Published in 2007 under the Hard Case Crime line, Max Allan Collins’ Deadly Beloved is hyped as the “First Ever Ms. Tree Novel.” For those readers familiar with the hard-boiled femme detective from her early eighties appearances as a comic book series character done by Collins in collaboration with artist Terry Beatty the results are decidedly mixed as Beloved proves to be less an original story and more a reworking of the first two black-and-white graphic novels.
Best to think of the book as a pulp variation on the current Hollywoodizations of superhero comics, perhaps: given the opportunity to retell his heroine’s origin story, Collins tweaks the details, fiddling with the timeline and pulling in characters who didn’t appear until later in the series, changing some plot elements. The original “Ms. Tree” stories appeared in serialized form and, in retrospect, read that way. Collins’ prose version attempts to solidify his story by telling the bulk of it in a psychiatrist’s office. The approach doesn’t fully work in large part because we know very quickly that there’s something odd about the shrink’s willingness to let our heroine natter on past the allotted one-hour appointment.
For those unfamiliar with the character Ms. Michael Tree is an ex-cop turned Windy City p.i. whose detective husband, also named Mike (in an obvious tribute to Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer), was murdered the night of their wedding. Set “a year or so” after his death, Beloved sets Michael on a case that’ll lead to the Event Planner responsible for male Michael Tree’s assassination. Ms. Tree’s case ostensibly concerns a schizophrenic woman who’s been manipulated into murdering her financier husband, but as she delves deeper into it, the detective learns that many of her late husband’s acquaintances and former partners have their own secrets. One revelation from the graphic novels that Collins eliminates, however: that Mr. Tree had a first wife and son — not a bad omission since its inclusion would’ve muddied up the storyline.