Max Allan Collins writes A LOT of crime. 15 books for Nathan Heller series, 10 for the Quarry series, over 20 for CSI... His latest work is Seduction of the Innocent-crime, comic books and a 1950s setting.
-What drew you to the 50s?
I grew up in the fifties and sixties, so that’s a natural period of interest for me. But I’ve made a specialty out of writing mysteries set in the twentieth century, in particular with my Nathan Heller series – the latest, TARGET LANCER, is about the JFK assassination. I like combining the approach of the mystery novelist with the research of an historian.
-Do you see yourself in any of your characters?
Certainly all of my first-person characters – Nate Heller, Quarry, Mallory, and now Jack Starr – are me to some degree. I think all novelists write disguised autobiography, and that’s particularly true of private eye writers. But it’s more myself as I’d have been had I shared the disparate backgrounds of these characters. Jack was in the Second World War, for example. Probably the humor in the books is the best glimpse into the real me.
-What's your favourite comic book?
Of all time? Very tough question. My favorite comic strip is LI’L ABNER, and I devour the reprint volumes. My favorite 1950s comic book is either CRIME SUSPENSTORIES or MAD. My favorite ‘60s comic book is SPIDERMAN – Ditko SPIDERMAN. My favorite ‘70s comic book would be anything by R. Crumb or Gilbert Shelton in the Underground Comix movement. In the ‘80s I was rather fond of my own MS. TREE, because checks arrived in the mail fairly regularly. In the ‘90s, it was LONE WOLF AND CUB. Today it’s probably USAGI YOJIMBO.
-What's your favourite thing about 1950s America?
Again, I’m going to have to hedge. In fiction, it was Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer books. In film, it was John Ford’s THE SEARCHERS. In music, it was Bobby Darin and "Mack the Knife." On TV, it was MAVERICK. Nothing much that wasn’t popular culture was worth a damn in the ‘50s.
-What's the cleverest thing you've learnt from a comic book?
The ice-block murder method that I used in SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT. From a minute mystery in the back of a DICK TRACY comic book.
-Any tips for writing crime?
Find a way, somehow, to write from experience and not just from the crime and mystery novels and films you’ve read and seen. In my first novel, BAIT MONEY (1973, reprinted by Hard Case crime in TWO FOR THE MONEY), I robbed the bank where my wife worked, and I had the secondary protagonist be a comic-book collector. In addition, I set the story in my native Iowa, not some big city. Even in SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, which takes place in Manhattan, the roots are in 1950s Iowa, when a little kid got his comic books messed with by a big bad psychiatrist.
-Who influenced you in writing this?
Well, the Jack and Maggie Starr mysteries are in part a homage to Rex Stout and his Nero Wolfe novels. Other than that, nobody. On the other hand, I am generally influenced by a real superstar line-up – Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, James M. Cain, Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Erle Stanley Gardner and Donald E. Westlake.
-What are you reading right now?
THE JAMES BOND ARCHIVES.
-What are you planning on writing in the future?
I will be doing another collaborative book with my wife Barb (we write together as "Barbara Allan"), ANTIQUES A GO GO, a humorous "cozy" mystery. Then another Mike Hammer novel, KING OF THE WEEDS, working from a manuscript Mickey Spillane began in the 1990s, and a political thriller called SUPREME JUSTICE. I hope to do a new Nate Heller novel next year, but I have the final volume of my Heller/JFK trilogy, ASK NOT, coming out this fall. There's also a thriller coming out called WHAT DOESN'T KILL YOU, a rare standalone from me.
This article was posted as part of the Seduction of the Innocent Blog Tour, celebrating the release of Max Allan Collins' new Hard Case Crime novel. For the opportunity to win a copy of the book, simply tweet “I would like a copy of Seduction of the Innocent @TitanBooks #MaxAllanCollins”.