Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins


3/3/1948, Muscatine, Iowa, USA

Birth Name

Max Allan Collins



Also Known As

Barbara Allan, Patrick Culhane
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User Rating
2 votes


Max Allan Collins is an intellectually productive American mystery writer who has been named mystery's Renaissance man. Max has written novels, comic strips, comic books, short stories, movie novelizations, screenplays and historical fiction. Max is also a critic. He is probably best known for his Nathan Heller series.


Trivia and Quotes

  • Trivia

    • Awards & Nominations:
      - In 2003, Max was nominated for an Edgar Allan Poe Awards for Road to Perdition. The category was Best Motion Picture.

    • Max has written books based on TV series such as: Criminal Minds, Dark Angel, Bones and the CSI franchise.

    • Max wrote the graphic novel Road to Perdition, which was developed into a film in 2002.

    • Max' longest running series and probably his best known work is his Nathan Heller series. Heller is a Chicago private investigator who gets involved in famous crimes and meets famous people of the 1930s and 1940s.
      Max considers this to be his best work.

    • Max has written and performed music with his rock band Crusin.

    • Max provides the commentary track for the DVD release of Columbia's The Phantom (1943).

    • Maxs' movies novels include Saving Private Ryan, Windtalkers, Waterworld, I Love Trouble, Daylight, I Spy, U.S Marshals, Air Force One, Maverick, U-571, The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, The Scorpion King and The Pink Panther.

    • Max uses his alias name Barbara Allan when he writes together with his wife Barbara Collins.

    • Max has contributed to a number of other comics, including Batman.

    • Max wrote the Dick Tracy comic strip begining in 1977 and ending in the early 1990s.

    • Max co-founded the the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers with Lee Goldberg.

    • Maxs' novel Stolen Away is the longest first-person private eye novel ever written.

    • Mickey Spillane, a writer, was godfather to his son, Nathan.

    • Max married his wife Barbara Jane Mull on June 1, 1968. Together they have one son; Nathan.

    • Max has been termed The Novelization King by Entertainment Weekly.

    • Max plays in a couple of rock bands.

  • Quotes

    • Max: (about finishing the Mike Hammer series by Mickey Spillane) Mickey's file of unpublished material was extensive - another trio of Hammers can follow, if these three do well. This is a very big deal - there are only 13 Mike Hammer novels, and adding another three (or six) to the canon is unheard of for so famous a mystery series.

    • Max: He is number three, after Hammett and Chandler. Anyone who doesn't recognize Spillane's importance is an idiot. There are paperback originals because Gold Medal Books was created to fill the public's demand for Spillane-type fare. Disliking Spillane's writing is one thing -- ignoring history is another. I am not a huge Robert B. Parker fan, but he is important, and a lot of us in the 1980s and 90s were able to sell private eye novels because Bob Parker led the way.

    • Max: Also, please remember that I am reading research constantly. So my fiction reading is sparse. I do watch a lot of movies, though. I have thousands of laser discs and DVDs.

    • Max: My favorite is the novella, "Dying in the Post-War World," which can only be found in the collection of that same name. It's a key work and Heller fans who have not tracked it down are missing a vital piece of the puzzle. I also like "Kisses of Death," which will be published in an erotic mystery paperback one of these days (and will also be the title story of the next Heller "casebook").

    • Max: I was fully prepared to have Heller abducted, anally probed, what-have-you, in the course of this novel, if that was what felt right to me. And strange stuff does indeed happen to Heller in the novel, but I'd prefer not to comment any further, in hopes a few people will actually read it.

    • Max: Every Heller could be dismissed as conspiracy theory clap-trap. I do believe in conspiracies -- particularly the cover-up variety.

    • Max: I'm very pleased that readers are responding well to Majic Man, because it is a darker, less accessible book, and lacks the glowing romance at the center of Flying Blind. Like Flying Blind, Majic Man represents difficult material, seeming unsuited for a private eye novel, organized into one, a pretty good one, I think. And I'm pleased with the political thriller aspect of Majic Man, and the ending -- the way Heller deals with the villain -- is extremely satisfying to me. I think I was channeling Mickey Spillane for a few pages, there.

