By Max Allan Collins
I had previously read and reviewed Collins’s “Chicago Lightning” which was a larger volume of Nate Heller detective stories. They weren’t terrible, though not as great as Hammett or Chandler of course. “Triple Play” provides three more stories that again are just OK.
The first story is also the longest. It’s 1947 and Heller has recently returned to Chicago from a stint in the Marines, where he was discharged after Guadalcanal. He gets a call from a man named Bob Keenan who says his six-year-old daughter has been kidnapped.
Soon though Heller finds out the girl is dead. There’s a note left in lipstick saying “Stop Me Before I Kill Again.” This is the signature of the infamous Lipstick Killer.
From there Heller goes out to find the Lipstick Killer. As often seems to be the case in these Nate Heller stories, it’s pretty easy to find the killer. Except there’s a twist: he may not have done it alone! Then another twist: he may not have done it at all! Then another twist and another twist. Oy, I’m starting to feel like a pretzel. I kept wondering why the story hadn’t wrapped up yet and then another twist would be revealed. It did get kind of annoying, to the point where I sighed and said, “Could we just end this thing, please?”
The second story features something that annoyed me with the previous Heller anthology: shameless namedropping. In this case it’s a big one: Marilyn Monroe. Heller gets assigned by famed screenwriter Ben Hecht (one of Hitchcock’s favorite collaborators) to bodyguard Marilyn to a charity poetry thing. Monroe has nothing to do with the actual story. Instead, it’s about the murder of a poet friend of Hecht’s who’s down on his luck.
Like pretty much every other Marilyn Monroe thing out there from “Candle in the Wind” to the recent movie starring Michelle Williams as the movie star, Marilyn is described as beautiful and a deeper and more tortured soul than we might have thought. Which as I said has pretty much become a cliche. Can anyone come up with something else to say about her?
The case is wrapped up pretty easily, this time without any twists.
The final story again involves some name-dropping, though they aren’t familiar names unless you’re a baseball fan. In 1951 Cleveland Browns owner Bill Veeck came out with a great publicity stunt when he hired a midget named Eddie to pinch hit. At only 3-foot-6, Eddie had no strike zone to speak of and was walked on four straight pitches. Soon after that game baseball banned midgets from participating.
Anyway, years later Eddie turns up dead and Veeck asks Heller to look into it. And again it’s wrapped up pretty easily.
I guess in the final analysis the stories are interesting, but I hate all the namedropping and I’d really like it to be more of a challenge to find out who did it. Though not by just piling on one twist after another at the end. I mean come on, make it harder to find the guy in the first place. Chicago is a big city; it shouldn’t be so easy to find one person.
Anyway, if you’re into old-fashioned private detective novels these aren’t bad. They aren’t great either.
That is all.