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THE SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT
by Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime, February 2013
269 pages
$9.95
ISBN: 0857687484


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Jack Starr serves as vice president and in-house detective for Starr Syndicate, a newspaper syndicate run by his stepmother Maggie, which distributes many of the leading comics in McCarthy-era America. To their dismay, pop psychiatrist Dr Werner Frederick's latest book, "Ravage the Lambs" - a polemic about the harm being done to America's middle-class youth by these comics - is sweeping across middle-class America. Washington is even getting involved and Dr Frederick has been called to testify in front of the United States Senate about the corruptive nature of low-brow and violent comics. Dr Frederick's crusade has also led him to receive numerous death threats from the comics community, including someone in Starr Syndicate's employ.

Jack and Maggie come up with a plan to take care of the problem presented by Dr Frederick, when they make him an offer he cannot refuse by giving him a lucrative "Dear Abby" type of syndicated column in exchange for an agreement to not discuss his feelings about comics in the public square ever again. But before the ink can dry on the deal, Jack arrives at Dr Frederick's office for a meeting only to discover the good doctor hanging from a noose in his office. However, Dr Frederick hardly seems like the type of guy to take his own life and Jack's initial observation of the crime scene reveals that Frederick was forced to stand on a block of ice with a noose around his neck until the ice melted, much the same way a character in a recent comic was killed. Fearing that the blame for the murder will be placed at the door of the comics industry, Jack runs his own private investigation to solve the murder and save his family's company from further public scrutiny. To help with the case, Jack employs the assistance of beautiful psychologist, Dr Sylvia Winters, who manages to be more than the stereotypical beautiful women/femme fatale many might expect from this type of book.

SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, as with most Hard Case Crime novels, is a true throwback to the pulp crime novels of yesteryear, from the cover art to the characters, dialogue, and narrative. This completes a comic book-related trilogy (following 2007's A KILLING FOR COMICS and 2008's STRIP FOR MURDER), which allows the first half of the novel to be pure exposition setting up the characters and the plot before the murder that spins the narrative into motion occurs. As a result, all of the characters are well-developed and three-dimensional, which makes this more than just a bit of fun that throws back to a beloved subgenre. Adding to the atmosphere is a series of illustrations in classic comic bookstyle that both help with the nostalgia angle and add a sense of foreboding to the start of each chapter.

In addition to being tremendous fun, Collins has a more serious story to tell here, as he explains in a lengthy postscript that illustrates how well researched the book is. The title SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT is also the title of a book by a 1950s pop psychiatrist about the danger comics posed to America's youth, not unlike the fictional "Ravage the Lambs" featured in Collins' book. While the book is fictionalized, many of the real-life players of the anti-comics crusade make appearances here under thinly disguised aliases. While comics are no longer under the grave threat that they faced in the McCarthy era, comics and graphic novels are still no stranger to controversy; just recently in South Carolina, the state legislature decided to withhold funding from a state college due to the inclusion of an offending graphic novel in the curriculum of one course.

With THE SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, legendary crime novelist Max Allan Collins has crafted another winner that works both as a hardboiled detective story and as a history lesson. Despite over one hundred pages of exposition before the meat of the plot is revealed, this novel flies by and is a complete delight. In some ways, the true test of success of a piece of historical fiction, particularly when dealing with a not terribly well-known aspect of history, is the extent the reading that novel makes the reader want to learn more about that period in history; and on that account, this book passes with flying colors.

Ben Neal is a librarian who likes to fancy himself an amateur writer, humorist, detective, and coffee connoisseur in his spare time. He can be reached at beneneal@indiana.edu.

Reviewed by Ben Neal, March 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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