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True Detective (Nathan Heller #1)

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  633 ratings  ·  65 reviews
In the mob-choked Chicago of 1932, private detective Nathan Heller may be willing to risk his life to earn a Depression dollar, but he never sacrifices his slicing wit. That’s why mystery fans and critics alike rank the historical thriller True Detective at the top of their lists —and why the book swept up a Shamus Award for best novel from the Private Eye Writers of Ameri ...more
Hardcover, 358 pages
Published 1983 by St. Martin's Press
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Best Hardboiled PI & Noir
188th out of 466 books — 531 voters
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Books Set in Chicago
105th out of 300 books — 233 voters

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Community Reviews

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A fantastic historical novel that blended real people with fictional characters like the PI Nate Heller.

It was like two great books in one, one historical novel that captured the 1930s Chicago,US so vividly,made the people so real that i felt strongly for men that slept on park benches and died of the cold while corruption made some others rich. It was like a historical bio of those times.

It was also a great PI novel that was more like Hammett The OP realism and Heller was not the romantic,holly
Jon Spoelstra
Start with this one and enjoy the hell out it. This book is far more historical than you think. Sure, the main character, Nate Heller, is fiction, but you get the real inside info on all the mob guys. And, to prove it, the author has provided a five page bibliography.

Once you've finished True Detective, you can move on the True Crime. And there's five or six more Nate Heller books, each with a bibliography.

Nate Heller is a detective, private or city licenced - either way, it's in his blood, it's what he's good at. In 'True Detective' Max Allan Collins introduces Heller alongside gangsters of the Al Capone and Frank Nitti era in the windy city and hot beaches of Florida. The events that take place in this historical detective mystery compound Heller's desire for justice and unwillingness to flinch at even the toughest opponents while tiptoeing on either side of the blue line of the law.

I liked the
This is a solidly researched, well-written, enjoyable story of rough and tumble Chicago in the 1930s, the era of Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and assorted gangsters, politicians, and ancillary types: molls, boxers, pickpockets, and the like. At first I was afraid the author was getting carried away with local color and authenticity, but I finally realized he had it well under control and it ended up perfectly setting the tone for the story. The story, by the way, is not the conventional rising/falling ...more
Victor Carson
A classic detective novel, apparently re-released in Kindle format this year. Set in 1932/1933 Chicago, in the time of Al Capone, Frank Nitti, Elliot Ness, and the Chicago World's Fair. The story fits well into the historical setting, with the detective, Nate Heller, taking an active role in that history. Unpretentious, with good "street chops," in my opinion. The author, Max Collins, wrote the Dick Tracy comic strip for years and wrote the graphic novel that is the source of the movie "Road to ...more
Oct 16, 2012 Harold rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: noir
My first Max Allen Collins. Enjoyable and entertaining, with historical personalities mingling with fictional characters. It's a premise that makes for interesting reading, particularly if the subject matter is familiar.

I didn't see the final twist coming. Did I miss something? Either way it's good reading.
Engrossing historical detective novel! Collins uses the backdrop of 1930s prohibition Chicago to tell the story of Nate Heller who leaves the corrupt Chicago police force to become a private detective. This novel was a great mix of fact and fiction. One of Heller's first clients is Al Capone who wants Heller to stop an assassination of the Chicago Mayor Cermak. The book includes many other historical personalities such at Frank Nitti (who took over the Chicago mob after Capone was incarcerated), ...more
Ken Bour
I am hugely attracted to material involving organized crime, gangsters (especially Mafia), detectives, and legal/courtroom drama. This book has it all and was thoroughly enjoyable. I consider it a bonus that, even though it is a work of fiction, it was heavily researched and has historical credibility.

In a word, outstanding!

Max Allan Collins is an exceptional writer and joins my list of favorite authors in this genre.
Have read this book twice now and really enjoyed it both times. The premise of detective as witness to historical events works really well and the homework the author did really pays off for the reader. Many of the classic detective tropes are here and Collins handles them with enough finesse to keep the reader guessing.

