Friday, October 28, 2011
Chicago Lightning: The Collected Nathan Heller Short Stories
I rarely review a book before I finish it, but Chicago Lightning: The Collected Nathan Heller Short Stories, is, rather obviously, a book of short stories, about half of which I've already read and the other half I'm looking forward to reading, and since the book came out this month, I wanted to tell everyone to go out and buy a copy, so I'm reviewing it now.
If you're not familiar with Nathan Heller, he's the hero of a long running series of historical private eye novels, the plots of which are always based on actual unsolved crimes and in which fictional characters interact with figures from history. At various times Heller has been involved in the Lindbergh kidnapping case, The Black Dalia Murder, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, and most recently, (in this year's Bye Bye, Baby, which I bought, but haven't read yet) the death of Marilyn Monroe. Heller's cases span many decades and over the course of the series, the character grows and changes and ages in real time. The research done by author Max Allan Collins and his assistants is exhaustive, and the Heller books, in addition to being suspenseful mysteries, are fascinating portraits of other times. They are true historical novels, not just mysteries set in the past. The shorts are just as well researched and just as well written.
Of the short stories I've already read in this collection, most appeared in Robert J. Randisi's Private Eye Writers of America anthologies. These would include The Strawberry Teardrop, House Call, Marble Mildred, and Private Consultation. Probably my favorite of the stories so far, The Perfect Crime, originally appeared in Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe, a book of Marlowe stories written by authors other than Chandler, which came out in 1988. Later Collins revised it into a Heller story. In a somewhat amusing incident, I actually bought my copy of the Chandler book at a Brentano's bookstore in San Diego one year when I was attending the San Diego Comic Con, and I promptly carried it back to the convention where Max Allan Collins was a guest and got him to sign it. Only a true bibliophile would take a break from a convention full of books and go to a bookstore. The Perfect Crime is about the death of actress Thelma Todd and is just a great story.
Anyway, once Halloween has passed and I settle down to reading something other than horror and ghost stories, I'll review some of the individual tales in the Heller collection. But don't wait for me. Pick up your own copy of Chicago Lightning (lightning was 1930s slang for machine gun fire) and while you're at it, get a copy of the first Heller novel, True Detective too. I think you'll like it.