MURDER OF A POLITICIAN AND PASSION: TOO MANY BULLETS BY MAX ALLAN COLLINS
There is talk that Too Many Bullets may be the last book in Max Allan Collins' Nate Heller series. It has been close to a four decades as the Chicago PI has built his business into a national agency, both in real and fictional time, often operating in the shadows of history, solving many of our unsolved mysteries. If this is the end, he exits perfectly, pursuing the killers of RFK.
Bobby Kennedy (Bob to friends like Nate), requests Heller to serve as his security at The Ambassador Hotel for the California primary results party, insisting he not carry a gun. Collins uses the historical details from the drive from Kennedy friend director John Frankenheimer (Whose film, The Manchurian Candidate is often alluded to later), the hotel history, the crowd, and football player Rosie Greer and Olympian Rafe Johnson as unofficial bodyguards. The book uses it all to build up for suspense and dread for the assassination we know is coming. When it does, Nate gets Sirhan Sirhan to the ground, but it is too late.
The book then gets into gear when Nate discovers like with Bob's brother, there may have been more than one shooter. It starts when he is quickly dismissed at the grand jury hearing, as is Nita Romaine, a working actress and Kennedy volunteer who noticed a woman in a polka dot dress who could be connected to another shooter, whose presence was ignored from other witness accounts. Hired to do legwork for D.C. journalist Drew Pearson, Nate, with the help of Nita goes looking for the mystery woman.
Heller questions many real life players in the case. LAPD officer Pete Shore, who got pushed into early retirement and the coroner Thomas Nogachi who was fired for pushing their findings, share their insight with Nate. One of those is that more bullets were fired than Sirhan's pistol could hold. He also presses Grant Cooper, the defense lead who also has the client of CIA connected mobster Johnny Roselli. Sirhan's claim of disorientation during the murder and other revelations point to a specialist in hypnotic suggestion and to Vegas where Heller is brought to Howard Hughes and has a final shoot out in a nuclear test site.
The book works both as a capper for the Heller series as well as a mini series within in. Nate takes on many players he has engaged with in Bye, Bye Baby dealing with Marilyn Monroe's death and Target Lancer and Ask Not tied to the JFK assassination. He also thinks back to his first case in True Detective, where he uncovered how the bullet killing Chicago mayor Antone Cermak that many thought was meant for FDR actually hit the right target like the mob intended. That killing is quaint compared to the labyrinth of business, government, and organized crime that grows in Heller's investigations through the years with compartmentalization, plausible deniability, and "rogue operatives". As Shep Smith a recurring CIA operative in Heller's world warns the vengeance seeking PI, he can't get everyone involved because nobody knows all involved.
Too Many Bullets dramatizes the fight between Nathan Heller's romanticism with his hard boiled cynicism (Or is his romanticism hard boiled)?. As he nears the end of his career, he questions what he has accomplished , especially with the changes in the middle of his century. Still, whether, Lancelot or Quixote, this tarnished knight proves to be one of the best on his quests for justice.