My sole criticism of this book is that it's a bit long-winded at times in a way that drags the pace down a bit and could have benefited from some editing in that regard. Having
Willem van den Oever
1930’s Chicago was the city of Al Capone, Eliot Ness and Frank Nitti; but thanks to Max Allen Collins, it also becomes the city of cop-turned-private op Nathan Heller.
It’s in this city, at this time, still ruled by the Outfit – even though Capone has already been taken out of the picture by Ness – that Nathan Heller, still a plainclothes for the Chicago PD, is set up by a group of corrupt detectives, in an assassination attempt on Frank Nitti’s life. Realising it’s all been a set-up and refusing
Nov 06, 2011 Jim rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: mystery
This is the first of the Nate Heller series written by Max Allan Collins. It's a historical novel that takes place in 1930's Chicago at the end of prohibition. The book is an interesting weave of historical fact and fiction. There are several historical figures of note that appear in the book, including Al Capone, Frank Nitti, Elliot Ness, Ronald "Dutch" Reagan and FDR to mention a few.

Nate Heller is a Chicago cop that has seen and been involved with too much. He wants out and wants to pursue h
This book is a top flight "hard case" historical fiction noir. If you are so far following me, you may recall my recent review of Collins' collected Nate Heller short stories, Chicago Lightning. This current book is where it all began, back in Chicago in the early 1930s.

Very quickly, this book covers a critical period in history:
The ending of prohibition
The election of Franklin Roosevelt
The World's Fair of 1933

Collins does a masterful job of weaving together the rise of Heller, P.I., with this
I can't give the author much credit for this book, although perhaps the series as a whole offers a better glimpse into his ability to create original plots and characters. The prohibition era in Chicago, the book's setting, is so obviously interesting that the author's biggest challenge was not to mess up the telling of it. The stories of Elliott Ness, Capone, Nitty, Reagan, Cermak, and many other characters of major and minor importance to the plot are also well-documented; the author just had ...more
copies from my "True Crime" review...because the series is worth it:

Max Collins has created the coolest private detective ever to have walked the streets of Chicago. I think there are 12-14 books in Collins' Nathan Heller series (all of which stand alone nicely, btw)

Collins does an excellent job of weaving his detective into real-life historical settings starting in the 1930s. He's at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, where he meets Sally Rand. He deals with gangsters ranging from Capone to Nitti a
I've been indulging in a lot of noir-ish stories lately, but this one is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Peter Grant.

This book, being 30 years old, is not quite a classic, but pretty near to. The blurb that described it to me gave me the impression that it was a noir detective story, but I would classify it more as historical fiction. The hero takes part in real events, and interacts with real people. You have to remind yourself every so often that there is some creative license here, b
David Williams
First novel in the Nathan Heller series. Heller is a plainclothes detective on the Chicago police force. The year is 1932. Capone has just been taken down by Elliot Ness and is await appeal. The World's Fair is coming to Chicago. In the middle of all of the young Heller is picked up by two of Mayor Cermack's favorite detectives. They are on their way to roust Frank Nitti, the man who has taken over Capone's business. At least that is what they tell Heller. The two detectives shoot Nitti and try ...more
Lauren Kogan
Love Nathan Heller series. It does seem a little cheesy at times when the same character gets involved in all famous cases all over the world and finds a love interest everywhere, but this is part of the genre. I learn a lot about historical accounts I was not familiar with. The character is very likable and pleasant to be around. I found myself missing his company and picking up another book in the series.
I generally avoid historical fiction, preferring to read either real history books or purely fictional stories. This book worked for me though, for two reasons. One, it is very well researched, and two, the fictional protagonist is so well developed. The events in this book are for the most part true, and the way the fictional detective Nathan Heller is inserted in the story is entirely believable. The reader should overlook the extreme coincidences of encountering so many historical figures in ...more
Jonathan Sweet
If you've never read one of Max Allan Collins' Nate Heller books, you're missing out on one of the great detective series out there. Throughout the series (This is the first) Heller interacts with historic figures from Frank Nitti to Marilyn Monrow (in Bye Bye Baby, the most recent).
If you enjoy history and mystery, you can't go wrong with the Heller series.
Julie Davis
I have been reading Brandywine Books' reviews of Max Allan Collin's mysteries for some time and finally pulled some samples onto my Kindle to try out. Imagine my pleasure at finding that the first one is available to Amazon Prime members as a monthly loan. Liking what I read so far, I borrowed it and am carrying on from where the sample ended. More as I go, I 'm sure.

