Tough Guy Lit: Frank Miller

By Sean Tuohy

No one has influenced American comics more than Frank Miller. His mix of dark, gloomy noir and over-the-top manga has redefined classic comic book heroes such as Batman and Daredevil.

The Dark Knight Returns is considered one of the greatest Batman stories ever told, and one of the most-read comic books. Miller’s original work—including 300 and Sin City—has also brought a unique form of storytelling to the comic book genre.

Employing tough guy dialogue and ultra-violent, manga-style action, Miller puts his characters through hell and explores their inner demons. During his Daredevil run, Miller brought to light that Matt Murdock was a Catholic, adding another layer to an already complex character.

Miller’s work has been translated to screen several times. The stylish and groundbreaking “300” told the story of Spartan soldiers trying to resist a massive invading army, and “Sin City” made a black-and-white world bleed red. Miller also tried his hand at directing with “The Spirit,” which ended up being a bizarre take on superhero film noir.

Miller’s hardboiled storytelling and complex and moving characters has deservedly made him a comic book icon.

Enjoy some of our favorite Frank Miller covers!

 
 

To learn more about Frank Miller, follow him on Twitter @FrankMillerInk.

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Tough Guy Lit: Max Allan Collins

  Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins

By Sean Tuohy

Max Allan Collins is the man who is keeping tough pulp fiction alive in America. The prolific author is the guardian of the classic pulp novel, and he keeps a watchful eye on the genre and cares for it tenderly. With the coming “Quarry,” a television series based on the author’s long-running book series, Collins is still very much alive and kicking.

Born and raised in Iowa, Collins fell in love with tough hardboiled crime fiction at an early age with the help of the great American writer Mickey Spillane. It is easy to spot Spillane's blunt and sparse style of writing in Collins’s own writing. After college, Collins began work on his two most long-running series. Quarry, the hard-nosed hit man with great wit, and Nolan, the aged robber trying to get out of the life. Collins’s most beloved character is Nate Heller, private detective. In these historic fiction novels, the great P.I. stumbles into cases that involve Al Capone, Orson Welles, and JFK.

When he had the time, Collins also worked on movie and television show tie-in books. In between all of this (we assume sleep is not a big thing for Mr. Collins), the author began work on his graphic novel Road to Perdition, which was turned into a film starring Tom Hanks.

Regardless if he is penning stories about hit men on the loose or cops trying to put away the bad guys, Collins is the voice of modern hardboiled crime fiction.

Enjoy some of our favorite Max Allan Collins covers!

 
 

To learn more about Max Allan Collins, visit his official website, like his Facebook page, or follow him on Twitter @MaxAllanCollins.

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Tough Guy Lit: Brett Halliday

By Sean Tuohy

Brett Halliday was the quintessential hardboiled hero: witty, tough, and wore an eye patch because he lost a fight to some unruly barbed wire. That’s one hell of a character, right?

Wait.

Halliday wasn’t fiction; he was a writer!

He was born Davis Dresser (I know, not nearly as tough) in 1904 in Chicago, but grew up mostly in Texas. As a boy he lost his eye after running into some barbed wire. We can only assume that the eye patch Halliday wore for the remainder of his life is what caused him to become such a badass. He already had the look so why not the lifestyle.

Halliday dropped out of high school, lied about his age, joined the U.S. Cavalry, and then, just for some more kicks, joined the Border Patrol.

Although he began writing late in life, he quickly made up for lost time. He published dozens of short stories in pulp fiction magazines before trying to sell his first novel in 1939. It was rejected 21 times before being accepted. Introduced Divided on Death, Halliday’s main character Michael Shayne was a tough, crime-solving private investigator. Unlike the standard PI novels at the time, Halliday’s books mixed black humor, sharp characters, and, best of all, an extremely well thought out plot.

Michael Shayne ended up being a major star, and Halliday would eventually publish a total of 77 novels, 300 short stories, a few films, and a comic book. The author loaned out his name to ghostwriters who took over the series in its later years.

Halliday still influences pop culture today. In 2005, the great Shane Black used part of the plot of Bodies Are Where You Find Them for his hit film “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” 

Halliday died in 1972, but we assume he’s taking revenge on the barbed wire that maimed him as a child Bryan Mills-style.

Enjoy some of our favorite Brett Halliday covers!

 
 

Tough Guy Lit: Ed Noon

By Sean Tuohy

New York City P.I. Ed Noon was always ready with wit, snark, and one-liners followed by right hooks. Noon possessed a schoolboy charm and the punching power of a back-alley heavyweight.

Prolific American author Michael Avallone—who claimed to have written up to 1,000 novels in his lifetime—created Noon in 1953 and published the final Noon tale in 1985. He crafted stories that saw our hero solve mysteries, save dames, and get mixed up with aliens on more than one occasion.

