Monday, May 14, 2007

A KILLING IN COMICS -- Max Allan Collins

Update: Becky Riordan points out in a comment that this review is quoted in toto in's book section today. I'm finally famous.

Did Max Allan Collins start the trend in historical mysteries? I don't know, but he's sure a master of the form.
A Killing in Comics is his latest, and it's a good example.

The book is set in 1948, and Wonder Guy is the best-selling funny book in the country. Unfortunately for all concerned, the publisher drops dead at his 50th birthday party. He's wearing a Wonder Guy costume that does nothing at all to protect him from the sharp cake knife he falls on.

Jack Starr works for the newspaper syndicate that has the rights to the Wonder Guy comic strip, and when he finds out that the death is a result of murder, he decides to look into it. He's a licensed p.i., after all.

There are plenty of suspects, including writers, artists, a mistress, gangsters, and so on, but what interests Collins as much as the crime is the state of the postwar comic-book business. Fans will recognize just about every character in the book, since the thin disguises don't so much conceal as hint at actual identities.

The novel seemed to me to be very much a Nero Wolfe pastiche. Starr's boss is believes she's overweight and never leaves the building (well, almost never). Starr is a snappy dresser with a photographic memory. The gathering of the suspects in the end, along with detailed seating arrangements, will remind you of Wolfe, for sure. But there's a big Ellery Queen element, too. In fact, this is the first book I've read in years with a Challenge to the Reader. (I'll bet you figure out the crime pretty well.) If you're getting the idea that this is a cozy, you're not too far off the mark. There's more detection than action (and that's not a criticism).

As a bonus, you get Terry Beatty's great B&W illustrations that capture the comics of 1948 about as well as anybody possibly could. Check it out.


Benjie said...

I saw this at B&N today and thought, "Wonder if Bill will have a recommendation?" Guess I'll have to spend the money on it now.

Unknown said...

I'm not to be trusted on anything that involves spending money.

Anonymous said...

I was visiting's book section just now and saw your blog there--how cool!
Becky Riordan

Unknown said...

Cool, indeed. Thanks for the heads-up, Becky!