Review: Chicago Lightning

I’ve been aware of Max Allan Collins’s love of PIs and skill at writing them since following Ms Tree in the 1980’s.  While I don’t follow mystery writing closely, I see he’s earned a bunch of honors in the field.  Ms Tree was some good stuff, so when I ran across Chicago Lightning: The Collected Nathan Heller Stories for cheap on Amazon, I had to give it a look.

In his introduction, Collins claims to be more novelist than short story writer, and these stories bear that out.  They’re all solid pieces of genre fiction, told with a bit of panache, but none of them blows me away.  However, these stories are presented chronologically from Heller’s perspective but were written decades apart.  There is a clear, interesting character evolution going on in the background – that is, in the Heller novels – that is reflected in these stories.  That kind of organization and attention to detail makes me think that Collins has characterized his writing strengths clearly.

Lightning does have its pleasures, one of which is the meticulous research Collins brings to each story.  Most of these stories are historical fiction, with Heller interacting with real people and events of the day.  Historical detective fiction is a nice trick, and Collins breathes life and credibility into a setting that is often mythologized. The short stories don’t give him quite enough space to completely make the time his own; the veneer of fiction over the true crime reports is visible in some.  Still, as with the continuity and changes between time periods, there’s enough here to whet my appetite for a novel.

Overall this is a tantalizing introduction to an author and a character I will certainly seek out again.


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