Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Target Lancer by Max Allan Collins

Thirty years ago Max Allan Collins introduced his private investigator Nathan Heller in the novel True Detective. In the course of that novel Heller witnesses the slaying of Mayor Cermak of Chicago who was shot down by a killer who claimed he was trying to kill President Roosevelt. Thus started the story of Nathan Heller. Over the last thirty years he has appeared in fourteen novels and over a dozen short stories. Now thirty years later in the character’s timeline he is wrapped up in another assassination plot. The plot to assassinate President John F. Kennedy in Chicago.

This time Heller is contacted by his old friend Bobby Kennedy. It is October 1963, and there is a strong likelihood that an attempt will be made on the president when he visits Chicago. Heller is wrapped up in this plot in more ways than one. Years earlier he had been the intermediary who hooked up the CIA with organized crime. The CIA wanted to kill Castro, but they needed deniability. The Mob wanted Castro dead as well, so Operation: Mongoose was launched. Unfortunately these attempts were laughably inept and everyone is getting worried.

On a bodyguard job Heller witnesses his client pass a payoff from Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa to an old childhood buddy of Heller’s, a man named Jake Rubenstein. Rubenstein had changed his name by that time to Jack Ruby. After his client is murdered Heller promises the widow that he will help track down the killer. So, while his agents try to locate a murderer, Heller is temporarily assigned to the Secret Service to prevent the assassination of the President.

Of course we all know that President Kennedy did not die in Chicago in November 1963. He died in Dallas. We also know that mobster Jack Ruby, with a sudden rush of patriotism shot down the man who killed Kennedy. While the story and some of the characters are fiction, Collins puts a lot of work into his novels. This research gives the stories an air of believability.  I was unaware of the story of the Chicago plot. Who was involved? We may never know, but Collins gives us a tight, tense narrative. If you enjoy fast paced, hardboiled detective writing then you should be reading the Nathan Heller novels. If you have not read any of these books then do what I did, take a chance. You won’t regret it.

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