Friday, January 25, 2013

Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins (Hard Case Crime; Jack and Maggie Starr)

Manhattan, 1954—Comics are on trial, both in the court and in the media. Dr. Werner Frederick's best-selling book Ravage the Lambs offers a warning against — or, for some, a guide to — the "worst" of the full-color, graphic (both meanings apply here) publications allegedly warping the minds of America's youth.

A good deal of participants in the comics industry would like to see Dr. Frederick done away with. When he is subsequently murdered by strangulation, is his theory being proven correct?

Seduction of the Innocent is the third in the Jack and Maggie Starr trilogy of historical mysteries by author Max Allan Collins. The previous volumes, A Killing in Comics and Strip for Murder appeared in 2007 and 2008, respectively, but then the publisher chose not to continue with the series.

Lucky for us, Hard Case Crime saw fit to rectify that oversight, and now readers can once again follow the exploits of the Starrs, complete with brand-new art, including fourteen pages of illustrations from Terry Beatty (Ms. Tree) and a suitably lurid cover painting from Glen Orbik.

Maggie Starr runs the Starr Newspaper Syndication Company. Her stepson Jack is a private investigator whose only client is the Starr Syndicate. Jack's father, known primarily as "the major," willed the syndicate to his young wife upon his death, which Jack repeatedly says doesn't bother him. (Maggie is also a former ecdysiast only 10 years Jack's senior, a situation that is a source of Oedipal-incest jokes at Jack's expense.)

Like its predecessors, Seduction of the Innocent has some basis in history, but author Max Allan Collins emphasizes that truth was only the inspiration. He plays around with the facts here more than in, say, his Nathan Heller series. The Heller novels hew closely to the facts with just a fictional character or two thrown in for the sake of the story.

A primary difference between Seduction of the Innocent and history is that Fredric Wertham, the real-life counterpart of Dr. Werner Frederick (and the author of the original best-selling anti-comics screed from which this novel takes its name), died of old age, so Collins even had to invent a murder to solve.

This explains why the main participants' names are fictionalized right along with the timeline of events and the characters' relationships. Collins gives them names that aren't obvious caricatures, but realistic names in the style of the real ones.

Collins himself states that he "invite[s] readers — particularly comics fans — to enjoy the roman à clef aspects," but that Seduction of the Innocent "is a mystery in the Rex Stout or Ellery Queen tradition, with a dollop of Mickey Spillane." But readers who are interested in the period will quickly realize that Collins's usual in-depth research is still strongly at play here, as the surrounding events (including death threats that didn't happen) are all based on fact.

So, it's an interesting mix, and there were times that I was torn by whether to read Seduction of the Innocent as a slice of history or simply as a golden-age mystery. It's fun either way.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Glock: The Rise of America's Gun by Paul Barrett (modern history)

Author Paul Barrett has been writing about the gun industry for 15 years at BusinessWeek. Given this breadth of experience, he seems unequivocably qualified to write this history.

Glock: The Rise of America's Gun tells the story of the firearm that rose from humble beginnings to eventually supplant the revolver as the United States's preferred Roscoe. This unassuming plastic piece was designed by Gaston Glock, an Austrian engineer with no experience in gun design, and this proved to be what was needed to bring his gun above the fray.

The Glock seems to have an equal-opportunity appeal, drawing everyone from police officers to gangbangers, from drug dealers to hobbyists, and seemingly every other gun enthusiast in between. Not being one of those myself, I was astonished at how drawn in I was by the tale of the Glock. Barrett's prose is smooth, and the story he tells is surprisingly involved and entertaining.
Related Posts with Thumbnails