Ask Not: A Nathan Heller Thriller
As stated on the cover of ASK NOT, “JFK was only the first victim…”. Leave it to intrepid private investigator Nathan Heller --- or, should I say, to creator Max Allan Collins --- to look beyond the era-shaking assassination of John F. Kennedy and connect the dots between the deaths (almost all of which were mysterious) of those who had something to tell or reveal that deviated from the official explanation contained in the Warren Commission Report.
ASK NOT is the concluding volume of the JFK trilogy --- a part of the much larger Memoirs of Nathan Heller series --- that began with BYE BYE, BABY and continued with TARGET LANCER. This final installment begins several months after the assassination, briefly flashes back to the New Orleans metropolitan area in 1962, and then returns to Dallas where Heller begins kicking over stones --- partially out of curiosity and partially for self-preservation. What gets Heller rolling is an attempt on his life and that of his son by one of the mysterious Cuban snipers introduced in TARGET LANCER.
"Leave it to intrepid private investigator Nathan Heller...to look beyond the era-shaking assassination of John F. Kennedy and connect the dots between the deaths...of those who had something to tell or reveal that deviated from the official explanation contained in the Warren Commission Report."
Heller senses that the individuals who were behind Kennedy’s assassination are perhaps tying up loose ends and that, given Heller’s midwifing of the Mongoose project (with its goal of assassinating Fidel Castro), he might be considered a prime target. Of course, Heller mixes easily with all of the historical figures of the era --- Lyndon Johnson being a notable exception --- and for those who have more than a nodding acquaintance with assassination lore, it is a joy to watch Collins weave his character through the cultural and political climate of the mid-1960s, particularly in Dallas and New Orleans.
As Collins hastens to remind us in his fine afterword, ASK NOT is a work of fiction, a historical mystery as opposed to a treatise. What ultimately lifts it above similar books is his extensive mentioning of a player named Mac Wallace. Wallace’s name does not roll as easily off the tongue or come as readily to mind as Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, E. Howard Hunt, or others who have come to be associated with November 22, 1963 in Dallas. Wallace, however, was a personality, the real-life equivalent of “Where’s Waldo?” in the sense that his presence, however peripheral, in a given place or situation was usually a guarantee that 1) someone with something to tell was not long for the world, and 2) they were not going to die peacefully in their beds.
Heller and Wallace cross paths on more than one occasion here, as Heller, in the shadow of the Warren Commission, undertakes his own clandestine investigation to determine who was ultimately behind the curtain of the assassination in order to protect himself and his family from future attempts on his life. The trail ends in a deceptively quiet, unexpected place, where Heller confronts the person who may have set the wheels in motion or was yet another cog in a wheel that changed history.
ASK NOT was originally conceived as the last Heller novel, though this may not be the case anymore. As Collins hastens to tell us at the conclusion of his aforementioned afterword (which contains a quick story about Billy Sol Estes that is worth the price of admission all by itself), he is considering a couple of additional Heller books. So it appears that Heller may not be done with the 20th century quite yet. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for more in this fine and fascinating series.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 25, 2013