Today’s Mystery Monday Meme offering is a book by Max Allan Collins called Ask Not* which deals with the mystery of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Collins’ fictional detective Nathan Heller helps journalist/ game show panelist, Flo Kilgore (rather loosely based on Dorothy Kilgallen) track down witnesses to the assassination, witnesses who offer conflicting information to that which is being gathered by the Warren Commission. Some witnesses were already dead less than a year after the shooting; some die shortly after talking to Heller and Kilgore, but all die under suspicious circumstances.
It’s 1964 and the Beatles are invading North America with their music, clothes, and hair style, and Heller’s A-1 detective agency has bloomed and spread. He is now a relatively wealthy man who doesn’t need to get his hands dirty taking on cases personally. That is, until he and his son, Sam, are almost run over after the Beatle concert at Chicago’s International Ampitheatre by a Cuban in a sedan that aimed straight for them. With Heller’s connections to the mob, the CIA, the former attorney general Bobby Kennedy, and a failed, combined action to kill Castro called Operation Mongoose, Heller thinks just maybe he’s a loose end that someone wants eliminated. Totally unrelated at first glance, a client comes in whose husband died in what appeared to be a suicide; he was connected to a big fraud and murder case against Billie Sol Estes (connected to President Johnson) where other witnesses had also committed suicide — one who shot himself 5 times with a rifle before hooking himself up to the tailpipe of a car. The insurance company wouldn’t pay off to Heller’s client because of the suicide label. Heller heads to Texas to talk to Clint Peoples, the Texas Ranger who’s been gathering evidence. The suspected murderer leads Heller to more “suicide” victims who were witnesses to the assassination of President Kennedy, and suddenly, it’s a whole new can of worms.
This story is well-grounded in history and Collins explains in an afterward who is real and who is based on real people, sometimes a conglomerate of people into a single character in his novel, and who is totally an invention to add to the story. The suspense is often palpable and the characters quite believable. LBJ is portrayed as ruthless and one of the chief movers behind the assassination. He is also linked to the “clean-up” man suspected of eliminating witnesses. The Kennedys don’t come off scott free in Operation Mongoose or the Marilyn Monroe death. There are lots of connections to events of the time, CIA involvement, New Orleans mobsters, and Texas oil.
Since the House Select Committee on Assassinations (1976-78) concluded that a conspiracy was responsible for the death of President Kennedy (finally agreeing with 81% of the American public according to a Gallup poll), not a lone sniper as the Warren Commission had concluded, re-looking at witness deaths, lost evidence, and walking the scene according to what people reported seeing in this semi-documentary novel makes sense for those of us who watched in disbelief as Jack Ruby gunned down the “lone gunman”, Lee Harvey Oswald. There are many books and movies that deal with the conspiracy theory in the JFK assassination and Collins mentions many of them at the end of the book. Given the settings of many of the enquiries, I suppose the amount of gratuitous sex in the novel is understandable, and the language used by the mob boss, especially in the early appearance in the book, as well but I could have done with less of it. Aside from that, I thought it was a well-reasoned plot with logical conclusions. It is the third in a JFK trilogy. I may go back and read the first two, but not having read them didn’t lessen the enjoyment of an interesting, and often tense, rendering of what happened in Dallas, Nov. 22nd, 1963, and its aftermath. * * * *
*The title is based on the words from President Kennedy’s innaugural address where he charged his countrymen to “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”
On a happy note, I’ve now completed two challenges this year: The Eclectic Reader Challenge and my Goodreads challenge! Just my Women Authors Challenge to go!