A Ms.Tree Novel
by Max Allan Collins
Hard Case Crime
(Available 27 Nov.)
Back in the heyday of independent comics, writer Max Allan Collins and artist Terry Beaty created one of the most memorable characters to ever grace the pages of graphic literature; Private Eye Ms.Tree. The sexy brunette with the page boy cut and the square shouldered blue trenchcoat stuck around for fifteen years, moving from publisher to publisher as she delivered some of the best, slam-bang action mystery stories ever produced for any media. The barrel of her .45 was always hot as this dame had no qualms about giving the bad guys a lead send-off when the situated warranted. Which was quite often, much to our satisfaction. She was no Agatha Christie type puzzle-solver, although Michael Tree (her dad wanted a boy) was sharp as any tack on the board. She preferred to play in the tough-guys’ sandbox and the lady was every bit their equal in the wit and bravado departments.
At the time, we fans knew Collins was also an accomplished mystery writer and dreamed of the day when he would give us an honest-to-goodness Ms. Tree novel. That day has come, thanks in large part to publisher/editor Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime. This is the book all of us clamored for and now that it’s here, it delivers on all cylinders.
The wife of a well known accountant catches her husband in bed with a hooker and blows them both to kingdom come. What should be an open and shut case is anything but to the homicide detective Lt. Valer. Everything about the crime is too set-up, too convenient. Through the woman’s lawyer, Ms. Tree is brought into the case. Valer believes the mob has recruited a murder specialist who covers up his hits by duping others into carry them. The idea of such a nefarious puppeteer seems outlandish, until Ms. Tree learns her client suffers from schizophrenia and that someone had switched her medication which kept her rational, with placebos.
And if that wasn’t enough to get the plot rolling, Valer then suggest the murder of her own husband, ex-cop Michael Tree, a year earlier on their wedding day, may have been another of the death planner’s contracts. Soon Tree and her associate, Dan Green, are knee deep in killers and assassins and the body count starts to climb. The hallmark of the Ms. Tree comics was their intensity and rapid fire pacing; DEADLY BELOVED is no exception. Collins also earns his mystery stripes as he plays fair and peppers his tale with more than enough clues for the astute reader to figure who done it. He also manages to provide a clever hat trick at the end that had me grinning like a kid exiting the carnival Fun House.
How many times can you tell the same story? In Collins’ case, there is no limit. The joy of DEADLY BELOVED is that it is very much the origin story of Michael Tree that all of us read and enjoyed so many years ago in the comics. And then again, it is told in an exciting new way that is completely accessible to the first time reader unaware of the character’s history. That is nothing short of brilliant.