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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.

The Book

Berkley Prime Crime Mystery
July 2005
Trade paperback
Historical mystery
More at

The Reviewer

Janie Franz
Reviewed 2005
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).
© 2005