I first became aware of Nathan Heller just a few years back during a difficult time in my life. No new money was coming into the house for about two and a half years, while I made my way through the various levels of government in what I became convinced were roadblocks to discourage people like me, I had to watch what I spent my money on. I began to frequent my local library quite a lot, something I’d gotten away from for too many years. I’d read Max Allan Collins before, of course, but mostly movie tie-in novels.
While browsing the aisles, I came across Mr.Collins’ books. They had none of the early Heller novels, beginning with CARNAL HOURS and up through CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL. They also had some of his disaster series. I’ve been tracking down his original stuff ever since. At this point, I think I’m missing one Eliot Ness and a couple of Hellers. There is a forthcoming collection of longer, but not novel length, Heller stories coming I need as well.
His Nathan Heller novels have won him many Shamus nominations and twice a winner, for TRUE DETECTIVE and STOLEN AWAY. They marry his fictional private eye with real life people and the melding is smooth and seamless. He takes real cases over the years, the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, Amelia Earhart, Huey Long, Marilyn Monroe, both Kennedys, and folks all around them, some in minor roles, but real people one knows.
What I like about the Heller novels is the research Collins and others put into the writing of these stories. He strives to be historically accurate, though allowing for changes for dramatic purposes. Never a lot though. And on occasion, where there might be differing theories on a particular case, Collins will go with one, putting his own spin into the outcome. What we know about these real folks is what I would equate with sound bites on television today. Just the bare bones. I learn a lot more about the famous people reading a Heller novel than any history book. Collins does the hard stuff, the research, and gives us the meat.
I’ve always been a fan of his writing. He has a fluid style that keeps things moving along and corrals one in. it’s hard to stop once you get started.
TRUE DETECTIVE chronicles Heller’s beginnings as a Chicago police detective and the incident that propels him to realize his dream of being a private investigator. The Heller novels have become available in new editions, TRUE DETECTIVE, in both trade paperback and Kindle editions, and CHICAGO LIGHTNING collects all the Nathan Heller short stories.
Definitely worth a look if you haven’t tried one before.