Tuesday, February 13, 2024

One (More) and Done

I have been reading and enjoying Max Allan Collins’ novels starring Chicago-based private eye Nathan Heller ever since 1986, when I picked up his first entry in said line, True Detective. That book and all 18 of its sequels now hold pride of place on two shelves in my office. Without question, I would read 18 more of Heller’s historical investigations, were Collins able to produce so many. But it appears he will not. He writes in his latest blog post:
I am pleased to announce what is almost certainly going to be the last Nathan Heller novel, The One-Way Ride, which I’ll be writing this year for Hard Case Crime. God willin’ and the crick don’t rise, it will appear in late 2025.

This will, at long last, tell the story of Heller, RFK and Jimmy Hoffa, which takes place in the ’60s but with first and last sections that feature Heller at the end of his career—chronologically the farthest up I’ve gone (other than brief sections of the whatever-happened-to chapters in various of the books).

I both hate and love the thought of doing a final chapter in Heller’s saga. The love part is (a) getting to do another one, and (b) knowing that this saga has a definitive ending. The hate part is that I love to do them and consider Heller my key work (Quarry would disagree, but I’m not giving him a vote).

Several realities are at play here. First, at my age [Collins will turn 76 next month] and with my health issues (which for now I’m keeping in check), doing a massive project like a Heller novel, with its soul-crushing research, is best put behind me. I have several other things I want to do, and speaking of Quarry, I may do more with him. I might also do an occasional Heller short story for the
Strand and/or Ellery Queen.

Other factors are the way sales got impacted by the way a UK dock strike screwed up the publication of
Too Many Bullets, which I consider to be a major book in the saga. That strike, as I’ve outlined here before, meant the 2022 publication of The Big Bundle effectively got pushed to the first quarter of 2023. That had the novel careening into Too Many Bullets, published early fall 2023, meaning two Hellers were published in one year (effectively). It led to the major trade publications (Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus and Library Journal) not reviewing Too Many Bullets (and in the past they always have always reviewed the Heller novels). That cost us bookstore and library sales.

And it made getting Hard Case Crime to do another book in the series required a real sales job from me.
When I interviewed Collins back in November, he suggested there might be a second new Heller outing in the future, that one mixing the gumshoe up with Republican Richard M. Nixon’s infamous Watergate scandal. At the same time, Hard Case editor Charles Ardai told me he and Collins had talked about adding Hoffa and Watergate books to the series, and “also, once, about the death of Martin Luther King and a few other topics that might be Heller-worthy.” Those further possibilities now appear foreclosed.

It’s hard for a veteran Nate Heller fan, like me, to accept that Collins might be sending him out to pasture. Especially since this announcement comes in the wake of news that Collins’ 15th Mike Hammer novel, Baby, It’s Murder—written in collaboration with his late friend and Hammer creator Mickey Spillane, and due out in August—will be that detective’s swan song. But 20 Heller novels is a hell of a body of work to cherish. Collins can be damn proud of what he’s accomplished with these yarns.

I look forward to one last ride with Nate, be it one-way or not.


Anonymous said...

Hope he somehow changes his mind, but I'll read most anything he writes.

Jerry House said...

His work is always worthwhile. Here's hoping the God is willin' and the crick don't rise for a very, very long time.