Max Allan Collins has given us a number of Nathan Heller novels. In this book he collects three novellas from the world of Nathan Heller. There is a grand tradition of these stories that are longer than short stories and shorter than novels. Once it was common to feature these in short story magazines. Authors (or publishers) would often collect three of these novellas and publish them in a single volume. Collins points out that this was a standard practice for Rex Stout. As short story periodicals have disappeared so have the novellas.
Collins says that he prefers writing novels to short stories. You wouldn’t know that from reading these stores. Of course they are not as in depth as a full novel, that would not be possible given the size of the story. For these stories Collins choose cases that were not as large in scope and so they allow for a shorter story. “Dying in the Post War World” covers the Lipstick Killer case. In this story Heller helps to track down a serial killer whose brutality leaves him ready to take matters into his own hands. In “Kisses of Death” Heller gets his first opportunity to work for Marilyn Monroe. While working for Ms. Monroe he is reacquainted with some members of the Chicago literary scene, mainly the obnoxious poet and author Maxwell Bodenheim. His look at this leading jazz age figure is less than flattering, but oh so wonderfully written. Finally in “Strike Zone” Heller goes to work for Bill Veek. Veeck was a well known character in the world of baseball. He loved to pull stunts to entertain the crowd. One of his best known stunts was to draft a midget as a pinch hitter. Eddie Gaedel will always be remembered as the shortest man who ever played professional baseball, even though he was later disqualified. Heller investigates the death of Gaedel after the man’s mother claims that he was murdered. There was a line in this story that had me laughing until I hurt.
All three of these novellas are well written and wonderful to read. I enjoyed each of them and can recommend this to any lover of great hardboiled detective stories.