Christa Faust, Megan Abbott and Lawrence Block at the reboot of Hardcase Crime at the Mysterious Bookshop in New York.
Ed Gorman is the author of STRANGLEHOLD and the editor of ON DANGEROUS GROUND among many other books. He recently won an EYE for Lifetime Achievement from the Private Eye Writers of American (Shamus Awards).
Forgotten Books: Chicago Lightning by Max Allan Collins
Technically this book is brand new but since the some of the stories in Chicago Lightning date back as far as 1984 I think it qualifies for this particular post.
I need to say up front that Max Allan Collins was my teacher in my transition from short story writer to novelist. I'd started and given up many novels before his advice finally took hold and I finished and sold one. During this period I studied (outlined and read and read again his books) as a guide for my own. Al (which most people call him) has written more successful series than anyone I'm familiar now or in the past. Nolan, Quarry, Mallory, Ms. Tree, Elliott Ness and even more. The first three I practically memorized in trying to learn how to write my own books. This wasn't any kind of forced march. I still reread them all today. They're that good. And that enjoyable. Al is first and foremost an extraordinarily skilled storyteller.
But Nathan Heller is my favorite of all his protagonists. First of all consider how unique the Heller saga is in the history of crime fiction. Here we have the first and finest merging of the private detective and historical novel. Collectively they are a history of headline America in the past century. Each Heller novel resonates far beyond its main story. Readers are given a real sense of the various eras the novels take place in. An amazing accomplishment.
Chicago Lightning collects the Nathan Heller short stories Here we meet such imposing historical figures as Mickey Cohen, Frank Nitti and Thelma Todd. All the stories are based on real cases of the 30s and 40s. (The introduction is a true writer's tale that you'll remember long after finishing it.)
As I said Heller is my favoriteCollins protagonist and as I read these stories again I realized why. He is a rich, complex human being who grows and changes with each new appearance. Yes, you can count on him to be hard-boiled and cynical but then he constantly surprises you with his compassion and his street wisdom. You can never be sure how he'll react to a character or a situation. That's damned good writing.
The stories themselves are masterful. My long-time favorites such as "Kaddish For The Kid," "Marble Mildred" and "The Strawberry Teardrop" are here but so are some I'd never read before including a couple of new knock-outs "Unreasonable Doubt" and "Shout-Out on Sunset."
One story, "The Blonde Tigress," is the best example of why this is such a fine book. As with every story, Collins wrings so many surprises in both character and plot that you start to remember how much plain damned fun it is to spend your time with a book. Writers as well as readers such read Tigress and analyze it. If I ever taught a class in short fiction this would be one of my choices.
This is a book you'll enjoy and admire. I promise.
Patti Abbott, On Beulah Height, Reginald Hill
Reginld Hill's police team of of Dalziel and Pascal is always asatisfying read. I don't think I ever read this book before but came to it after Val McDermid said it was one of her favorite crime novels in a recent interview.
And it is a doozey. So damn fine writing in these pages.
Three little girls go missing in a short period of time back in the seventies. They are all from a small town due to be flooded to create a reservoir. Suspicions fall on a strange loner, a man possibly mentally challenged, but he disappears before he can be apprehended.
This crimespree happened when Dalziel was a young man and the case still haunts him. Suddenly a chance to solve it arises when another girl disappears as a drought begins to bring the drowned town back to life. Complications in the life of Peter Pascal also contribute to the sense of dread that infuses this novel. This is a haunting story with brilliant writing, atmosphere, and a very fine plot.
Steve Lewis/Barry Gardner
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang