Better Dead: A Nathan Heller Thriller by Max Allan Collins

Better Dead: A Nathan Heller Thriller by Max Allan Collins

Publisher: Mysterious Press

First sentence…

I was there when the Commies took over.

The Overview:  Beware of Spoilers…

 

 

Better Dead is actually two interconnected novellas.

In the first Nathan Heller is hired to find evidence to exonerate Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a married couple sentenced to die for providing Russia with secret information on how to build nuclear bombs.  Senator Joe McCarthy, who is leading the hunt for American Commies, wants Heller to serve as a double agent and provide him with whatever information Heller learns about the Rosenbergs.  Before long Heller is on the wrong side of government agents and gangsters and a possible death sentence of his own.

In the second story, Heller learns about government-funded mind control experiments on unknowing subjects from a scientist who has a change of heart.  When the scientist turns up missing, Heller knows that he’s next up unless he can figure a way out.

I’m a huge fan of Max Allan Collins’ Nate Heller series.  Heller is a fictional detective who finds himself in the middle of real crimes.  Heller ages as the series progresses and fiction is mixed with extensive research and historical fact.  It’s fun watching Heller interact with famous (and infamous) folks right out of our history books.  Equally enjoyable is Collins’ take on the crimes and what may have really happened (if it is not as we’ve been taught).

In Better Dead Heller interacts with Joe McCarthy, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Roy Cohen, Bettie Page, Bobby Kennedy and others.  I also like that Heller in these outings is a bit more hardboiled.  Perhaps it’s the decade.

Better Dead is another great addition to the Nate Heller legacy.  I’m hoping for more!

Rating:

Mike Tyson vs. James ‘Buster’ Douglas: An Oral History of Boxing’s Most Remarkable Upset

If you’re a boxing fan you won’t want to miss Eric Raskin’s excellent Mike Tyson vs. James ‘Buster’ Douglas: An Oral History of Boxing’s Most Remarkable Upset.

Mike Tyson, Buster Douglas, Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant, the fighters’ trainers and others all weigh in on the events and fight that was the greatest upset in boxing and perhaps sports history!

 

The Murder of Rasputin: The 100th Anniversary of a Mystery That Won’t Die

Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin was murdered in the very early morning hours on December 30, 1916.  If you know the name Rasputin, then my bet is you know the circumstances of his death.

Rasputin was said to have healing powers, a hypnotic effect on men and woman, was a known womanizer whom some said was a saint while others claimed him to be the human incarnation of Satan.

Prince Felix Yusupov, who confessed to killing Rasputin details how Rasputin ate poisoned treats with no effect…

…Rasputin relaxed, eating multiple cakes and drinking three glasses of wine, Yusupov waited. And waited. The “Mad Monk” should have been dead in seconds, but the cyanide seemed to have no effect. Growing worried, Yusupov excused himself to the other room. He returned with a gun, promptly shooting Rasputin in the back. The other accomplices drove off to create the appearance that their victim had departed, leaving Yusupov and Purishkevich alone at the mansion with what appeared to be Rasputin’s corpse.

 

A strange impulse made Yusupov check the body again. The moment he touched Rasputin’s neck to feel for a pulse, Rasputin’s eyes snapped open. The Siberian leapt up, screaming, and attacked. But that wasn’t the worst part. As Yusupov wrote in 1953, “there was something appalling and monstrous in his diabolical refusal to die. I realized now who Rasputin really was … the reincarnation of Satan himself.”

According to legend Rasputin was poisoned, shot repeatedly, beaten, bound and dumped into a river to drown.  When his body was found its condition supported the account of Rasputin’s murder and unnatural ability to survive…

…Two days later, a search party found a body trapped beneath the ice of the frozen Malaya Nevka River. It was Rasputin: missing an eye, bearing three bullet wounds and countless cuts and bruises.

Rasputin’s daughter wrote in her book, My Father, that when Rasputin’s body…

…was found, his hands were unbound, arms arranged over his head… Maria claimed this was proof Rasputin survived his injuries, freed himself in the river, and finally drowned while making the sign of the cross.

