Sunday, June 05, 2011

Pre-Publication Review: Bye, Bye Bay by Max Allan Collins

This title will be released on August 16, 2011.

I was especially interested Bye, Bye Baby, the new Nathan Heller novel by Max Allan Collins, because so much of the history here (Collins is the master of the historical private eye novel) was such a vivid part of American life as I was entering college. The novel is so rich it not only offers takes on some of the most famous (and infamous) people of the time, it also does nothing less than recreate the era. At several points I was back in the early Sixties; the writing was that evocative.

Marilyn Monroe hires Nathan Heller, her friend, to electronically bug her bedroom. She's at war with her movie studio and wants a record of all the calls she gets on the matter. Her version, as she says, of a paper trail. Heller proceeds but is troubled by his sense that Marilyn hasn't told him everything behind her urgent need to have her bedroom phone calls recorded.

Heller's instincts were right. Soon Marilyn is found dead in her bedroom of an overdose. Or so goes the official judgement, one that Heller rejects. And so his own investigation begins.

Collins is always good at bringing historical figures alive. He gives them motives and quirks we believe, not the awkward posturing of so many historical dramas. Thus Jack Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy come of as complicated if sometimes reckless
(Jack with his women and Bobby with his understandable vendetta against Jimmy Hoffa). Collins' take on The Rat Pack is particularly bracing. From the toadying of Peter Lawford to the racism Sammy Davis, Jr. has to endure nightly from other Pack members, we see Sinatra and company in the light they deserve--without the protection of the myth.

In the end, Heller finds the real killer and what was behind her murder. The finale is properly cynical. This is La-La Land after all.The only happy endings are on the screen.

A great read and a fascinating look at a world that was quickly coming to an end. Just a few years away were the hippies and the anti-war protests that changed America forever.


David Cranmer said...

I'm very glad to hear there is some more Heller on the way.

Randy Johnson said...

Just finished this one myself.