All posts by Nick Kolakowski

Cosby, Winslow, Pruitt: Three Heavy-Hitting Thillers for Summer It’s springtime in New York. The trees are budding, the weather is warming, and across the street from my apartment, someone decided to celebrate a football game by firing a gun in the air. A season of exuberance, in other words. I’m working on a heist novel set here in the 1960s, and while the writing has been fine, at some point I’ll need to take a little mental-health break and bike to the beach. Fortunately, I’ll have my choice of greatRead More

Posted On April 1, 2023By Nick KolakowskiIn Crimemag, CrimeMag April 2023

Nick Kolakowski: Smoking Gun (14) – Weed

Weed-Based Crime Thrillers are Going Up in Smoke Last weekend, as I was driving through the snowy wastes of New England, I spied a sign for a legal weed dispensary. I don’t generally partake in pot—whiskey and the very occasional cigar have always been my vices—but I was so intrigued by the novelty that I pulled into the dispensary’s parking lot. Before I even climbed out of the car, I thought: If I were a character in one of my books, how would I rob this place?(This is the crime writer’sRead More
‘The Last of Us’: Crime in the Post-Apocalypse  I thought the world would have tired of zombie narratives by this point. But “The Last of Us,” the new show on HBO, is rapidly becoming a genuine hit. Based on a bestselling video game, the series centers on a taciturn smuggler (played with growling, almost Eastwood-style charisma by Pedro Pascal) as he escorts a snarky teenage girl (played by Bella Ramsey) across the wasteland that was once the United States. Along the way, they must fend off people infected with aRead More
What Made “Glass Onion” and “Knives Out” So Popular? In late December 2022, like millions of other people aggravated by the holidays, I turned to the latest Daniel Craig movie, “Glass Onion,” for a bit of distraction. Just in case you’re one of the few who’s managed to dodge Netflix’s massive promotional campaign for the film, it focuses on the continuing adventures of Benoit Blanc (Craig), a freelance detective with a genteel Southern accent and impeccable taste in suits, as he attempts to solve yet another elaborate murder-mystery. “Glass Onion”Read More
Jordan Harper’s One-Two Punch of Crime Fiction Deserves a Wide Audience             In June 2017, Ecco/HarperCollins released Jordan Harper’s “She Rides Shotgun.” The novel follows an 11-year-old girl, Polly, and her father, Nate, who’s fresh out of jail after a long stint for doing very bad things. The two make their way across the American West, relentlessly pursued by a murderous gang known as Aryan Steel. The novel won an Edgar Award for Best Debut Novel, and over the years it gained a cult following among crime writers, passed around andRead More
‘True Detective’ Season 2: Was It Better Than We All Thought? The first season of “True Detective,” starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as Louisiana detectives pursuing a serial killer, is considered a masterpiece of mood, a neo-noir that expertly delivered its plot twists and existential despond. When the show’s second season debuted in 2015, it was lambasted as a poor follow-up, a half-baked mess of classic noir tropes and overindulgent acting. But was it really that bad? Or did it just suffer in comparison with its predecessor? Just inRead More
From ‘Touch of Evil’ to ‘True Detective,’ Long Shots are Crime Films’ Secret Weapon I re-watched part of Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil” the other night, for a project I’m considering. I’d forgotten its technical brilliance; the movie might be 64 years old, but the camera slithers through the grittier stretches of the U.S.-Mexican border with a suppleness that’s thoroughly modern. Ever since, generations of crime-film directors have used ultra-long shots as a tool for different emotional effects and story beats—they’re a secret weapon of sorts. In case you’ve neverRead More
What Michael Mann Teaches Us About Enduring Crime Fiction I’ve had Michael Mann on the brain lately. As a crime-fiction fan, how could I not? “Heat 2,” the novel he co-wrote with Meg Gardiner, is about to hit bookstores around the world; it’s a prequel/sequel to “Heat,” his epic cops-and-robbers masterpiece. He’s gearing up a biopic about Enzo Ferrari in Italy, and supposedly the cinematic adaptation of “Heat 2” is on the way at some point.  A few months ago, as the massive PR campaign around “Heat 2” cycled to life, I had theRead More

Posted On Juli 1, 2022By Nick KolakowskiIn Crimemag, CrimeMag Juli 2022

Nick Kolakowski: Smoking Gun (9)