Most of us know the story of Rasputin and his supernatural ability to survive attacks that would have killed mortals.  Yet all we know, may not be the whole story.  Perhaps Rasputin didn’t have supernatural powers.

Andrew Lenoir presents an explanation based on research and historical facts to explain The Murder of Rasputin: The 100th Anniversary of a Mystery That Won’t Die.

Source: Mental_Floss.

America’s First Theme Park Was All Santa, All the Time

Anyone know where Santa Claus lives?

North Pole, right?  Yeah, that’s a correct answer, but so is Santa Claus, Indiana!

I can vouch that Santa Claus, Indiana exists because I visited it as a kid back in the 1960’s.  Of course then it was called Santa Claus Land (or at least that’s what my grandparents called it when they took me).

When I asked my grandparents about Santa living in our home state and not the North Pole, they explained that Santa did live at the North Pole with the elves and reindeer but sometimes the jolly ole fellow liked to escape the cold.

If you’d like to learn more about Santa Claus, Indiana, Erin Blakemore and Mental_Floss have the full story in America’s First Theme Park Was All Santa, All the Time.

10 Less Than Heroic Stories Of Survival From The Titanic

Mark Oliver and Listverse present 10 Less Than Heroic Stories Of Survival From The Titanic.

While it is hard to predict how we’d act in a life or death situation, if you check out the piece above you’ll learn about…

  • the man who said he accidentally tripped and fell into a lifeboat…
  • the man who dressed up as a woman to get into a lifeboat…
  • the millionaires who bribed crew to get their own lifeboat…
  • the man who told his wife the boat was sinking and to gather up the children and then left before they got topside on a lifeboat…
  • the baker who got drunk and went down with the ship but survived!

Ken Meyer, Jr.’s Ink Stains 3: Steranko, Cockrum, Fujitake, Smith and More!

If you’re a fan of fanzines, then you’ve got to check out Ken Meyer, Jr.’s monthly column Ink Stains.  Each month Ken (who is an amazing artist) posts… well, let’s let Ken explain…

I have a collection of over 200 fanzines from the 60’s-80’s that I plan to scan and talk about, one at a time. I hope to have some of the participants answer a few questions. Many of those participants are established comics professionals now, while some have gone on to other things. I will show a few snippets from each zine and give you a link to download a pdf of the whole thing, which I hope all of you will do!

For Ink Stains 3, Ken took a look at Fantastic Fanzine #10 from 1969 published by Gary Groth (who later went on to publish the long-running month magazine, The Comics Journal) and Alan Light (who later went on to publish the long-running weekly newspaper the Comic Buyers Guide).  The issue featured an Jim Steranko / Joe Sinnot cover as well as art by Dave Cockrum, Barry Smith, Bill Everett, Bill Black and Dennis Fujitake.  That’s Fujutake’s splash posted above.  I always like DF’s work and wished there was more around!

All, the glory days of fanzines.  Thanks to Ken Meyer, Jr. for making these available!

Our Hurricane Matthew Wrap-Up

Hurricane Matthew hit the Volusia County coast of central Florida as a level three hurricane and thankfully not a level 4 as had been predicted.  Everyone I know received some house, yard or car damage.  I was lucky in that our damage was minor.  Some of our soffits came down and some limbs came off our backyard tree.  The soffits are up and the limbs removed.

My son, Mike lost a tree and shingles on his roof.  The tree is being removed and the shingles can be replaced.  My mom’s house lost some shingles.  My buddy, John Beatty had a hole punched in his roof, and more.

Thankfully no one I know was injured by the storm.

If you read my earlier post about Hurricane Matthew coming, you know my son Mike (and daughter-in-law, Erin) and son Chris  worked a Hurricane Shelter.  I ended up being called in to work a shelter as well.  Two days in a shelter isn’t fun for anyone, but it is nice knowing that we were able to provide refuge to people in need.

Power is back on (in most places) and clean-up and repair is underway (in most places).  School for students and teachers will resume on Wednesday (at least it looks that way at this point).

