Re: RARA-AVIS: Max Allins Collins, Stolen Away

Date: 20 Jun 2004


Re your message below:

> [STOLEN AWAY is] 600 pages long, which is too long,
> but Collins had a lot to cover and
> he made it all pretty clear. Heller is on the case
> just after the
> kidnapping and then comes back a couple of years
> later to try to clear
> Hauptmann. Heller ends up solving the case, and I
> have no idea if his
> theory is at all likely, but it's certainly
> interesting.

My problem with the theory is Al puts forth in that novel is that it depends on too many people to be participants in the conspiracy of silence, including people Al himself credits with being persons of high integrity who gave no evidence in other aspects of their lives of being willing to keep quiet while an innocent man was executed.

Federal Agents Frank Wilson and Elmer Irey, for example, would've had to be co-conspirators in framing Hauptmann, and there's just no evidence that they were that kind of cop. Hell, Lindbergh himself had to be virtually a member of the conspiracy to frame Hauptmann in order for it to work.

Maybe Hauptmann didn't act alone, but I'm convinced
(and, tellingly, I was convinced AFTER reading the book, having read little or nothing about the case to that point) he was involved in the kidnapping. Was the evidence presented enough to convict based on the
"beyond a reasonable doubt" standard. Perhaps not, but it certainly met the "preponderance of evidence" standard of a civil trial, and it's enough to convince me of Hauptmann's guilt.
> In all the discussion we've had about these Heller
> books I never noticed
> that people mentioned the true crime aspect, but
> this one had it in spades.

All the Heller books are closely reserached fictional depictions of real-life crimes or mysteries. My oe criticism of them is this. Collins seems to go out of his way to have Heller discover solutions at odds with the prevailing theories or the historical record. I don't doubt that he actually believes the theories he forms, but, perhaps unconsciously, he has an agenda. Since he's sending out his fictional sleuth to investigate an actual crime, he's almost GOT to have his character find a solution that contradicts conventional wisdom in order to make for a more interesting novel. I mean how interesting is it if Heller investigates and it turns out that Hauptmann really IS the Lindbergh baby's killer?

Interstingly, Heller almost always fills a role in the novel that was taken by a real-life figure in the actual case. In other words, Heller is not just plunked willy-nilly into the middle of a real-life story, but substitutes for a real-life figure who did the more or less the same things in history that Heller does in fiction. In STOLEN AWAY, for example, Heller is, in the beginning, a local Chicago-area cop sent to New Jersey to assist in running down some of the Chicago leads in the kidnapping. One of the real-life Chicago-area cops who did just that in the actual case was Chief Investigator Pat Roche, of the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. Roche, by the way, under his own name, is the hero of one of Howard Browne's best novels, PORK CITY, which fictionalizes the murder of Chicago TRIBUNE reporter Jake Lingle (a murder that, in Collins's series, has a profound effect on Heller's career).

If you like the Heller books, you will probably also enjoy the spin-off series about real-life gangbuster Eliot Ness. In this series, Ness, who, in the Heller books, fills the "Pat Chambers/Bernie Ohls/Dennis Becker" role to Heller's "Mike Hammer/Phil Marlowe/Jim Rockford," is the hero of four novels set during his tenure as the head of the Cleveland Police. Just as Ness plays a supporting role in the Heller books, Heller occasionally plays a supporting role in the Ness books. The best of the Ness novels, BUTCHER'S DOZEN, was expanded from a Heller short story, "The Strawberry Teardrop."


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