Thursday, February 5, 2015


I finished reading THE MILLION-DOLLAR WOUND by Max Allan Collins the other day. It's the third Nate Heller historical crime novel by Collins and it was originally written and published in 1986. The edition I read (pictured above) is a trade paperback published by Amazon Encore in 2011.

THE MILLION-DOLLAR WOUND is an ambitious, epic crime story with a fractured narrative line that moves back and forth in time. The novel begins with Heller in a military hospital in 1942, suffering from battle fatigue, shock and amnesia, or what we would now refer to as post traumatic stress disorder. Then the action flashes back to Heller's exploits as a Marine on Guadalcanal and the horror that he experienced in a foxhole on that island. It's gripping, first rate storytelling. Then we move back to the hospital where Heller is deemed "cured" and released back into civilian life.

Then the story moves back to 1939, before the war, where Heller investigates an attempt by the Chicago mob (run by Frank Nitti, Al Capone's right-hand man) to infiltrate the Hollywood labor unions. Heller, as always in these books, rubs shoulders with many real life characters including Nitti, Sally Rand, Elliot Ness, Barney Ross, actor Robert Montgomery, Chicago business E. J. O'Hare and other real cops and crooks.

The third act of the book returns to 1943, where Heller, still suffering from combat fatigue, finds that players from his investigation in 1939 are still active and quite deadly. There's a brutal murder of one of Heller's lovers, a fierce gun battle between two killers and Heller in his office and a final showdown with Frank Nitti. Along the way, Heller finds out what really happened in that foxhole on Guadalcanal and tries to finally put the war behind him and get on with life.

THE MILLION-DOLLAR WOUND covers a lot of ground and a time span of four years. There's a colorful cast of characters, most of whom were real people with others being composites or completely fictional. Heller gets involved in some intricate criminal schemes and the mystery/crime material is capably handled by Collins, as usual.

But it's the war stuff that really stands out. I'd read an entire novel about combat in WWII by Collins should he ever decide to write one. The effects of battle, the stress and fatigue, the horror, the sleepless nights, the physical and mental damage that combat inflicts on men is all vividly portrayed here. Collins is keenly aware that the best post war crime novels and films noir are all informed either explicitly or implicitly by WWII. Many of the men who fought that war came home to walk the mean streets of America where they did battle with the forces of darkness in the form of bad guys and femme fatales while struggling with the demons of their minds. That pretty much defines Heller in this novel. 

THE MILLION-DOLLAR WOUND is a terrific crime novel. If you like crime/mystery, if you like history, if you like a good story well told, check it out. Recommended.


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