Thanks to everyone who asked about things and for sending out positive thoughts and prayers.

We now return to our usual nonsense.

Matthew is Coming and He’s Packing a Punch!

In 2004, I was a high school Assistant Principal at a school that served as an evacuation shelter during hurricanes.  In the span of a month we opened the shelter three times.  It’s hard to believe that our area was hit with that many hurricanes in that small time frame.  The damage done to our area was bad, but not as terrible as it could have been.

Today Hurricane Matthew is on track to slowly move up the coast of Florida as a level 4 (4!) hurricane.  Those in the know say that Matthew will easily be in the top 5 worst U.S. hurricanes of all time.  In our county the beach side is under a mandatory evacuation.  We’ve opened 12 schools as shelters and have more on standby.  My son, Mike, is helping to run one of those shelters.  My school is on alert should we be called.

Our hope is that the storm will take a turn to the east and keep going.  If you look at the photo above you can see that the prediction is Matthew will ravage the coast of Florida then along the coast of Georgia and the Carolinas and then loop back.  Let’s hope not.  Once is more than enough.

To all readers in the path of Matthew, stay safe.

13 Mummified Facts about Ötzi the Iceman

Kristina Killgrove and Mental_Floss present 13 Mummified Facts about Ötzi the Iceman.  Here are three of my favorites…

5. HE HOLDS THE RECORD FOR OLDEST TATTOOS IN THE WORLD.
The mummy boasts 61 different tattoos, and they are the oldest physical evidence of tattooing in the world. While the Iceman does not have “MOM” on his biceps or a butterfly on his lower back, his tattoos are still quite interesting. They were made by scratching his skin and rubbing charcoal in the fresh wound, resulting in groups of lines or crosses. It has also been suggested that their placement over joints may have been an attempt to treat pain. As the oldest tattooed person ever found, Ötzi holds a Guinness World Record.

7. HE WAS AN EARLY ADOPTER OF TECHNOLOGY.
Ötzi’s field kit held a surprising number of different tools. There was a copper-bladed axe, which marks him as high status; a flint dagger and its tree-fiber sheath; and a bow made out of a yew tree. His quiver, fashioned out of deer hide with hazel wood supports, contained two finished arrows and a dozen unfinished shafts. He had a net for catching rabbits and birds, as well as a marble disc with a hole in the middle for hanging or carrying dead fowls. He also carried cylindrical containers made of birch bark—a kind of Copper Age Tupperware that kept charcoal embers hot for hours so he could quickly make a fire. His teeth were worn particularly on the left side, meaning he may have used his mouth to help work leather. The Iceman’s hair also revealed high levels of arsenic, suggesting he was a pro at smelting ores to make copper.

8. HE WAS A CHALCOLITHIC RAMBO.
Ötzi was short and stocky, around 5’2” tall and 135 lbs, with strong legs. In 2003, an early study of DNA from Ötzi and his belongings claimed to find blood from four different individuals—there was some on his dagger, on his goatskin coat, and on one of the arrows. This finding was never published, though, and has not been replicated since. But other evidence for combat exists in the form of two injuries. Several right-sided rib fractures had healed before death. Shortly before his death, Ötzi was struck in the head. A protein analysis of his brain reveals some healing, particularly in the form of blood clots—but those could have caused a stroke or embolism. The Iceman also suffered a long, deep stab wound to his right hand. Based on the stage of healing evident from the wound tissue, it occurred between 3 to 8 days before his death. And of course, the arrow lodged in his left shoulder was likely the ultimate cause of death. In short, Ötzi was a hunter and a fighter.

48 Things We Learned from David Fincher’s Zodiac Commentary

Rob Hunter and Film School Rejects present 48 Things We Learned from David Fincher’s Zodiac Commentary.  Here are three of my favorites…

13. Fincher thinks the reason why the Zodiac still haunts people is due as much to his letters as to anything else. The idea of an ongoing correspondence with someone who was in the process of killing fascinates him.

15. All of the blood in the film is digital because it saved the production enormous amounts of time by not having to wait for wardrobe changes and cleaning.

