Historical fiction is usually not my forte. If I’m going to read a newly published book that is set more than 20 years ago, there has to be a very compelling plot reason for it. Though if you’re going historical fiction, I do love the 40’s and 50’s. There’s just something about that era, where men wore suits, women wore cocktail dresses and everyone drank and smoked all the time, that is so entrancing. Not only is Seduction of the Innocent set during a period I love, but it is a murder mystery wrapped in the Congressional hearings to censor the comic book industry, giving the setting another fascinating aspect.
Jack Starr is the troubleshooter of Starr Publishing, a syndicator of newspaper comics run by his widowed stepmother. When an artist is running late or a new hire needs a background check, Jack puts his private eye license to use and does what is necessary. Almost out of nowhere, Dr. Werner Frederick, a noteable psychologist, goes on the warpath against the comic book industry, as they’re warping the mind of our youth. Soon Congress will engage in hearings to determine if they need to be censored to protect the population.
Where there’s a controversy, there’s bound to be violence and all this arguing results in a murder that Jack Starr finds himself right in the middle of. As with any good murder-mystery, there are a plethora of suspects ranging from the young, knife wielding ‘negro boy’ to the mob and Jack has to get to the bottom of it to protect his friend’s name and his own business. Max Allan Collins, author of Road To Perdition, knows how to write a book and it takes a truly gifted writer to take something as played out as the pulp private eye story and make it something different from the pack.
An easy way to do that is to not have your murder happen until halfway through the novel. While some would consider that bad pacing, what it did was allow appropriate time to really set the stage. By the time Jack is hot on the trails of the murderer, you know exactly why he has to be the one to find him and why he’s the right man for the job. It’s also not just a murder set during the Congressional hearings on comic books, it is a central part of the plot and the facts of the hearings are presented clearly and, more importantly, in an entertaining manner.
One of my problems with novels is sex scenes. Most of the time, they’re brief and lacking in any real details and I am perfectly fine with that. Any time someone starts to really describe sex through text, I can’t help but laugh my ass off. It’s almost impossible to make the written word sexy, yet Collins manages to do just that. Those hot and bothered scenes don’t quite detail the sordid bits you would find in the mommy porn books, but they did their job and I wasn’t laughing and that’s some of the highest praise I can possibly give.
Seduction of the Innocent is a fascinating book that goes against the traditional plot structure of the mystery genre much to the narrative’s benefit. It is an excellent ode to and deconstruction of the murder-mystery genre, almost poking fun at the established tropes with the chapter art and break at the end to reanalyze the facts to see if you can figure out just whodunit. 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.