cover image Majic Man

Majic Man

Max Allan Collins. Dutton Books, $23.95 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-525-94515-4

Paranoia overruns rather than creeps into Chicago PI Nathan Heller's 10th historical case (Flying Blind, etc.). In 1949, longtime client James Forrestal, the outgoing U.S. secretary of defense, believes himself the target of Communist forces within the federal government who have him under personal and electronic surveillance. He hires Heller to prove it shortly before his enforced resignation, afraid that ""I've betrayed my country by trying to serve it."" Forrestal is being watched by a number of parties who want to exploit Heller's proximity and keep a lid on some undefined intelligence. Conspiracies nest like Russian dolls, involving the U.S. government, the Haganah (the underground Zionist defense organization), a ruthless national columnist and the famous 1947 incident in Roswell, N.M., where a UFO allegedly crashed. The lunatic effect is not lost on Heller, who muses: ""Weren't Commies, Zionists, and Nazis enough? Must I add spacemen to the list?"" Collins overloads the book with references (Sinatra, Truman, Capone). He needn't have bothered. Heller possesses a refreshingly gritty underside, reflected in a past that encompasses a stay in a psychiatric ward, perjury and sensitive casework for the highest levels of society and government. There's magic of a literary kind here: full-bore suspense coupled with an ingenious take on an overworked pop-historical touchstone. (Sept.) FYI: Two previous novels in the Nathan Heller series, Damned in Paradise and Stolen Away, have won Shamus Awards for Best Novel of the Year.