Nate Heller Will Return

October 1st, 2013 by Max Allan Collins

I’m pleased to report that Forge has exercised its option for me to write two more Nathan Heller novels. I have asked for fifteen months for each book, which means the one-a-year schedule the JFK trilogy established won’t be met this time. Lots of research for me (and George Hagenauer) to do.

The first book, currently titled RED SCARE (although I’m also considering BETTER DEAD – any thoughts?) will deal with the McCarthy era. Regular followers of the series will note that we have moved backward for this one, to the early 1950s. Right now the book rather ambitiously deals with the Rosenbergs, Dashiell Hammett, McCarthy, and CIA LSD murder. I hope to cover all of this, but discussions with George (and research) may convince me to tighten the scope.

The second book is also ambitious in scope – dealing with both Robert Kennedy’s assassination and a lengthy flashback finally exploring Heller’s role on the Rackets Committee as an undercover operative infiltrating Jimmy Hoffa’s organization. Right now I’m calling this THE SECOND GUNMAN, but I’m not married to that title.

Both of these novels deal with material I always knew I wanted to explore with but skipped over because, in order to get Heller back with a publisher, I felt the Kennedy trilogy was the more commercial bet. Part of my strategy was to get JFK done, because that was always the end game for the series. We haven’t set the world on fire with the JFK novels, at least not so far, but we’ve done well enough for me to get offered another two books.

Of course, I am now not sure that JFK is the chronological end of the saga. I am considering MLK and Watergate. But that’s another contract.

* * *

A couple of movie and TV notes.

Freaks and Geeks

Barb and I recently re-watched FREAKS & GEEKS, which is among the greatest TV shows of all time. This is where Seth Rogen, Jason Seigel and James Franco began (and arguably so did Judd Apatow, but the cast includes so many other great people. The regular cast (my favorite is Martin Starr, who went on to co-star in the also wonderful PARTY DOWN) is supported by all sorts of stars to be – Shia LeBeouf (a little kid here), Lizzy Caplan (also with PARTY DOWN in her future), Rashida Jones (THE OFFICE, PARKS & RECREATION). It’s merely the best show ever done about high school (set in the ‘80s but timeless). Tom Wilson (Biff in BACK TO THE FUTURE!) is a semi-regular, and so are Joel Hodgson and Trace Beaulieu of MST3K. MST3K veteran and CINEMATIC TITANIC cast member J. Elvis Weinstein is a writer/producer on the show. 18 classic episodes.

The one-season follow-up, UNDECLARED, about first-year college students, is a worthy add-on, with Rogen back and really developing as both writer and actor, and lots of FREAKS & GEEKS actors returning as semi-regulars or guest stars. Judd Apatow is the creator, while FREAKS & GEEKS creator Paul Feig directs an episode.

On the film front, Barb and I took in the wonderful I-MAX 3-D version of THE WIZARD OF OZ (this may not be in theaters now – I think it was a one-week limited engagement) and a screening of VERTIGO at the same multi-plex. As Terry Beatty has pointed out, the 3-D restored OZ is oddly more intimate than before. VERTIGO remains my favorite film and an incredibly layered piece of work – the only private eye story that really rivals THE MALTESE FALCON for first position in the genre. James Stewart, in a career littered with great performances and classic films, delivers his finest performance.

Of new movies, we caught DeNiro in Luc Besson’s underrated black comedy, THE FAMILY. Barb and I were very surprised by how much we liked that one. Dark and funny and with a (warped) good heart.

There are several much-hyped movies, some well-reviewed, that I can’t make myself see. RUSH is a subject I don’t care about, and director Ron Howard is notorious for his movies going on too long. DON JON – really? The story of a New Jersey lummox who gives up porn for Scarlett Johansson? How’s that for a conflict….

