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Monday 30 March 2009

Genre Fiction Review: Ms Tree

Max Allan Collins

Hard Case Crime

Way back in 1980 the versatile and prolific Max Allan Collins created a comic book character called Ms Tree – a play on words: Miz Tree/mystery – illustrated by Terry Beatty. Even the book’s title is a play on words. Over the years the character has survived and even been optioned for film but this is the first Ms Tree novel.

Followers of the comics will note that there are differences; this is in fact a reworking of the ‘origin’ story for Ms Tree. From the beginning, it’s obvious this is going to be an intriguing ride. Michael (her father wanted a boy) is undergoing a session with her shrink, Dr Cassel and this is the framework for the first person narrative. Ms Tree is feisty, in-your-face, sexy and hurting. A year back her PI husband of one day was murdered. She killed the perp and took over the detective agency in his stead. While not the first female PI, she’s certainly been a strong influence on subsequent authors as she pushed the boundaries of what could be tackled by a PI, including abortion, homophobia, devil worship, incest, child pornography and date rape.

Ms Tree is asked by Homicide detective Rafe Valer to look into a no-brainer homicide. Why is that? Seems an open-and-shut case – the wife was found with the smoking gun and her husband’s bullet-riddled body was in bed with that of a hooker. Inevitably, her investigation drags up old issues, the possible involvement of the Muerta organized crime family, seemingly unconnected deaths and, before she knows it, Ms Tree is rethinking the murder of her husband Mike…

Max Collins has been round the block and it’s clear he knows how to write. Non-fiction, comics (Batman), comic strips (Dick Tracy), graphic novels (The Road to Perdition), novelisations (NYPD Blue, CSI), novels (The Last Quarry) to touch on a few.

This story flows deceptively effortlessly. Ms Tree is believable, likeable and fun. There are many slick one-liners. For example, ‘Rap sheet thicker than a Stephen King.’ There’s irony, too: the doctor began his autopsy, ‘which seemed overkill, considering the cause of death just might be the three bullet wounds…’

Deadly Beloved has everything that pulp fiction should be: fast and furious, great characters, with page-turning prose yet laced with morality, compassion, humanity and plenty of action. Sure, it ain’t great literature, but it delivers everything you want from the genre, hence the high score (5 stars). More please.

The cover of course is painted by Terry Beatty.


Paul D Brazill said...

this sounds great. i'll try to get it when i'm back in blighty during the summer.

David Cranmer said...

I read my first Ms Tree a few months ago in The Mammoth Book of Crime Comics and it was sharp storytelling. Collins created quite an original character and I agree pure pulp.

Max Allan Collins said...

You are very kind, and have excellent taste. You might want to try the two books I did (with some Terry Beatty artwork) about the postwar comics period: A KILLING IN COMICS and STRIP FOR MURDER. The publisher didn't ask for more, but there may be a third from Hard Case Crime in a year or so.

Nik Morton said...

Glad you liked the review, Max. My own take on a female detective of sorts is Sister Rose in 'Pain Wears No Mask' which has picked up good reviews but isn't being marketed well, I fear. That too is a female first person narrative - a nun who used to be a cop. Straplione goes: 'When she was a cop, she made their life hell. Now she's a nun, God help them!'

In my pile of 9 to-read HCC, I've got Mickey Spillane's 'Dead Street' you prepared and I'm looking forward to it.