Nathan Heller is a Chicago-based private eye who, during the first two-thirds of the 20th century, slowly and steadily built his detective agency into the go-to house for the rich and famous. His exploits along the way have answered, or attempted to answer, such questions as: Who really kidnapped the Lindbergh baby? Who was responsible for assassinating Huey Long? What really happened to Amelia Earhart? Heller is a seemingly ubiquitous name-dropping private eye who is much less than three degrees of separation away from presidents, singers, mobsters, actresses and magazine moguls.
"The name Marilyn Monroe remains magical, even half a century after her passing."
BYE BYE, BABY takes on what is perhaps the second-most puzzling and mysterious death of the 1960s. The name Marilyn Monroe remains magical, even half a century after her passing. Here, Max Allan Collins presents a very up-close and personal view of the woman, and the weeks preceding and following her mysterious and controversial demise. The story itself is divided roughly in half along those lines.
In the first half, Heller, just a few weeks before Monroe’s death in August 1962, is retained by the actress as protection. In the middle of a contract dispute with her studio, Monroe is also in a turbulent relationship with John F. Kennedy, the President of the United States, and his brother Robert, the U.S. Attorney General. She traveled in some questionable circles, and there was concern in some quarters that her association with the Kennedys --- which was not widely known at the time --- constituted a security risk. She herself was somewhat loose-lipped and was warned away from involvement with the brothers from several quarters, well-meaning and otherwise. Heller himself advises against Monroe’s involvement, and although his good advice is disregarded, he does end up giving her some security of a more intimate sort, on more than one occasion.
As history demonstrates, however, it was all for naught. The second half of the book deals with the investigation, or lack thereof, after Monroe is found dead in bed, the victim of an apparent overdose of prescription drugs resulting from either an accident or a deliberative act. Heller is anything but satisfied with the official ruling, which to him seems to be a rush to judgment that ignores any number of inconsistencies and red herrings. He begins sorting things out, following numerous threads from the rich and famous to the powerful and those at the elbow of the most powerful. Along the way he is warned off by everyone from the L.A. Police Department to the U.S. Attorney General himself to The Chairman of the Board (yes, Frank Sinatra is all over the place here). As always, however, Heller will not be denied, and by the time he has followed his trail to its end, he is able to obtain a rough if incomplete justice on behalf of his famous client and paramour.
Those of a certain age --- say, old enough in the 1960s to read a newspaper cover-to-cover --- will find BYE BYE, BABY fascinating. Yes, there is quite a bit of dialogue, and Collins at times seems to be either showing off his extensive store of well-researched knowledge or having almost too much fun doing so, or both. In spite of, or maybe even because of, those things, the book is a blast to read.
Most of what is presented here was hardly common knowledge a half-century ago. Kennedy was as revered a president by the mainstream media as had been seen up to that point, and his involvement with Monroe was all but unknown to the general public (there was no Internet, and thus no Drudge Report, in the 1960s). The official record of much of what occurred in those years has remained closed for 50 years and is only now beginning to see the light of day. It will be fascinating to see how closely those well-guarded documents match Collins’s conclusions and suppositions, which in turn are based upon what has been made available.
As for what is next for Heller, Collins is reportedly turning to what is almost inarguably the most puzzling death of that era: the assassination of John F. Kennedy. As with Monroe’s passing, the investigation will not suffer for a lack of suspects.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 18, 2011