’s centenary of Spillane’s birth, that meant the release of the unpublished first Mike Hammer novel Killing Town (reviewed here at borg).  Using the combined talents of Spillane and Collins, it’s a crime story as good as they get.  With the latest team-up of Spillane and Collins, Murder, My Love, Collins proves he has mastered the voice of the famous cop-turned-private eye.  This book is 100% end-to-end Collins, as the writer says he worked from Spillane’s notes but all of the prose is new material.  And that’s fabulous, because this book is all Mike Hammer at his best.

As with Killing Town, Collins’ Murder, My Love is a shorter Hammer novel and a quick read.  Personally at 200 pages I find it the ideal length–all pulp novels, classic paperback mysteries, true crime novels, etc. should be able to be gobbled up in a single trip (like on a Greyhound bus from Detroit to Cincinnati or a train from Omaha to Denver).  I soaked up Murder, My Love in two sittings, and it was an entirely satisfying read, complete with Hammer and his assistant/also cop-turned P.I., Velda, who Collins writes cleverly here first person in a few pages of “off-camera” playback that is some of the best material in the book.

Max Allan Collins signing at San Diego Comic-Con in 2018.

It’s a story set later in Hammer’s career, with Collins establishing a perfect picture of New York City from a few decades ago as he takes a U.S. senator on as a client, a senator with White House ambitions.  Unfortunately he and his wife have a history of extramarital affairs and now someone else knows, resulting in blackmail.  Hammer and Velda embark on the detective work, interviewing the subjects of the senator’s liaisons.  Once they find the schemer behind the blackmail, that’s when the body count begins.  One-by-one the possible suspects end up dead, and Hammer isn’t exempt from getting in the line of fire.

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