MAX ALLAN COLLINS – Blood and Thunder. Nate Heller #7. Dutton, hardcover, 1995. Signet, paperback, 1996. Amazon Encore, trade paperback, 2011.

   You already know I think Collins is underrated. Though they’ve been uneven, I think the Heller novels include his best work.

   Collins has one writing habit the irritates the hell out of me — he overuses the word “smirk.” And from the contexts, I think he mis-uses it sometimes as well.

   Nate Heller met the Louisiana Kingfish, Huey Long, back in Chicago in ’32. when Long was stump-beating for FDR. Now, in 1935, Long is preparing to make his own run for the Presidency. The only thing that kept Long from being a full-fledged paranoid is that there really were people out to get him, and now he’s got wind of another scheme. Heller finds himself offered a non-refusable sum of money to investigate down in Louisiana, so off he goes to the swamp country.

   As always, Collins does a thoroughly researched, thoroughly competent job of writing a historical crime novel. His prose style is breezy and semi-pulpish — and I’ve explained before that I do not intend that as a slur — and he always keeps his story moving.

   This one didn’t strike me as one of the strongest Hellers, but that’s more an impression than an analysis. I liked it just fine.

— Reprinted from Ah Sweet Mysteries #18, February-March 1995.