I first became aware of Max Allan Collins when I discovered his Nathan “Nate” Heller series. Oh, I’d read him before that, but mostly his tie-in work. I had no idea just how good was his writing until Nate Heller came along. I’ve since been trying to catch up. He has so many series, I’ve enjoyed them all, and the Nate Hellers are the last I need to finish collecting. There are two of the older ones I don’t own, plus the two story collections, and three of the others I have yet to read. I couldn’t resist this one though.
A bit of explanation for those few who might not know. Nate Heller is a private eye that began his career as a policeman in Chicago during the heyday of the gang wars. After leaving the force, he ends up starting his own business, the A-1 detective Agency. He served a hitch in the marines during WWII and has been involved in nearly every major case over the years from the Lindbergh baby kidnapping to the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, from the Roswell Incident to the murder of Huey Long.
Nate Heller is in his fifties in this one and no longer primarily an investigator. A-1 has three offices in big cities, Chicago, L. A., and New York, and he functions mainly as an administrator. Doesn’t mean he doesn’t get his hands dirty though.
He’s in L.A. and Marilyn Monroe, who he’s known for a few years, wants to hire him to get her phones bugged. She’s in a contentious battle with Fox Studios. They’re trying to torpedo her career and she wants evidence of things they say. Nate agrees and sends a man in to bug them after first spotting him in a van down the street from her home, learning that her phones are already bugged. His “bug” man is not only double dipping, but triple dipping. The police, the local crime bosses, the Federal government all have bugs.
Nate has heard the rumors about her and Jack Kennedy, learning in due course that you can add Bobby Kennedy to her string as well.
After her death, ruled a suicide right away, Nate begins his own investigation. He doesn’t believe it’s a suicide. He talks to all manner of famous folks: Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra, Peter Lawford, labor leader Jimmy Hoffa, mob boss Sam Giancana, and all manner of shady characters connected to Marilyn: her psychiatrist, the housekeeper, the handy man. He’s warned off by the L. A. police, Bobby Kennedy, the mob. Someone, likely CIA, points him toward a suspect. He wakes up just in time to prevent his murder, jumping a figure dressed all in black that gets away, though Nate gets the silenced pistol and the syringe, tests reveal loaded with pure nicotine(will induce a heart attack undetectable unless you’re looking for nicotine) in hsi hands.
Nate won’t stop though as he plows along in his own style until he confronts the killer, dispensing his own brand of justice. he knows he can’t touch the real people responsible though. He’s not stupid.
Mr. Collins weaves his fictional detective seamlessly into these cases, interacting with real life people. As always, after the novel, a section talks about books he consulted in research for this work. Some changes were made for dramatic purposes, but he tries to be as accurate as possible in his portrayals of historical figures, the variations coming when there are conflicting accounts in source materials read.
Mr. Collins has been nominated for the Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America a dozen times, twice wining for TRUE DETECTIVE, the first Heller novel, and STOLEN AWAY, the Lindbergh baby kidnapping story. BYE BYE, BABY is due for release on AUGUST 16TH and can be pre-ordered here.
Mr. Collins mentions in the last section that he had two more Hellers planned, on the Kennedy brothers, and a general idea of the plots had to be considered when shaping this work.
Worth a look.
One last thing. On his own site, Mr. Collins speaks about the cover, a good one though he wondered about the choices. That central figure hovering over the body looks a bit like Micjey Spillane, don’t you think?