    • Max: I have to admit I was disappointed that Flying Blind didn't win the Shamus... and I don't know what the hell it's going to take to get one of these books nominated for the goddamn Edgar. Flying Blind takes very difficult material, seemingly unsuited for a private eye novel, and comes up with perhaps the most crowd-pleasing of the Hellers. Amelia and Nate's offbeat romance really works for me. The book is funny and it's sad and it has a terrific action climax and a very tough ending. At this point in my career, it's as good as I know how to do.

    • Max: I feel I'm dead on in the Cermak assassination [True Detective], the Huey Long case, the Massie case [Damned in Paradise], and the Sir Harry Oakes murder [Carnal Hours]. And both Amelia and Roswell are solid, well-researched, well-reasoned takes on the mysteries.

    • Max: The key, I think, is that I have no agenda when I sit down to research (and write). I had no opinion about Hauptmann, for example, and was fully prepared to accept him as the kidnapper. With no ax to grind, no preconceived notions, I can come up with something fresh and new and unbiased.

    • Max: I think, in most instances, I have come very close to what really happened. I'm proud of the fact that none of these novels trumpet somebody else's theory. I develop my own. In fact, one of my fears is that I will someday do one of these and find that I agree 100 per cent with some existing theory. It's been so much fun that my theories have been brand new.

    • Max: (about what sort of time and energy he commits to research before beginning a new Heller novel) The research is ongoing, and very thorough. My chief helper is George Hagenauer. Another friend, Lynn Myers, helps out, too. And I sometimes seek out an expert on a specific subject, like Mike Wynne, my Huey Long human encyclopedia. I just read everything I can about the subject... books, magazine articles, newspapers... and I try to immerse myself in the specific year... if it's 1942, I concentrate on 42, clothing, movies, books, etc. Frequently I do onsite research, and occasionally I interview somebody involved with the real case.

    • Max: The biggest problem is that people have come to expect household-name subject matter, and there are some very cool, but obscure cases I would like to do. (These I usually reserve for my short stories.) Sometimes, too, cases don't fit into Heller's time chart. And there are a number of Hollywood mysteries that may require a second hero in a parallel series.

    • Max: With the help of my researcher, George Hagenauer, I prepare each book as if I was going to write the definitive non-fiction treatment of that subject...and then I write a mystery novel instead.

    • Max: The concept of the novels is for my Marlowe/Hammer-ish tough detective to solve various great unsolved mysteries of the 20th century. Early on, the novels concern mostly Chicago gangland, but [beginning] with Stolen Away (dealing with the Lindbergh kidnapping) the books have opened into broader subjects, most recently Amelia Earhart's disappearance (Flying Blind) and the Roswell Incident (the current Majic Man).

    • Max: Nate Heller is a former Chicago police detective turned private detective; his cases take place in the 1930s, 40s and 50s (so far). He is not adverse to a dishonest buck, but there are lines he won't cross. He is a randy son of a bitch, but also a romantic, quite prone to falling in love. He is capable of violence, even murder (particularly after his experiences on Guadalcanal in the Second World War), but he's not sadistic -- just capable of rough justice, having no faith in the system to be anything but corrupt. Oddly, he doesn't really mind that corruption, as he's quite adept at swimming in murky waters.

      Probably the key to his character is the death of his father: Nate's old man was a dedicated leftist, an old union guy, who committed suicide after his son lied on the witness stand, in order to climb in the police department. The gun Heller carries is the nine-millimeter with which his father committed suicide -- Nate terms it "the closest thing to a conscience I've got."

    • Max: (about if the these large- and small-screen stories about Depression-era P.I.s help convince him to create a 1930s gumshoe of his own) They did, very much so, because they indicated that the private eye in the 30s was now a genre, much in the manner the gunfighter of the Old West was a time-honored genre. As it happens, that concept never really took hold to the degree I thought it would, but it definitely encouraged me to develop my historical detective novel notion.

    • Max: I have been chastised for making this claim, but I do feel I invented the historical hard-boiled detective novel. Not the period private eye novel ([Stuart] Kaminsky and [Andrew] Bergman and Robert Towne and maybe a couple others pre-date me), but using a fictional noirish protagonist in a story that is otherwise solidly based on fact. That's my contribution.

