3 out of 5
Michael Tree is a fantastic character name, and Max Allan Collins’ decision to spin her from Spillane-y roots into her own world of an on-the-nose-named cast – Rafe Valer, Chic Steele – and a hit-the-floor-running origin lends the book immediate pulp cred; yes, she existed in comic book form for a long while leading up to this first novel appearance, but that aside – seeing as how I don’t have much background in the comic – there’s not a page in Deadly Beloved that calls in to question the bona fides of our writer, or what kind of tale he’s telling. By the same token, this is all so tightly presented that it flits by perhaps a bit too cleanly: guessing the ending isn’t necessarily a bad thing when the experience to get there is enjoyable – which it absolutely is, here – but all of that background informing the tried and true style of Ms. Tree means you can coast by on autopilot for a lot of scenes, almost like a weekly episode of your favorite procedural. Is that possible without a skilled writer at the helm? Of course not. And Collins’ deftness at the keys is undeniable, creating instantly identifiable characters – cheeky names aside – and easily visualized settings, and well-choreographed action, and even though you can pretty much suss out where ‘Deadly Beloved’ is going, MAC’s diligent dedication to the beats he’s lain out to get there allows us to revel in the crisp style of the journey, rooting for Michael the whole while.
‘Deadly Beloved’ picks up a year after the death of Ms. Tree’s husband, and partner in her P.I. firm, Mike Tree. We experience the bulk of the tale as Michael explains it to her psychologist: the case of a woman who shoots her husband for reasons that seem a bit cagey, and following that trail to the behind-the-scenes “Event Planner” who may have been setting up kills for years… Mob-backed women in power suits; heavy thugs whom Tree takes down with a wink; rooftop chases; silenced gunshots through blind-drawn windows; you can just relish all of the classy – but modern – noir and pulp touches in ‘Beloved’.
While its overall predictability prevents it from ever getting out of something of an airport novel kind of vibe, that feels like exactly what Collins was aiming for, and so by staying true to that – and very true to all of its genre influences – the book’s 200ish pages fly right by.