Ed Noon novels are a day read. You can plow through a whole book in a single shot. They are short and to the point, but filled with devilish characters and a breakneck plot.

Every Noon adventure was a step up from the last. From fighting heroin-addled goons on a train while protecting a priceless artifact to fighting voodoo witch doctors out for revenge, Noon got rough and tough all while making readers laugh at his trademark wisecracks.

Noon will go down in history as one of the greatest American detectives. We assume he is fighting pirates along some forgotten coast with a joke on his lips and a damsel in distress on his arm.

Enjoy some of our favorite Ed Noon covers, which fit the novels perfectly.

Tough Guy Lit: Donald Westlake, the Author With Many Names

  Donald Westlake (aka Richard Stark)

Donald Westlake (aka Richard Stark)

By Sean Tuohy

For nearly 40 years, Donald Westlake thrilled us with daring heists, mob bosses, and his anti-hero Parker. But he never let himself get any of the credit. The majority of it went to Richard Stark, one of Westlake’s hardboiled alter egos.

His most famous creation was the tough-as-nails and smart-as-a-whip robber named Parker. The man could steal anything from anyone but do it with the kind of charm and wit that would leave Robin Hood taking notes.

One of Stark’s most well known novels is The Hunter, the first book in the long running Parker series. We meet Parker as he and his wife pull of a heist with would- be gangster Mal. Parker is doubled-crossed by Mal and his wife and left for dead. He returns to the city with revenge in his eyes. Parker takes on the Outfit, a nationwide crime group, to get his money back and kill the man who wronged him.

The Hunter was turned in to the experimental 1970s film “Point Blank” with Lee Marvin in the title role. It was again remade in the late 1990s with Mel Gibson playing Parker in “Payback.”

As I said, Westlake’s alter ego became more famous than he did. People around the world fell in love with Parker and Mr. Stark. In his novel The Dark Half, Stephen King named the central villain George Stark in honor of the author (the two were friends).

The world learned that Westlake was the real Richard Stark in the 1990s. Westlake passed away in 2008, but the storytelling he left behind features double-crossing dames, machine gun-toting gangsters, and stacks of cash ready to be robbed.

For more Tough Guy Lit, check out our full archive.

Tough Guy Lit: John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee Series

By Sean Tuohy

Before “Miami Vice” brought Crockett and Tubbs to Miami there was another tough detective who called South Florida home. Travis McGee, the first detective of South Florida crime fiction, is a witty beach bum who lives on a houseboat (which he won in a card game) docked in Fort Lauderdale.

In the years before the Cocaine Cowboys and Flo Rida, South Florida was nothing more than a retirement heaven and beach getaway. John D. MacDonald, a former military spy, published Deep Blue Good-By in 1964 and made the area seem like a cool place to visit. He explored the beach of Fort Lauderdale, the swamps of the Everglades, and the rocky shoreline of the Keys.

McGee wasn’t a true detective, but a “salvage consultant” who would only work when he had to. McDonald gave McGee a deadly wit and brain unlike any other gumshoe in crime fiction. He also stands out because he wasn’t hardboiled. He works because his life style demands it.

McGee isn’t a bloodthirsty, gun-toting, mad dog trying to catch the bad guys. He’s just a smart fellow who enjoys entertaining women on his houseboat so much that he has to take cases to finance everything.

Simple.

For more Tough Guy Lit, check out our full archive.

Tough Guy Lit: “The Nice Guys”

By Sean Tuohy

There are certain truths in this life that are indisputable: Bach composed awe-inspiring music, Van Gogh painted jaw-dropping landscapes, and Shane Black is the master of tough guy dialogue. He’s the poster boy of screenwriting for good reason. He’s known for the “Lethal Weapon” series (the one where people are always getting too old) and for a time was the highest paid screenwriter in the business. His scripts feature well-plotted stories, dark characters, and shiver-inducing dialogue. Black, along with co-writer Anthony Bagarozzi, has created a tough guy masterpiece with “The Nice Guys.”

Written nearly 10 years ago, “The Nice Guys” is a hidden gem that is shared between screenwriting nerds and whispered about. Actors Peter Weller (“RoboCop”) and Thomas Jane (“The Punisher”) performed the script on stage in Texas once, however, no one recorded it!

Finally, the script is coming to the big screen. Black’s third film as a director will be coming out sometime next year. The story follows a burnt out private eye with a smart mouthed daughter who partners with a hired thug to try to solve a mystery involving celebrity sex tapes, politics, and Tom Cruise look-a-likes.

