KISSES OF DEATH

Written by Max Allan Collins

Review written by Michael Carlson


KISSES OF DEATH
Crippen & Landru
RRP: $17.99
Released: 10th June 2001
Pbk

Max Collins, strangely enough, has not been in print in the UK since his first Nate Heller novel, True Detective, almost twenty years ago.

Since then, ten more Heller novels have followed, as well as an avalanche of other novels, movie novelisations, films, comics, and even an excellent documentary on Mickey Spillane. But Heller remains Collins' best work, a unique series of detective novels which investigate the great unsolved (or mis-solved) crimes of our century. Collins has achieved a consistency in the Heller books, and a considerable depth of characterisation in a series which could be dismissed as gimmicky. But far from it, as these stories show well. The best of them are the biggest, where the historical figures are given room to be characters.

In Kisses Of Death Heller is hired as bodyguard for Marilyn Monroe, and solves the mysterious death of the fallen poet Max Bodenheim. It's a great way to slip into the story, and itworks. The best of the bunch is The Perfect Crime, unravelling the death of actress Thelma Todd as a classic locked room (or car) mystery.

 This story originally appeared, with Philip Marlowe as the detective, in the 1988 anthology Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, but it plays better with Heller as the sleuth. My personal favourite is Strike Zone, in which Heller is hired to protect Eddie Gaedel, the midget who played one game for the St Louis Browns' baseball team when the inimitable Bill Veeck owned the team. He later returns to establish that Gaedel's death, years later, was not of natural causes.

The characterisation of Gaedel is priceless. Characters like Elliot Ness and Frank Nitti appear in some of the other stories, and there is a valuable checklist of Collins' myriad books, as well as his own usual useful footnotes on historical accuracy. I admit to being prejudiced in favour of Heller, but I'd suggest this anthology as a starting point for anyone who thinks that modern historical mystery could never get them hooked.

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