Saturday, December 24, 2016

Mystery Writers of America 2016 Grand Master: Max Allan Collins

As Dave and I reflect on the past year's adventures among mysteries and their authors, we're especially pleased at the announcement that arrived on November 29 from Mystery Writers of America: naming Max Allan Collins and Ellen Hart as the 2017 Grand Masters.

Today's my day to write a bit about Max Allan Collins and his books. With more than 100 titles, Collins has carved out more mystery, detective, and thriller terrain than any five ordinary authors put together. His most noted series may be the Quarry books, which feature a US marine sniper who returns from the Vietnam War and becomes a professional assassin. It began in 1976 with Quarry and continues, as Quarry in the Black was issued this year.

But for noir fans, the top series is the one with Nathan Heller, where this Chicago "pulps style" private investigator tangles with noted personalities of the 1930s and 1940s. This series is also still running -- this year's title was Better Dead.

The moment I knew that the writing by "M.A.C." had permanently marked my own life and thinking was the evening I finally watched the film version of his 1998 graphic novel  Road to Perdition. Tapping into the American experience of the Great Depression, the story reminded me of what's unique about both our history and our choice of narrative in American crime fiction.

I'm a fan of Collins's blog, where his back stories take on fresh life, at His reflections on life events, like his prolonged climb to survival of several health events in the past years, as well as the Grand Master award, are told clearly and with some power and a lot of thought -- here's a recent snippet:
I’ve been reflecting on the Grand Master this past week, the only troubling aspect of which is that it’s a reminder that a long career preceded it, and that the remainder of that career will be much shorter. Life achievement awards are something people try to give you while you’re not dead. So that part of it is sobering.
Though it takes years to amass a writing career that brings the Grand Master title your way, Collins is only 68, and with luck and care, we'll have many more of his books ahead. In addition to the ones I've mentioned (see the lists at, he's written film novelizations, and co-wrote with others, including his wife Barbara; one of his acknowledged mentors, Mickey Spillane; and Matthew Clemens.

Another aspect that I appreciate is his filmmaking side, which leads him to provide intriguing critiques of others' films as he sees them (an entertaining wrap-up of his 2016 viewing can be found here). And then there's his work on Eliot Ness of The Untouchables. Wow!

Dave and I could barely catch our breath when we finally met this writing legend, at a Bouchercon a few years ago. I see we still have a few of the books for sale that he signed for us then (click here), and he was generous enough to keep signing for a long, long time, as Dave brought many titles, some quite scarce. (The photo here shows Collins at foreground, and Matt Clemens at center.)

Last but not least, Collins's writing and warm friendships bring him lifelong fans. For an enthusiastic and knowledgeable sample of what comes from those friendships, enjoy the write-up from Kevin Burton Smith.

Yes, we'll provide material on Ellen Hart later; the Grand Master awards are presented in April, so there's time to keep reading and thinking about what these authors mean to the mysteries field.

Just a reminder: We're still ready to give away a stack of Ed Gorman paperbacks -- Gorman, like Max Allan Collins, was an Iowa resident. Details here.

PS:  Looking for mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.


Max Allan Collins said...

Much appreciated. Very generous.

Beth Kanell said...

Our pleasure.