As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, Max Allan Collins was kind enough to send me an ARC of Deadly Beloved, the forthcoming Ms. Tree novel from Hard Case Crime.
It's been a busy month, so it took me a while to get around to reading it, but once I did, I breezed right through it. Collins' first-person prose is, as always, honed to a razor sharpness; terse and taut, with a relentless, driving narrative thrust that sweeps you along and makes the book difficult to put down.
The novel essentially retells – and retcons – the first two Ms. Tree comics serials, originally published in the early 80's, which means that for long-time readers like myself, some "surprises," well, aren't all that surprising.
But Collins has wisely re-arranged the particulars, added some previously-untold elements, and changed enough details that the reading experience is still fresh and exciting. All the familiar supporting characters are there – Rafe Valer, Dan Green, Roger Freemont, Dominique Muerta – and all pretty much as we remember them. There are also a few new (and intriguing) characters added to the cast, and I hope Collins gets an opportunity to sequelize this someday, so we can learn more about them.
While I enjoyed the book a great deal, and admire Collins' deftly executed updating of the 80's "origin story" to the present day, I have to confess that I was a bit put-off by the main character's apparent obsession with repeatedly name-dropping famous clothing designers, and her new propensity for foul language. I'm not offended by swearing – I can toss off vulgar expletives with the best of them – but it did seem somewhat jarring coming from Michael Tree. Maybe it's the lingering awereness of her funnybook origins, but it just "sounded" odd.
But those are really minor quibbles. It's great to have Ms. Tree back in any form, and her return is certainly a triumphant one. I highly recommend Deadly Beloved. It's a top-notch mystery thriller, with a formidible female protagonist, and I suggest that every crime fiction fan – whether they're familiar with the original comic books or not – pick up a copy when the regular edition is published in November.