Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Heard: "The Million Dollar Wound" by Max Allan Collins

Heard: The Million Dollar Wound by Max Allan Collins, 1986 (book), 2005 (Blackstone Audio production), from

Well done.  Plenty of drama, mystery, adventure, sex, etc.

 Not as expected. A prime example of a narrator's interpretation greatly differing from mine. Unlike some other instances - like Parker novels - I liked this interpretation.

I had always thought of Heller as a hardboiled seen-it-all, and know-it-all. Someone who is not easily fooled. In short, I thought of Heller as Mike Hammer.  Not quite.  Heller is a big-time skirt chaser like Hammer (Stacey Keach's TV version anyway) but he is different. The narrator Yuri SomethingOrOther really brought a different version of Heller than my preconceived notions.  Notions that lasted through a Heller short story collection.

Heller is a fairly jovial guy with a happy wit.  He hangs out with and goes drinking with friends.  He enjoys the nightlife and looks out for himself and his interests.  Heller is not a crook but his ethics turn off when self-preservation is involved.  Especially if that self-preservation may go up against the Chicago outfit and Frank Nitti.

Heller awakes in a hospital in 1942 and does not know where he is or who he is.  The nurses and doctors tell him his name but he does not believe them.  A psychiatrist uses hypnotic therapy to release Heller's memories.

Heller starts out with joining the Marines shortly after Pearl Harbor.  Heller is on a bender with his best pal, former boxer Barney.  Barney received a waiver on his age but Heller just lies to the recruiter and they are off to San Diego.

Heller and Barney stay together through training and join the Marines on Guadalcanal.  Heller and Barney get stuck in a shell hole, separated from their unit, and have to survive through the day and night with little ammo against attacking Japanese.  The experience is horrible with many wounded serviceman, including Heller, and the shell shock sends Heller to the hospital.  

Back in '42 Heller is released from the psychiatric facility earlier than usual because of government pressure for Heller to appear at a Chicago grand jury regarding mob involvement in stage unions and Hollywood.  Flashback to 1938 with Heller hired by a anti-Semite newspaper columnist to investigate a mobster living in Hollywood who Heller arrested several years ago for procuring.  The columnist hates unions and sees mob involvement as a way to ruin some unions.  Heller decks the anti-Semite.

Mob shenanigans ensue.  Mob murders men.  Heller heps to hotties.

Flash forward back to 1942 and Heller is back in Chicago.  No way will Heller testify.  Testifying about the mob is a death ticket.  Heller is left wondering about a murder in the 1938 flashback.  The murder of an avaricious ex-girlfriend of Heller in '42 gets Heller angry and sad.  Heller is still suffering war flashbacks and guilt.  Heller is wondering who shot a fellow serviceman in that Guadal foxhole to keep him from screaming and letting the Japanese know their position.

Everything ends happily ever after except for a torture-murder, an orphaned kid, a couple dead servicemen, a couple widows, a couple dead killers, a couple broken windows, post-war guilt and drug addiction, and a dead Frank Nitti.  Well, I suppose a dead Nitti was a good Nitti

Well, maybe it's because I know I'm reading a mystery but I sure thought Heller was getting kind of dense at points

1. Frank Nitti used to seem more accountant than mobster to me.  Nope, he's a mobster and in charge of murder.  Nitti tried to keep out of the papers and avoided using bombs and machine guns for conflict resolution.  But he was just as ruthless as Capone.
2.  Nitti's death in the Road to Perdition/Purgatory/Paradise family does not overlap with Million Dollar Wound. Million has Nitti killed by his fellow mobsters - according to Heller's theory anyway.
3.  My parents used to subscribe to the Chicago Tribune - mainly for me - and there was a big article about Nitti's death on the 40th anniversary.
4.  Not much mystery here.  More historical crime than mystery novel.  Collins has written many times that he won't introduce the murder until midpoint of a novel.  The point being that the death of a character has to mean something.  The reader needs to know the character and experience, or realize, the anguish of the death.  The central murder is Heller's former girlfriend.  I did not much like her and she lived and worked with mobsters for years and should have know better.
5.  The real kick in the guts was when Heller arrives at his office in '42 to find his secretary clutching the telegram announcing her husband's death on Guadalcanal.  Reminded me of Siegfried Sassoon's Memoirs of an Infantry Officer when he hears that his aunt's groomsmen was killed.  I'd gotten to really like the groomsman all the way from Sassoon's Fox-Hunting Man and hearing of his death - in an offhanded, out of the blue announcement - was another kick in the guts.
 6.  What's with the Browning 9mm?  He must be thinking of a 9MM Short, a .380 because FN did not have the Hi-Power out until '35 and I think Heller referenced an earlier year.
7.  Yes.  That is gun nerd squabbling.
8.  EDIT: the foxhole incident is like the real life told told in With the Old Breed.  I did not read that book but read, and enjoyed, Burgin's book Islands of the Damned.

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