Max Allan Collins Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Max Allan Collins is an innovative writer whom many critics credit with being the first to write hard-boiled historical detective stories and with shaping the genre for other writers. His most significant protagonist is private investigator Nathan Heller, who appears in works frequently lauded by reviewers. Collins created a female private investigator, Ms. Tree, around the same time Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky introduced their women detectives. Collins gained popular acclaim when he wrote the Dick Tracy detective comic strip. His prominence increased with the release of the film Road to Perdition (2002) based on his graphic novel published in 1998. In addition to writing mysteries, Collins has enhanced scholarship of that genre with his nonfictional essays and books.

Collins’s peers have recognized his writing with awards. The Private Eye Writers of America (PWA) presented Collins a Shamus Award for outstanding novel for True Detective (1983). He received his second Shamus for Stolen Away (1991). Many of his other works were also nominated for Shamus awards. In 2006, the PWA honored Collins with its most notable prize, The Eye, recognizing his lifetime contributions to the private investigator genre. The Mystery Writers of America presented Collins an Edgar Allan Poe Award for his critical book, One Lonely Knight: Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (1984; with James L. Traylor). Reviewers have had mixed opinions of Collins’s mysteries. Many critics praise his plotting and action, while others consider his narratives weakened by superfluous details. Some reviewers dislike his occasionally unrealistic, and sometimes demeaning, characterizations of historical characters.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Breen, Jon. “Murdering History: How the Past Became Fair Game for Detective Stories.” The Weekly Standard, January 3, 2005, pp. 31-34. Discusses Collins’s historical mysteries, evaluating the Disasters series books and noting merits and flaws. Contemplates standards for creating historical mysteries and writers’ obligations to history and readers.

Crouch, Bill, Jr., ed. Dick Tracy: America’s Most Famous Detective. Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press, 1987. Chapter profiles Collins and his contributions to Dick Tracy, providing biographical details that show how that comic detective influenced Collins’s historical detective writing.

Hoffman, Carl. “Return to the Primal Noir: Two Modern Authors on the Black Dahlia.” Journal of American Culture 26, no. 3 (September, 2003): 385-394. Compares Collins’s Angel in Black with James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia, noting strengths and weaknesses in their appropriation of that notorious crime to construct mysteries.

Pronzini, Bill, and Marcia Muller, eds. 1001 Midnights: The Aficionado’s Guide to Mystery and Detective Fiction. New York: Arbor House, 1986. In this work, John Lutz discusses literary elements of True Detective. Includes Collins’s essays examining books by James M. Cain, Richard Stark, Jim Thompson, William March, and several other authors.

Randisi, Robert J. Interview of Max Allan Collins. The Armchair Detective 11, no. 3 (July, 1978): 300-304. Collins describes his writing techniques for his Mallory mysteries and early adventure series and how detective writers influenced his style.