    • Max: Heller wasn't meant to be a series character, either -- but the first book got out of hand (True Detective was originally meant to also include the Dillinger material that wound up in True Crime). Very soon I felt I had found my guy -- the detective I wanted to spend a good portion of my life writing about. I also determined early on that Heller would not just be a cliché private eye, but a person, with parents, grandparents, good qualities, terrible qualities, a streak of dishonesty, a streak of nobility, too. He cries, he farts, he lies, he murders... and some readers can't handle that. Good thing they never read Quarry.

    • Max: Heller was an idea I'd been developing since the early 70s, even prior to [the movie] Chinatown. I've said this many times before, but it was a re-reading of The Maltese Falcon that inspired Heller -- not the book itself, but the copyright date: 1929. This caused me to muse, "That's the year of the St. Valentine's Day massacre. Sam Spade and Al Capone were contemporaries. That means that instead of Phillip Marlowe meeting an Al Capone type, a Phillip Marlowe type could meet the real Al Capone." Realizing that the private eye had been around long enough to exist in a genuinely historical setting was the revelation.

    • Max: My graduate thesis in the Writers Workshop -- mostly developed under Yates' guiding hand -- was a trilogy, the unifying aspect of which was the location. I had floundered, early on, trying to write about New York and California (the only approved settings for a hard-boiled novel, it seemed) and decided to experiment with the part of the country I knew. So Port City, Iowa, a thinly fictionalized Muscatine, became central to three very different novels: Bait Money (a caper novel in the Richard Stark vein), No Cure for Death (a private eye-type novel though with an amateur sleuth) and the very dark Quarry (which featured a hit man as protagonist).

    • Max: At the University of Iowa, in the late 1960s, early 70s, I was swimming against the tide. Writing tough crime fiction in that bastion of literary pretension was a rough go; but several of my instructors championed me, particularly Richard Yates. When I first approached Yates, full of hope, bubbling with enthusiasm, trying to get into the undergrad workshop, I dropped off my novel Mourn the Living, only to be told by Yates that he doubted he'd allow me into the class. Writing "commercial fiction" was beneath the workshop.

      I dragged-ass home to Muscatine, and then over the weekend, I received a phone call from Yates, apologizing. He had read my novel, and liked it, saying I was obviously serious about my craft. He welcomed me into his class and was my mentor, thereafter, and landed me my first agent (Knox Burger).

    • Max: When I discovered Hammett, Chandler, Spillane and James M. Cain -- which was an offshoot of watching Peter Gunn, 77 Sunset Strip and Mike Hammer on TV -- the drawing sort of fell by the wayside and I began writing short stories and novels. I sent my first novel out in the mail in the summer between ninth and tenth grades. I wrote something like four or five Spillane novels (plus an Ian Fleming pastiche) with titles like Kiss and Kill, The Gray Flannel Thugs, and Die Slow, Savage. My detective was Matt Savage, who made Mike Hammer look tame.

    • Max: From grade school into early junior high, my goal was to be a cartoonist -- but not just an artist, a writer as well. I did countless homemade comics, which I would circulate at school. I did a Mad magazine imitation that I handed around in the seventh grade.

    • Max: I knew the Tracy strip inside out -- it was my favorite comic strip, from around the second grade.

    • Max: I have to admit I sort of considered Road to Perdition my comics swan song. To me, it was the best comic book story of my career -- it represented the best I had in me, in that form.

    • Max: City of Angels is the best private eye series, ever.

    • Max: If I have a legacy, it's the Heller novels. But it would be nice if the movies got noticed.

    • Max: I love the process. I love the screenwriting, the planning, the incredible high of production, the intense craftsmanship of post-production. There's no place I'd rather be than in an editing suite putting the pieces together of one of my films.

    • Max: I can't ask for more, from myself. But, realistically, considering how physically punishing moviemaking is, I probably only have 10 or 15 years to pursue that (1991).

    • Max: Sure, I am frustrated by not having achieved bestseller status.

    • Max: If I were more narrow in my interests and accomplishments, I would be perceived as more important.

    • Max: If I had not done comics, and movie tie-ins and low-budget films and all that other stuff, and had only done the Nate Heller books, I would be better respected.

    • Max: Also, I put my name on the novelizations. It's a way to keep myself honest -- to keep from putting less into them than I would into my "real" books. And it puts my name and my skills in front of new readers, readers who might not readily pick up a Nate Heller novel (but after reading, say, Air Force One or Saving Private Ryan, they just might).

