Jack and his stepmother Maggie Starr are back in their third mystery tale. This one has the anti-comic crusades of the Fifties as the inspiration. Unlike Mr. Collins’ other historical mystery/thrillers, this series doesn’t blend real characters with his fictional ones, instead opting for a sort of an alternate reality world you might say, in presenting this mystery novel.
The “bad” guy here is Dr. Werner Frederick, a German-American psychiatrist about to publish a book claiming that all the juvenile delinquents/criminals in America became that way by reading those awful “funny” books that glorify violence and bloodshed with their lurid covers and stories inside.
The comics industry is up in arms and the man has been receiving death threats. Jack and Maggie are peripherally involved as their comic strip distribution company, started by Jack’s father, has a few strips by companies targeted by Frederick and a few in the planning stages as well.
Maggie has the idea to head him off with an Ann Landers/Dear Abby type column, one by a real psychiatrist, appealing to his enormous ego, with the proviso that he could not mention comics or his crusade in the column. And he wouldn’t be expected to do all the work either, but an assistant, approved by him of course, write the general column and Frederick would simply do a pass over it to put his stamp, and name, on it.
And it was working until Jack finds the good Doctor hanging from a rafter in his office, an apparent suicide. It didn’t take long to figure out it was murder.
There were any number of suspects: artists that had threatened his life, a young black man that came at him with a switchblade in his clinic, that Jack happened to be there to break up, bosses of the comics companies.
Maggie wanted Jack to clear it up fast, he was the troubleshooter of the company, as it was bad for business.
Another winner from Max Allan Collins. Though not exactly as his historical thrillers, it’s similar in that it all really happened: the comics crusade, the Congressional hearings, the death threats(though none were ever carried out). His fictional counterparts are not meant to portray any real artists or writers, no business people, but a blend of the type of folks involved way back then.
As always, the author’s writing style is so easy to get lost in that one doesn’t realize just how much work was done to deliver the book to the public. The section in the back talks about some of those real folks, the books he researched to give his mystery tale that ring of authenticity that’s a hallmark of his work.
And a word on the artwork. The great cover is by Glen Orbik and Terry Beatty does the honors on the interior here with some excellent comic panels starting each chapter. Chapter titles are in word balloons as if spoken by a character and there’s a several page arc near the end that tells part of the story. Loved that.
Not to be missed. It can be pre-ordered HERE.