Target Lancer by Max Allan Collins
The curse of all long-running series is that the writer can get as tired of writing them as his readers are of reading them. Max Collins' massive and masterful Nathan Heller series is the exception and if you don't believe me I invite you to read his richest and most powerful Heller yet.
I say this because for older Americans the most unforgettable shared memory, even including the walk on the moon, was the terrible day John Kennedy was assassinated. Where were you? What were you doing? How did you spend the rest of the day? Many of us can count off that day by the second. We were in emotional and spiritual free fall.
In the words of Mark Lane's famous book RUSH TO JUDGEMENT there was an official and frenzied determination to blame Lee Harvey Oswald and shut the subject down. The onerous Warren Commission smugly attempted to do this by discrediting anyone who disagreed with its conclusion.
I've never been much for conspiracies. With the JFK assassination I've always tried to keep an open mind. While I thought the Warren Commission was pure public relations for a government eager to change the subject most of the contrary theories struck me as loopy.
This novel has changed my mind.
First of all there's the premise. While ultimately the subject is JFK's murder Collins foregoes all the standard tropes by taking us to Chicago before the fatal day.
Chicago? Huh? Well few names resonate in our history books like that of Jack Ruby, who turns up when an old friend asks Nathan Heller to help him make a money drop. Something ominous is going on with The Outfit, of which Ruby is a marginal member, and the friend feels he needs protection. And who better to hire than Nathan Heller?
Thus we are led into a Richard Condonesque novel of plot and counterplot with thugs as well known as Jimmy Hoffa and Sam Giancana and entities as supposedly respectable as The Secret Service.
You see there really was a plot to murder JFK on one of his trips to Chicago and Collins lays it out perfectly. Since some of the same names came up in the Dallas murder was there a connection to this earlier plan?
Collins' storytelling skills have never been stronger. TARGET LANCER is pure page turner but told with far greater style and finesse than with most page turners and buttressed with a spellbinding history of the era as well as the conspiracy itself. And Collins has wrought subtle changes in Heller who is older now, no less hard nose, but more introspective and open to nuance.
This novel should run the tables. Edgar, Shamus, Anthony and all the rest. It should also win Nathan Heller a large number of new readers.