Halfway through and increasingly disenchanted with the book. Is it that practically everyone he meets is famous (or infamous
Hugh McBride
Always love when I "discover" an excellent writer who has a significant back catalog for me to work my way through -- & Max Allan Collins definitely fits that bill. "True Detective" is the first in Collins's "Nathan Heller" series, about a cop-turned-private eye in 1930s Chicago. Collins puts Heller into real situations (events in "True Detective" include the assassination of Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak & the World's Fair of 1933) & has him interact with real people (including in this ...more
Roberta Mele
A great read!

A great read!

The main character Nathan Heller is cool. He's smart, and can think his way out
of a bad situation rather quickly. I like Mr.Collins cast of characters along the way ; including Nitti, Mary Anne Beame and many others as well! I recommend True Detective highly!
I discovered Max Allan Collins a few weeks ago and am trying to read all the books before I buy his latest. This is the first in his Nathan Heller series and boy does Collins do his homework. He expertly blends history with fiction to make a detective series on par with Mickey Spillane, Raymond Chandler or Dennis Lehane. The characters are all fleshed out, the action is non-stop and the story is a delicate web that continuously turns in on itself. The book takes awhile to truly ramp up and it al ...more
Chicago in the 1930's. A cop, Nathan Heller, finds himself dragged into an attempt to kill Al Capone's successor by two other cops loyal to the mayor. He can't tell what he knows, but he can't morally not tell either. He resolves his dilemma by resigning to become a private detective.

That doesn't free him from the murderous battle going on between the mob and the mayor. First one side, then another courts him/threatens him. The finale comes with an assassination attempt in Miami that keeps the p
Jan 10, 2015 John rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: crime
Historical fiction meets crime novel. Nate Heller is a fictional PI. He deals with Al Capone, Eliot Ness, FDR and many other actual folks from 1930s Chicago. Good writing. Good story with a great twist at the end. This is first in a series.
Carol and Gary Curtis
Good story

I enjoyed this book. Even better than the story itself was all the background information from this period of history. The story itself was a little thin but the background stuff made up for that.
Des Shaw
Refreshingly different

easy to read, realistic, engaging, lots of detail if you know the places or history. He implanted a fictional "dick" into history.
Dan Sullivan
While I liked the character of Nathan Heller, I felt that at times his decisions were a tad rushed and hidden from the narrative. I'll grant some of that was stylistic, there are a few decisions of his I don't quite understand. Overall though, I enjoyed traveling back to 1930's Chicago in this detective thriller.
The beginnings of the Heller story. The incident that propels him from a detective on the Chicago police force to his dream of being a private investigator.

Collins melds his fictional character with real characters of the period, Al Capone, Frank Nitti, Eliot Ness, even Franklin Delano Roosevelt. "Dutch" Reagan even gives a small asist on one case he's working.

Collins researches his subjects thoroughly in the Heller novels and put "meat" on the bare bones we reading public know of real life fol
Great take on the old mystery pulps. Also well researched for trying to build the authenticity of 1930s Chicago.
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Received the Shamus Award, "The Eye" (Lifetime achievment award) in 2006.

He has also published under the name Patrick Culhane. He and his wife, Barbara Collins, have written several books together. Some of them are published under the name Barbara Allan.

Book Awards
Shamus Awards Best Novel winner (1984) : True Detective
Shamus Awards Best Novel winner (1992) : Stolen Away
Shamus Awards Best Novel nom
More about Max Allan Collins...

Other Books in the Series

Nathan Heller (1 - 10 of 18 books)
  • True Crime (Nathan Heller, #2)
  • The Million Dollar Wound (Nathan Heller, #3)
  • Neon Mirage (Nathan Heller, #4)
  • Dying in the Post-War World (Nathan Heller Short Stories, Volume 1)
  • Stolen Away (Nathan Heller, #6)
  • Carnal Hours (Nathan Heller, #7)
  • Blood and Thunder (Nathan Heller, #8)
  • Damned in Paradise (Nathan Heller, #9)
  • Flying Blind (Nathan Heller #10)
  • Majic Man (Nathan Heller, #11)
Supreme Justice Road to Perdition Bones Buried Deep (Bones, #1) The Mummy Sin City (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, #2)

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“they maybe didn’t deserve respect, exactly, but I knew enough to give them some.” 1 likes
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