"Seduction of the Innocent." (Titan)Link
A color version of an interior sketch from "Seduction of the Innocent" by Terry Beatty. (Titan)Link
Writer Max Allan Collins arrives for the "Road to Perdition" film premiere July 9, 2002, at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York City. (Mark Mainz/Getty Images)Link
With his latest literary endeavor, “Seduction of the Innocent,” Max Allan Collins writes a hard-boiled detective novel inspired by the 1950s witch hunt against crime and horror comic books.
He took inspiration for the story from the real-life crusade of Dr. Fredric Wertham, who in 1954 published a nonfiction book also titled “Seduction of the Innocent” in which he accused comic books – especially violent ones such as those distributed by “Tales From the Crypt” publisher EC Comics – of corrupting America’s youth.
Collins sets his book in 1954, though it’s fictional EF Comics that is the target of concern. Would-be censor Dr. Werner Frederick meets a gruesome demise on the way to a Senate hearing, and it’s up to private eye Jack Starr and his beautiful boss Maggie to solve the case before the crackdown comes.
Collins, of course, has an illustrious comics history of his own as the author of “Road to Perdition” and longtime scripter of the “Dick Tracy” newspaper comic strip. With “Seduction of the Innocent,” comic-book artist Terry Beatty contributes 16 pages of interior illustrations.
Click through them in the gallery above, and read the excerpt from the book, out Tuesday, below.
“Yesterday Harlem,” I said to Sylvia, “today the Waldorf. It’s a full damn life, don’t you think?”
We were in the midst of the mile-long lobby of the palatial hotel—between Forty-ninth and Fiftieth Streets, Park and Lexington Avenues—surrounded by more marble, stone and bronze than in a high-tone cemetery, and more paintings by famous artists than at most museums. The furnishings were 18th Century English and Early American, but the guests were too rich to be impressed. Two thousand such guests were looked after by the same number of hotel staff members.
“You seem to know your way around here,” Sylvia said, following me past potted plants and overstuffed chairs.
“Yeah,” I said. “Some big-time cartoonists live in the tower suites, which are strictly residential. Hal Rapp lives here, the late Sam Fizer used to.”
I decided not to mention that gangster Frank Calabria, who had once been a silent partner of the major’s, also had one of those suites, though he didn’t live there. His mistress did.
The top eighteen of the hotel’s fifty stories were the twin towers, which had their own bank of elevators. We went up to the 35th floor and quickly found 3511, the doctor’s suite.
“You know, the Presidential Suite is just down the hall,” I said, pointing. “It’s where Ike and Mamie stay when they’re in town.”
She wasn’t impressed. “I voted for Stevenson.”
“Yeah, me, too.”
I pressed the doorbell. It was that kind of hotel, or anyway that kind of suite.
I tried again, then I knocked good and hard. I did this several times.
Also no response.
I tried the knob. I can’t tell you why, other than it was a sort of reflex action after ringing and knocking hadn’t got me anywhere. Plus, we were expected.
“It’s open,” I said.
Sylvia looked at me wide-eyed and I looked at her narrow- eyed.
She said, “Should we go in?”
“The doc may have left it open for us. Maybe he’s in session with somebody.”
“Dr. Frederick said he didn’t take patients till one p.m. And we’re right on time.” She mulled it briefly. “But…since he’s working out of where he lives, maybe he doesn’t have a receptionist or secretary. And just leaves it open for patients or expected company. Like us.”
“Okay, you sold me.” I edged the door open, then looked back at her. “Why don’t you stay out here?”
“I don’t really know why, but why don’t you?”
I had a chill or a premonition or something, and that didn’t make me Edgar Cayce: Dr. Werner Frederick had been subject to more death threats lately than Joe DiMaggio. He married Marilyn Monroe, you know.
Moving through the marble-floored entryway, I called out, “Dr. Frederick! It’s Jack Starr!”
Nothing, except some echo off marble.
Then I was in the high-ceilinged, long, narrow living room, which echoed other Waldorf residential suites I’d been in—a fireplace at right with facing black leather sofas separated by a glass coffee table; a big picture window on the city at the far end; French doors to a dining room at left (also a door to the kitchen); and beyond the fireplace sitting area, the closed bedroom door. The carpet was fluffy and white, the furnishings modern, everything black and white, solids, no checkered stuff—this leather chair black, that metal lamp black, this leather chair white, that laquer end table black.
Black and white like the doctor’s way of thinking. Black and white like the daily comics. The only splashes of color were magazines on the coffee table—one being that Collier’s I’d just seen at Maggie’s. My guess was all these magazines had articles by or about Dr. Frederick.
This was the most sterile, Spartan Waldorf suite I’d ever been in, not even a knickknack or award on the fireplace mantle; but that may have been because the living room had been transformed into essentially his patients’ waiting area.
And when I checked the dining room—“Dr. Frederick!”— I found that the area had been converted into an office, complete with a brown leather couch, a desk, swivel chair with tufted leather back and seat, a similar but not swivel visitor’s chair, lawyer-style bookcases, everything warmly masculine, reassuring. His desk was as neat as Maggie’s—even the stack of vile comic books, for research purposes, made a neat pile.
Okay. So this was where he saw patients.
Because it was handy, I checked the kitchen. Nobody in there, either.
Apparently the doctor had no cook, no secretary, no receptionist. The choice of the Waldorf seemed to have more to do with meeting and attracting upper-class clients than living in comfort. This was, after all, a small tower suite, designed for bachelor living—Frederick was a widower with no children—and he had given up the largest room for his office. His work was his life.
That left only the bedroom, always the most awkward room to enter in a situation like this. I damn near skipped it. I mean, he probably wasn’t here, right? Maybe he went downstairs to get his hair cut in the fancy barbershop, or his breakfast in the coffee shop had run late, and like Sylvia said, he just left the door open for us.
The bedroom was Spartan as well. You faced the foot of the double bed upon entering; the bed was modern with a brown spread. Glass doors led onto a balcony—these stood slightly open, and as this was another cool day, it was damn near cold in there. More bland modern furnishing ran to a couple of night stands and a dresser, and another bookcase. Also a smaller work area, a little desk. The only other item of note was Dr. Frederick himself.
He was right in front of me—hanging from a ceiling light fixture by a heavy rope. Eyes rolled back, tongue lolling, dried spittle on his chin, in a lab coat and tie and well- pressed trousers. A chair had been kicked over.
She was just behind me in the doorway. She had a clawed hand to her mouth, as if about to stifle a scream—and would have been right at home on the cover of Tales from the Vault.
So would Dr. Frederick.
I held up a stop palm. “Sylvia, maybe you should wait out in the hall. Whatever you do, don’t touch anything.”
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