„Heat 2“ – How Do You Craft a Sequel to a Masterpiece? Sequels are a tricky business. The good ones seem few and far between (“The Godfather Part II” springs immediately to mind, along with “Mad Max: Fury Road”), while the terrible ones litter the pop-culture landscape (as much as I loved the original “Fight Club” novel, I find its two graphic-novel follow-ups unnecessary and terrible).  With that truism in mind, I picked up an advance copy of “Heat 2,” a new novel by Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner, withRead More
Guy Ritchie’s Return to Crime Films is Worth Watching Some directors’ skills seem to fade with time. For every Martin Scorsese producing decades’ worth of masterpieces, others seem to trail off (Hitchcock comes to mind, although “Frenzy,” his second-to-last film, has flashes of editing genius). Perhaps that’s why Quentin Tarantino has promised to quit after directing ten films; he doesn’t want to overstay his welcome. I was thinking quite a bit about directors losing their touch as I boarded a cross-continental flight with two movies downloaded onto my trusty tablet,Read More
With Parker, Donald E. Westlake Pulled Off Crime Fiction’s Most Spectacular Magic Trick When the COVID-19 pandemic began, I found myself re-reading the Parker novels, which Donald E. Westlake wrote under the pseudonym Richard Stark. There was comfort in most of the novels’ repetitive plots: Parker, the master thief, plans an elaborate heist alongside some other criminals; the heist inevitably falls apart; Parker survives and claims the money (usually killing a lot of people in the process). To be fair, not every Parker novel follows that exact pattern—but they all embrace noirRead More
The Carnal Crime of “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises” Canadian director David Cronenberg has spent his career studying the carnal—the ways that flesh transforms, grows, merges with other flesh, and dies. He’s also the consummate genre-jumper: Having made his name in body horror (with ‘70s and ‘80s classics such as “The Brood” and “Scanners”), he expanded into other genres such as auto-erotica (“Crash”), literary adaptation (“Naked Lunch”), and, in this century, a pair of crime films (“A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises”).     “A History of Violence” andRead More
How Guillermo del Toro’s Film Alters a Masterpiece Noir Novel William Lindsay Gresham’s “Nightmare Alley,” published in 1946, is the quintessential noir novel, filled with desperate characters scrambling to survive in a bleak world where everything is a con: religion, spirituality, business, psychotherapy, even love. The novel’s main character, Stanton Carlisle, is utterly at home in this harsh landscape. Starting off as a carnival worker during the closing years of the Great Depression, Stanton develops a talent for manipulating anyone in his orbit; within a few years, he reinvents himselfRead More
Cormac McCarthy’s Overlooked Masterpiece?  Like many of the best noirs, Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men” is all about doom. Deep in the Texas desert, Vietnam veteran Llewelyn Moss stumbles upon the aftermath of a cartel shootout and decides to take the money he finds there—which puts him firmly in the sights of the unstoppable Anton Chigurh, a boltgun-wielding psychopath who’s tasked with finding the cash.  The film adaptation of “No Country for Old Men,” written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, is a masterclass in tension. AsRead More
No, Time to Die The latest James Bond movie digs into the fatalism at the iconic spy’s core. Since the publication of Ian Fleming’s “Casino Royale” in 1953, James Bond has been synonymous with a particular brand of escapism. A naval intelligence officer during World War II, Fleming leveraged his experience to create an idealized version of a spy, one who wore great suits and drove fast cars while he rendered the West safe for freedom and commerce. The James Bond films doubled down on the character’s fantasy potential, boostedRead More

Posted On November 1, 2021By Nick KolakowskiIn Crimemag, CrimeMag November 2021

Nick Kolakowski on „The Way of the Gun“

The Most Honest Nihilism  Crime fiction (and crime film) has always had an uneasy relationship with the violence it portrays. Every creator knows that a large portion of their audience slaps money down for a full helping of murder and mayhem—and yet, so many go out of their way to insert a bit of moral finger-wagging into the narrative.  Sometimes this appeal to morality is overt, as in the original “Scarface” (1932), when director Howard Hawks was forced to add scenes in which characters condemned the gangster lifestyle; in others,Read More
Manhunter Takes Down Thief: How Michael Mann’s Early Career Led to ‘Heat’ By Nick Kolakowski Michael Mann’s “Heat” (1995) is widely considered a cinematic masterpiece. Not only do we follow as L.A. detective Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) chases ultra-disciplined thief Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) across the city, but we also dip into the lives of characters tangential to that pursuit—wives, daughters, hustlers, marks, cops, and criminals who are often fully realized despite having relatively little screen-time.  Like many masterpieces, “Heat” didn’t emerge fully formed. You could argue that muchRead More
4 Ways Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” Novel Stands Out From the Film By Nick Kolakowski Books adapted from movies don’t have a sterling reputation. They’re often viewed as slapdash cash-grabs by writers-for-hire, despite some notable examples to the contrary—for example, Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (written concurrently with the screenplay) and Alan Dean Foster’s “Alien.” Now Quentin Tarantino is providing his own twist on this odd genre with the novelization of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” the 2019 movie he wrote and directed. TheRead More

Posted On Juli 1, 2020By Nick KolakowskiIn Crimemag, CrimeMag Juli 2020

Nick Kolakowski: Writers Under Lockdown

Surviving (and Writing) During a Pandemic Writing is never easy, not even under the most ideal of circumstances. It’s even harder during a virus-driven lockdown, no matter what your individual situation. Even if you have lots of time to sit down and write, the worldwide tension is so heavy that it risks coming through the walls of your house-turned-prison, crushing your urge to create in the process. It was under these circumstances that Steve Weddle and I decided to edit an anthology of crime and suspense fiction, “Lockdown,” that’s out now fromRead More
The Schrödinger’s Cat of noir adaptations Nick Kolakowski on the filming of Dashiell Hammett’s novel Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest was published in February 1929, an auspicious moment in American history. The glitter and rot of the Roaring Twenties had reached a crescendo; by October, the Wall Street Crash would usher in a decade of privation so acute it threatened the foundations of Western capitalism. In his query letter to Knopf, Hammett termed the book an “action-detective novel,” but it was much more than that; in describing the Continental Op’s attempts to clean out “Poisonville” of gangsters andRead More
Ignorance About the Current State of Crime Fiction is Rampant The old-school pulp writers are all dead, but their creations’ shadows loom over the crime fiction genre. That’s the only conclusion I can draw after reading articles like Jacqueline Sheehan’s hilariously misinformed piece in “The Writer.” Sheehan insists that the crime/thriller genre is male dominated, overstuffed with “the old tropes of hookers, cheating wives, or objects of sexual desire for the male protagonist.” In addition, she writes, “some female characters seem to be so enthralled with the male protagonist that they flipRead More