It's been years since I've read one of Max Allan Collins' Nate Heller mysteries. So it's nice to see Heller back in the 2011 novel Bye Bye, Baby, which has him involved with Marilyn Monroe, the Kennedys, Jimmy Hoffa and all sorts of other characters, real and fictional, in the fateful summer of 1962.
(Click here to reserve a copy from us.)
For those not in the know: Heller's the former Chicago cop turned private eye who somehow manages throughout the 20th century to rub shoulders with the likes of Eliot Ness, Huey Long, Amelia Earhart and Harry Truman, to name a few, in a series of very entertaining "historical mysteries" that mix fact with fiction. Think E.L. Doctorow combined with Mickey Spillane and you've got a good idea of what to expect.
Bye Bye. Baby finds Heller, now in his fifties and running the A-1 Detective Agency out of Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, hired by actress Marilyn Monroe to tap her phone. Seems she's in a bitter dispute with 20th Century Fox over her latest film and wants recorded proof that the studio is misleading her and the public about their business negotiations.
Heller, who occasionally also beds Monroe, soon discovers that someone else has already bugged the actress' phones. This lead to Heller's discovering Monroe's affairs with both President John F. Kennedy and brother Bobby (JFK's Attorney General), and how organized crime, in the personages of Sam Giancana and Heller's "friend" Jimmy Hoffa, wants to use the Hollywood sex symbol as leverage against the Kennedys.
Then Monroe dies of a questionable overdose. And Heller, who uncovers lots of inconsistencies from witnesses and various law-enforcement types, decides to find out for himself the ones responsible for Monroe's murder. That of course leads him into direct (and sometimes violent) conflict with the LAPD, the Feds,the Mob and the Kennedy family.
Collins manages to weave historical fact and the hard-nosed (well, it is) school of mystery fiction successfully, creating a compelling narrative that holds your attention. The amount of research the author undertook, as noted at the end of the book, shows.
Dramatic license is (obviously) invoked,with the fictional Heller (who reminds me less of Philip Marlowe than a slightly more mature Mike Hammer) interacting with actual (and now deceased) people, but everyone comes off as feeling real, particulary poor doomed Marilyn. You never feel like it's a put-on. (And I guarantee you'll never think the same about the likes of Peter Lawford and Frank Sinatra, among others, again after reading this book.)
Make time for Bye Bye Baby. You won't be sorry.
(Follow me on Twitter.)