Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Closing the Book On Nate Heller (or So I Thought)

While on vacation in Florida last month I finally got around to reading "Chicago Confidential" by Max Allan Collins.  This novel featured Collins' fictional private eye, Nate Heller.  I have written of Collins and Heller often in this blog (just type their names in the search box of this blog and see), and regular readers know how much I love these stories.  

I had "Chicago Confidential" downloaded on my Kindle for over a year and was reluctant to read it because, you see, once I did, I would have read all of the Heller novels that Collins had written, and I just didn't want to think that there were no more Heller adventures awaiting me.  However, a nice vacation was a good opportunity to surrender to the inevitable, and the book did not disappoint.

"Chicago Confidential" takes place in 1950 and it opens with Nate working out of the A-1 Detective Agency's west coast office in Los Angeles.  In the first chapter, Nate takes on as a client a beautiful young UCLA coed named Vera Jayne Palmer, who is seeking protection form an abusive boyfriend, who is actually he husband, Paul Mansfield.  Yes, Vera Palmer turns out to be Jayne Mansfield, and, yes, as readers might guess, Nate does end up working, shall we say, extremely close  with Miss Mansfield, long before she became a star, during the course of his investigation.

Jayne Mansfield is not the real star of the book, although she does end up playing a key role in the case as it unfolds.  Real historical figures such as Estes Kefauver, Joseph McCarthy, Drew Pearson, Frank Sinatra, a trio of Chicago mobsters named Fischetti, Sam Giancana, Jack Ruby, and assorted Chicago politicians and hoods also play a role in the tale.  It is another terrific yarn from Collins, and fans of Nate Heller - and I know that I have tipped a few of you out there to this series - will know what I mean and really like the book.

As I said, I was sad when I finished the book, because I knew that there were no more Nate Heller memoirs left for me to read, but lo and behold, while checking Mr. Collins' website in preparation for writing this post, I learned that there will be another Heller novel that will be released on May 3 of this year.  Talk about an early Christmas present!

The book is called "Better Dead" and it will center around the anti-Communist witch hunts of the early 1950's.  In this one, Heller will once again tangle with Senator Joe McCarthy, and will also become involved with such historical persons and Robert Kennedy, Roy Cohn, Dashiell Hammett, and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.  I can't wait, and the only question is, will I read it right away, or will I wait for another vacation later in the year in order to savor the anticipation.

In case you are interested, I thought I would give you a list of all of the Heller cannon:

I cannot say enough, and God knows I've tried, about these books as far as terrific and entertaining stories.  While it isn't necessary to read this books in order, I would suggest that you read the first three - True Detective, True Crime, and The Million-Dollar Wound - sequentially, as these were Collins' so-called "Capone trilogy".  Likewise, Bye, Bye Baby, Target Lancer, and Ask Not comprise Collins' "JFK Trilogy" and should also be read in order.  As for the others, pick them up and read them any time in any order.  You won't be sorry.

Mr. Collins himself has recently undergone some serious surgery, but is recovering according to plan as he reports on his website, www.maxallancollins.com.  That is good news for him, his family and his fans.

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