Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, March 20, 2015


Chicago Lightning and Triple Play by Max Allan Collins (both 2010)

It's hard to catagorize these two as Forgotten Books, but they do replace two out-of-print older collections, Dying in the Post-War World (1991) and Kisses of Death (2001), and then

A few words about Max Allan Collins.  The Iowa native has had his hand -- successfully -- in many endeavors:  from comic books and comic strips, from computer games, puzzles, and trading cards to fiction and non-fiction, from writing, producing, and directing films to playing in popular bands. He has written film and television tie-in novels.  Among fictional series are the Quarry novels (about a hit-man), the Nolan novels (about a thief), the Mallory novels (about a mystery writer), the Elliot Ness novels (about the real-life character), the Jack and Maggie Starr novels (with a comic strip background), the Trash 'n' Treasure novels (written with his wife, Barbara Collins), the Ms. Tree stories (both comic books and a novel), the J. C. Harrow thrillers, the Disaster series (mixing real-life mystery writers with real-life crimes), the Reeder and Rogers novels (political thrillers, the second book in the series, Fate of the Nation to be published soon), Mike Hammer novels (posthumous collaborations based on partial manuscripts and notes by Mickey Spillane), a western trilogy based on a script by Spillane, Criminal Minds tie-in novels, CSI tie-ins (Los Vegas, Miami, and New York -- in novels, computer games, comic books, and puzzles), Dark Angel tie-ins, Dick Tracy (tie-ins, novels and the comic strip), NYPD Blue tie-ins, The Mummy (ties-ins), GI Joe tie-ins, Mommy tie-ins (based on movies created by Collins), and Road to Perdition tie-ins (both novels and graphic novels).  That doesn't include his well-researched introductions to comic strip collections and collections of pin-up art, as well as books and articles about true crime, television shows,  men's magazines, the mystery field, mystery writers, comicbooks and comic strips, or his film reviews...Phew!  The man's a powerhouse.

The thing is, just about everything Collins has written is damned good.  And that includes his Nathan Heller series.

Nathan Heller is a former Chicago cop turned private detective.  Readers first met him in the 1983 novel True Detective, set in the Chicago days of Al Capone and Frank Nitti in which Heller tries to survive on five Dollars a day plus expenses.  Throughout the Heller series, we watch him go from a one-room office with a Murphy bed to owning a successful agency to owning a large successful agency with an added office in Los Angeles, from meeting Dillinger and Ma Barker to hobnobbing with Dorothy Kilgallan as she tries to ferret out who killed John F. Kennedy.  Along the way (in a total of fifteen hisorical mysteries, with a sixteenth -- Better Dead -- to be published soon), Heller finds himself involved in famous crimes and events:  the assassinations of Anton Cermak and Huey Long, the Lindburgh kidnapping, the disappearnace of Amelia Earhart, the Black Dahlia murder, the Roswell "saucer" mystery, the death of Marilyn Monroe, the forgotten assassination attempt on John F. Kennedy, and his assassintion a month later.  Along the way Heller befriends gangsters and politicians and the famous and infamous

A hallmark of the Heller series is the scrupulous historical research done for each story and the seamless welding of fact and speculation.  Heller himself is a tarnished knight with a personal moral code that allows for moral lapses.  He doesn't hesitate to deliver justice himself, a la a cetain character created by Mickey Spillane, and he certainly doesn't hesitiate bedding a number of famous females along the way.

The first Heller short story "The Strawberry Teacup" was first published in 1984, the year following Heller's True Detective debut.  Over the next quarter century more stories trickled from Collins' imagination, most of them published in original anthologies.  In many cases, the short stories allowed Collins to focus on little-known true crimes with the care and research used in his novel-length adventures.  (A "tip of the hat" is openly given to George Hagenauer, Collins' diligent researcher and collaborator on the series.)

Chicago Lightning collects thirteen Heller short stories, while Triple Play collects three Heller short novels; together they contain all of the Heller shorter works published through 2010 (and all the stories in earlier collections Dying in the Post-War World and Kisses of Death).  Chicago Lightning adds three additional stories not included in the two previous collections.

Need I mention that these two collections are highly recommended?

I thought not.

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