Sunday, February 7, 2016


Just finished reading ASK NOT (2013) by Max Allan Collins this afternoon. Who cares about watching the Super Bowl when you've got a can't-put-it-down thriller like this one in your hands?

ASK NOT is the fifteenth entry in Collins's Nathan Heller series. Heller is a fictional private detective who, over the course of his career (which began in the 1930s), finds himself involved in some of the most famous crimes and unsolved mysteries of the 20th century. Think of the Heller books as The History Channel meets film noir as Collins combines fictional characters with painstaking research to present a fascinating "secret history" of America.

The Heller books began with TRUE DETECTIVE in 1983 and are still going strong (as is Heller). I haven't read all of these books but I have read (and highly recommend) the following: TRUE DETECTIVE (1983), TRUE CRIME (1984), THE MILLION DOLLAR WOUND (1986), BLOOD AND THUNDER (1995), FLYING BLIND (1998), MAJIC MAN (1999), CHICAGO CONFIDENTIAL (2002) and BYE, BYE BABY (2011).

 As the title and cover art indicate, ASK NOT is about the aftermath of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22nd, 1963. The story begins with a Beatles concert in Chicago which Heller and his teenage son Sam attend. After the show, Nate and Sam are almost run down by a car driven by a vaguely familiar Cuban. Before you know it, Heller is in Dallas investigating a series of mysterious "suicides"of various people with ties to President Lyndon Johnson. It appears that one Mac Wallace is acting as a hit man for LBJ. Wallace (a real character) has a back story that involves a 1950s shooting at Austin's famous Butler Park Pitch and Putt golf course. Heller temporarily puts the kibosh on Wallace (don't worry, we're not done with this psycho) and begins helping his columnist friend (and sometime lover) Flo Kilgore investigate another series of mysterious deaths involving witnesses to the Kennedy assassination. Heller and Flo meet a veritable who's who of Kennedy assassination players from the girls at Jack Ruby's Carousel Club to Ruby himself (in a Dallas jail). When Flo dies under mysterious circumstances, Heller fears he may be another loose end in need of tying off. He journeys to New Orleans, meets uber freak David Ferrie, encounters Wallace again, talks to Louisiana crime kingpin Carlos Marcello and ends with a brief conversation with New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison.

ASK NOT, though a work of fiction, makes a compelling case for a conspiracy to kill Kennedy involving the mob, Cuban exiles, the CIA and a cabal comprised of LBJ and Texas oil men (and their money). It's all extremely plausible and highly entertaining. Even though much of the book is composed of Heller and and Kilgore interviewing various witnesses, Collins keeps things moving at a good clip. Heller, as usual, finds time to bed a lovely stripper (excuse me, exotic dancer) named Jada and also as always, Collins plays close attention to a multitude of period details, all of which give the Heller books a "you-are-there" sense of verisimilitude.

It's fair to say that hundreds of books have been written about the Kennedy assassination in the fifty plus years since the event took place. And it's safe to say that more will certainly be forthcoming. It's a subject that is endlessly fascinating and it's one about which we'll probably never have the definitive once-and-for-all "truth." Even though it's fiction, ASK NOT, is worthy to stand on the shelf alongside the best of the Kennedy assassination books.

Highly recommended.

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