Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Seduction of the Innocent (Max Allan Collins, 2013)

Conclusion of Collins' Jack Star comic books trilogy. This time around dark clouds are gathering upon this unworthy business as an intense Congressional campaign against the publishers of these dirty books takes place. Dr. Werner Frederick is one of its leaders so this holly witch hunt gets the whole new dimension when he is killed. Sinister shadow of suspicion falls on various publishers and artists and it's up to Jack Star to clear their names and of course saves the face of the whole industry so it can continue to seduce and corrupt our precious innocent children.

Hard to do this one a justice. As a crime/mystery novel it more or less sucks. Starts okay, but soon I got fed up with its easy and humorous (well, kind of) style. Characters are interesting and offbeat enough (guy with a monkey in his office!) as it only becomes to a book with a background in comics industry. There are also countless references to comics industry (artists, publishers, distributes, events...) which are cool enough but don't really help the story itself to take off. When it finally does, it gets more readable (introduction of mobsters works quite well I thought) but it's all fucked up with the horrible ending. Agatha Christie kind of climax where all the suspects are assembled in the same room and our hero reveals the fucking butler.

In fact, when I think about it, the whole setup is actually pretty good old Agatha-ish: crime in an unusual surroundings, strange murder with perpetrator doing some weird shit with ice in order to mess with a time of dead, linear storyline with one or two characters introduced each chapter etc. Maybe I don't get that latter thing and I wouldn't be surprised that this structure is kind of hommage to daily papers serials but still it was a bit too monotone. Also Jack is kind of amateur detective and he cracks the case simply by having revelation (or - in comic books jargon - a light bulb goes off over the character's head).

But on the other hand and after having said all that, lots of things noted above work very well (just not as a whole) and give this book a special tone. Even though plotting is not its strongest side, story is cool and unusual. And I did like characters and all that crap about 50s comics scene and found most of chapters preceding illustrations adorable. Cool idea and welcome novelty indeed!  Collins of course is a master of dialogue (though strictly no fucks here!), smooth writing and fluent storytelling. A little resentment that I have (once again) is his totally childish depiction of women and sex. Jack is another one of his macho heroes to whom women throw themselves without much of the thinking. Maybe in this one it's kind of justifiable but still stuff like "yes she was natural blonde" or "he was hung like a horse" sounds pretty stupid and childish.

Don't know really, it's a very mixed bag. I guess I just expected it to be some sort of a cute silliness in the same vein as Deadly Beloved. I'm surprised it was published by Hard Case Crime in the first place because you won't find much of the hard boiled action here I'm afraid. It does manage to catch that pulpy feeling but I would still categorize it as a cosy crime or, if we are a little mean, even put it into the young adults section. But let's not be mean - it is after all MAC's love letter to 50s comics and strip culture which we all love.



Jack Starr, 33.  vice president of the Starr Syndicate. Troubleshooter, also registered P.I.

New York

Body count: 2

Dr. Sylvia Winters, "Cross between Kim Novak and Grace Kelly." Layla Lamont, gifted, beautiful and wild cartoonist.

Jack passes out twice but has some curious way about doing this. Not very convincing to say at least, because he drops out after all the action's already finished. This gets even more peculiar (not to say ridiculous) second time around because (1) he's beaten for a whole minute by two "professional" thugs. He than manages to (2) free himself, (3) beats the living shit out of both those assholes and their boss, (4) drives home and then passes out in the elevator on his way up to his apartment.

Comic books seduce innocent children and they must be stopped!

Terrific once again, as we would expect from the maestro Glen Orbik. And it's actually 100% related to the story because it portraits the actual cover of one of the incriminated "Suspense Crime Stories" comic books. And it gets even better because in prologue Layla's pushed to death from the 14th story window. But needs to be said that book offers even better material for its cover. I'm talking of course about the fist fight between Jack and Pine on the staircase while naked Layla is watching them. Just imagine the possibilities! Maybe next edition...

Cool lines:  
He looked like a twelve-year-old who'd just been told the facts of life and was appalled yet intrigued.

"I remember you, Mr. Starr," she said, with a faint smile, as if she were recalling the long-ago day when she still could stand men.[The Coolest!]

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