Monday, May 29, 2023

Max Allan Collins' True Detective: A Private Eye In Prohibition-Era Chicago

Back in April, I interviewed Max Allan Collins about his historical crime thriller The Big Bundle in my On Crime column in the Washington Times. 

The Big Bundle is the 18th novel in the series featuring Nathan Heller, a Chicago private detective who interacts with historical figures and becomes involved in actual crimes and scandals.


I asked Max Allan Collins to describe The Big Bundle.


“In many respects, it’s a private eye thriller in the tradition of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane,” Mr. Collins replied. “I was moving to a new publisher, Hard Case Crime, and knew their audience was steeped in hardboiled fiction and might be put off by the famous crimes I usually look at in a Nathan Heller novel. The real-life case in ‘The Big Bundle,’ quite well known in the 1950s but forgotten now, allowed me to put the emphasis on the noir aspect of the Heller novels and not be accused of teaching a “history lesson.”


I also asked him how he would describe Nathan Heller.


“Heller is a businessman who starts out in a small office where he sleeps on a Murphy bed and winds up with a coast-to-coast detective agency. He is not the typical Phillip Marlowe-style modern-day knight who would never take a bribe or seduce a virgin — Heller has done both and often indulges in situational ethics. Unlike most fictional private eyes, he marries (more than once) and is a father and had a father and mother and even grandparents. He ages with the years. At any age, Heller recoils at injustice in society and serves up rough justice when he feels it necessary. He not only knows where the bodies are buried, he has buried more than his share.”


I had not read any of Max Allan Collins previous Nathan Heller novels and I mentioned to him that I’d like to read the first one in the series, True Detective (not to be confused with the HBO series with the same name).


He mailed me a copy and I read the novel and thoroughly enjoyed it.


True Detective opens with Heller working as a young police detective in Prohibition-era Chicago. He quits the force and becomes a private detective. He becomes involved with Frank Nitti, Al Capone and other gangsters, as well as professional boxer Barney Ross, actor George Raft and federal agent Elliot Ness of The Untouchables fame.


The plot revolves around the assassination of Chicago Mayor Cermak while he was on stage with President Franklin Roosevelt.   


"I knew Chicago during Prohibition was supposed to be both dangerous and exciting, and now I know why. . .  A terrific read," wrote Donald E. Westlake

"One of the best stories I have ever read," wrote Mickey Spillane.

Like those two legendary crime writers, I too found True Detective to be a fine crime novel. I plan to read more of the Nathan Heller novels in the future.

You can purchase True Detective via the below link:

 True Detective: Collins, Max Allan: 9780312820510: Books

And you can read my On Crime column on The Big Bundle via the below link:

Paul Davis On Crime: A Private Eye Witness To History: My Washington Times On Crime Column On Max Allen Collins 'The Big Bundle' 

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