This one is not for the children. You may have guessed that. But if you are an
adult who enjoys some mildly naughty humor, by all means, you need to read this. And not only is it hysterical, it is also historical, but I'm getting
ahead of myself. I first must mention a bit about the author, Max Allan Collins.
If you are like me, and most people aren't, you may never have heard of him. But if you are into comic strips, comic books, modern detective and murder mysteries, and TV series/movies based on the characters of these books, or books based on the TV series, then you will know he is a big name. HUGE. I have mentioned before that Dover is expanding into more modern books, including a whole new line of Dover Mystery Classics, of which this is one. And another highly unusual point here is that the author is still alive and working. Dover, for many decades was known as a publisher of inexpensive reprints of books in the public domain. That is no longer the case. But their books are still relatively inexpensive, especially if you take advantage of all their ways to save. I keep track of my purchases and savings on files cards, and in this particular order, in which I bought 21 items worth $151.51, I only paid $51.01. My point is, if you like to read a wide range of literature, Dover is first rate.
Anyways, some of the works for which Collins is known include the comic strip Dick Tracy, after Chester Gould retired. He also wrote novels about Elliot Ness (The Untouchables); film novelizations for such movies as Maverick, Saving Private Ryan, and The Pink Panther. In addition, wrote the Road to Perdition series, but I have to admit, not really being that familiar with his materials, I had a difficult time trying to differentiate between what were comic books or graphic novels, regular fictional novels, or novelizations.
This present book is an historical novel, first published in 2008, but set in 1953. It is strictly a novel, but does have some comic strip-like illustrations by Terry Beatty. Many historical figures from the period show up in this thriller/comedy, set in New York, but the two main characters, Hal Rapp, and Sam Fizer, are really Al Capp, and Ham Fisher, both famous comic strip writers in their day.
The narrator of the story is Jack Starr, who, along with his gorgeous, fairly young and now widowed step-mother, Maggie Starr, an ex-stripper, run the Starr Newspaper Syndication Company. Hal Rapp's famous hillbilly comic strip, Tall Paul, is now a Broadway show and Maggie is in the cast. It is Halloween, and Rapp is having a party for cast members. Jack shows up dressed as a detective, (Dick Tracy), which he actually is. There he also meets one of the big stars, Misty Winters, (actually Ethel Schwartz), who plays Bathless Bessie. Everyone is in their comic strip/stage costumes.
Now the thing about Misty is she is the soon-to-be-divorced wife of Sam Fizer, the writer of the also famous strip, Mug O'Malley, starring a prize boxer. The Starrs' company owns that one, but NOT Tall Paul, owned by another syndication company, Unique Features. And to make it even worse, Rapp and Fizer have been sworn enemies for twenty years. Rapp got his start with Fizer, as his assistant. Rapp was good—so good in fact, that he went off and started his own strip which became wildly successful. And even worse, he stole the idea for it from Fizer. So now, Fizer's gorgeous, young busty wife is in Rapp's play, much of the reason she and Fizer are on the way to divorce.
And the worst is soon to come. Fizer, who has a New York studio a couple floors below Rapp's, has just committed suicide. Murray Coe, his assistant, comes to the party asking for Rapp. Why? Jack and Maggie go down, but are not convinced a suicide has taken place. Captain Chandler is called, and Jack, as company investigator, does his own work. The rest of the book takes us through mobsters, gambling debts, new characters, and all kinds of nasty secrets.
Wikipedia has an article on Collins, but not specifically on this novel. They do, however, have a page for both Al Capp and Ham Fisher. For those who are into the comic strip thing, the characters of Rapp and Fizer bear quite a few similarities to their real-life counterparts, such as both Rapp and Capp being teetotalers, both having a prosthetic leg, and both being disgusting womanizers. And Ham Fisher really did commit suicide.
And that's all I will say about the plot, 'cause I want you to read it and be surprised.
But the best part about the story is the wise-cracking Jack Starr. It is not burst-out-laughing humor, but rather a constant chuckle, often sexual in nature, but nothing disgusting or offensive. More like British humor, fast-paced with lots of innuendos and one-liners. I will leave you with a few quotes.
Here is one describing the busty Maggie, as she and Jack try to figure out Fizer's death:
She had a point. A couple of good points, and I don't mean that in a double-entendre way.
And here is one where Captain Chandler is investigating the apparent suicide of Fizer. The gun, however, appears to have dropped from his left hand. He speaks to Jack, who doesn't really want to cooperate:
"Was Fizer a leftie?" Chandler asked.
"No, He hated the Communists."
Chandler closed his eyes. Then he opened them and said, "I mean, was he left-handed?"
This next one is when Jack is questioning Misty Winters, the newly widowed wife of Sam Fizer:
"Maybe we'll think of something to kill time," she said, and got up from the couch, slipped out of the robe, letting it puddle at her red-toenailed feet, and just stood there and let me gawk at her and her hourglass figure, which I did, believe me I did, and then she exited, theatrically, hips swaying, all that well-toned dancer's flesh inviting me to wherever she was going.
But you know me well enough by now to know I'm not so easily manipulated. This was a woman accustomed to using men for her own selfish devices, who probably didn't care for me as much as the milkman (lucky milkman) or paperboy (lucky paperboy!), and I hope you know what a man of my moral fiber would do in such a situation.
We never find out.
And last, Jack is interviewing the comedian Charlie Mazurki, whose wife is in the Tall Paul cast, and who was also involved in high-stakes gambling with Fizer. He can't quite place who Jack is:
He frowned at me genially; he had the distracted air of an absent-minded professor. "And yet I know you."
"You've met my stepmother, Maggie Starr."
His cigar went erect. "Now there's a wicked stepmother any boy could love."
And that's just a taste of the witty and wise-cracking dialogue that spins out the whole amusing novel. It's a great story, easy and fun to read, and gives the reader an intriguing peek into New York City's entertainment industry of the 1940s and '50s. Highly recommended.
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