Q&A with Max Allan Collins, co-author of Masquerade for Murder
By Steve EricksonApril 22, 2020
Read on for more about Max's process of developing Mickey's manuscripts and notes into fully-formed novels, get the scoop on an upcoming Nolan novel from Hard Case Crime, see how hypothetical fights between protagonists shake out, and much more.
Masquerade for Murder by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins is the latest Mike Hammer novel from Titan Books. Mike Hammer, a WWII veteran/private detective, witnesses a hit-and-run outside of a steakhouse in Manhattan. The victim—a young, powerful Wall Street broker named Vincent Colby—survives the incident when a red Ferrari nearly crushes him. But he’s seriously shaken up and begins suffering from frequent and sudden mood swings in the aftermath.
Hammer, already intrigued and involved as an eye-witness to the hit-and-run, is hired by Colby’s father to find the alleged assailant. As Mike investigates, he soon begins to unravel something bigger. As he suspected, the hit-and-run might not have been an accident at all—it could be a botched murder attempt on Colby in a long string of violent crimes. With his investigation taking him from dance clubs to martial arts classes to some of the seedier NYC locations, Mike is hot on the case, but whoever is behind this crime spree doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon…
I was lucky enough to chat with Max Allan Collins about Masquerade for Murder—check out our Q&A below.
This book finds Mike Hammer dealing with seedy Wall Street characters, navigating S&M clubs, and tracking down slick Ferraris. What was your research process like to capture this yuppie-filled 1980s NYC vibe?
Max Allan Collins: Mickey had indicated the direction of the novel in the synopsis I developed it from. This is only the second time I haven’t had any manuscript material from Mickey at all, just a synopsis (the other time was last year’s Murder, My Love.) There are two brief passages, including the scene-setting opening, that came from Mickey’s files.
The research came from the Internet, leading me to various magazine articles both contemporary with the ‘80s time frame and pieces that looked back on the Wolf of Wall Street era. I’m not as familiar with New York as Mickey was, and I have to dig for material on restaurants and neighborhoods. The health club in the book was based on a specific place discussed in a Vanity Fair piece.
In Masquerade for Murder, we’re met with an aging Mike Hammer. Mike’s age doesn’t show much though since he can still physically dominate perps (even with a newly acquired karate counter-strike), but in one scene when Mike is introduced as the venerable private eye, he chuckles “Venerable means older than shit, doesn’t it?” Does Mike’s age in this novel affect how well he can continue snooping?
M.A.C.: Not really. I think it has more to do with him mellowing. He is still just as deadly as ever, but more controlled—not a young man driven by PTSD post-WWII. Also in play is his devotion to Velda, which means our once-randy PI is less likely to run around on the woman who is now clearly his life partner. When I’m dealing with a Spillane manuscript, or even with just a synopsis, I try to place it at the point in Mickey’s life when he wrote it, which allows me to properly place it in the canon. Unlike many fictional PIs, Hammer grows and changes over the years.
Do you think Mike will be able to keep up with the changing times? Will he ever trade in that M1911 service pistol?
M.A.C.: The other piece of prose in Masquerade that is Mickey’s is the brief sequence in which his cop pal Pat Chambers questions Mike’s insistence on staying with his .45 in these modern times. Mike clearly intends to do just that. In the final novel chronologically (though the first I completed from a Spillane partial), Hammer’s continued use of this fabled .45 plays an important part on the very last page. Mickey said the .45 was to Mike Hammer what the bow-and-arrow was to Robin Hood.
You’ve collaborated with Mickey Spillane on several other Mike Hammer novels in recent years, many of which you completed by referencing unfinished manuscripts or simply notes Mickey left after his death. In the case of Masquerade for Murder, you had very limited notes alone from Mickey. What does it mean to you to be able to continue Mickey’s Mike Hammer series in this way?
M.A.C.: I began with the manuscripts that were well in progress. The first five novels I completed (The Goliath Bone, The Big Bang, Kiss Her Goodbye, Complex 90, and King of the Weeds) were developed from partial manuscripts of 80 to 100 pages, often with plot and/or character notes, and sometimes a rough ending. Another group came from shorter but still substantial manuscripts, again sometimes with character and plot notes (Lady, Go Die!, Kiss Me, Darling, Murder Never Knocks, Killing Town, and The Will to Kill). As I’ve said, the two most recent came from plot synopses that may have been prepared for Stacy Keach TV movies, but were not used.
