By Max Allan Collins
Along with his cynical humor and knack for prepared social statement, Chicago PI Nathan Heller narrates this attractive choice of thirteen crime tales in response to actual circumstances from the Thirties and '40s.
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I knocked again. ” a male voice said gruffly. ” I kicked the door open. The lights were off in the little cabin, but enough moonlight came in with me through the doorway to reveal the pair in bed, naked. She was sitting up, her mouth and eyes open in a silent scream, gathering the sheets up protectively over white skin, her dark hair blending with the darkness of the room, making a cameo of her face. He was diving off the bed for the sawed-off shotgun, but I was there to kick it away, wishing I hadn’t, wishing I’d let him grab it so I could have had an excuse to put one in his forehead, right where he’d put one in Stanley’s.
Something else was in its place. Shame? Something. We went upstairs, he unlocked the union hall and, under the bar, found the matchbook with the number written inside: Berwyn 2981. ” he asked. ” I went back to my office to use the reverse-listing phone book that told me Berwyn 2981 was Rosalie Rizzo’s number; and that Rosalie Rizzo lived at 6348 West 13th Street in Berwyn. First thing the next morning, I borrowed Barney’s Hupmobile and drove out to Berwyn, the clean, tidy Hunky suburb populated in part by the late Mayor Cermak’s patronage people.
A lot of smart people—my then-agent, Knox Burger; my mentor, Donald E. Westlake—begged me to rewrite the novel in the third-person, and to make Nate Heller a cop or a reporter or anything but a private eye. That genre was dead, or at least an embarrassing niche, and I had hold of a great Chicago yarn that could be the breakthrough of my career…if I would just abandon my embarrassing insistence on writing it as a private eye story. ” It was sobering. I eventually broke with Burger, who was willing to “show the book around” but was painfully unenthusiastic.