* * *

Booklist gave us a very good review on WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER. Don’t know how to link this, so here it is:

Jordan Rivera has spent the last 10 years at Cleveland’s St. Dymphna’s psychiatric clinic, refusing to speak after her family was murdered in an attack she managed to survive. But when she sees a news report on a similar killing, she’s convinced her attacker is still targeting families. Resolved to avenge her family’s deaths, Jordan starts talking, and soon she’s released and making connections in a victims’ support group. As the group shares stories, they find that they are all sole survivors of unsolved attacks on their families, and they feed their hunger to fight back by reinvestigating their cases as serial killings. They find unexpected assistance from Mark Pryor, Jordan’s high-school crush, now a police detective working Jordan’s case off the books. But that may not protect them from their quarry, who’s been waiting for Jordan to abandon the clinic’s protective walls. Collins, known for his outstanding Nathan Heller historical series, courts contemporary thriller fans with the victims-turned-hunters premise and riveting amateur investigation. Some suspension of disbelief is necessary, but the ride offers sure thrills, and the company is great.

Here’s a Spinetingler review of COMPLEX 90:

Reviewed by Theodore FeitThis novel is based on an original manuscript written by Mickey Spillane, one of two entrusted “for safekeeping” to Mr. Collins shortly before his death. It was originally scheduled for publication in the 1960’s, but never appeared. It is now made possible through Collins’ collaborative effort.Complex 90 is set during the Cold War, pitting one-man army Mike Hammer against the entire might of the USSR. It begins when he takes on a job as a bodyguard to protect a U.S. Senator during a party in his home. A gunman invades the home, shoots and kills another security person, a friend named Marley, and a bullet hits Mike in the thigh. Mike replaces Marley as the Senator’s bodyguard on a trip to Moscow on a fact-finding tour. There Mike is arrested and taken to a prison, from which he escapes, killing 45 Russians, and, after two months, crossing into Turkey, where he gets on a plane to return to the U.S. Russia demands extradition, and Mike thumbs his nose. (All of this action transpires very early in the book.)

Will it be a major international incident, or will Mike overpower both the American and Soviet governments? Of course, the gore and sex which play a prominent part in the novel are trademarks of Spillane, purely Mike Hammer at his wise-cracking best. It’s hard to tell where Spillane leaves off and Collins picks up.


Finally, here’s a wonderful review of TRUE CRIME. Never too late!


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8 Responses to “Nate Heller Will Return”

  1. Paul.Griffith says:

    I am really excited about the second Heller novel concerning the assassination of Robert Kennedy. I have been drawn to him since I worked for the young Democrats for Kennedy in ’68. Although I was too young to vote, we passed out literature and hung posters, he was our hope for change. When RFK was killed in California I was crushed and gave up on politics until ’72 when I turned 18 and voted McGovern. (Never did trust Nixon and was proven correct after the Watergate scandal).

    As far as the title RED SCARE or BETTER DEAD: how about BETTER DEAD THAN RED? Of course I don’t know how you’re approaching this, BETTER DEAD might refer to McCarthyism. Just a thought. At any rate, thrilled to hear there will be two future Heller novels. Between Heller, Hammer and Quarry there appears to be a great deal to look forward to in the next few years. It may at least take my mind off of the train wreck in D.C. Congratulations on he new contract and looking ahead to the release of Quarry on Cinemax!

  2. Tim Field says:

    Great news! It’s been a pleasure to see you being able to focus on your series work (Heller, Quarry, Jack Starr, Antiques series, Spillane collaborations). I liked your TV/movie novelizations, but your best writing comes when you’re not a gun for hire. It will be good to see Heller back in the 50’s once more.

  3. Paul.Griffith says:

    As an afterthought concerning the title of your next Heller novel. How about WITCH HUNT. It seems to fit the scare that wasn’t for many Americans the Red thing as much as it was the McCarthy threat.

  4. Paul, BETTER DEAD is a reference to the longer phrase you suggest, and is snappier for a title. I’m leaning that way.

    Tim, the novelization and other tie-ins were a way for me to do several things, like stretch in other genres, attract new readers, and, well, make a living. During that period, editors did not like it when I spread myself too thin (for their taste), publishing too many novels in one year. But to those editors, tie-in work did not count.

