"Better new friend than an old foe."

- Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene
Blood and Thunder, by Max Allan Collins

Like the rest of the country, I'd seen in the papers that Huey had, on the floor of the Senate, accused FDR of aiding and abetting a murder plot against him; something about conspirators meeting at some hotel somewhere. But I'd really merely read the headlines, skimmed the stories. Nobody was taking it very seriously. After all, Huey made a habit out of such accusations. He was a wolf who kept crying little boy.

I'm delighted to have rediscovered Max Allan Collins's Nate Heller novels. They're textured and well-written, and something like George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman novels in providing entertaining, excellently researched history lessons. I knew almost nothing about the death of Louisiana governor and senator Huey Long before I read Blood and Thunder, but now I do.

The novel starts in 1935. Chicago private eye Nathan Heller has been persuaded by Senator Long (who met him on an earlier visit to the windy city) to become one of his bodyguards. After a visit to the Oklahoma State Fair they return to Louisiana, and Nate is introduced to the continual circus that is Huey Long's presidential campaign. Formerly a supporter of the New Deal, Long has broken with Roosevelt, and dreams of taking his populist wealth redistribution campaign to a national stage. He entertains visitors and reporters in his hotel suite dressed in green silk pajamas. He writes music. He parties hard. He has connections with organized crime. Heller has about had his fill of it all (in spite of an enjoyable affair with one of Long's ex-mistresses) when Long is shot to death. According to eyewitness reports he was killed by an angry dentist who was then riddled with bullets by Long's furious bodyguards (Nate is off on an errand at that moment). Nate goes home.

About a year later, he's invited back to Louisiana by Long's widow, who is now in financial difficulties. She wants him to prove that her husband was not killed by the dentist, but by the stray bullets of the bodyguards (that would make the death an accident, and trigger a double indemnity clause in Long's life insurance).

The solution Heller finds is not the one in the history books, but Collins makes a strong case for it, and explains in his Afterword what's speculation and what's documented fact.

Blood and Thunder is very enjoyable. Very educational. Huey Long truly comes alive as a historical character, so that the reader understands how this strange man came to be beloved by so many.

Recommended, with cautions for language and adult situations.


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Comments on "Blood and Thunder, by Max Allan Collins":
1. Sherry - 02/15/2012 11:38 pm EST

I read a 500 or so page biography of Huey Long many years ago, and If thought then he was a fascinating man. Only in Louisiana--or maybe Texas-- could such a character have come to power. Also, Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men is based on the life of Huey Long. I wrote about it here:

2. Greybeard - 02/15/2012 11:46 pm EST

Lars, do you utilize some sort of speed reading technique? You post two or three book reviews a week. I have trouble finishing one or two books a month. In fact I've been working on Augustine's Confessions for two years and have twenty pages left. How do you do it?

3. Lars Walker - 02/16/2012 8:18 am EST

I've done a lot of linking to reviews of the new book, recently, so I kind of built up a backlog.

4. Phil - 02/16/2012 10:17 am EST

... he says, dodging the question on whether he reads 2-3 books a week.

5. Lars Walker - 02/16/2012 11:29 am EST

Depends on the week. Last week I was kind of down, and spent a lot of time hiding with a book.

6. Greybeard - 02/17/2012 12:01 pm EST

Maybe you need to join Ray Charles at the Evelyn Woodski school of slow reading?

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