Too Many Bullets–Max Allan Collins looks back to 1968 and RFK in next Heller novel
Review by C.J. Bunce
Every creator has a pet project over their career, maybe it’s a piece of pop culture, an era, or a person, something they read everything about, know everything about. Author Max Allan Collins probably has more than a few of those, but one of those is certainly Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination. Just as Oliver Stone and Donald P. Bellisario did for JFK’s assassination, Collins has thoroughly researched and woven one of his fictional characters into another real world event to share ideas and perspectives on the past. In Too Many Bullets, one of Collins’ fan-favorite private investigators, Nathan Heller, takes readers back to a decade infamous for political upheaval, all as we approach the 60th anniversary of JFK’s assassination next week.
The “too many bullets” of the title refers to the JFK assassination, where there were reports that more bullets were heard than the eight rounds held by Lee Harvey Oswald’s weapon. Readers will find it also may refer to the parallel events of the investigation (or lack thereof) of Sirhan Sirhan for RFK’s murder. In many ways this is a typical Nathan Heller novel. Heller historically is everywhere–like Forrest Gump, he finds himself at the heart of many a real-world crisis. It’s impossible not to compare Heller in this story to Clint Eastwood’s secret service flop-turned-hero from In the Line of Fire. If someone said he was based on Heller, you’d believe it. Also, here Heller is a ringer for Kevin Costner’s character in Oliver Stone’s movie JFK. The second half of the novel in particular finds Heller interviewing one witness after another, as in that movie, each revealing another conspiracy revelation.
But this feels very personal for the writer. Collins recounts in an afterword his own remembrance of RFK’s death. The way RFK puts his hand on Heller’s shoulder and RFK shares such a believable friendship with Heller leaves the reader feeling like the relationship is reflecting some affinity of Collins for the late senator.
The details and historical visuals are so well-handled, you could see a reader inadvertently quoting passages as history. Heller is a heckuva name dropper, and although Collins peppers the story with key real-life figures, this isn’t Kim Newman’s trademark style of including hundreds of interwoven characters. Son of the famous Citizen Kane scribe, Frank Mankiewicz is real, but love interest and speech-typist Rita Romaine isn’t. Rosey Grier and George Plimpton really tackled Sirhan Sirhan. But Lieutenant Manuel Hermano and many others are composites. Collins is a storyteller, and his tactics serve his story. The level of research in Too Many Bullets rivals the hefty Dylan Struzan historical crime novel, A Bloody Business (reviewed here). Collins includes an extensive bibliography in the back matter.
In only the first 150 pages, Collins tells a full story, so it’s fun to see what awaits in the second half. The investigation really only gets going at the midpoint. It’s up to the reader to decide how much of this story could have happened, and how much is a good stretch for the sake of the yarn, including a surprise couple of major characters’ involvement at the end.
It’s all fascinating, especially as we arrive in an era when fewer people were born yet by 1968, or vividly recall the events of that fateful year. Collins paints a picture of the world that is as intriguing as the plot itself. Fans of artist Paul Mann will love his painted cover for the book, too.
Recommended for all Heller fans and anyone interested in learning more about the 1960s, Too Many Bullets is available now here at Amazon in hardcover from Hard Case Crime.