Target Lancer is a new political thriller from celebrated crime novelist, Max Allan Collins, and marks the return for one of Collin’s enduring heroes, tough-guy “Private Investigator to the Stars,” Nate Heller (this is the 16th in the Nathan Heller series that started with True Detective in 1983).
This time around, Heller is wound up in one of the biggest stories in modern history – the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Except forget everything you think you know about the Kennedy assassination, be that fact or conspiracy theory – this story takes place in Chicago.
Target Lancer drops us straight into the seedy underbelly of 1960s Chicago, with a host of real life characters familiar to the era and the JFK legend, including Jimmy Hoffa, Jack Ruby and of course, Lee Harvey Oswald. Collins states in the afterword that these depictions of real characters are to be viewed as fiction – as well as accepting fault for any historical inaccuracy – but even so, Target Lancer is such a meticulously researched piece of writing, it’s difficult to bear in mind that this is in fact a work of fiction, however much based in reality it is. Apparently Collins had every intention to go with the historic Dallas as the setting for his new novel, but after uncovering evidence in documents related to the JFK case that suggested a Chicago based assassination conspiracy, decided to go for the Windy City. The result is an intricately detailed, and therefore highly convincing, political thriller that offers a completely fresh take on such a familiar situation and cast of characters.
I’m not nearly old enough to have grown up with the Kennedy assassination being anything much more than well known history bordering on legend. That and the fact that I’m not American. So, apart from what I’ve picked up from the random documentary or Hollywood film, I came to this book knowing next to nothing about the details of the J.F.K assassination, its background, nor any of the conspiracies surrounding it. I think it’s for that reason that I didn’t really find this book all that compelling as a Kennedy based thriller. A quarter of the way through this read, however I did a little research on some of the major players and situations and with that foundation, found the book a lot more enjoyable. Heller’s walking in a world of sticky webs and lots of secrets, so this story doesn’t have the straight off the mark bang that I usually enjoy from a crime read. That’s not by any means a bad thing as it allows us to get a sense for all of the characters, as Heller himself is doing. Collins weaves the story with his usual, no-nonsense style of writing that both perfectly captures Heller through his first person narrative, and also delivers an effective tale.
Readers interested in the Kennedy story or general modern American history will, I’m sure, get a real kick out of Target Lancer, and fans of crime fiction and political thrillers in general will find enough suspense and intrigue in this to keep reading happily, if only to find out how Collins has worked such matters of near historic legend into such a truly commendable bit of fiction.
Target Lancer will be published in November, 2012.