Fancy Anders is smart, sassy, and no-nonsense, bombshell beautiful, every guy’s ideal (if only she would follow prescribed roles), and every girl’s ambition realized. And she shines as a “fully formed” heroine in a series of noirish novellas written by the prolific Shamus Award-winning Max Allan Collins (The Road to Perdition) and drawn by Fay Dalton. NeoText released Fancy Anders Goes to War in September, the first in a multi-book series. Fancy Anders Goes to War is fun, fast-paced and entertaining; there is never a dull moment from the time Fancy hits the streets running in her private eye debut.
Collins, who has written a number of crime noir novellas, spoke to The Beat about Fancy and the actress he sees as the embodiment of his PI on the big screen. He also offers up a teaser on his upcoming novel, The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton, as well as a first chapter sample of Fancy Anders Goes to War.
Nancy Powell: Thank you for talking with us about Fancy Anders Goes to War! Could you give us a brief overview of the novella?
Max Allan Collins: At the most basic level it’s a private eye story set in Los Angeles during World War II. But the P.I. is a young woman of 24 who goes undercover at an aircraft plant to investigate the suspicious death of the young woman chosen to be Rosie the Riveter in a government campaign. Fancy Anders is the daughter of an ex-cop who has the top private investigative agency in LA, working for all the film studios among other moneyed clients. Her mother is a lovely but shallow woman who is strictly High Society and frowns upon her daughter’s somewhat tomboy-ish ways. Fancy goes to work for her father in a secretarial capacity, but then he is called back to service, leaving her to answer the phone strictly to make referrals to other agencies, and to do a little dusting and sweeping. But of course she has other plans.
Powell: What inspired the story? And who inspired the character of Fancy Anders?
Collins: I think the basics were rattling around in my head for a long time. It’s such a rich time in America and very interesting in California. Women were getting swept up into the war effort, stepping up into traditionally male jobs. And minorities were filling the empty slots, too. It was kind of an enforced diversity that putting somebody like Fancy Anders into, with her society-page background, made for a very loaded situation.
Powell: I noticed you use the 1930s and 1940s as the setting for many of your stories. Why does this time period hold so much interest for you?
Collins: The books I read as a young person – junior high school and high school – were by the likes of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Mickey Spillane, and Rex Stout. They all were writers of the mid-twentieth century. Then there was the TV show The Untouchables, and a bit later the film Bonnie and Clyde, which got me interested in true crime of that same era. To me it’s similar to the Wild West in its adventurous appeal but also basic things it says about America.
Powell: Did you base your story mostly on research, or were you able to at least visit some of those cities in Southern California, like The Pike?
Collins: I’ve been in California quite a bit, but things change radically over time and the research is necessary. In the case of Fancy Anders, the premise of the young female investigator from an interesting background, in the wartime setting, came first. Then I thought about settings that were intrinsic to the war – like a defense plant. The ideas grew from a combination of premise and setting. The second novella, Fancy Anders For the Boys, which I think will be out before the end of the year, is set at the real-life Hollywood Canteen, a sort of USO the movie studios put together. I ran across the real murder of one of the volunteer hostesses and that provided a loose basis for crime driving the story.
Powell: The dynamic between Fancy and Lula was so much fun.
Collins: She’s something of a sidekick to Fancy in the subsequent two novellas, and so are the other women she works with at the aircraft factory, though that setting is unique to this first book.
Powell: I love the retro illustrations of the cover and before each chapter. Did Fay Dalton’s rendition of Fancy come out as you pictured her?
Collins: Spot on. We were considering the illustration format – kind of, as you say, a retro thing where you have a full-page illo at the start of each chapter – and when Fay delivered her cover art, we immediately approached her to do be a part of the entire project. She’s fantastic, but then you can see that.
Powell: If you had to pick an actress to portray Fancy on the big screen, who would that be? And who in your opinion would be a good match for the other ladies of the team?
Collins: I think Kathryn Newton would be perfect. She’s wonderful in The Map of Tiny Perfect Things and Freaky. As for the others, I’d defer to a good casting director.
Powell: Finally, could you give us a little teaser about the upcoming book The Many Lives of Jimmy Leighton?
Collins: My collaborator, the great Dave Thomas of SCTV, calls it a “quantum thriller.” It is a full-length novel, not a novella, and is genre hybrid, which excites readers and frightens editors. A small-time thief in Boston gets accidentally caught up in a scientific experiment that sends him careening through the Many Worlds where his life has gone down various different, often dangerous paths. Meanwhile, his body is in a coma – he was shot at the apex of the experiment – and two police detectives, an older Black cop and a young female officer, try to solve the crime. Chapters alternate between Jimmy’s lives and the two detectives, who drive each other crazy, dealing with some hardcore criminal types and sophisticated industrial espionage.
And now, a preview of Fancy Anders Goes to War.