Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday's Forgotten Book: My Lolita Complex and Other Tales of Sex and Violence by Max Allan Collins and Matthew V. Clemens (short story collection)

For more of Friday's Forgotten Books, visit Pattinase.

Prior to the release of their first recognized collaboration, You Can't Stop Me, Matthew Clemens collaborated with Max Allan Collins on the research and plotting of nearly all of his popular TV tie-in series (CSI, etc.). Between novels, they have slowly built a cache of short stories published in various magazines and anthologies. My Lolita Complex and Other Tales of Sex and Violence collects nine of those stories. It is a slim volume, but it really packs a punch.

It is a motley collection, to be sure, with stories based on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Hellboy, as well as pastiches of such cultural landmarks as James Bond and The Thin Man. Those only familiar with Collins's and Clemens's tie-in work may be surprised by the range present in My Lolita Complex, but probably not by the authors' adeptness with the characters of others, displayed in five of the nine stories.

Putting the weaker tales at the beginning isn't the greatest idea, but it gets them out of the way. "A Woman's Touch" is a mostly pointless Civil War story with an admittedly surprising ending, and "A Pebble for Papa" (the authors' first collaboration), is a tedious Prohibition-era mob tale.

I don't know how Collins and Clemens managed to write a story faithful to both the Buffy the Vampire Slayer mythos and also to Collins's own specialty (1940s private eye with connections to Frank Nitti), but "Stakeout on Rush Street" offers the best of both worlds. Hellboy meets cryptozoology in "I Had Bigfoot's Baby!" which shows the crimson hero investigating the title legend for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense — and finding more than he bargained for.

In "Sand on the Beach" and "Lie Beside Me," Collins and Clemens bring forth international superspy John Sand — the "inspiration" for James Bond — and show that even a retired and newly married intelligence agent has made too many enemies to expect peaceful marital bliss, even when that marital bliss is as healthy (and happens as often) as occurs in these stories. There is a lot of humor, especially in "Lie Beside Me," as Sand discovers that, even in marriage, sexual shenanigans can be dangerous.

In "East Side, West Side," Collins and Clemens bring their own touch to Nick and Nora Charles from Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man — here Mickey and Maryanne Ashford, though Mickey still looks like "a taller, unmustached William Powell" — as they solve their first mystery as a couple. The inclusion of celebrity cameos harks back to Collins's Nathan Heller series, but the lighter tone reminds me more of Stuart Kaminsky's Toby Peters mysteries.

All three of the previously mentioned stories were originally the first chapters of novels for a publisher that wanted to produce sexy books for and about married couples, and Collins and Clemens add a lot of spice to these relationships. Another story that was originally the first chapter of a novel (the inaugural CSI release, Double Dealer) is "Graveyard Shift," which has been rewritten with a more shockingly unexpected finale that suits the theme of My Lolita Complex perfectly.

Finishing up, the title story, "My Lolita Complex," is a bit of a disappointment. It is lurid in all the right ways but also predictable, and the details of Clemens's life used as atmospheric details were distracting. I would have thought this was Collins's and Clemens's first collaboration had I not known that "A Pebble for Papa" held that claim. "My Lolita Complex" is not a bad little tale; it simply lacks the extra touch necessary to take it to another level and end the collection with a "wow finish."

All in all, however, My Lolita Complex and Other Tales of Sex and Violence is an entertaining volume of sexy and violent stories. Fans of Max Allan Collins's and Matthew Clemens's other collaborations like You Can't Stop Me should enjoy this shorter side of their fictional output.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Max Allan Collins turns up on here often.

Craig Clarke said...

I'm not surprised he's a favorite of Forgotten Books reviewers. He's written a number of great books that are sadly out of print.

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