Since Mickey himself chose me for this task, I have felt strangely unintimidated—more like blessed. Spillane has been my favorite writer since I was thirteen, and I have been unknowingly training for this job ever since. Mickey trusted me and that’s good enough for me. I take a liberty some would not—I have never viewed his incomplete manuscripts as Holy Writ. I view them as a rough draft and feel free to expand and polish as I feel appropriate. That makes the novels very much collaborations. It also means that the 100 pages I began with are expanded and that puts genuine Spillane content deeper into those novels.
The most difficult thing has been when Mickey made two passes at a novel, which happened with several, including The Goliath Bone, Kiss Her Goodbye, and particularly King of the Weeds. I had to come up with ways to incorporate the various drafts, make choices or combine elements of similar scenes. The two versions of Kiss Her Goodbye had different mysteries, and I managed to incorporate both. King of the Weeds had three takes on the first chapter, and I used two of them and elements of the one I didn’t otherwise use.
Have you altered or added anything to the character of Mike Hammer since you’ve worked on these books?
M.A.C.: Initially I tried to keep my sense of humor out. Mickey had a kind of Howard Hawks macho vibe. I have gradually allowed more of my sarcasm and wiseguy nature to creep in. We both indulge in considerable dark humor. I have been told my Hammer isn’t as mean as Mickey’s. Maybe, but I haven’t written about the screwed-up young Mike Hammer much—the older one, as I said, has mellowed. But don’t cross him.
Many great actors have played Mike Hammer on the screen since his inception. Do you have a particular actor in mind when you’re writing scenes with Mike?
M.A.C.: Sometimes I picture Mickey, who did a great job showing us what he had in mind when he played Hammer in the film of The Girl Hunters. But as Mickey said, Hammer is a state of mind. I’m inside him, not picturing him at all.
How would Mike describe himself in one sentence?
M.A.C.: I’m the good guy who takes the bad guys on using their methods.
Besides writing several Mike Hammer novels and working on many other projects, you’ve also written the Quarry series about the Vietnam veteran turned hired killer. So it begs the question: Mike Hammer vs. Quarry—unarmed and in their primes, who would win in a fight?
M.A.C.: Depending on the circumstances, either could win. Hammer is emotional and Quarry is not. They both are human, but Hammer’s humanity bubbles up in all kinds of ways—Quarry buries his humanity. Hot rage vs. cold rage—pretty even odds.
Are there more Mickey Spillane/M.A.C. collaborations we can look forward to?
M.A.C.: I am not doing one this year—my plate was too full. I’m taking a break from Mike. But I just signed to do one next year for 2022, the 75th anniversary of Mike Hammer. It will be a special one—the thirteenth collaboration, doubling the number of Mike Hammer novels (Mickey wrote 13 in his lifetime).
What’s next for you?
M.A.C.: Two other books are out right now—a new Nate Heller, Do No Harm, and the second Krista Larson, Girl Can’t Help It. In August Eliot Ness and the Mad Butcher, a non-fiction book by A. Brad Schwartz and myself, will be out from Morrow, a follow-up to Scarface and the Butcher.
My first Nolan novel in over three decades, Skim Deep, will be out from Hard Case Crime later this year.
Right now I’m writing the sixth Caleb York novel, a character Mickey created in a never-produced screenplay for his friend John Wayne. The book is called Shoot-out at Sugar Creek. Kensington is the publisher.
Then I’m doing three novellas about a new character for a new company, Utopia Books. I’ll keep the concept to myself for now.
After that it’s the latest Trash ‘n;’ Treasure mystery with my wife Barb, Antiques Carry On, followed by a Quarry.
Finally, an important question for any crime writer, if you had to get rid of a dead body yourself, what would your method be?
M.A.C.: I live in Muscatine, Iowa, and always have. Another writer from here, Ellis Parker Butler, wrote Pigs Is Pigs. A pig will eat anything.
About Masquerade for Murder by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins:
After Mike Hammer witnesses Wall Street superstar Vincent Colby getting clipped by a speeding red Ferrari, the shaken victim’s stockbroker father hires Hammer to find the driver. But the toughest private eye of them all soon is caught up in a series of bizarre, seemingly unconnected slayings marked by a forbidden martial arts technique.
What do a lovely redhead, a short-tempered bartender, an exotic call girl, a murdered police inspector and a movie stuntman have to do with a scheme that might have transformed young Colby into a psychological time bomb?