Sunday, November 28, 2010

Black Hats


Max Allan Collins is what you'd call a prolific author. That means he writes a lot of books. A few of these appear under pen names and recently one of those pen names got past me. Collins wrote a book called Black Hats which came out in 2007 under the name Patrick Culhane. I'm glad I finally became aware of it, because it's a very good book. It takes place in 1920 and it follows former gunslinger Wyatt Earp, now 70 years old, to New York City where the son of Earp's late best friend Doc Holliday has run afoul of mobsters. A young up and comer named Al Capone is leaning heavily on Holliday, trying to get Doc's kid to buy prohibition booze from the outfit Capone works for. Earp and old pal Bat Masterson step in to back Holliday's play. Sounds like fun, eh?
If you're not familiar with Collins, he's something of a master at historical mystery/thrillers. Probably best know in the book world for his Nathan Heller novels (True Crime, True Detective) a private eye series that often involves various true cases, such as the Lindbergh kidnapping, he may be best known to casual readers for writing the graphic novel that became the Tom Hanks film Road To Perdition.
Collins authored several books featuring Elliot Ness (who also shows up in the Heller books) as the protagonist and he did a series of books a couple of years back which featured various authors playing amateur detectives. My favorite was The Pearl Harbor Murders. The protagonist in that one was Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs.
The things that all of these books have in common are scrupulous research, clever plotting, and Collins' solid writing. I started reading Collins many years back with his Mallory series, followed by his Richard Stark homage books about a professional thief named Nolan and the Hellers. Along the line I read the Elliot Ness books and the Dick Tracy novels. (Collins was the writer for the Dick Tracy newspaper strip for many years.) Not to mention Collins comic book work. He wrote Batman and Wild Dog for DC and created, along with artist Terry Beatty, what I consider to be the best private eye comic book ever, Ms. Tree. he also revived the old Pete Morisi PI, Johnny Dynamite.
Recently Collins has been editing and finishing the Mike Hammer manuscripts left by Mickey Spillane. Collins and Spillane were good friends and Collins is definitely the man for the job. He's also been writing new books about his hitman protagonist Quarry. Somewhere in there he's turned out any number of TV and movie tie-ins and adpatations. Everything from CSI to the Scorpion King. Oh and he also writes cozy whodunnits with his wife under the pen name Barbara Allan. I told you the guy wrote a lot of books.
Anyway, Collins is in fine form with Black Hats. He really manages to evoke prohibition era new York. The speakeasys and the clubs and just the whole feel of the city. I learned quite a bit about Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, and Al Capone for that matter. In the last few pages of the book Collins gives the names of the books and other research material he used in great detail. I'm going to have to track a few of those books down. Amazon.com has plenty of used copies of Black Hats. Order yourself a copy and let an expert transport you back to the 1920s where you can stalk the mean streets of New york with Wyatt Earp. Highly recommended.

3 comments:

Max Allan Collins said...

Thanks for the nice review. Much appreciated.

I rarely use psuedonyms, though. There are two "Patrick Culhane" books, and I co-author a series with my wife as "Barbara Allan" (a cozy series the latest of which is ANTIQUES BIZARRE). I've only done one of my tie-in novels under a penname (I LOVE TROUBLE by Peter Brackett).

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Duly noted, sir. Not a 'boatload" of pen names at all. I have edited the post. Barbara Allan was the pen name I couldn't recall. My mom loves those books, by the way. I see that the old and new Quarry's are going to be reissued with new, matching covers. Be great if someone would do the same with the Nolans. My old paperbacks are in rough shape.

Max Allan Collins said...

Much appreciated.

The Quarry reprints are available at Amazon right now. Great covers by my frequent collaborator, Terry Beatty.

The Nolans may follow. Almost certainly the Nate Heller books will be out again within the year. I am tip-toeing around reprints and e-books of the early material. A company has picked up the Eliot Ness books for e-books/print-on-demand. Holding back Nolan and Mallory till I see how some of this stuff does.