A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by John Lutz


MAX ALLAN COLLINS – True Detective. St. Martin’s, hardcover, 1983 Tor, paperback, 1986; ibooks, paperback, 2003. Thomas & Mercer, softcover, 2011.

   In True Detective, Collins has created a brilliantly evocative period novel set in depression year 1933, Chicago, His hero, Nate Heller, is a cop who refuses to succumb to prevailing corruption on the police force. (This is a tightly woven blend of fact and fiction.) When Nate becomes involved in the shooting of gangster Frank Nitti, the corruption closes in on him. His testimony as to what happened in Nitti’s office during the shoot-out is vital to several parties; and given the climate of time and place, they all assume that Nate is for sale.

   Nate isn’t, as he explains to his pal, boxer Barney Ross. With no alternative to dishonesty other than to quit the police department, Nate goes private, working out of an office, complete with a Murphy bed, above Ross’s saloon.

   Nate has trouble and he has enemies, among them Chicago’s corrupt Mayor Cermak, the mover and shaker of the 1933 World’s Fair, and former vice president General Charles Gates Dawes, not to mention the unnamed but sufficiently dangerous Al Capone. It’s a good thing that Nate also has allies like Eliot Ness, Franklin Roosevelt, and even young sportscaster Dutch Reagan.

   The writing style here is hard-boiled and literate, and the novel is illustrated with black-and-white photographs of the book’s true-life characters and of depression-era Chicago. So artfully are photographs matched with text that they add wonderfully to the painstakingly created atmosphere of that almost-lost time.

   This novel won the Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Award as 1983’s best private-eye novel, and deservedly so. A lovingly and often elegantly written novel, this is marvelous entertainment and a must read for every fan of private eye fiction.

   A second Nate Heller adventure, True Crime (1984), involves the detective with J. Edgar Hoover and an FBI plot against the infamous John Dillinger, and is every bit as evocative and entertaining as True Detective. More Heller novels are planned for the future.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.


Editorial Update: There are now 20 books in the series, the most recent being Do No Harm (2020), in which Heller finds himself involved in the Sam Shepard case, which in real life occurred in 1954. (I believe that all of Heller’s cases have appeared in chronological order, both his time and our time.)