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Seduction of the Innocent (Hard Case Crime) Paperback – February 19, 2013
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Comics fans will recall Dr. Fredric Wertham’s sensational Seduction of the Innocent, which alleged a deleterious influence of comic books on young readers. The resulting brouhaha involved Congress and virtually destroyed the comic-book business in the 1950s. Collins has now re-created those circumstances in his roman á clef. This time, though, the controversial author is named Dr. Werner Frederick, and his book is titled Ravage of the Lambs. When a related murder occurs, Jack Starr, vice president of the Starr Syndicate and part-time private investigator, is on a case about which there is nothing comical. The smoothly written, hard-boiled mystery follows Starr as he attempts to determine whodunit, sometimes at his personal peril. Collins, author of the classic graphic novel Road to Perdition (1998), certainly knows his way around the comics world and includes many sly references to it and to pop culture in general as his tale unfolds. In an afterword, he writes about the comics culture of the fifties and identifies the real people who inspired their fictional counterparts. It’s all great fun for comics and mystery buffs alike. --Michael Cart
"Collins masterfully blends fact and fiction...transcends the historical thriller." - Jeffery Deaver
"Violent and volatile and packed with sexuality...classic pulp fiction." - USA Today
"Collins' witty, hard-boiled prose would make Raymond Chandler proud." - Entertainment Weekly
"Max Allan Collins blends fact and fiction like no other writer." - Andrew Vachss
"Collins makes it sound as though it really happened." - New York Daily News
"Few people alive today can tell a story better than Max Allan Collins. SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT is a great, page-turning read that is beautiful to look at and serves as another proud addition to the Hard Case Crime library." – Bookreporter
“A solid tale of crime, greed, and murder with a tasty dash of sequential art history in the mix.” – Fanboy Comics
“Everything I would ever want in a detective novel.” – Geek Hard
“When a book manages to keep me reading from beginning to end, I consider it a job well done, but when I sit there for hours on end reading because I can’t put it down, that’s when I consider a book truly good and Seduction of the Innocent falls happily in that second category.” – Geekenstein
“A fast read, hedged by a bevy of hilarious characters and culminating in a delicious ‘whodunit.’” – Noir Whale
“Any fan of noir, pulp fiction or comic books will appreciate Seduction of the Innocent.” – Pop Cults
“Hats off to Max Allan Collins for this phenomenally entertaining piece of historical fiction, and Terry Beatty, for the classic, inspired EC style art work.” – Comic Hype
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Settle down, friends. This is indeed a book by the prolific Collins, as part of his Jack and Maggie Starr series of mysteries. In this series, Maggie Starr is a former burlesque performer who inherited her late husband’s comics syndicate, and her stepson Jack Starr is a part-time private eye and veep of the company. The previous mysteries in this series were based on fictionalized versions of real comics creators — this one is no different.
It’s the 1950s, and comics have become big news for all the wrong reasons. Even though every kid in America (and a decent proportion of adults) is reading comic books, the Powers That Be have decided that comics are a corrupting influence, saturating their minds with violence and perversion through superhero comics, crime comics, and horror comics. Maggie and Jack run a syndicate for newspaper comic strips, but even they are feeling some of the heat, and it’s a lot worse for publishers and creators at the comic book companies.
And just about all of them have a reason to hate Dr. Werner Frederick, the psychologist behind the attacks on comics. But does someone hate him enough to commit murder? Well, of course, they do. Now Jack has to track down the killer as quickly as possible to make sure the damaging publicity won’t prove equally fatal to the comics biz.
The characters are pretty keen. Jack and Maggie are both pretty appealing characters — Maggie is probably made more interesting because she’s used pretty sparingly in the story. Jack makes an interesting hero, too — he’s a fairly traditional hard-boiled detective — well, not too hard-boiled, I guess — he doesn’t drink, he’s not particularly over-violent, he’s got pretty modern sensibilities.
But mixed in with that noir-style detective is a guy who’s part businessman and part comics afficianado. He’s not really a comics geek — he doesn’t collect comics or get very obsessive about the hobby. But he knows all the artists and writers and publishers and clearly appreciates what they do. He decorates his apartment with framed comic art. That combination of private eye and comics connoisseur makes for a hero who’s offbeat enough to be fun to read about.
Other characters? Well, the fun bit here is that they’re all fictional versions of real comics professionals like Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein, Al Williamson, Charles Biro, Bob Wood, Tarpe Mills, and others. Some of them are a lot more fictionalized than others, and some of them act out actual events that their real-world counterparts took part in. EC Comics publisher Gaines’ disastrous testimony before Congress, in particular, is fairly cringe-inducing to read about in the novel because we comics fans know just how badly it all turned out.
It’s a good solid mystery. It’s even got some elements of Agatha Christie’s drawing room mysteries, just because Frederick’s murder is so thoroughly unusual. All the potential suspects could’ve done it, and there are plenty of plot convolutions, twists, and guest villains to keep most readers guessing.
This isn’t a real long novel, and it reads fast anyway, so it’ll feel like you’re done with it in record time. I thought it was a pretty cool story, and hey, any mystery that has someone putting Dr. Fredric Wertham on ice has gotta be good fun for comics fans.
Most of "Seduction" is a good-old-fashioned whodunit that's more of a pot-boiler than hard-boiled, which makes for a quick read that's a lot of fun to get through. The setup: An anti-comics crusader (based closely on real-life anti-comics crusader Fredric Wertham) is murdered after giving testimony to a Senate subcommittee, and there's no shortage of suspects within the comic-book industry to blame. This could have been a one-dimensional story in someone else's hands, but Max Allan Collins fleshes out all the lead characters to such a degree that they seem believable - even if you are unfamiliar with the real-life people they are often based on. Collins is well-known for his attention to period detail and mood, and his real feat here is providing a more rounded and even-handed portrayal of Wertham than most of us are used to seeing. Wertham did engage in unfair debate tricks and shameless self-promotion and used questionable logic in his popular books, but he also was an important (if forgotten) individual in the civil rights movement whose concern over America's youth was sincere, if misguided.
The occasional illustrations, done in the style of old-fashioned comics, are always a treat and an added bonus.
While not as engaging as the Nate Heller mysteries, "Seduction" will provide a lot of enjoyment, especially to anyone interested in the end of the Golden Age of comic-books. If you're a hardcore fan of the period, you might want to give this an extra star.