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True Detective (Nathan Heller Novels) [Kindle Edition]

Max Allan Collins
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (195 customer reviews)

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Discover the Captivating World of Max Allan Collins
Max Allan Collins is the New York Times best-selling author of Road to Perdition and multiple award-winning novels, screenplays, comic books, and more. Browse his mysteries and thrillers.

Book Description

In the mob-choked Chicago of 1932, private detective Nathan Heller may be willing to risk his life to earn a Depression dollar, but he never sacrifices his slicing wit. That’s why mystery fans and critics alike rank the historical thriller True Detective at the top of their lists —and why the book swept up a Shamus Award for best novel from the Private Eye Writers of America.

Now, author Max Allan Collins (Road to Perdition) reissues the contemporary classic that introduces the inscrutable, wise-cracking Nathan Heller in all his guts and glory. Mayor Cermak aims to scrub up Chicago’s rancid reputation for the World’s Fair, and that daunting task comes down to the youngest plainclothes cop in town, Nathan Heller of the pickpocket detail.

When the Mayor’s “Hoodlum Squad” brings Heller along on a raid with no instructions but to keep his mouth shut and his gun handy, he finds himself an unwitting, unwilling part of an assassination attempt on Al Capone’s successor, Frank Nitti. Soon, he’s smack in the middle of a power struggle between the mob and the mayor, and it’s up to the young detective to upend a potentially nation-shaking political assassination in Miami Beach. In Collins’ eruptive and evocative large-landscape historical thriller, readers consort with the likes of “Dutch” Reagan, George Raft, and FDR himself, as the author weaves the intricate history of the Chicago’s Century of Progress with a classic noir mystery. Rich in riveting plot turns, including a beautiful female client and a heartbreaking romance, True Detective is one of the most highly entertaining and unlikely coming-of-age stories ever written.

Editorial Reviews Review

Author Max Allan Collins on True Detective

Max Allan CollinsQ: You have been writing your Nathan Heller series on and off again for 29 years. Between these books you have worked on projects as different as Road to Perdition, Dick Tracy, and the CSI novels. What keeps you coming back to Nathan’s story?
A: Nate Heller is my favorite among my characters, and the concept of the traditional private eye solving the great mysteries of the 20th Century is something that appeals to me. I was a fan of historical novels like Captain From Castille and Prince of Foxes as a kid, and of course was interested in detective stories for as far back as I can remember, so the Heller mix of history and noir hits me hard. But after twenty years of writing more or less steadily about him, I took a break of about a decade to work on projects that became possible after the enormous success of Road to Perdition. This included Perdition sequels, but also a series of historical novels that did not involve Nate Heller -- my "disaster" series that began with The Titanic Murders and such works as Black Hats and Red Sky in Morning (both written under the now-discarded Patrick Culhane penname).  
Dick Tracy, Batman, CSI and such movie tie-in novels as Saving Private Ryan and American Gangster were the kind of gigs a professional writer takes to do two important things: flex different muscles; and put bread on the table. Both noble goals.
Q:  You write graphic as well as traditional novels. How is writing for these two mediums different?  Have you ever considered introducing the Heller mysteries in graphic novel from?
A: My dream professional as a child--this lasted into junior high--was cartoonist. I loved comic strips and comic books, and back when I took over the DICK TRACY strip in 1977, a lot of media focused on the "dream-come-true" nature of that job for me, since TRACY was my favorite comic as a kid, and I was only 22 at the time. So wanting to create comics predates my trying to write prose. I like to think my love for comics and film has given my fiction some visual snap. But I consider myself a storyteller, and like to use the correct medium for a certain project. Some stories are best told as films, others as comics, others as novels, and I work in all three fields. The recently released DVD, The Last Lullaby, is a screenplay I co-write based on my Quarry hitman novels. 
Interestily, Road to Perdition was a spin-off of Nathan Heller. Around Road to Perdition1993, an editor at DC comics asked me to do a graphic novel, a noir with the historical approach of Nathan Heller, and I said, "Fine, I'll do a Heller graphic novel." But he wanted something in the Heller mode that was new. I was very taken with Asian cinema at the time, and was influenced by John Woo's movies--which hadn't been legally released here yet--and also the Lone Wolf and Cub movies, based on a famous Japanese manga. I put that vibe together with the real-life history of the Looney crime family in Rock Island, Illinois, moving the action up in time a little from the teens to the twenties to be able to make Al Capone and Frank Nitti characters, as they were in the Heller saga. The recent is history, or anyway historical crime fiction.
Q: The Nathan Heller mysteries weave together historical and fictional events. Tell us a little about the research that goes into these titles.
A: The research is, frankly, massive. Years can go into the research of a historical case, and it's ongoing not just for the book at hand but contemplated future ones. My chief research associate, George Hagenauer, has been with me since the very start. He lived in Chicago and helped me--an Iowa boy--learn about and understand the Second City and its quirky ways. The research itself entails reading books on the subject but also looking at newspaper files in depth, usually visiting the sites and sometimes interviewing participants. Essentially, I pick a case--like the Lindbergh kidnapping in Stolen Away--and do enough research to write the definitive non-fiction work on that case... then I write a private eye novel instead. Many of the historical subjects we've dealt with in the Heller novels, as well as the Eliot Ness novels that spun off from Heller, have led to groundbreaking research that others, quite frankly, have appropriated to write non-fiction accounts.
The Last QuarryQ: True Detective is the first in the Nathan Heller series. What was your original inspiration?
A: I wanted to write a private eye novel--this was the early 1970s--but couldn't imagine that character in modern dress. Other writers have proven me wrong, but I thought the P.I. was played out. That the best way to deal with him was in an historical context. A big element was the day I noticed that The Maltese Falcon, the greatest of all noir mysteries, was copyrighted 1929... the year of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. This meant that Sam Spade and Al Capone were contemporaries, and it meant that I could put the Bogart-style noir detective into more than just an historical context, but in history itself.  Toward that end, the role Heller plays in any given novel is usually one played by one or more real investigators. By the way, it took almost ten years from concept to final execution--True Detective was a big project for a young writer.
Q: When you started this project did you ever imagine it becoming a series that would span almost 30 years? Does it ever surprise you how far Nathan and you have come?
A: Initially, I was just trying to write one book--a big book, and an ambitious one, which I hoped immodestly might be the definitive private eye novel of all time. That may sound inflated, but I did win the best novel "Shamus" up against people like Robert B. Parker and James Crumley. I left the door open for a sequel, mostly because I didn't have time to cover all the story in the first novel, but I wasn't thinking series till St. Martin's Press asked for one. But as soon as Heller became a series character, I knew--just knew--that we would not stop until we had reached the Kennedy assassination. And that book, Target Lancer, was recently completed... with another several possibilities past that.
Q: You write a lot of period fiction as well as modern. Do you prefer a certain era? If so, what attracts you to that time period?
When I was writing the DICK TRACY comic strip, I took pride in doing modern crimes and keeping the strip contemporary and fresh. The MS. TREE comic book I did in the eighties and nineties--which will be revived soon--was also keenly contemporary, with subjects ripped from the headlines. But I admit I am most attracted to the mid-20th Century--the twenties through the sixties. They are interesting times, colorful and compelling. I'm afraid I am a 20th Century man at heart.

