Max Allan Collins
The Million-Dollar Wound
Although the historical events in this novel are portrayed more or less accurately (as much as the passage of time, and contradictory source material, will allow), fact, speculation, and fiction are freely mixed here; historical passages exist side by side with composite characters and wholly fictional ones-all of whom act and speak at the author’s whim.
What immediately comes to mind, with this-the final book of the Frank Nitti Trilogy-is the battle over the title I had with editor Tom Dunne of St. Martin’s Press.
My title was
Well, Dunne just hated the title (loved the novel, though). Word came back to me from several other writers that Dunne had said to them, “Your friend Collins writes great books, but he comes up with terrible titles,” which I thought then was fairly ungracious and still do. But he was the boss, and I did my best to come up with alternates. The only one I remember (of a long undistinguished list) is
I had also considered
Finally, in desperation, as a throwaway, I told the editor over the phone that the only other title I could think of that satisfied me even remotely was
Who knows why, but Dunne loved it. Thought
The other thing I recall is how many people assumed that this would be the last novel about private eye Nate Heller, because in my endnotes I mentioned that this book concluded the Nitti Trilogy. But Heller came back, and even Nitti did now and then (notably in
Boy, you know, I was really trying to challenge myself in this period of my career. Part of what the Nate Heller books were about was finding the truth behind the cliches of private eye fiction-in the case of
Nate Heller, post-
I also think this novel has a particularly difficult yet successful structure-flashbacks moving around in time, organized not in a linear way but in a manner that works best for the story. I really didn’t take the path of least resistance on this one-I wonder if I’m still capable of challenging myself in so bold a manner. Anyway, this is clearly the most ambitious and artistically dexterous of the three novels, and remains my favorite in terms of craft and even, dare I say it, artistry. And I really love where the Heller/Nitti relationship goes in this novel.
One of the interesting things about the Heller novels, from the author’s point of view, is that readers tend to think the first one they read-whichever one it might be-is the best. I believe that to be “shock of the new”-that encountering my hardboiled history mix for the first time has an impact that can only hit you once…after that, you kind of take it for granted. I’m not complaining. The first time you hear Sean Connery say, “Bond, James Bond,” is never going to be surpassed.
But many of the true aficionados of this cycle of novels consider the book you’re holding in your hands to be the best Nate Heller. Now, I usually consider whatever book happens to be the
I will admit, however, that of the three novels making up the Frank Nitti Trilogy,
Maybe you’ll agree.
— Samuel Eliot Morison
— Commonest of inscriptions among the hundreds of crosses in a cemetery on that island
— Frank Nitti
— Irving Berlin
My name was gone.
When I woke, I didn’t know where the hell I was. A small room with the pale green plaster walls and antiseptic smell of a hospital, yes, but
And then the damnedest thing happened: I couldn’t remember my name. Couldn’t remember for the life of me. It was gone.