MAX ALLAN COLLINS – Carnal Hours. Nate Heller #7. E. P. Dutton, hardcover, 1994. Signet, paperback, 1995.

   Max Collins is another writer I think of under-rated. He hs written 30 or more crime books (I have 28), all competent, and many very good. He won a Shamus for True Detective, the first of the Heller books, and was nominated for another. And yet, despite his considerable and continued successes, he is too often ignored by critical opinion.

   Heller is in his 30’s now, back in operation Chicago after seeing action in WWII and being discharged, he flies to Nassau at the request of (and for a healthy fee from) Sir Harry Oakes, a rough-hewn multi-millionaire who made his fortune in Canadian gold and is now the “King of the Bahamas.” Oakes wants Heller to find evidence that his daughter’s husband is cheating on her, and a check for $10,000 convinces Heller that this is the thing to do.

   Before he can accomplish his goal, though, Oakes is brutally murdered, and the son-in-law is charged with the crime. Oakes’ daughter, convinced of her husband’s innocence, hires Heller to prove it; but the island’s power structure is solidly in his way.

   The Oakes case is one of the 20th century’s premier unsolved cases, and Collins has done his usual thorough research. As always with the Heller series, he has mixed historic with fictional characters, and in addition to the principals in the case has tossed in Erle Stanley Gardner and Ian Fleming for good measure.

   I like the series, and I liked this book. Collins blends history with crime fiction better than anyone else dong it on a regular basis, and never lets the background get in the way of his story — though the background is meticulously laid out, and engrossing.

   He’s a story-teller; he would have been, I think, a premier pulp writer had he been born at the right time. Before you take that as damning with faint praise, please spend a respectful moment considering who some of the premier pulp writers were.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #13, June 1994.

Bibliographic Note: According to the Thrilling Detective website, there are now 17 Nate Heller novels and four story collections. Most recent in the series is Better Dead (2016), which takes place in the 1950s in the midst of the Joe McCarthy era.