One of the tiny regrets I have about my comic book reading history is that I did not get into the rock-solid sleuthing adventures of Ms.Tree by Max Allan Collins and his artistic partner Terry Beatty. The premise is simple, what if Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer his secretary, the vivacious Velda and then she had to take over the agency when Mike was suddenly murdered. It writes itself almost, but that "almost" is where thankfully we have Collins on hand.
I bought some of the earliest stuff when it appeared in Eclipse comics but soon I was away from the Independents and did not follow her over to Renegade and later to DC. But I did pick up the Hard Case Crime novel Deadly Beloved, the first and as far as I know only novel featuring this tough-as-nails detective.
The story here goes to the core of that premise (revising somewhat for those familiar with the comic books) as Ms.Tree operates in three timelines. She is relating the details of her life and a case to her shrink, she and her partners investigate the murder of a philandering husband and a prostitute by his crazed wife, and we look back further to see how the agency started and the death of Michael Tree himself. Plenty of switching back and forth, but by and large Collins is deft at the transitions and the reader is able navigate clearly. The ending I figured out pretty quickly, but then I don't think that's the point.
|Terry Beatty's original painting for the Hard Case paperback cover.|
The novel is followed by a very neat essay by Collins outlining the origins and history of Ms.Tree over the decades and giving some insights into the nature of the character and her origins. The series began at Eclipse and traveled to other publishers with frequent options and interest from Hollywood, but alas nothing concrete came of the latter.
This short novel is a good solid read and highly recommended.