Better Dead by Max Allen Collins is the 20th book in his Nathan Heller series. I have not read this series before now. I chose this specific book for its interesting premise.
At the start of the novel, Senator Joseph McCarthy hires Heller to investigate the Rosenberg case. He wants the detective to prove there are no grounds for an appeal or new trial. Within the same day writer Dashiell Hammet hires Heller to do the exact opposite. To complicate things a bit leading Washington columnist Drew Pearson hires Heller to dig up dirt on McCarthy.
The novel does not stop once the Rosenberg case is complete, it continues on into the second half of the novel delving into the CIA’s research, development, and experimentation of mind control and biological weapons. Conscience-stricken scientist Frank Olson (a real person) reaches out to Heller to help him get the information on the experiments into the hands of McCarthy.
I liked Better Dead very much. Collins delicately balanced the historical events with a fictional mystery without sacrificing either story. He also meshed the two parts of the novel together by connecting them through McCarthy and Heller. Nor did Collins shy away from revealing the good, the bad and the ugly of the era and how careers took off or became broken. I felt overall Better Dead was a very good look into the past.