great deal of the space in my house is given over to printed
material, including several decades’ worth of comic books. I
learned how to read on my own with "Dick Tracy" --- the original,
with Chester Gould --- and didn’t stop until Gould’s
successor, Max Allan Collins, retired from the strip. I was already
familiar with Collins thanks to Ms. Tree, a female private
detective whom he created. Drawn by Terry Beatty, Ms. Tree went
through a number of issues and publishers --- in both comic book
and original graphic novel form --- but the quality never flagged
and to this day the stories hold up well.
I had some misgivings when I read that Collins, through Hard Case
Crime, was about to publish DEADLY BELOVED, touted as the first Ms.
Tree novel. Sequential art characters, for whatever reason, have
trouble translating to the narrative page. I needn’t have
worried. This book is perfect in every way, standing on its own if
you have never heard of or read Ms. Tree and capturing perfectly
the flavor and spirit of the comic if you’re familiar with
it. While not sticking precisely to the Ms. Tree mythos established
in the comic books and graphic novels that have gone before, the
novel is hardly set (to use comic strip terms) in an alternative
universe. We are simply blessed with Collins taking a slightly
different turn on a character he created --- nothing more, nothing
less --- and is wonderfully done, right down to the Terry Beatty
DEADLY BELOVED is a tale told mostly in flashback of how Michael
Tree came to stand at the helm of the agency that she and her
husband (also named Michael) founded on the eve of their marriage,
a bond cut tragically and brutally short. Several months after Mr.
Tree’s death, the agency is retained on behalf of a woman who
has murdered her husband, and a prostitute, after catching them in
flagrante delicto. It appears, however, that the entire
situation was set up by a third party --- one that ultimately may
tie into the murder of Mr. Tree.
Ms. Tree is relentless, uncovering clues tenaciously, even as she
discovers that the trail she is following leads to some very
unexpected destinations that are much closer than one would expect.
Collins is marvelous, dropping surprises throughout but saving the
bombshells for the very end, all the while staying true to the
genre that he loves, even as he maintains his acknowledged position
as its contemporary grandmaster.
DEADLY BELOVED is perfect for fans of the Ms. Tree comics and
graphic novels. For those unfamiliar with the character, this is a
welcome introduction to her, not to mention an inspiration to catch
up on all of her previous stories in an entirely different
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 29, 2010