Monday, July 29, 2013

Chicago Lightning by Max Allan Collins

Chicago Lightning is the second collection of Nathan Heller short stories that Max Allan Collins has released through Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint. The first volume, Triple Play featured novellas and longer short stories. This volume covers the more standard sized short stories. This collection of thirteen stories fill in some gaps in the Heller cases. A few are cases that are referred to in the Heller novels.

Collins says that he prefers to write novels more than short stories, but you wouldn’t know that from the stories in this collection. Heller is at some of his finest. In “The Perfect Crime” he is bodyguard, and avenger of Thelma Todd. In
“The Strawberry Teardrop” he helps Elliot Ness track down, and then cover up the identity of the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run. The novel Angel in Black is a sequel to this story. In “Scrap” Heller does a job for an old neighborhood friend named Jake Rubenstein. Rubenstein is a minor racketeer mixed up in a crooked union. We meet Rubenstein again in Collins’ novel Target Lancer. Of course most of us know Rubenstein by the name that he used when he moved to Dallas: Jack Ruby.

These are good stories and it is enjoyable to occasionally see Heller work on a case that doesn’t involve a famous character. The more I read the Heller novels I don’t know why someone hasn’t jumped on the chance to make these into a series. These short stories prove that Heller isn’t just a vehicle that Collins uses to talk about famous cases. Of course those of us who have read the books could readily attest to Heller’s likability. I for one would love to see Heller developed by a station like HBO or Showtime. Of course I would only like to see it if Collins were part of the project. Nothing would be worse than seeing these fun, well written stories messed up. Don’t wait for a TV deal. Get the Nathan Heller novels and story collections by Max Allan Collins and enjoy some really great hardboiled, noir fiction.

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