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by Max Allen Collins
Penguin, April 1999
258 pages
$out of print
ISBN: 0425168107

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In some ways, this fictional account of the last days of a raft of real people and some fictional ones who died aboard the ill-fated Titanic in 1912 is considerably more interesting than a recent movie similarly named.

Max Allen Collins is an enormously accomplished and multi-talented individual for whom writing enthralling novels based on real events and real people is only one means of expression. One of the many well-known passengers aboard the Titanic was an author named Jacques Futrelle, a man of considerable interest to Mr. Collins. He was a celebrated mystery writer and reporter, and, it is said, a great inspiration to Agatha Christie. He was traveling with his wife, May, who survived the sinking.

It is my view that most mysteries that employ the technique of setting up the story with a prologue, have already committed a nearly fatal error. Here, however, the prologue not only explains how the story came to be, but does it in such an intriguing way as to instantly break down the reader's inherent skepticism. After all, the story concerns a lot of people who are dead and deals with events never before discussed in any of the considerable literature and reports surrounding the sinking of the Titanic. But because this prologue relates events which occur in this decade, involving people alive today, we are left with the inescapable conclusion that this story could be true, and things could have happened just this way. Couldn't they?

The story concerns strange actions observed among the passengers, the discovery of a body and the engagement of a willing Jacques Futrelle in an attempt to solve an apparent murder. Futrelle is required to interview a number of individuals whose names are still well-known to most of the reading world. When a second murder occurs, urgency to solve the crimes and apprehend the murderer becomes more intense. The urgency extends to the reader who knows the fate of the ship long before she reaches New York.

A fine, fine novel, enthralling, peopled with legendary characters who do not disappoint and a reasoned plot with interesting twists. Shrewd observations of the real characters, many of whom have had profound effects on American culture enhance our enjoyment. Collins' writing is distinguished by the extensive and meticulous research he does. The Titanic Murders, and the reader, benefit from the author's attention to detail.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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