About the Author

Max Allan Collins is the author of the Shamus Award-winning Nathan Heller historical thrillers; his other books include the New York Times bestseller Saving Private Ryan and the bestselling CSI series. His comics writing ranges from the graphic novel Road to Perdition, source of the Tom Hanks film, to long runs as scripter of the “Dick Tracy” comic strip and his own innovative “Ms. Tree.” Collins is also a screenwriter and a leading Indie filmmaker. He lives in Iowa with his wife, writer Barbara Collins, and their son, Nathan.

Product Details

  • File Size: 3673 KB
  • Print Length: 481 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (September 13, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0054LXWYQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,086 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
84 of 86 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars True True True March 11, 2007
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I read True Detective after reading several of Collins' later Nathan Heller books. Collins writes this series as an amalgam of historical accuracy with his protaganist (current private eye, former Chicago police detective Nathan Heller) interacting with the real characters of the era depicted. In this one we are in Chicago and meet the likes of mobsters like Capone and Nitti, crooked cops, grafting politicians, and good guys like boxer Barney Ross and Elliot Ness to balance the score.

Collins knows how to tell a good story. The historical detail is accurate and adds to the feel of the tale. The pictures he paints of the World's Fair, the shantytowns, etc., put you in the book. The plotting is thorough, the situations believable, the dialogue true, and the characters feel real, especially Heller as he struggles to do the right thing in a world full amibiguous situations where "right" can be tough to figure out given the conflicting viewpoints.

To say that the characters feel true sounds odd given that most are public personalities. Yet, a less skilled writer could make them hackneyed and two-dimensional. Here they have depth enough to carry their roles naturally, without forcing situations. You learn enough about each of them to make sense of their motivations and behaviors, yet the story never gets lost in irrelevant details.

When I'm done with a novel of his I feel I've learned more about the characters from history and more about myself as I go through the moral rollercoaster with Heller. And before I forget, there's plenty of humor, sex and violence to keep things interesting.

