Wednesday, 5 February 2014


The blurb on the front cover, for once, says it all. 'November 1963, and they're going to kill Chicago'

It's been thirty years since the first Nate Heller novel, but in an afterword Max Allan Collins says he'd always intended to have Heller 'delve into' the JFK assassination. But before he can deal with Dallas, Collins first realised that the abortive attempt on Kennedy, who was supposed to attend the Army-Air Force football game at Soldier Field in Chicago, gave a natural point of entry for Heller—whose long time connection to the mob was established in his early days as a PI in Chicago. As was his relationship to Jake Rubenstein (aka Jack Ruby).

Collins had set the scene neatly in some of the 13 earlier Heller novels, establishing his connections with the Kennedys, Jimmy Hoffa, and mobsters like Johnny Roselli—making Heller the perfect go-between for Operation Mongoose, the CIA/Mafia plot to kill Fidel Castro, which for better or worse is tied into the JFK killing. And in Target Lancer, Collins blends in real characters with fictional stand-ins and composites. The result is a very believable fictionalisation of a story told by a black Secret Service agent, Abraham Bolden, who spent years in jail as a result. If you've followed Irresistible Targets you'll know the Chicago plot was an important part of James Douglass' JFK: And The Unspeakable (see the review here), and it was one of Max's sources. The Chicago plot is instructive, and chilling, in that it was a virtual carbon-copy of the shooting in Dallas.

But he's turned it into a good story, full of confrontations that seem to ask repeatedly exactly on which side of the street Heller wants to stand. This has always been the most interesting part of his character, the ambiguity which Collins has built into him, which has enabled him to move in and out of so many key crimes in the past century. Many key beds as well, and Sally Rand, another of Nate's old Chicago friends, makes another welcome appearance here. It's a different kind of confrontation—but I really like the way this story moves through a series of scenes which speak of controlled violence, and then a couple of set pieces which bring real violence to the fore. This Heller would make an easy transition to the screen and I'd love to see that, not just because it appears Max and I are on the same page in terms of the JFK killing.

Target Lancer by Max Allan Collins
Forge $7.99 ISBN 9780765361479

Note: This review will also appear at Crime Time (

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