18. Dermot Mulroney is in great shape, but Fincher was having none of it. “I wanted him to have a waistline like mine so we made up a little fat suit for him.”

Angel in Black: A Nathan Heller Novel by Max Allan Collins / Z-View

Angel in Black: A Nathan Heller Novel by Max Allan Collins  (2001)

Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: NAL

First sentence…

The two pieces of her lay porcelain-white in the ankle-high grass and weeds of a vacant lot on South Norton Avenue, like the upper and lower sections of a discarded marionette.

 

The Overview:  Beware of Spoilers…

I’m a sucker for the Nate Heller series by Max Allan Collins.  Heller is a detective who finds himself involved in famous murder cases.  Collins is a stickler for historical accuracy and has created a timeline and plausible setting that allows Heller to find himself (over the course of the series) mixed up in everything from the Lindbergh baby murder to the assassination of JFK!

This time out Heller ends up at the scene of the Black Dahlia murder and discovers that he had dated her in Chicago just months before her murder.  She had told him she was pregnant and he was the father… then disappeared.  Since Heller had since married her murder could ruin his marriage, his career and makes him the number one suspect in her death.  Heller must stay a step ahead of the reporters and the law and find out who killed the Black Dahlia before he ends up taking the fall.

Rating:

7 Strange Tales from the Old West

Kyla Cathey and Mental_Floss present 7 Strange Tales from the Old West.  My favorite is listed below and I remember when it happened!

1. ELMER MCCURDY’S AFTERLIFE WAS STRANGER THAN HIS LIFE AS AN OUTLAW.
Elmer McCurdy is not exactly a household name. Unlike Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Jesse and Frank James, or Billy the Kid, his exploits as a train and bank robber never gained him much infamy. Neither did his status as one of the last real Wild West outlaws, killed in a shootout with the law. (He’d never be taken alive, he said.)

No, Elmer McCurdy gained his fame more than 60 years after his death, in 1976, when memories of those wild days on the frontier were dying with the last people who’d lived them.

That’s when the crew of The Six Million Dollar Man borrowed an amusement park funhouse to shoot an episode. As one of the crew members moved a dummy, its arm fell off—revealing that the dummy was actually a mummy. McCurdy, specifically, as an autopsy later revealed.

It seems that after being shot, someone had gone to the funeral home and identified themselves as McCurdy’s long-lost brother in order to take the body. In fact, he was a carnival owner. (Carnivals did a brisk trade in outlaw corpses to attract crowds in the early days of the 20th century.) McCurdy’s body also spent time as repayment for a bad debt, playing a mummy in a freak show, and collecting dust in a wax museum storage space before he became a funhouse prop.

McCurdy was finally laid to rest on Boot Hill in Guthrie, Oklahoma, 66 years after he was killed. Were it not for a clumsy prop crew member, who knows where he’d be today.

Aurora’s Monster Scenes Scandal!

When I was growing up most boys went through a model building phase.  Some kids liked cars others planes or ships, but I was always a fan of comic, movie, tv characters and monster models.

Aurora was the main company producing the model kits and in an effort to promote their product Aurora would hold…

…contests for custom kits, highlighting winners in monster magazines. By the 1960s, they had started noticing that a lot of submissions revolved around expansive, morbid scenarios: a mad scientist’s laboratory, or an execution motif. To Aurora, it was a clear indication that their consumers wanted context for their models… They began developing a line dubbed Monster Scenes. Using generic characters like the Victim, designers concocted elaborate scenarios that put the unfortunate captives in mortal peril.

What followed was a series of missteps…

  • Models featuring torture scenes
  • A Vampirella model that shipped unpainted and appeared nude
  • Labeling each box “Rated X for Excitement!”
  • and more

The model kits began shipping in 1971 and were an instant hit with kids, but parents and activist groups were up in arms even leading to a California law prohibiting the sale of torture toys.

If you’ve read this far you might want to check out Jake Rossen’s Nabisco’s X-Rated Toy Scandal of 1971 at Mental_Floss which provides a more in-depth look.

 

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