JFK assassination at center of "Ask Not"

In this case, good news comes in twos.

Max Allan Collins of Muscatine says that when he introduced his wildly successful Nathan Heller character in 1983 with “True Detective,” he fully intended to have his detective in this true crime series step inside the Kennedy assassination as a conclusion to the series.

Here’s the good news: 1. He did; 2. It’s not the conclusion.

But Collins does wrap up his Kennedy trilogy (“Bye Bye Baby” and “Target Lancer”) with “Ask Not” (Forge, 318 pages, $24.99), a tour de force compilation of all the research available into the aftermath of that historic November day in Dallas when John F. Kennedy was gunned down near that grassy knoll.

Like Collins, I recall vividly that day and the days that followed, and the memories come flooding back as Heller — a Chicago private eye whose business has blossomed by the 1960s with branch offices across the country — inserts himself into the conspiracy and its primary players. It’s all here. The mob, political and intelligence-community involvement. The seedy and not-so-seedy bars and strip clubs. The reporter nosing around where perhaps she shouldn’t. Bobby Kennedy, LBJ, Billie Sol Estes, Texas Ranger Clint Peoples, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, Jim Garrison, Carlos Marcello and Mac Wallace. The myriad “accidental” deaths of people who disputed the lone-gunman conclusion of the Warren Commission. Heller rubs shoulders with them all.

As always with this series, the research is impeccable. The sense of time and place is palpable. And, as always, Heller is used to step inside a true-life situation and present the reader with a plausible outcome. The formula works once again.

Heller’s journey takes him from Chicago to Dallas, New York and New Orleans. And Collins perfectly executes his mission of presenting historical fiction as a private eye thriller.And, he tells us in his “I Owe Them One” wrap-up, Heller will keep getting involved in big stories, including a burglary in Washington, D.C., that led to a major headline or two.

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