Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Max Allan Collins Day

I want to apologize for not being able to post the covers of the following books. For reasons only the darkest of computer gods understand every time I try to copy graphics I get kicked off line.


I had the privilege of reading True Detective, the first Nathan Heller novel, in manuscript. I was stunned by its reach and power and having reread it within the past year I can honestly say time has only improved it.

Right now you can read the first Nathan Heller on Kindle for only 99 cents. I'll have more to say about the series below but grab this bargain while you can. It is now #1 on Kindle bestsellers if that tells you anything. #1 !!!!!!!

Buy it here:

Forgotten Books: Chicago Lightning by Max Allan Collins

Technically this book is brand new but since the some of the stories in Chicago Lightning date back as far as 1984 I think it qualifies for this particular post.

I need to say up front that Max Allan Collins was my teacher in my transition from short story writer to novelist. I'd started and given up many novels before his advice finally took hold and I finished and sold one. During this period I studied (outlined and read and read again his books) as a guide for my own. Al (which most people call him) has written more successful series than anyone I'm familiar now or in the past. Nolan, Quarry, Mallory, Ms. Tree, Elliott Ness and even more. The first three I practically memorized in trying to learn how to write my own books. This wasn't any kind of forced march. I still reread them all today. They're that good. And that enjoyable. Al is first and foremost an extraordinarily skilled storyteller.

But Nathan Heller is my favorite of all his protagonists. First of all consider how unique the Heller saga is in the history of crime fiction. Here we have the first and finest merging of the private detective and historical novel. Collectively they are a history of headline America in the past century. Each Heller novel resonates far beyond its main story. Readers are given a real sense of the various eras the novels take place in. An amazing accomplishment.

Chicago Lightning collects the Nathan Heller short stories Here we meet such imposing historical figures as Mickey Cohen, Frank Nitti and Thelma Todd. All the stories are based on real cases of the 30s and 40s. (The introduction is a true writer's tale that you'll remember long after finishing it.)

As I said Heller is my favoriteCollins protagonist and as I read these stories again I realized why. He is a rich, complex human being who grows and changes with each new appearance. Yes, you can count on him to be hard-boiled and cynical but then he constantly surprises you with his compassion and his street wisdom. You can never be sure how he'll react to a character or a situation. That's damned good writing.

The stories themselves are masterful. My long-time favorites such as "Kaddish For The Kid," "Marble Mildred" and "The Strawberry Teardrop" are here but so are some I'd never read before including a couple of new knock-outs "Unreasonable Doubt" and "Shout-Out on Sunset."

One story, "The Blonde Tigress," is the best example of why this is such a fine book. As with every story, Collins wrings so many surprises in both character and plot that you start to remember how much plain damned fun it is to spend your time with a book. Writers as well as readers such read Tigress and analyze it. If I ever taught a class in short fiction this would be one of my choices.

This is a book you'll enjoy and admire. I promise.



Dan_Luft said...

But you didn't tell us what his advice was.

Ed Gorman said...

The best single advice Al gave was write from start to finish without rereading. Then go back and make the revisions. I'd been starting novels and getting hung up after a few chapters by revising them. It really worked for me.

Brendan DuBois said...

Ah Max... yes, the Heller books are great... but my word, a musician, graphic novelist, accomplished author... doesn't the man know how to slow down? (That's envy talking, of course; wish I was half as productive as he is... happy Max day indeed.)