“The Nice Guys” script is filled with witty banter between two wonderfully crafted characters, bad guys that make your skin crawl when they speak, and moments of humor that cause your side to break. The action is solid as well. Employing his standard tongue and check, Black makes sure that he blends together funny dialogue and violence. He writes Los Angeles in the same dark, cynic tone of Raymond Chandler wrote with, but he adds in the tough guy speak of Mickey Spillane. 

For more Tough Guy Lit, check out our full archive.

Tough Guy Lit: Roderick Thorp’s Nothing Lasts Forever

Tough Guy Lit recommends and discusses a tough guy novel from yesterday. Feel free to send Sean Tuohy your own suggestions in the comments section or tweet us at @WritersBone along with #toughguylit.

By Sean Tuohy

Unlike what the title suggests, Nothing Lasts Forever has lasted quite a while. Published in 1979 by thriller author Roderick Thorp, the action-packed novel has stayed in publication over the years with a little help from the film adaptation…a little film called “Die Hard.”  

Yes, the action film that spawned a multi-billion dollar film series and an action sub-genre was based on a novel. The tale of how Nothing Lasts Forever became "Die Hard" truly deserves its own book (It’s a classic Hollywood story that is filled with twist and turns).

Nothing Lasts Forever hits the ground running and follows ex-NYPD detective Joe Leland as he goes to L.A. to visit his daughter Stephanie, an executive at a massive oil company. The moment he arrives, the aged Leland finds himself at odds with his daughter, a free spirited woman who does drugs and is having an affair with her boss, Harry Ellis. Before father and daughter have time to connect, everyone’s favorite bad guy Anton “Little Tony the Red” Gruber and a group of terrorists seize control of the building and hold the partygoers hostage. Leland, shoeless and armed with only a Browning Hi-Power pistol, sneaks around building while trying to thwart the terrorists.

Besides the blockbuster-sized action, a lot of which is found in the film, Nothing Lasts Forever is very much a story of a tired and scared old man trying his best to keep himself and his family alive. Throughout the novel, Leland spends time reviewing his life, his relationships, and who he is as a man.  

Nothing Lasts Forever is a great way to for “Die Hard” fans to see the blueprint for what became the iconic action series. Any lover of great action and well-crafted story will find Nothing Lasts Forever to be the perfect read. 

For more Tough Guy Lit, check out our full archive. Also, listen to our podcast with "Die Hard" scribe Jeb Stuart:

Tough Guy Lit: A. J. Quinnell’s Man on Fire

Tough Guy Lit is a new series that will recommend and discuss a tough guy novel from yesterday. Feel free to send Sean Tuohy your own suggestions in the comments section or tweet us at @WritersBone along with #toughguylit.

By Sean Tuohy

Take one little girl living in constant threat of being kidnapped and then throw in a burnt out mercenary with no reason to live and you end up with a fast-paced thriller with a huge amount of heart. Since it was first published in 1980, Man on Fire, the first book in the long-spanning Creasy series written by unknown author A. J. Quinnell, set the tone for modern action thrillers. The book has been turned into two separate films:  1987’s “Man on Fire” with Scott Glenn in the title role, and 2004’s “Man on Fire” starring Denzel Washington.

The novel wastes no time getting into the blood and guts of the story, but doesn’t lose any of the character development that other thrillers do. We are introduced to Creasy, an American mercenary who has spent most of his life fighting wars around the world but has lost his reason to live.  

We are also introduced to Pinta, a 10-year-old girl living in Italy during a violent time. Her parents decide to home school her after a fellow student is kidnapped. Knowing that staying at home is not any safer, the parents decide to hire a low-rent bodyguard to watch their daughter. Enter Creasy. Pinta treats Creasy like a new pet, poking and prodding the deadly killer. Creasy, who isn’t used to children, lashes out at her. It takes the pair some time before forming a strong and loving bond. For the first time in a long time, Creasy is given a real reason to life; his friendship with Pinta.

  1987 movie poster

1987 movie poster

All is lost when Pinta is kidnapped off the street and Creasy is shot in the chest. Creasy swears vengeance after losing the only joy in his life and begins to take down the Mafia. Quinnell does not shy away from violence, but doesn’t glorify it either. He gives the reader enough bloody details to make them shiver, but not be repulsed. The author also doesn’t leap right into the action; he allows the tension to build be describing Creasy’s convalesce, training, and planning his revenge mission in detail.

Throughout the book, Quinnell provides twist and turns that may seem dated and overused today, however, in 1980, the novel was considered fresh and innovative. Also, unlike the films, Pinta’s fate is much darker.

The biggest compliment to give to Man on Fire is that, despite some of the plot twists, it doesn’t feel dated. If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t be able to tell that the book is nearly 30 years old. Filled with hardboiled dialogue that flows from finely crafted characters, Man on Fire retains its youthful glow and is well worth a modern reader’s time.