Saturday, September 28, 2019

Book Reviews: Seduction of the Innocent

Seduction of the Innocent
by Max Allan Collins
There is always tension among those who want unfettered free speech, those who would urge us to use free speech "responsibly", and those who dismiss the very idea of free speech as a cis-gendered, sexist, heteronormative. capitalist, bourgeois, patriarchal, white supremacist con and imposition on the true expressions of people's feelings and thoughts. 

I tend towards allowing more free speech than less. However, I would agree that there are some themes, thoughts, and pictures that probably aren't suitable for children. That's how I was raised.

Though it appears rather silly from a 2019 POV where a few keystrokes on your internet linked computer can retrieve any sort of filth, at one point in American history we had Senate hearings on the dangers of comic books and horror magazines. 

Some people thought that these publications were contributing to juvenile delinquency. Because of the Senate hearings some publications began having problems with distributors and/or went out of business. Those that remained agreed to enforce self-regulation (censorship). This code included but was not limited to:
  • Crimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal, to promote distrust of the forces of law and justice, or to inspire others with a desire to imitate criminals.
  • If crime is depicted it shall be as a sordid and unpleasant activity.
  • Policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.
  • Criminals shall not be presented so as to be rendered glamorous or to occupy a position which creates a desire for emulation.
  • In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.
  • Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited. Scenes of brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife and gunplay, physical agony, the gory and gruesome crime shall be eliminated. No comic magazine shall use the words "horror" or "terror" in its title.

In short, the code banned almost everything that made a good horror comic. Collins fictionalizes this history for an entertaining mystery novel. 

Jack Starr is the vice-President of the NYC based Starr Syndicate, a publisher of comic strips in various newspapers, as well as some comic books and horror books, some more salacious than others. Jack's late father left the business, and most of the estate to his third wife, Maggie, Jack's stepmother and a former burlesque dancer/showgirl. 
Jack doesn't mind this. He doesn't even mind taking orders from Maggie. Heck if Maggie hadn't been his late father's wife, Jack might have, well you know. Maggie is much smarter and tougher than most people realize, which is why she's the boss. When the Senate hearing on comic books begins, Maggie assigns Jack to accompany one of the Starr syndicate authors/business partners there to make sure he stays out of trouble and sticks to the talking points. 
Unfortunately the primary witness for censoring or ending comic books, one Dr. Werner Frederick, an adaptation of the real life Dr. Frederic Wertham, is a far more impressive speaker than Jack's and Maggie's friend. Dr. Frederick is so imposing that Maggie decides it might be a wise move to muzzle him by offering him a syndicated column.
But when Dr. Frederick winds up dead in suspicious circumstances, all hell breaks loose. Many people may have wanted the good doctor out of the way. Some underworld denizens wonder if Jack and Maggie are messing with their money. Jack has to stay one step ahead of cops, Mafia thugs, juvenile delinquents, and flighty bohemian artists while trying to find out who, if anyone, killed Dr. Frederick. This book is written in first person. It is both a homage to and occasional parody of the hard-bitten noir dialogue common in 50s era books and films.
"Dr. Sylvia Winters was a cut above the other females in the Gateway, with their long black hair and no makeup and lip-drooped cigarettes. Still, she fit right in, in the black, bulky yet oddly form-fitting sweater with tight black pants."
"Sarola was a big guy, not as big as his goons but big enough--let's just say he never had a need for shoulder pads in his custom suits.. He had a prominent facial mole low on one cheek, and yet he had a brutally handsome look. That had helped a parade of chippie mistresses, over the years, put up with him, that and his dough."
If you're in the mood for a quick 200 page mystery and don't mind a story with an unambiguously masculine POV then check this book out.
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