Thursday, April 8, 2010

You Can't Stop Me by Max Allan Collins and Matthew Clemens (crime thriller)

This spring is an excellent time for fans of author Max Allan Collins because he has three new novels out, all collaborations. Earlier in March, his fourth Trash 'n' Treasures mystery written with his wife Barbara Collins (as "Barbara Allan"), Antiques Bizarre, was released, and in May comes his latest posthumous collaboration with Mickey Spillane, the "lost" Mike Hammer novel, The Big Bang.

This review, however, is about You Can't Stop Me, the first time his long-time collaborator Matthew Clemens has received cover credit on a novel, though he has co-written or co-plotted and researched all of Collins's CSI novels (see Mortal Wounds) and other recent TV tie-in work. (He has always received equal credit on their many short stories together, collected in My Lolita Complex and Other Tales of Sex and Violence.)

The idea for You Can't Stop Me began with the popularity of Collins's CSI novels. Tie-ins are traditionally works for hire where the author is paid a flat rate and nothing more, even if the books are enormously popular. Collins and Clemens wanted to create a similar property to which they would own the rights, and consequently the royalties. Thus began their brainstorming. What they came up with is pretty clever indeed.

Sheriff J.C. Harrow has just made the coup of his career — saving the president from an assassin — when he arrives home to find his wife and son slaughtered. A few years later, he becomes the voice and face of criminal investigation with the TV show Crime Seen!, which is responsible for the capture and conviction of numerous perpetrators previously on the loose (think John Walsh and America's Most Wanted).

But he's never solved the most important case of his life, that of his family's murder. One day, a production assistant comes to him with some new information linking another murder with his family's and suggests that they try to tie the two together, with her as the anchor. The studio gives Harrow the money and freedom to launch another show to follow this investigation.

Harrow gathers together the best individuals in crime investigation (giving the novel a crew of quirky experts who offer various opportunities for light characterization, mostly of type, and lots of different reactions to the situations. Meanwhile the killer, who calls himself The Messenger, has already left several other "messages" that have not yet been discovered.

It starts out great, but unfortunately You Can't Stop Me takes far too long to get where it's going. Collins and Clemens spread their story out thin, making a novel that could have been much shorter. It's a fascinating premise, but I was never really able to forget that it was a deliberate pastiche of another property, so it often felt more like a copy than an original.

However, the first Barbara Allan Trash 'n' Treasures novel, Antiques Roadkill, was also a weak series opener, but by Antiques Flee Market, Collins and his wife had really hit their stride, so I have faith that the second in this proposed series by Collins and Clemens will be an improvement over You Can't Stop Me.

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