  5. Max, I agree with you about BETTER DEAD being the kind of snappy, suggestive title perfect for a Heller tale. Also, I’m glad to hear your next two Hellers won’t be chronological. For some reason I’ve enjoyed the way Heller could go from the Lindbergh kidnapping to Bugsy Siegel, about a 15-year gap, in consecutive novels. True Detective and True Crime were the first two Hellers and the first ones I read but for some reason it took years for me to find The Million-Dollar Wound. By the time I finally got a copy I’d already read several other Hellers (I think I read it after Majik Man, the Roswell book). You didn’t plan it but reading it that way was like a welcome flashback to something alluded to in previous books.

    I also am in complete agreement about Freaks and Geeks; I knew when I first saw it in 1999 that this was a show much too good to survive. Unfortunately I was right but maybe it was for the best; it never goes down in quality that way. I may be opening a can of worms here but I’ve never been a big Vertigo fan. I can name several Hitchcocks I prefer; right now Rear Window, Notorious and North by Northwest are duking it out for #1 in my personal rankings. To be honest, I think Psycho is his greatest work but there’s no place for Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart there.

    Oh, I finished Early Crimes and will write about it on Amazon & Goodreads. The thesis: not your greatest works but a fun look at how a master of the genre was trying on different styles for size and having some fun in the process. Hope that doesn’t sound like faint praise: good but not great MAC beats great most other mystery writers. Louis

  6. VERTIGO is a demanding film. It’s layered and with a screenplay (sometimes derided) that sets up recurring thematic dialogue and scenes that repeat (i.e., Stewart follows Stewart as Madeline/Novak to a hotel and watches her open a window, and later Stewart follows Judy/Novak to a hotel and watches her open a window). Novak pretends to be an obsessed woman, getting Stewart obsessed with solving the fake mystery of her, and later becomes obsessed with Stewart herself, even as his emotional side wants to rebuild Judy into Madeline while his detective subconscious seeks to solve her real mystery). It’s poetic in both its story and its cinematography and of course the Herrmann music, and holds up to multiple viewings like few films do. It’s so wonderful that when people say it’s overrated or shrug it off, I feel a sense of loss for them. Like CHINATOWN, it brings tragic romance to the private eye story in a way that even THE MALTESE FALCON and I, THE JURY don’t quite manage.

    I am a Hitchcock fanatic. You will be hard-pressed to get me to badmouth any film of his. But VERTIGO stands alone as a tragic melodramatic romance as well as a veiled autobiography. REAR WINDOW is a wonderful suspense picture, PSYCHO the ultimate black comedy, and NORTH BY NORTHWEST is as much sheer if nonsensical fun as any movie ever made. But VERTIGO is a masterpiece.

    I am glad that you have read the Hellers out of order and had no trouble enjoying them that way. I am always running into people who want me to tell them the correct reading order, and there just isn’t one. To read them chronologically it would go something like: first section STOLEN AWAY, DAMNED IN PARADISE, TRUE DETECTIVE, TRUE CRIME, second section STOLEN AWAY and ridiculously on. I didn’t write them in chronological order so readers shouldn’t be compelled to do so. It might be instructive to read them in the order written…might.

  7. Fen says:

    VERTIGO is a favourite film of both myself and my wife. She introduced me to it when we met, and we’ve watched it quite a number of times since. It’s something that never loses its fascination. It’s not a ‘ghost’ story in the traditional sense, but it very strongly has the feel of one. The scene d’Amour in the hotel room, with its incredible Hermann score, somehow manages to be both unsettling and romantic, ending with the lovers surrounded by a sickly green light. Love all of those other Hitch’s that you mention, although I also have include THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY. It does tend to be one of those that you either love or hate, but I think that it is criminally underrated.

    By the way, finished SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT last week. Loved it. Is this the last appearance of Jack and Maggie Starr? I hope not.

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