Read the series, in order if you can. This is one of the best going.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a solid read, and a promising start to a detective series that I'll probably try more of in the future. It's a hardboiled mystery, but generally avoids feeling too much like a cliche by using characters with a little more complexity than your typical crime fiction. The meticulous attention to historical detail adds a level of realism to the book. If it errs anywhere, it may be in cramming in so many historical references. By the last third of the novel, some of the celebrity cameos start to feel forced, in spite of the fact that, yes, they could have been around in that region at that time. A couple times I felt as if chapters existed mainly to spotlight the tremendous amount of research that must have gone into this book, but for the most part, the narrative still moves along quickly. If you like classic detective fiction, you should enjoy it.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The BEST Crime Book of the '30s Era December 28, 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
From the first few words, I knew that Max Allan Collins had written one of the best crime/detective novels I had ever read. Before long, I dropped "one of" and decided it is THE BEST! Characters rise off the pages into "real" life, while the action grabs you and carries you along. If you like the tough, but believable, private eye, this is a landmark book for you. Don't just read it. Buy it!
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific historical noir July 11, 2005
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Max Allan Collins' first novel in his acclaimed Nathan Heller series, True Detective, is a stunning mix of fact and fiction. The setting is 1930s Chicago and Collins paints the city of that time with a bold brush. Heller is a city cop who gets roped into a messy situation by his fellow officers. When he ends up killing a man with the same gun Heller's father used to commit suicide, Nathan's own, that's the last straw that leads to Heller quitting the force, despite the efforts of the higher-ups to get him to reconsider.

But working as the president of your own detective agency (called "A-1" so it will appear first in the telephone directory) is by no means boring -- not when your best friend is Eliot Ness and you have connections to Frank Nitti, Al Capone, mayor Anton Cermak, Walter Winchell, George Raft, and a young future actor who goes by the name "Dutch" Reagan.

Collins took five years to research the place and time and this, combined with his immense storytelling skill, make True Detective an immersive experience. The World's Fair comes alive in his hands, as do the characters, who have never seemed so real (even in The Untouchables) as when they are dealing with the fictional Nathan Heller. I plan to repeat this experience soon with the sequel, True Crime, and I think I'm about to become very familiar with the exploits of Nathan Heller.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Audio Cassette
Rarely does one come across a book which so completely captures the essence of an era. Max Allan Collins has achieved this in spades. He is simply the master of the historical mystery novel. Nathan Heller is a well rounded character, and his interaction with some of the era's most notable figures is exceedingly well done. I can only the entire line of Nathan Heller novels get back into print. If you're a fan of Hammett, Chandler, etc, you're sure to love it.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Audio Cassette
Rarely does one come across a book which so completely captures the essence of an era. Max Allan Collins has achieved this in spades. He is simply the master of the historical mystery novel. Nathan Heller is a well rounded character, and his interaction with some of the era's most notable figures is exceedingly well done. I can only hope the entire line of Nathan Heller novels get back into print. If you're a fan of Hammett, Chandler, etc, you're sure to love it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
good historical fiction
Published 24 days ago by Ken S
4.0 out of 5 stars good read but nothing earth-shattering
Maybe 3.5 starts... good read but nothing earth-shattering.
Published 1 month ago by P. E. TILLMAN
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great hit from the modern master of crime fiction.
While I have an unending passion for fantasy such as Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" and Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson's seminal "Wheel of Time" series, I also... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Hal 'Chisaiyama' Shaver
5.0 out of 5 stars What a great novel. Capone's Chicago is richly described but does ...
What a great novel. Capone's Chicago is richly described but does not get in the way of a great story. Read more
Published 2 months ago by tennessee
3.0 out of 5 stars truly boring detective!
written as a period piece, it would have been more likable if pacieṛ. unfortunately, it is also written in a slow and dragging style, which is not the usual max collins style. Read more
Published 2 months ago by chandru sharma
5.0 out of 5 stars Chicago politics + Prohibition + well-written = excellent read
Well-written storyline about Chicago political machine, prohibition, and detective work. There are some terrific dry humor, throw-away lines embedded in the story- priceless! Read more
Published 2 months ago by KOF
5.0 out of 5 stars Possibly the Best Private Detective I've Read!
The author's in-depth historical research is so detailed and accurately used, this story reads as if it actually happened. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Crafty12player
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Published 3 months ago by Sue Sanfilippo
5.0 out of 5 stars a good read
Interesting plot with a good dose of historical characters thrown in for the fun of it. It's fun to imagine who you would cast in the roles
Published 3 months ago by Tab
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
Kind of disappointing. Thought of quitting it several times but kept hoping it would get better. It never really took off. Seemed to go on and on.
Published 4 months ago by The K Man
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More About the Author

Max Allan Collins is a New York Times bestselling author of original mysteries, a Shamus award winner and an experienced author of movie adaptions and tie-in novels. His graphic novel ROAD TO PERDITION was made into a major motion picture by Tom Hanks's production company, Playtone.

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