Strip for Murder by Max Allan Collins is the second of three Jack and Maggie Starr mysteries, stories set in the quixotic world of comics. This particular time out, Collins focuses our attention on one of comics most notorious feuds, one between two true giants of the industry.
Jack and Maggie Starr are Vice President and President of the Starr Syndicate which markets comic strips to newspapers across the United States. Not as big as United Features, they have to scramble to find popular strips that Americans will find attractive day in and day out. It tuns out Jack and Maggie Starr are also "son" and "mother". Despite being only a few years apart in age, Maggie married Jack's father and he had left the business to her, a savvy move as she was quite the businesswoman. Jack on the other hand is the troubleshooter for the firm, looking into things which might damage the bottom line and getting them fixed.
Maggie Starr is actually in the play and with all these irons in the fire, she quickly puts Jack on the case which looks exceedingly bad for Rapp. Also involved are Fizer's bodacious wife Misty Winters who is in the process of leaving him and his assistant who many think really did the bulk of the work that made a fortune for Fizer.
|Edie Adams and Ernie Kovacs|
We meet many folks who seem familiar including the Hollywood couple "Candy Cain", a beautiful actress in the play, and her TV comedian husband "Tom Mazurki".
And finally getting involved is "Ray Alexander", a respected comic strip artist who heads the National Cartoonist Society.
All of these folks as well as many others are part of the brew Collins mixes up in a story which has echoes in the real world history of comics. Of course "Sam Fizer" is a close approximation of Ham Fisher creator of Joe Palooka and "Hal Rapp" is Al Capp, the creator of Li'l Abner. These two were locked in an infamous feud for decades. It is this feud which forms the basis for the yarn, as well Ham Fisher's suicide many years later. The time frames are much changed, as this story is set in 1953, but the players are all approximate to real life.
Collin always writes a stylish mystery and his style sends you dashing through the story as Jack Starr, a former military MP questions one suspect after another, slowly building up his case. Comics were always an industry which was just this side of respectable and that seedy quality gives these Starr adventures a nice atmosphere.
There is one more of the Jack and Maggie Starr mysteries, but it will be a few years after this one was published before it arrived. It will be reviewed here next time.