Ask Not by Max Allan Collins (2013)
This is the one we've been waiting years for and it doesn't disappoint. In fact, Ask Not is one of the most engaging books Collins has ever written.
Nathan Heller, ex-Chicago cop turned P.I., has been around for thirty years, beginning with 1983's Shamus Award winning True Detective. Over the years he has been involved with many cases involving historical crimes and real life mysteries, from John Dillinger to JFK. Collins' well researched books have touched on Ma Barker and her gangs, the death of Mayor Anton Cermak, the Lindburgh kidnapping, the assassination of Huey Long, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the Roswell sightings, the Black Dahlia, and many others. From the beginning of his protagonist's career, Collins had planned to eventually have Nate Heller investigate the Kennedy assassination, which he has now done in a trilogy beginning with Bye Bye, Baby (2011, about the death of Marilyn Monroe), followed by Target Lancer (2012, about an assignation plot targeting John Kennedy in Chicago shortly before the fatal Dallas trip), and concluding with this book.
Heller had been recruited in 1960 to set up a meeting between the mob and the CIA which created Operation Mongoose, a plot to assassinate Fidel Castro. That operation failed but a number of characters involved -- including some Cubans -- were involved in the plot to kill JFK in Chicago in the fall of 1963. In 1964, almost a year after JFK's assassination, Heller had arranged to take his teen-aged son to a Beatles concert in L.A. Walking to his car after the concert, Keller and his son were almost run down by a car driven by someone whom Heller had recognized as one of the Cubans involved in the Chicago assassination attempt.
Back in Chicago, Heller's business partner brings in a case involving the death of an office manager of a firm that Billie Sol Estes, the corrupt friend of Lyndon Johnson, had owned a large share in. It seems that a number of people involved with Billie Sol Estes died from apparent accidents or apparent suicide -- four by carbon monoxide poisoning and one in a suspicious plane crash.
This investigation takes him to Dallas where he runs into an old friend, gossip columnist Flo Kilgore -- a fictionalized version of Dorothy Kilgallen. Flo has been investigating the JFK assassination and the many suspicious (and convenient) death of witnesses and peripheral figures involved in the assassination. Concerned for her safety, Flo hires Heller as a bodyguard while she is in Dallas. While accompanying Flo, Heller begins to see how large the conspiracy was to kill Kennedy.
Heller is known for his discretion; he has held many secrets of people in the past. His reputation for discretion, though, does not seem to be enough to keep him and his family from being targets in this latest killing spree.
My wife grabbed Ask Not as soon as it came into the house and I had to wait (patiently, I swear! -- don't listen to her) a couple of days until she had finished the book. Kitty had long been interested in the subject since she had read an article in the mid-Sixties (which she still has) about many of these "coincidental" deaths; the article emphasized Dorothy Kilgallen's excitement as she told friends that she "broke" the Kennedy case, and was soon after found dead in her apartment, her notes missing.
Ask Not is a suitable capstone for Nathan Heller's saga. Luckily, it may not be. Future Hellers may be in the offing -- about Robert Kennedy's assassination, the assassination of Martin Luther King, and the Watergate break-in. Great news for Max Allan Collins fans.
In the meantime, check out Ask Not, a well-developed, fully-realized thriller that is sure to garner multiple award nominations