1. Max Allan Collins’s Nathan Heller series. Collins had made himself so ubiquitous through his extraordinary prolificness that I often wonder if he hasn’t cloned himself. The most amazing thing is, despite his constant output, everything he writes is so darn good – he’s definitely not an example of a writer spreading himself too thin. I stumbled upon his Nathan Heller series quite by accident, but it’s one of the things that inspired me to want to write historical fiction. The series starts in the 1930s in Chicago and features not just a delightfully rendered historical backdrop (I learned so much about the World’s Fair from the first book in the series) but three dimensional depictions of historic figures like Frank Nitti and Al Capone. Later tales tackle Ma Barker and her kin, Dillinger, J. Edgar Hoover, World War II, the Lindbergh kidnapping, Marilyn Monroe, the Black Dahlia and many, many many more. I must confess I haven’t read all the books yet, but the ones I have devoured were amazing and his use of real people effective without being hokey. Collins has reissued the series through Amazon’s Encore program.
2. John Dunning’s Two O’Clock Eastern Wartime. This was the book that started my juices flowing about World War II. Dunning sets his book on the U.S. homefront at a radio station (old time radio is a specialty of Dunning, who's a collector in the field) and creates a humdinger of a mystery involving a 4F writer, saboteurs, Irish nationalists, the Boer War, and the actors and technicians who populate radio sttaion. He’s not heavy-handed with his history but does a beautiful job evoking the era.
3. Iain Pears’ An Instance of the Fingerpost. A dear friend recommended this book and I remember thinking he was crazy if he thought this would even be remotely interesting to me. It’s set in the 17th century England, a period I never had any interest in, and deals with topics like the invention of blood transfusions, the English civil war, complicated inheritance legalities – things that I didn't give a fig about. But the writing is so amazing, the story so complex, the mystery so amazing that I devoured all 704 page of this book.
And learned a lot in the process.
How about you? Got a favorite historical novel you’d like to share?