Monday, December 03, 2012

Marked for Murder

In Target Lancer, we once again meet up with Nate Heller, who has managed to soldier on well into 1963. In fact, it’s almost November of 1963, and there’s a conspiracy in the works. The people involved intend to kill President John F. Kennedy, and they have enough firepower to do just that. Here’s the thing: they’re planning to do it in Chicago, about three weeks before the assassination that took place in Dallas.

It’s a good thing, then, that Nate Heller is brought onto the case. And before long, Nate links up the assassination plot with some other mysterious occurences, including the murder of a friend of his. But who is involved in this conspiracy? What do they hope to gain by it? And will they succeed? The answers can be found in Target Lancer.

I’ve only read one other book in the Nate Heller series, and that was True Detective, the very first entry in the series. I liked it tremendously. I found it had characters of unusual depth, a terrific story, and a terrific detective figure: not a knight in shining armour, but the best we can hope to get in a crime-ridden world. What surprises me most about Target Lancer is how well the 1960s setting works with the same main character. Not much has changed in Chicago: gangsters still rule the city and the police force is still corrupt, only now, Psycho has been released and Kennedy is President. When Nate Heller is forced to visit a gangster, it’s not Frank Nitti but Jimmy Hoffa he sees, but he still goes to the same hotel room.

Nate is, of course, much older than he was in 1933, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t tough or that he doesn’t charm the pants off the ladies. He can get very tough when he has to – such as when he’s confronted by two gangsters on Halloween – and he has a romantic encounter or two with Sally Rand, the famous burlesque dancer. And she isn’t the only historical figure Nate encounters. The really interesting part about this series is that Nate Heller investigates true crimes alongside real historical figures. And so, in the course of his duties, he runs across people like Robert Kennedy, Jimmy Hoffa, Abraham Bolden, and Sam Giancana. (Curiously, John F. Kennedy himself never appears.)

This of course means that the plot investigated in this novel – the Chicago assassination attempt on Kennedy – is real. The novel gives you a fascinating picture, and even though you know that Kennedy isn’t going to die, and that he’s due to die in Dallas in a few weeks, I personally couldn’t help but be excited by the novel’s events. Would Nate be able to save the President? But from who? Is the potential assassin a mentally deranged Marine? Or is it the two mysterious Cuban men who have been spotted around town? And does any of this relate back to a plot to assassinate Castro?

Max Allan Collins writes so well that it’s very hard for me to figure out just what elements of this book are fictitious, and which ones are fact. He really blends the two together, and I can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. Either way, the assassination plot that he chronicles is fascinating, and it makes me wonder how much truth is in this depiction.

Overall, Target Lancer is an excellent read. It’s easy to follow even if you haven’t read any of the previous Nate Heller books, but I suspect it’d increase your enjoyment if you’ve read what came before. (At the very least, it seems like major elements from the previous novel, Bye Bye, Baby, are revealed—this is something of a sequel to the earlier book.) I once again found myself absolutely entranced by the writing and Collins’ skill at combining fact with fiction, especially over such an infamous true crime case. The story is very well-constructed and can be quite exciting as well. This one comes highly recommended, and it makes me very interested in seeing what Max Allan Collins comes up with in his follow-up to Target Lancer!

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