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True Detective (Nathan Heller Novels) by [Collins, Max Allan]
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True Detective (Nathan Heller Novels) Kindle Edition

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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: 3668 KB
  • Print Length: 481 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (September 13, 2011)
  • Publication Date: September 13, 2011
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0054LXWYQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,350 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Nathan Heller is a private detective in the Sam Spade/Philip Marlowe mold (perhaps a little more morally ambiguous than they), and he works in the same milieu, on the shady side of the street. The first book in the series takes place mostly in the corrupt political world of 1930s Chicago and features various contemporary events and personalities that Collins manages to work in fairly smoothly without it seeming like too much of a checklist (a famous boxer, two iconic mob bosses, a couple of American presidents at different stages in their careers, a couple of second-line movie actors ditto, and of course Eliot Ness, who feels more real here than he does in any of his film/TV incarnations). Not on a par with Hammett or Chandler but certainly in the same neighborhood. When I read a historical novel (straight, mystery, alternate history, etc.), I like to learn things I didn't know as well as enjoy the story as story. And the things I learn had better be reasonably accurate because I WILL look things up. And I did learn quite a bit. There's some interpretation here, of course, but it's at least credible. All in all, I enjoyed the ride, and I'm glad AmazonEncore acquired this series and is promoting it (largely through discount pricing).
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