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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Chicago Lightning

Chicago Lightning
By Max Allan Collins
(3.5/5 stars)

In the introduction the author says how he admires Dashiell Hammett and that shows from these stories.  Hammett isn't a terrible writer, but Raymond Chandler is a lot better.  The stories in "Chicago Lightning" have more of Hammett's straightforward style than Chandler's complexity.

The stories revolve around Nate Heller, a former cop turned private investigator in Chicago.  The stories range from 1933 to 1949 and are arranged chronologically by setting, not in order they were written.  Most of the stories involve someone being murdered.

My main criticism is that most of the stories are so straightforward.  There aren't a lot of twists and turns in the mysteries.  I know they're short stories (generally about 30 pages) but having read the collection of Chandler stories, they were much more complicated, often involving multiple crimes.

While I don't usually get too much into particular stories, there were a couple that stuck out in my memory--mostly because they were the weakest too.  Also two of the earliest, written in the mid-80s, though they're put in the middle of the collection.

"Strawberry Teardrop" has Heller visiting Cleveland and his old friend Elliott Ness.  In the course of about 3 days--and 20 pages--Heller and a female sidekick solve the Kingsbury Run serial killings, which were never officially solved.  It seemed really unbelievable to me how easily these famous murders were solved.  Not really plausible in my mind.  Though I think Collins later adapted it into a full-length novel.

"Scrap" was probably the shortest of the bunch.  It's also a real nothing of a story.  Heller talks to some union officials.  That's about it.  Not a very interesting story.

Despite that it's called CHICAGO Lightning, about a third of the stories take place in Cleveland/Los Angeles.  Besides Ness, Heller also interacts with Capone successor Frank Nitti and Mickey Cohen, who was prominently referenced in "LA Confidential."  Nitti and "Boss" John Rooney also appear in "Road to Perdition" which was based on the graphic novel by Collins.  I'm not really a big fan of involving the historical figures.  That's hard to pull off very well and I'm a little skeptical that a low-level PI like Heller could really know all these people as intimately as he does.

Anyway, though I didn't like some of these stories and found them a little too uncomplicated, most of them aren't boring.  They make for some good, light reading.

On a side note, I know this was an advanced copy, but it was annoying not to have a Table of Contents.  Also, I hate short story collections that don't update the heading for the particular story.  Those both make it easy to know how where I'm at and how much farther I have to go for each story.  That's always nice to know when I'm reading at lunch or something.

That is all.

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