Monday, July 28, 2008

Mystery Book Review: Strip for Murder by Max Allan Collins

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of Strip for Murder by Max Allan Collins. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

Strip for Murder by Max Allan CollinsBuy from

Strip for Murder by
A Jack and Maggie Starr Mystery

Berkley Prime Crime (Trade Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0-425-22139-3 (0425221393)
ISBN-13: 978-0-425-22139-6 (9780425221396)
Publication Date: May 2008
List Price: $14.00

Synopsis (from the publisher): Manhattan, 1953. Hal Rapp's Tall Paul, one of America's most popular comic strips, is now a Broadway musical, infuriating Rapp's longtime rival Sam Fizer, creator of the once-beloved boxing strip Mug O'Malley. Adding insult to injury is the casting of Misty Winters, Fizer's wife, as one of Rapp's hillbilly gals sashaying across the Great White Way. Then Fizer is found dead, his apparent suicide actually an obvious homicide—with all evidence pointing to Rapp.

Starr Syndicate has distribution deals with both cartoonists, which added fuel to the fire between them, but vice president Jack Starr and his stepmother (and company president) Maggie believe Rapp's been framed. Between loan sharks, jealous husbands, bitter artists, and Fizer's widow—who has taken a romantic interest in Jack—there are more colorful characters with murderous motives than in a month of Sunday funnies.

Review: It's not all fun and laughs for comic strip syndication executives Maggie Starr and her stepson Jack when one of their cartoonists is murdered and another the prime suspect in Strip for Murder, the second mystery in this series by Max Allan Collins.

Sam Fizer, creator of the Starr’s most profitable strip, Mug O’Malley, is dead. At first it looks like suicide – but is it? Upon further investigation it appears as though someone may murdered him and then tried to make it look like he had killed himself. The incriminating evidence points to his former partner and now fierce competitor Hal Rapp. But is he being framed?

Jack Starr, vice president and general trouble-shooter for Starr Syndicate, is also a licensed private investigator with just one client, Starr Syndicate. He and Captain Chandler of the local precinct work together to question everyone involved with Sam, from Hal to Misty (the estranged wife, now widow) to the local loan sharks. Hal Rapp is the creator of Tall Paul, currently the most popular strip of the year. He and Sam had once worked together though their partnership ended twenty years ago with them becoming bitter enemies. Over the years, through their comic strips, they had maligned each other as much and as often as they could. Now Hal is involved in a musical based on the Tall Paul strip starring Misty. Sam was furious and blamed Hal for his broken marriage. He had planned on taking Hal to court citing plagiarism. A reason for Hal to kill him? Maybe. But Sam owes over $100,000 in gambling debts. A reason for the mob to kill him? Maybe. And his wife hated him for his threat to leave her and cut her out of his will. A reason for Misty to kill him? Maybe. It's no surprise there are others who would like to see Sam dead. It's up to Jack to put the jumbled frames of this story together in the right order to see what really happened.

Strip for Murder is a breezy mystery to read though it has a lot of dark humor. The seemingly innocent world of comic strips created for the amusement of newspaper readers is juxtaposed against the cutthroat world of competitive creators, syndication deals, even ghost cartoonists. The book starts slow but the pace quickly picks up and becomes a delightful (and in many ways insightful) story. It's also worth noting that Terry Beatty's illustrations throughout add great value to the plot and lift it above the average mystery.

Special thanks to guest reviewer Betty of for contributing her review of Strip for Murder and to Berkley Prime Crime for providing a copy of the book for this review.

Review Copyright © 2008 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved.

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