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Collins' Frank Nitti Trilogy delivers pulp fiction style

May. 16, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Max Allan Collins' Frank Nitti Trilogy, featuring private eye Nathan Heller, is truly a spellbinding collection of historical fiction.

The trilogy introduces Nate Heller, an ex-cop and tough-as-nails private detective, who tries to lead a straight life in an otherwise crooked town. A Jewish boy who grows up in a tough neighborhood, Heller idealizes the police force, only to become a cop and see firsthand the corruption that infests the 1930s Chicago police force. Growing disgusted with life on the police force after being asked to perform a mayoral sanctioned hit on one of Chicago's leading gangsters, Frank Nitti, Heller quits the force and goes into private practice.

In the first book, "True Detective," Heller gets his first job as he tries to head off a political assassination, masterminded by none other than Frank Nitti himself. As the story progresses through masterful plot twists containing elements of both romance and suspense, the reader is introduced to Heller's world of Depression era Chicago and the colorful characters that give it life. Characters like gangster Al Capone, boxer Barney Ross, and G-man Elliot Ness make appearances as the story progresses. With enthralling settings including the World's Fair, Hoovervilles, and the budding city of Miami, Collins transports the reader back to the golden age of crime.

The next book of the trilogy, "True Crime," introduces Heller to public enemy number one -- John Dillinger. As Heller searches the dust bowl that was the American midwest for a client's missing daughter, he crosses paths with some of the most infamous men of the period. Using the same exciting characterizations and unexpected plot twists that captured readers attention in his first book, Collins' again keeps them guessing at every turn.

The concluding novel of the trilogy, "Million Dollar Wound," sees Heller and friend Barney Ross through World War Two and the horrors they experience on Guadalcanal and in the Pacific theatre. After they return stateside, both are broken by mental and physical disease and a growing addiction to drugs, yet they must battle through it as they fight the corrupt gangsters infiltrating Hollywood movie unions. In the final dark and bloody days of Nitti's life, Heller finds himself surrounded by murder and violence at every turn. Although this is the final novel of the Nitti trilogy, the Heller legacy lives on as he reappears in ten other novels to date by Collins.

This masterful collection of pulp fiction style writing by a modern author can be considered as timeless as those pieces that appeared in the Black Lizard Magazine of yesteryear. Through brilliant narration and memorable characterizations, Collins keeps his readers enthralled and guessing at each exciting plot twist. These novels combine enough historical fact to remain realistic while Collins' fictional elements keep readers absorbed in every page. In the style of the best of pulp fiction, there is a mix of crass language and lewd scenes, so the series is best for more mature readers.

Whether you are a crime buff or just in search of a good story, Collins' Nitti Trilogy is a great read.

Robert Jackson is a junior at Huntington High School and encourages other students to write reviews and submit them to sarah.dougherty@wvlc.lib.wv.us.