Better Dead: A Nathan Heller Thriller by Max Allan Collins
Publisher: Mysterious Press
I was there when the Commies took over.
The Overview: Beware of Spoilers…
Better Dead is actually two interconnected novellas.
In the first Nathan Heller is hired to find evidence to exonerate Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, a married couple sentenced to die for providing Russia with secret information on how to build nuclear bombs. Senator Joe McCarthy, who is leading the hunt for American Commies, wants Heller to serve as a double agent and provide him with whatever information Heller learns about the Rosenbergs. Before long Heller is on the wrong side of government agents and gangsters and a possible death sentence of his own.
In the second story, Heller learns about government-funded mind control experiments on unknowing subjects from a scientist who has a change of heart. When the scientist turns up missing, Heller knows that he’s next up unless he can figure a way out.
I’m a huge fan of Max Allan Collins’ Nate Heller series. Heller is a fictional detective who finds himself in the middle of real crimes. Heller ages as the series progresses and fiction is mixed with extensive research and historical fact. It’s fun watching Heller interact with famous (and infamous) folks right out of our history books. Equally enjoyable is Collins’ take on the crimes and what may have really happened (if it is not as we’ve been taught).
In Better Dead Heller interacts with Joe McCarthy, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Roy Cohen, Bettie Page, Bobby Kennedy and others. I also like that Heller in these outings is a bit more hardboiled. Perhaps it’s the decade.
Better Dead is another great addition to the Nate Heller legacy. I’m hoping for more!