Saturday, August 24, 2013

SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT

I read SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT by Max Allan Collins the other day. I read the entire book in one day, divided over two reading periods. I'm not a speed reader but this light, breezy and fun murder mystery novel was so good I just couldn't put it down.

The novel features Jack Starr, an investigator who works for the Starr Syndicate, a company which syndicates comic strips to newspapers across the country. The head of the company (and Jack's boss), is Maggie Starr, a former strip tease queen who is also Jack's step-mother.

Set in New York City in 1954, the crime at the heart of SEDUCTION is the murder of one Dr. Werner Frederick, an anti-comic book crusader who has made a stir (and a lot of enemies) with the publication of his inflammatory book, Ravage the Lambs. When Dr. Frederick is found hanged in his apartment (a murder set up to look like a suicide), Jack investigates the crime and finds plenty of suspects.

Among the possible killers are Bob Price, Hal Feldman and Will Allison, all of whom work for EF (Entertaining Funnies). These are, of course, analogs for Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein and Al Williamson, all of whom were connected with the legendary EC Comics of the 1950s. Other suspects include Charles Bardwell and Pete Pine, stand-ins for Charles Biro and Bob Wood, respectively, two men who produced crime comics for publisher Lev Gleason. And of course the murder victim, Dr. Frederick, is based on the real-life Dr. Frederick Wertham, whose book, Seduction of the Innocent, claimed comic books were the root of many societal ills including juvenile delinquency.

SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT gets all of the details of mid-century Manhattan and the comic book industry of the day correctly. Jack narrates in a dry, humorous style. There are some great one-liners in the book and the more you know about comic book history, the more you'll enjoy this fast paced mystery.

Author Collins is ably abetted by artist Terry Beatty who provides illustrations in the EC style at the beginning of each chapter, as well as a two-page spread that summarizes the facts and suspects in the case before the final revelation in which all of the suspects are gathered together and the killer identified before a television audience.

SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT is the third and final book in the Jack Starr trilogy. The other books in the series are A KILLING IN COMICS (2007) and STRIP FOR MURDER (2008). I've read A KILLING IN COMICS (in fact, I have a signed copy of the book) but I've yet to read STRIP FOR MURDER.

SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT was published this year by Hard Case Crime (one of my favorite publishers) and sports a terrific cover painting by Glen Orbik. If you love the comic books of the 1950s and whodunit murder mysteries, you'll love SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT.  Recommended.

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