Chicago Lightning Paperback – Oct 4 2011
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About the Author
Max Allan Collins has earned fifteen Private Eye Writers of America "Shamus" nominations, winning for his Nathan Heller novels, True Detective and Stolen Away, and receiving the PWA life achievement award, the Eye. His graphic novel, Road to Perdition, which is the basis of the Academy Award- winning film starring Tom Hanks, was followed by two novels, Road to Purgatory and Road to Paradise. His suspense series include Quarry, Nolan, Mallory, and Eliot Ness, and his numerous comics credits include the syndicated Dick Tracy and his own Ms. Tree. He has written and directed five feature films and two documentaries, including "The Expert," a HBO World Premiere. His coffee-table book The History of Mystery received nominations for every major mystery award and Men’s Adventure Magazines won the Anthony Award. Collins lives in Muscatine, Iowa, with his wife, writer Barbara Collins. They have collaborated on seven novels and numerous short stories, and are currently writing the “Trash ‘n’ Treasures” mysteries.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
And then there is Max Allan Collins, who's steadfastly ignored trends and fashions and published the Nate Heller private eye stories and novels since the early 1980s. And while few of us might ever know a person like Nate Heller, there were people like him - Dashiell Hammett was a Pinkerton operative before he turned writer, for example - and he is a representative of an American original.
In "Chicago Lightning," Collins brings together thirteen stories published over the past 30 years that have two primary things in common. They are based on true stories, and they are great reads.
Real personalities walk these stories alongside fictional characters - lawmen like Eliot Ness, gangsters like Frank Nitti (Al Capone's successor in Chicago). And even some of the fictional characters are based on real people.
The stories themselves are fascinating, and I had to keep reminding myself that I read stories in 2011 that were written in the 1980s and 1990s about events in the 1930s and 1940s. It's to Collins' credit that the reader is able to easily move back in time and see the era so clearly.
And the stories are quite a selection of crimes: a young man yearning to be a private detective dies during a stakeout of a department store; the "Blonde Tigress" is arrested for robbery and murder but the woman in question may or may not be the killer; a young wife is found murdered in the basement of a wealthy family's mansion; a movie star hires Heller but finds herself the victim of "the perfect crime;" a doctor goes missing; a woman suspects her husband of infidelity; a serial killer is loose in Cleveland; and more.
While many of the stories are set in Depression-era Chicago, with its crooked politicians and police on the take, Collins includes Cleveland, Los Angeles and Miami as additional settings for Heller's cases. And the settings and atmospheres are important - whether it's the seedy side of town or the in-places of the Sunset Strip in L.A., the author convincingly tells the story of that particular place at that particular time.
"Chicago Lightning" (the name given to machine-gun fire) is a solid collection of hardboiled private eye stories, and earns a well deserved place in a long tradition of tough-guy hero stories.
Without any disrespect to other noir authors, what I really loved about Nate is that he was so much more realistic and human than most fictional PIs. He isn't insanely tortured and he doesn't have abilities that make you wonder if he is a superhero in disguise; he is just a sharp guy willing to work the angles. He's morally ambiguous and navigates situations that have more shades of gray than a paint store. He is believable and you can relate to him. I really enjoyed following his exploits in this collection of stories.
Collins' writing deserves particular mention. His prose clean and crisp. It flows well and, although it isn't sparse, it is just clipped enough to really capture the noir vibe. He is extraordinarily readable.
The stories themselves are just long enough to be weighty but just short enough that you could easily read one right before going to bed. You can read one, enjoy it, and easily say "Just one more, then I'll turn out the light."
I highly recommend this book to fans of noir, true crime, or detective novels.
The stories revolve around Nate Heller, a former cop turned private investigator in Chicago. The stories range from 1933 to 1949 and are arranged chronologically by setting, not in order they were written. Most of the stories involve someone being murdered.
My main criticism is that most of the stories are so straightforward. There aren't a lot of twists and turns in the mysteries. I know they're short stories (generally about 30 pages) but having read the collection of Chandler stories, they were much more complicated, often involving multiple crimes.
While I don't usually get too much into particular stories, there were a couple that stuck out in my memory--mostly because they were the weakest too. Also two of the earliest, written in the mid-80s, though they're put in the middle of the collection.
"Strawberry Teardrop" has Heller visiting Cleveland and his old friend Elliott Ness. In the course of about 3 days--and 20 pages--Heller and a female sidekick solve the Kingsbury Run serial killings, which were never officially solved. It seemed really unbelievable to me how easily these famous murders were solved. Not really plausible in my mind. Though I think Collins later adapted it into a full-length novel.
"Scrap" was probably the shortest of the bunch. It's also a real nothing of a story. Heller talks to some union officials. That's about it. Not a very interesting story.
Despite that it's called CHICAGO Lightning, about a third of the stories take place in Cleveland/Los Angeles. Besides Ness, Heller also interacts with Capone successor Frank Nitti and Mickey Cohen, who was prominently referenced in "LA Confidential." Nitti and "Boss" John Rooney also appear in "Road to Perdition" which was based on the graphic novel by Collins. I'm not really a big fan of involving the historical figures. That's hard to pull off very well and I'm a little skeptical that a low-level PI like Heller could really know all these people as intimately as he does.
Anyway, though I didn't like some of these stories and found them a little too uncomplicated, most of them aren't boring. They make for some good, light reading.
On a side note, I know this was an advanced copy, but it was annoying not to have a Table of Contents. Also, I hate short story collections that don't update the heading for the particular story. Those both make it easy to know how where I'm at and how much farther I have to go for each story. That's always nice to know when I'm reading at lunch or something.
That is all.