THE WAR OF THE WORLDS MURDER by Max Allan Collins
Berkley Prime Crime
New York, New York
This book is a dream mystery for old time radio fans and pulp fans alike. The very idea of a murder mystery set during Orson Welles' 1938 War of the Worlds Broadcast is itself enough to justify a book. Top crime and mystery author Max Allan Collins goes this premise one better by giving the detective chores not to Orson Welles as one might expect, but to legendary pulp writer Walter Gibson, creator of the Shadow. Welles hires Gibson to assist him in preparing a treatment for a film version of the Shadow in the week before the broadcast and the fun begins from there.
For thirty years, Max Allan Collins has been one of America's best crime and detective writers. He is the creator of such important sleuths and antiheroes as Nolan, Quarry, Mallory, and the first hardboiled historical P.I., Nate Heller. In addition, he wrote the Dick Tracy comic strip after Chet Gould's departure
and the graphic novel Road to Perdition, which was skillfully filmed by Sam Mendes with Tom Hanks and Paul Newman.
Collins employs every iota of his considerable talent and hard earned skill to produce one of his finest works. War of the Worlds Murder is the sixth in a series of historical mysteries, each of which is solved by a different famous author against a background of historical disasters ranging from the sinking of the Titanic to the London blitz. From the prologue, based on his actual meeting with Gibson at the 1975 Bouchercon, to the stunning surprise solution to the crime, Collins conducts the reader through an evocative, fast moving tale of a rising genius of all media, a magician cum pulp writer, and bloody, locked room homicide during the most famous broadcast in the history of radio. The world of 1938 New York comes alive in his sure hands from Columbia Broadcasting House during the glory days of network radio to the post-Harlem Cotton Club to Broadway. One of the great pleasures of this book to an old time radio fan such as myself is the compelling and informative depiction of the week-long process of putting together an episode of a classic radio series. Collins shows clearly how the dedication and ingenuity of the people involved made radio series like the Mercury Theatre classic.
Collins' triumphs in his characterizations of Welles and Gibson.
The former he brings to vivid larger-than-life. The latter is wholly believable as a devotee of magic, a professional pulp writer and the creator of the greatest of the pulp heroes. Famous people such as Bernard Herrmann and John Houseman are equally well drawn. Even the minor characters are sharply and clearly evoked. Finally, Collins conveys a real sense of the development of the panic experienced by ordinary citizens, including farmers, highway patrolmen, and college students, who came in late for the broadcast or encountered hysterical rumors arising from it. Especially funny is the contrast between the radio-wise 6 year old kid and his somewhat more credulous grandfather near Grovers Corners. Through these characters, Collins gives a real sense of how important radio was to people's lives and what it was like to listen to in its heyday.
I highly recommend this book to any old time radio fan, especially those who enjoyed John Dunning's Two O'Clock Eastern Wartime. Anyone who picks it up will find himself in the hands of a master working at the top of his form.
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