Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Book Review - "Better Dead" by Max Allan Collins

Back in March, I touted you all to the news that Max Allan Collins would be releasing a new Nate Heller novel this spring, "Better Dead".


I just finished reading this newest Heller "memoir", and I am happy to report that Collins and Heller have teamed up for another terrific story;

As in all of the past Heller chronicles, our hero gets himself involved with real historical figures and real historical crimes.  "Better Dead" takes place in 1950, and among the people that Heller encounters in this one are Senator Joseph McCarthy, Roy Cohn, Robert Kennedy, Drew Pearson, Dashiell Hammett, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Senator Estes Kefauver, Bettie Page, and Frank Olson.

The thrust of the book concerns the case of Frank Olson, a real life person with whom I was unfamiliar.  He was a scientist who worked for the CIA back in the post-WWII era in the development of biological and chemical weapons. I the course of these events, Olson was "slipped a mickey" one night at a CIA retreat that contained LSD, a relatively new and unknown drug at the time.  Olson reacted badly to the drug, and developed paranoia and mental illness.  One night, while the CIA was attempting to get treatment for him, Olson committed suicide by leaping from the 18th floor of his hotel in New York.

Or did he?  There is a lot I could write here about the Frank Olson case, but I will not do so.  No spoilers. Better you should read "Better Dead" and other resources on this case.  It is really quite fascinating.

That is the thrust of the second half of the book, and Collins wraps things up nicely in the final chapter with a sort of "whatever became of..." segment about what happened to everyone, how each of the strands of the story worked out, and how Collins' alternate theories of  history actually could have been true.  Even the names of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfield pop up in here.

I don't know how many, if any, more Heller stories Collins has left in him, but I sure hope that there will be more.  "Better Dead" proves that Collins has not lost a thing off of his metaphorical fast ball when it comes to the Memoirs of PI Nathan Heller.

Oh, I mentioned Bettie Page.  Yes, Collins always seems to include a real life pretty dame in these stories, and yes, as with all of the others, Miss Page and Nate become an "item" in this one.

Yep, that is the famous 1950's pin-up model Bettie Page above in one of her, ahem, more inhibited poses.  Why am I including it in this post?  Well, why not!!

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