Target Lancer by Max Allan Collins – review – Douglas R. Cobb

By on March 29, 2013


The author of The Memoirs of Nathan (Nate) Heller Mysteries series, Max Allan Collins, writes about new facts about the conspiracy to assassinate JFK in November, 1963, in Chicago, in his latest pulse-pounding thriller, Target Lancer. What would have happened if JFK had been assassinated then, instead of when he was, in Dallas? We will thankfully never know for sure; but, as in all of his Detective Nate Heller novels, Collins skillfully weaves facts together with fiction to present immensely entertaining and intriguing novels that anyone who loves the Mystery/Thriller genre will want to feast on.

What, if any, role did the CIA play in JFK’s death? How about the Mafia, Jimmy Hoffa, Santo Trafficante, Sam “Momo” Giancana, and Jack Ruby? Again, as in his other fascinating Heller novels, such as Bye Bye Birdie, Chicago Confidential, True Detective, and The Road to Perdition (which was made into a film of the same name), Max Collins has combined a tremendous amount of research into Target Lancer. He notes the clothing brands his characters wear, which were popular during the early 1960’s. He names the strip club that Jake Rubenstein (better known as Jack Ruby) once owned in Texas. Operation Mongoose, the real CIA operation with the goal of assassinating Fidel Castro (the “Beard”), is mentioned, with Nate Heller’s fictional role in it.

Details such as these make the Nate Heller series seem very realistic, and they help make the era and what life must have been like in Chicago during the early 1960’s come alive for the reader. Though there wasn’t an actual Detective Nate Heller, you’ll feel like maybe there could have been one, and that there should have been one. His dealings with actual people who were CIA agents, Union leaders, and Mafia figures–not to mention, also the romantic relationship Collins depicts Nate has with his erstwhile friend and lover, the famous fan dancer, Sally Rand–makes it seem as if Heller is a larger-than life historical figure, himself.

An acquaintance of Heller’s, the lawyer Tom Ellison, hires him to be a bodyguard for him when he goes to a nightclub in a shady part of Chicago to make a money drop. Everything seems to go successfully, but an old face Heller knows from the past, Jake Rubenstein from the West Side, is also at the night club and sees the money drop going down. Heller stays after Ellison leaves, to talk with Rubenstein, and to try to learn why he’s there, when for years he’s been running his own strip clubs in Dallas–under the name of Jack Ruby.

Ruby has connections with Hoffa, and even with Operation Mongoose. The CIA and the Mafia had in common that both came to despise Castro and want him eliminated.

Apparently, as Heller later discovers, someone–maybe an associate of Hoffa’s who, working on his own, wanted to do a “favor” for him–also decides that Tom Ellison needs to be eliminated, because he’s a “loose end.” Nate Heller believes that Ellison’s death, though it was arranged to look as if he was murdered in his hotel room by a prostitute, was really the work of the CIA, the Mafia, or a business associate of Hoffa’s who thinks he’s acting in Hoffa’s best interests. Heller is drawn deeper and deeper into the case, as he tries to find Ellison’s killer and prevent himself from becoming another “loose end” who needs to be eliminated.

Target Lancer is a roller coaster ride of a read, and it’s a great addition to the Nate Heller series by Max Collins. History buffs, conspiracy theorists, fans of the Heller novels, and anyone who loves intense, well-researched thrillers, will love reading Target Lancer. Get this excellent potboiler of a novel today!

About Douglas Cobb

Professor Crazy