Target Lancer is a new Nate Heller novel set to release on November 27th of this year. When Mr. Collins contacted me to see if I would be interested in reviewing it, I almost passed out because the excitement that exploded in my guts flattened my brain to the top of my skull. Now that I’ve recovered and read the novel, I’m eager to give you a sneak peek at the wonderful contents. This review, unlike nearly all of my others, will be as spoiler free as possible.
Nate Heller, aging ‘private eye to the stars’ and director of the prestigious A-1 Detective Agency, is embroiled in a high-profile assassination plot. The target: Lancer, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The catch: the stage is Chicago, not Dallas, and it’s a month prior to November 22nd, 1963.
The book is filled with some of the biggest historical actors of the era; Names like Hoffa, Monroe, Hoover, Rand, Giancana, and Kennedy. I was impressed with Max’s confident (and daring) take on these characters where most authors would be afraid to risk a portrayal that might seem phony. His treatment of the era and these big name individuals actually had the opposite effect. Each of them seemed very genuine and most meticulous in their presentation. I could tell instantly that Max had spent countless hours researching and tapping into not only the stories surrounding them, but the personalities that would create such stories. Target Lancer is as much a work of historical fiction as it is a crime thriller, and when the genres collide under Max’s direction the results are quite sexy.
“You gotta stand for a frisk.”
“I’m not armed.”
“Rules is rules.”
Before I let him pat me down, I gave him my damp raincoat and hat to dispose of, just out of general disrespect, thinking this would have been an excellent time to shoot him, if that was why I was here.
A work of noir crime fiction by noir definition:
1) The Seedy Underworld
The setting of Target Lancer is primarily Chicago– gangland skin-joints, ethnic delis, and a private box at “da Bears” game. Heller does take a dip down to Miami for a clandestine meeting with “The Outfit”–you won’t want to miss it.
2) The Anti-Hero
Nate Heller is our anti-hero. He’s a little older, a little slower, but perhaps wiser than his younger self (at least he’s less compulsive, right?). Heller is connected across the continent, from the slimiest saps to the most high profile stars, and he’s become a dealer in secrets. I really enjoy reading Nate, he’s a unique narrator that gives you the unfiltered scoop, even when it makes him look bad. Half the time he’s about to die he’s cracking-wise about it, reminding you that its just as ridiculous as you think it is.
3) The Femme Fatale
Helen Beck aka Sally Rand is the femme fatale of Target Lancer, and her addition to the story has a humanizing effect on Nate’s character. She’s an aging burlesque star, known for her famous nude fan-dance at the ’33 World’s Fair, coping with the complications that come from growing old in a vocation that’s based on your looks. Her and Nate have a deep connection, a romance that isn’t exactly fatal, but it gives Nate something to lose.
The brand of noir misogyny you’ll find in the pages of Target Lancer is the best kind. It’s misogyny that the anti-hero hates but the supporting cast adopts. Nate’s a gentlemen and a respecter of women, even though he’s a bit of a playboy– but the world that he lives in is still caught in the spiral of objectification, sexual transaction, and gender inequality. If Mad Men is representative of the 1960’s, then Nate Heller is Don Draper with a conscience.
Nate likes defeat even less than he likes being used, and when a client is killed under suspicious circumstances, he makes the game personal. Target Lancer is loaded with intellectual redemption of classic noir faire, but Nate also has plenty of opportunities to save his own skin; Working with the mob isn’t easy.
I felt that the eroticism in the novel was primarily that of ‘the tease.’ Several scenes occur in reputable and disreputable strip-clubs, and Nate’s main squeeze is a veteran fan-dancer… connect the dots- there’s memorable provocative and erotic moments in Target Lancer.
7) Loss of Innocence
Nate’s digging leads him down roads better left untraveled. As the evidence piles up surrounding the assassination of JFK, he’s not thrilled by the conclusions, and he’s concerned that such conclusions will have him looking over his shoulder the rest of his life.
8 ) Smoke
Nate Heller is a walking Lucky Strike commercial. Throw in some Cuban intrigue and you’ve got baggage that reeks of cigars. You’ll get major scent memory as you turn the pages, which is just what we want from slick noir.
The fear of immasculation is generally a driving theme in most noir crime fiction, but I found it to be absent in Target Lancer. Nate is not insecure. He’s collected and confident, a man unafraid to laugh at himself or to make a joke to cut the tension. I liked that. One thing I noticed is the outward show of masculinity that many of the other characters put forward, especially Hoffa and the mob men. It was fascinating.
I really loved Target Lancer, you will too. Head over to Amazon and pre-order this baby.
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