Thursday, January 20, 2011

5 Quick Questions with Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins has cut a wide swath through the noirboiled world (and many other literary worlds, for that matter) as a prolific author of novels (graphic and otherwise), stories, screenplays, movie tie-ins, comic strips, and on and on. He is perhaps best-known to noirboiled fans for the Nathan Heller novels, which blend the private eye genre with historical fiction, as well as his series featuring Quarry (the assassin) and Nolan (the thief).

1. What is the first crime novel that you remember reading?

I read a lot of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and loved the Saint novels—I particularly remember The Saint and the Sizzling Saboteur making an impression. And the Dick Tracy comic books are a very vivid memory—the first story I read was about Junior Tracy’s girl friend, Model, who died as a result of her juvie brother’s misdeeds, quickly followed by a book collecting the Brow sequence, in which the sympathetic Summer Sisters drowned in a car. But the crime novel that kicked off everything came in the seventh grade—The Maltese Falcon. Still my favorite private eye novel.

2. Which crime novelist do you consider to be your biggest influence?

I have to dodge this, at least somewhat. Everybody thinks I would say Mickey Spillane, but he is only one of a quartet of great mystery writers I discovered when I was thirteen—Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane, and James M. Cain. I learned 90% of what I know about crime writing from Hammett, Chandler, Spillane, and Cain.

3. Which non-crime novelist do you consider to be your biggest influence?

Probably William March, author of The Bad Seed, which inspired my films (and novels) Mommy and Mommy's Day. My other favorite mainstream writers during my impressionable years were Calder Willingham, who wrote End As a Man, and Willard Motley, who wrote Knock on Any Door. Not your standard picks, I’ll grant you. Later I came to like Mark Harris, author of The Southpaw.

4. Which crime novel (that you didn’t write) do you most wish you had written?

There aren't any. I only want to write my novels.

But I am very thrilled to be collaborating with Mickey Spillane—contributing real entries to the Mike Hammer series is an honor I wish I could share with my thirteen year-old self. Well, I guess I do.

5. What is the best novel by Max Allan Collins?

I don't know. I would suggest that the Nathan Heller novels, taken as a whole, represent my best work and major contribution. Of those I might pick The Million-Dollar Wound as the best representative example, and Flying Blind as the best atypical entry.


  1. I thought I was the only one who remembered Calder Willingham and Willard Motley. Great stuff.

  2. Further thoughts from Max Allan Collins: I should add a postscript about two writers I discovered later: Jim Thompson (in high school) and Richard Stark (at community college). The first-person approach of Quarry owes a lot to Thompson, and Stark/Westlake I must acknowledge as fueling my "crook book" interest and teaching me a graduate course in point of view.