Monday, April 09, 2012

Triple Play by Max Allan Collins

April 17, 2012 Nathan Heller
Since his introduction in 1983’s True Detective, Chicago-based private eye Nathan Heller has handily earned his spot alongside American crime-fiction greats Phillip Marlowe, Archie Goodwin, and Mike Hammer. Now the classic gumshoe is back in this collection of three novellas, all based on real cases of the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s. InDying in the Post-War World, Heller returns from combat to find his marriage a shambles and himself square in the middle of the notorious Lipstick Killer case of 1946.Kisses of Death follows the PI into the 1950s, when he is hired to guard Marilyn Monroe. The famous starlet’s intellectual pursuits eventually take Heller to Greenwich Village and a grisly murder. And in Strike Zone, Heller is hired by zany baseball boss Bill Veeck to investigate the 1961 murder of a famous pinch hitter, whose private life will suck Nate into a dangerous new world of little people and big sins. With Triple Play, New York Times-bestselling author Max Allan Collins has pried back the lid of history to reveal the ugly, entertaining truth behind three of the twentieth century’s most shocking crimes.

Ed here: I have to say that Max Collins' Nathan Heller novels are among the finest historical crime novels ever written. For one thing they are spellbinding STORIES, something too many historical novelists (even some of the biggies) fail to create. And for another they chart with wily and deserved cynicism The Great American Century as the last one liked to call itself.

If you have somehow never made acquaintance with Mr. Heller I suggest this is a fine introduction. His take on Marilyn Monroe captures the star in a way that numerous ponderous biographies never have for me--Heller identifies her as a girl-woman which she most certainly was. Collins is always particularly vivid when he writes about Old Hollywood and even in the shorter form both the mystery and the industry-run town are unforgettable. His take on Greenwich Village is masterful.

Bill Veeck was one of those living legends who had as many doubters as believers. He wouldn't have fit into the corporate kind of game baseball has become mainly because, like action heroes, he liked to live large, though for many reasons a good deal of that large living had to be kept quiet. Enter Nathan Heller who not only recreates Veeck but also that era of baseball, a more innocent time (or at least that's how we've agreed to view it). Clever mystery and clever story.

As a long time admirer (and occasionally copier) of Collins' work I would say that the long story here--really a short novel as a magazine would call it--is one of the most cunning, shocking and powerful things Max has ever written. For anybody who wants to write this should be mandatory reading; Dying In The Post-War World is how to plot a story.

All three of these cases are based on real Chicago crimes but the Lipstick Killer of Dying is by far the most unsettling. The characters are complex and vivid and the the story a minefield of twists and surprises. There is also moving backstory on the difficulties that men faced coming home from the big war, lending even more reality to the historical aspects of the short novel.

This is a major addition to the Nathan Heller body of work. Snap it up right away.

BTW The lovely woman on the book cover is Max's gorgeous wife Barb (who is also his collaborator on their antiques mysteries).

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