    • Max: As a pre-teen, Batman was the only comic book I bought regularly, besides Dick Tracy.

    • Max: I consider Li'l Abner the greatest comic strip of all time. Creator Al Capp was a true genius, despite falling apart mentally in his later years.

    • Max: (about the comic strip Dick Tracy) I got fired. I did a great job, but when a new editor came in, we did not hit it off, and -- after 15 years -- I was not asked back, at contract renewal time. This was a colossal piece of editorial stupidity, but the loss was theirs. The strip is not healthy now -- it recently lost the New York Daily News, one of the two homebase papers for the strip, after going on 70 years in that paper.

    • Max: (about the comic strip Dick Tracy) I don't read the strip now, but my mail indicates the fans do not care for it.

    • Max: I have been chastised for making this claim, but I do feel I invented the historical hard-boiled detective novel.

    • Max: (about writing) This is about self-expression, ultimately -- and finding a way to make self-expression pay well enough that you don't have to get a real job.

    • Max: Unlike a lot of novelists, I know how to read a movie script, which is not easy, as they are rather blank documents.

    • Max: I read almost no crime fiction. I was a voracious reader of crime and mystery fiction until I began publishing it, at which point I began to view the books as the work of the competition. I do read a batch of them, now and then, when I'm asked to be a Shamus or Edgar judge -- which I do to take the occasional pulse of the field. I still read [Donald] Westlake, Ed McBain, Mickey Spillane (on the rare occasions he publishes), Larry Block. And a handful of friends in the field are always good reads, guys like Jerry Healy and Ed Gorman, Bob Randisi and Stu Kaminsky, probably half a dozen others. When a fan or a mystery bookstore clerk tells me about some new mystery novel that I just have to read, I smile and nod... but my eyes have glazed over.

    • Max: I do believe something is out there, and think it's very likely that UFOs exist and even have dropped by, on occasion. I'm not sure I believe every abduction story, nor do I grasp why visitors from afar seem to gravitate toward doofuses in rowboats in southern swamps.

    • Max: I've spent lots of time playing rock 'n' roll, and have had a little success. There have been periods where I made a living from it, which defines success in that arena, but it really is just a footnote to my writing career. I might have been able to make it as a performer and songwriter, but I would have had to focus all my time and talent and energy on that. I think I chose wisely, in turning to fiction.

    • Max: To me, it's all storytelling. I think of myself more as a storyteller and an entertainer than as a writer or mystery writer or filmmaker.

    • Max: As a filmmaker, I probably can't live long enough to be as good at that as I am with fiction writing.

    • Max: Writing is a solitary craft, filmmaking is collaborative, gloriously so. I love the combination of control I have as a writer/director/producer, but tempered by the creative input of so many other talented people. If I have any regret about my career, it's that I got into filmmaking so late, and I do sometimes wonder what would have happened to me if I'd tried to crack Hollywood, as a young man.

    • Max: People are really idiots when it comes to sequels. They almost never give them a fair shake. And yet they go. If the idea of a sequel offends you, shut up and stay home.

    • Max: I've been a collector of original pin-up art for many years, and I gained a certain amount of knowledge about the artists, along the way.

    • Max: I've always been intense and driven, eager to please but on my own terms; these qualities have not always made me popular. My saving grace, I suppose, is my humor. I can usually make people laugh. And I don't take myself at all seriously -- I'm frequently an embarrassment to myself. But I do take my work seriously.

    • Max: By the time I got to the University of Iowa, I was seriously pursuing writing as a profession, and the four novels I wrote while I was there have all seen print.

    • Max: I sent my first novel out in the mail in the summer between ninth and tenth grades.

    • Max: From grade school into early junior high, my goal was to be a cartoonist -- but not just an artist, a writer as well.

    • Max: I'm interested in X-Files stuff, always have been.

  • Really Talented.

    I think Max Allen Collins is very talented and unfortunately underrated. I know him, because I've read all the CSI books that he has written and since then, I have been a fan of him. I've also read the books: Buried deep from Bones and Killer profile from Criminal minds. I just really like the way that the writes, whenever I read a book that he wrote I can never stop reading it. And then when I have read the whole book, I always think it's such a shame that the book is out. Anyway, I think he is an amazing writer and I would love to read more of his work.moreless