DEADLY BELOVED by Max Allan Collins
Ms. Tree started out as a comic book series back in 1981. Conceived by writer Max Allan Collins and artist Terry Beatty, she began the longest ever career for a lady private investigator in the comics field. She also set some milestones in the publishing world. Much has been said of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone and Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski. I’ve read both those series, as well as Linda Barnes’s excellent Carlotta Carlyle books, and can honestly say that none of them have ever been as cold-bloodedly ruthless as Ms. Tree.
Of course the name is a tongue-in-cheek joke, but the lady’s work isn’t. Ms. Tree was written by Collins as a tribute to his friend and mentor Mickey Spillane, who penned the tales of Mike Hammer, who was about as hard nails as tough has ever been.I read all the comics that came out about the character, beginning with the release by Eclipse Comics and finishing up with the run at DC Comics. Those haven’t been re-released, but hopefully they won’t be long in coming now that interest has once more been stirred.Deadly Beloved is a new novel about Ms. Tree. In fact, it is the first – and thus far – only novel about the character. But longtime readers who remember the stories are going to get a feeling a déjà vu. Collins and Beatty recently got an option for Ms. Tree as a television movie, with the intention of potentially adding more movies to the initial one.
The book has been published by Hard Case Crime, a line of novels produced by Charles Ardai that is about 50% new material and 50% books that have been out of print as much as fifty years. All of the books are crime novels, and all of the covers offer noir stylings that make my heart beat faster. I can remember reading some of those books back when I was a kid and got them at the secondhand stores.
Dearly Beloved is a blindingly fast read. Clocking in at a little under 200 pages, Collins spins his story quickly, dipping in and out of two plotlines that he dovetails neatly back into one cohesive whole. The action is intense, the dialogue gripping and constant, and the feeling of the city around Ms. Tree and her colleagues feels true.
For me, this was a pleasant walk down memory lane with a few interesting twists and turns thrown in for good measure. I generally like all of Collins’s novels, and have re-read several of them over the years. I loved his Mallory series as well as his Nate Heller books.
If you haven’t met Ms. Tree before, this is the perfect place to do so. The book is lean and mean, and the character steps right off the first page and into your face. And if you have read about her before in one of the comics or graphic novels, it’s probably been too long. Pick this one up, put your feet up, and prepare to spend a couple hours in total tough gal noir bliss.