Hard Case Crime is one of those publishers that consistently releases quality books. Or, at least, books that are very good in my opinion and ones that my local library will often carry. Occasionally, they don’t carry a title such as the one below. In a rare moment of having a little money not already spoken for this one was purchased through their book club.

Deadly Beloved

By Max Allan Collins

Hard Case Crime

http://www.hardcasecrime.com

December 2007

ISBN# 0-8439-5778-6

Paperback

$6.99

203 Pages (including author afterword)

Billed on the cover as “The First Ever Ms. Tree Novel!” the book opens with Ms. Tree describing a dream she has had while reclining on the couch of her psychiatrist, Dr. Cassel. In her dream she is attacked by a figure who is revealed eventually to be her late husband. As her dream goes she is forced to kill him to save her own life. What her dream represents is unclear and something the Dr. would like to pursue. Moreover, since she missed the last two sessions and she is the last patient of the day, the Dr. is willing to stay late and listen as Ms. Tree explains the events of the past week or so.

His willingness to stay is a good thing because in direct contrast to her current state on his couch, Ms. Tree has been on the move and very active on a number of fronts. She is directly involved in a recent murder case that has made tabloid type headlines in the news media.  Marcy Addwater, who has a history of mental instability, without question gunned down her husband and a hooker he was with in a motel room. The cops see the incident as twin murders committed by an angry and crazed wife fed up with her husband’s chronic infidelity. Bernie Levine, who also happens to be Ms. Tree’s attorney, sees a defense strategy and wants Ms. Tree’s help. After meeting her, Ms. Tree sees a vulnerable woman at the brink that needs help in every sense of the word and quickly agrees to help.

Over the next 203 pages (including author afterword which goes into extensive detail about the graphic novel history of Ms. Tree) Ms. Tree works the case as well as other issues while trying to keep her husband’s legacy, the detective agency, afloat. Her skills, while considerable and clearly evident, are constantly in question by others in the agency and elsewhere who are supposed to be helping her and not causing problems. Much of her energy is spent dealing with subtle and not so subtle sexism in her world. While set in current times there is a constant undercut of sexism throughout the work as if the novel was written forty or fifty years ago. This could be due to the graphic novel history of the character dating back to 1980, the inspirations for the character which go back considerably further, and the attempt to go back to the beginnings of the character as a sort of setup for the graphic novels. Or, it could be just another stylistic choice by the author seeking to build character development.

Told throughout the novel in the format of her telling the psychiatrist all that has happened the book quickly pulls the reader into her world. When the real world has fallen away in favor living through the character and experiencing the character the author has succeeded at what he or she is trying to do. That certainly is the case here and is done very well through the technique of a patient and her doctor. The choice of story technique is in direct contrast to the action nature of the work. A pace that, at times, is clearly and with reason broken by frequent interruptions for the patient and Dr. to converse on a minor issue. By doing so, the reader is reminded of the setup and point of view while at the same time reinforcing the point that Ms. Tree is working her way verbally to a point in her tale. The questions are where the tale will lead and what the point will be?

The case is complex, the characters real and very interesting, and the action plentiful while like the reader, Ms. Tree is reclining. This is a very good book and another excellent offering from Hard Case Crime.

Kevin R. Tipple © 2007

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