The War of the World Murder
Historical Disaster Series, No. 6
by Max Allan Collins
In his historical mystery series, Max Allan Collins has the uncanny ability to place the
reader not only in his chosen time period with intricate detail, but he is able to capture
the personalities of noted figures of the era. The War of the World Murder puts the
reader at the heart of the Mercury Theater's historic Halloween eve radio broadcast. Through
the eyes of Walter Gibson, the author of The Shadow mysteries, we get a behind-the-scenes
look at radio in 1938, with all of the inner workings of studio personalities Orson Welles
and John Houseman.
The characterizations are so real that often I found it hard to distinguish what I was
reading as fiction from documentary-type non-fiction. Even the prologue that introduces
Gibson and provides the basis for the tale that unfolds is so realistically written that
I began to wonder whether Collins actually met Gibson at a Bouchercon mystery convention
party and Gibson really did give him this memoir. Adding to this touch of authenticity
was Collins' use of historical asides at the beginning of each section of the book, which
is divided into the days from Thursday through Sunday in the last week of October, 1938.
The body in this murder mystery doesn't show up until more than half way through the
book. Even then, it is really secondary to the story of Welles' ego, the mounting of the
War of the Worlds broadcast, and the public hysteria in reaction to that radio program.
Collins does add a bibliographic essay at the end of the story to annotate the historical
aspects of the book. This section should not be read before finishing the book, however,
because it will spoil some of the mystery of the work.
After reading The War of the World Murder, I want to track down the other books
in Collins' disaster series. In each, the prime sleuth is a famous crime fiction writer.
Seeing any of them in action during their own eras would certainly make the read worthwhile,
but it is the realistic unfolding of the historical disaster and the personalities involved
that make these books page-turners.
Berkley Prime Crime Mystery
NOTE: Reviewer Janie
Franz is the author of Freelance Writing: Itís a Business, Stupid!, Relaxation
Techniques for Children, Relaxation Techniques for Adults; Co-author of The
Ultimate Wedding Reception Book and The Ultimate Wedding Ceremony Book. Coming
Soon: The Ultimate Wedding Workbook, Get Rich on Love, and Sacred Breath
(a sound recording of relaxation meditations).