I am not sure that I can properly express how happy I was to open the envelope that contained YOU CAN’T STOP ME by Max Allan Collins and Matthew Clemens. It would be impossible to overstate the extent of Collins’s effect upon and contribution to the mystery and detective genres. In addition to a number of series novels (the Quarry and Nathan Heller books, to name but two) and stand-alone works, Collins has written television and film scripts, graphic novels (anyone ever heard of ROAD TO PERDITION?), comic strips (he took over the iconic Dick Tracy when creator Chester Gould retired), comic books (I have a complete run of the groundbreaking Ms. Tree, and no, I don’t want to sell them), and a number of books based on series such as "CSI: Miami" and "Criminal Minds."
Collins also has written novels in collaboration with others, including a writer by the name of Mickey Spillane, a series of highly regarded “cozy” mysteries with his wife Barbara under the pseudonym “Barbara Allan,” and Matthew Clemens. Clemens is a highly regarded author and editor who has previously co-written a number of titles with Collins, including the Bones and Dark Angel books. YOU CAN’T STOP ME, an original work by the two men, appears to be the first of what undoubtedly will be a popular, long-running series if the first installment is any indication.
YOU CAN’T STOP ME begins with the introduction of John Christian (J.C.) Harrow, an investigator with Iowa’s DCI agency. Living in a small town just 30 miles from Des Moines, Harrow is in the middle of what is to be the most significant day of his life, for the best and worst of reasons. In the course of a few hours, he will save the President of the United States from an assassination attempt and find his own wife and son brutally murdered in their home. Eventually, Harrow channels his grief into a force for good and closure. He creates “Crime Seen!,” a television program that chronicles unsolved murders in the hopes of bringing justice to victims and closure to their survivors. By the end of its first season, “Crime Seen!” is a top-rated show, the apple of the network president’s eye.
Changes are in the wind, however. When a staffer discovers a murder with an irrefutable similarity to the killings of Harrow’s family members, Harrow decides to ratchet things up a bit. He announces at the conclusion of the season finale that “Crime Seen!” will devote the following season to finding the person who killed his family (and who apparently has been destroying other families as well). He gathers an intrepid if occasionally prickly group of experts from across the country to assist him. What the team discovers is that the killer has been much more active than they had previously thought and appears to be pursuing a mysterious vendetta that only he can comprehend. Meanwhile, the killer is now aware that he is being hunted down, but surprisingly welcomes it. Calling himself the Messenger, he waits for Harrow and his team to come to him so that the purpose of his long-standing, bizarre and deadly vendetta can finally be revealed.
Collins and Clemens have a winner here. Harrow as a character is nicely balanced by his team, and the overall concept of the show --- part “America’s Most Wanted” and part “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” --- is convincing and intriguing enough that if the program, as presented here, were to appear on television, it would be an instant hit as well. That probably will not happen, but we can still look forward to future novels in the series.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 28, 2011