3 out of 5
Throughout Seduction of the Innocent – Max Allan Collins third in a series of fictionalized comic book history + murder mystery mash-up – I kept wondering: would this be a more interesting tale without its historical nods?
Collins is an incredibly reliable writer, especially considering how prolific he is, and equally skilled at hard-boiled as he is at light-hearted, more humorous pulp; Maggie and Jack Starr, comic book publishers and the stars of this series, populate a world that falls into the latter camp, and that reliability is here: Jack, taking the lead in investigating the murder of a Frederic Wertham-like character, on the cusp of publishing a book that’s likely to put a dent in the Starr’s business, is full of witty observations and snark regarding the various characters he meets and investigates, and Collins ping-pongs around events with his polished skill. Still, it’s 100ish pages before the crime even happens, with much of the lead-in spent on a fairly cast-cluttered tour of the players – name-swapped variants on real life strip peddlers like Bill Gaines and Al Williamson and others – and Jack’s interrogations thereafter padded out by further tip-o’-the-hat nods to the comic business of the time (the 40s / 50s) and further people in the biz; boiled down to just things that feel relevant to the pulp stuff, the 260 pages could likely be chopped in half, or less than that. Which is to say that it’s not the best strict example of the writer’s genre work, and because he’s having fun with caricatures and not realistic depictions of these figures, it’s also not legit historical fiction, though I do think the choice traits and details Collins chose to align are very smartly plucked to get a certain gist across – making these guys and gals into human beings, and the comic business into, clearly, a business; the temptation in something like might be to play it all up more ridiculously, but he leaves the jokes to Jack.
The sacrifices made to put this stuff together, though, means the book – as pointed out – takes a while to get going, and is fairly thin on story once it does, preventing it from really rising above the level of ‘amusing.’ The Terry Beatty chapter illustrations are definitely cool; the afterword which matches the real names to their counterparts is appreciated; and I do dig that there’s enough factual touchpoints here to probably interest someone if they want to read about the comic side of it more, but Seduction of the Innocent ultimately feels more like a cute idea than a necessary one.