Max Allan Collins

Ms. Michael Tree - Tough female P.I., Chicago, Il
Quarry - Professional Hit Man, 1970s

(Jump over to read a Guy Savage's review of Quarry in the Middle)
(Jump over to read a review of The First Quarry)

"Deadly Beloved"

(Reviewed by Hagen Baye JAN 9, 2008)

The principal character in Max Allan Collins’s Deadly Beloved is the comic book heroine, woman private investigator, Michael Tree.  Tree’s is the longest running private eye series in comic book history.  Deadly Beloved is her first appearance in a non-graphic novel since her creation in 1980.  She is quite a character: witty (comical, appropriately), feisty, tough, mischievous, and shrewd.  She is not at all afraid to mix it up with a couple of bruisers twice her size or to throw off her heels and chase up a fire escape and over a roof, to pursue and trade gunfire with an assailant. 

At the opening of Deadly Beloved, it is a year since her husband, also named Michael Tree (Ms. Tree’s father, a cop’s cop, in whose footsteps she followed into the police force, intended to name his baby boy Michael and stuck to this plan even when a girl was born instead) was killed on their wedding night and she’s still dealing with that loss by seeing a “head doctor.” 

The vehicle by which Collins has Ms. Tree convey her first person narrative is a single, over-time session with her shrink, where her recounting of a series of events is broken up by intermittent discussions with the doctor.  This proves to be a clever and effective narrative devise for this story.

The session starts with Ms. Tree talking about a new case brought to her private investigation agency, The Tree Agency, started by Ms. Tree’s late husband after they both left the police force, by an attorney friend whose client shot and killed both her husband and a hooker the wife found him with at a “no-tell” motel. There is no issue about the wife’s killing her husband and the hooker.  Though the husband is a reformed womanizer—having straightened out his wandering ways 5 years prior—during his roaming heyday, the wife had shot and wounded him.  The woman suffers from severe psychological problems that are being treated by medication, and the attorney informs Ms. Tree that he is convinced there are “extenuating” circumstances at play here, that should not be overlooked despite his client’s prior instance of violent reaction to her husband’s infidelity.

A mutual friend on the police force has a theory that there is a pattern of what he terms an “Event Planner” series of crimes, where it is suspected that a crime or accident is arranged by someone whose involvement cannot be easily traced or credibly suspected, so clever and devious is the “event” planned.  The cop thinks Muerta Enterprises International is behind these events, as over the past 5 years a series of deaths occurred which benefited Muerta in one way or the other, but there was no direct evidence that pointed to that organization’s part in the deaths.  Muerta is headed by Dominique Muerta, daughter of Dominic Muerta, the so-called last godfather of the Capone gang, who was put away by Ms. Tree’s husband and who died in jail. 

There is a connection to Muerta in the attorney’s client’s case as the husband is the head of a prominent accounting firm and Muerta is a client of the firm.  There is suspicion that the husband was about to disclose financial wrongdoing committed by Muerta.  However, this is only a theory and is not supported by any hard evidence. 

Ms. Tree takes on the case and begins to pound the pavement to check out the husband, the wife and the hooker to ascertain if, indeed, there are any “extenuating” circumstances that gives credence to this Event Planner theory.  Not only does her skillful investigation shed light on the theory, she finds reason to believe that the Event Planner may have been responsible for her own husband’s murder.  And she discovers a number of surprises that gives the story some very interesting twists.

Collins is a superb writer who has written an entertaining book about this fascinating character he first created for the comics and now quite ably transitions smoothly into the non-graphic genre.   The book is an enjoyable read and is a fine addition to Hard Case Crime’s growing diverse collection of newly written pulp fiction novels that nicely complement its collection of reissued lost pulp classics from the heyday of pulp fiction.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 18 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Deadly Beloved at Hard Case Crime

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Bibliography: (with links to

Nathan Heller series: Road to Perdition: Quarry novels: Mallory Mystery: Historical Mysteries: Eliot Ness Novels: Eliot Ness Novels: Ms. Tree Series: Other: writing as Patrick Culhane: with Mickey Spillane: with Matthew Clemens: Movies from books:


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Book Marks:


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About the Author:

Max Allan CollinsMax Allan Collins, born in 1948, is a prolific mystery writer. He has written novels, screenplays, comic books, comic strips, trading cards, short stories, movie novelizations and historical fiction. He's also created several series characters, most notably comic book P.I. Ms. Tree and historical private eye Nate Heller.

A frequent Mystery Writers of America "Edgar" nominee, he has earned an unprecedented fifteen Private Eye Writers of America "Shamus" nominations for his historical thrillers, winning for his Nathan Heller novels, True Detective (1983) and Stolen Away (1991). His graphic novel Road to Perdition was developed into a film in 2002.

He is also unique in that he has written so many media tie-in books, comics, video games and puzzles, especially for CSI, that Entertainment Weekly has given him the term "the novelization king."

He is also an independent filmmaker, writing and directing movies for Lifetime, HBO and innovative made-for-DVD feature. His one man show, "Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life," was nominated for an Edgar for Best Play in 2004.

Collins lives in Muscatine, Iowa, with his wife, writer Barbara Collins; they have collaborated on three novels and numerous short stories. Their son Nathan graduated in 2005 with majors in computer science and Japanese at the University of Iowa in nearby Iowa City, and has just returned from taking a year of post-graduate studies in Japan. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014