Book Review-Dick Tracy: The Secret Files, edited by Max Allan Collins and Martin H. Greenberg

Title: Dick Tracy: The Secret Files

Author: Max Allan Collins, Mike Resnick, Henry Slesar, Ron Goulart, Rex Miller, Terry Beatty and Wendi Lee, F. Paul Wilson, Ed Gorman, Francis M. Nevins and Josh Pachter, Barbara Collins, Wayne D. Dundee, Barry N. Malzberg, John Lutz, Ric Meyers, Edward D. Hoch, Stephen Mertz

Format: Paperback edition by Tor

Published: 1990


Let it be no secret that I am a Dick Tracy fan, have been since I was a kid.  Not just a fan of a particular era or of Dick Tracy from the newspapers, or the movies, or any particular medium.  I am a straight up fan of Dick Tracy.  I love the hard boiled type tales, I adore the science/technology stuff, and even absolutely go nuts over the more science fiction stuff (looking at you, Moon Maid!)  So, when a copy of Dick Tracy: The Secret Files ended up in my hands, it was something special to me.

Fortunately, I wasn’t overall disappointed.  Not overall.

Dick Tracy: The Secret Files was a collection released in 1990, in conjunction with and due in large part to the Warren Beatty movie that debuted that year (Yes, I actually liked the movie, but that’s a whole other argument to have elsewhere).  Two legends in literature, Martin H. Greenberg and Max Allan Collins, at one time the writer for the Dick Tracy strip, helmed this sixteen story juggernaut of a collection and brought on talent of all types to tackle the yellow trenchcoat wearing wunderkind of crime deduction created by Chester Gould.  From Edward D. Hoch to Ron Goulart to F. Paul Wilson to John Lutz and beyond, the list of contributors to this book held a lot of promise, a fair amount of which was fulfilled.

Overall, this is a good bunch of stories.  It appears writers were pretty much allowed to come at Dick and company in any fashion they chose to and there were a variety of approaches taken.  That part turned me off a little as I read through the collection.  Yes, there were some definite straight up true Dick Tracy type stories, but there were others that, I think, tried to hard to be something different.  As a fan, I wouldn’t have minded seeing Dick take on his old and established villains throughout an entire collection, but he didn’t do much of that in this book.  Most of the adversaries were either new oddities or they were simply ‘normal’ criminals. And let me say, Dick has come up against his share of normals, but I’d hoped we’d see Pruneface and Flattop and more of the traditional Tracy villains.

Another way this didn’t deliver due to attempts to be different was that some of the stories were not about the Dick Tracy universe.  One was a fictionalization of how Dick Tracy was created in a sense, another took Dick Tracy to Hollywood, but he ended up being a deus ex machina bit player in his own story, and still another focused almost exclusively on Tess, Dick’s wife.  Now, this doesn’t mean they were bad stories, as you’ll see when I list my favorites in a bit.  But I simply wish the collection had been more streamlined with a ‘theme’ of sorts, a spine authors worked around, more than just ‘Here’s Dick Tracy. Leave your mark however You wish.” Maybe that wasn’t what was done, but this collection definitely feels that way.

The stories in this collection, though, that do stand out are numerous.  Dick Tracy and the Syndicate of Death by Henry Slesar, The Cereal Killer by Rex Miller, Auld Acquaintance by Terry Beatty and Wendi Lee, The Curse by Ed Gorman, Homefront by Barbara Collins, The Paradise Lake Monster by Wayne Dundee, Old Saying by John Lutz, Whirlpool, Sizzle, and the Juice by Ric Meyers, Chessboard’s Last Gambit by Edward D. Hoch, and Not a Creature Was Stirring by Max Allan Collins are all great stories and hit on most, if not all the right notes for a Dick Tracy collection.

Dick Tracy: The Secret Files is a hard one to rate for me. Using the blog’s system, I’d have to give it 3 out of 5 pages.  This has a lot for Tracy fans as well as quite a bit for fans of Detective stories, but the scattershot approach to how Tracy’s world is addressed will probably make this a not read for many.

As for my usual scale, this gets four out of six bullets.  The strong stories outweigh the weak ones and my issues with the organization of the collection enough to make it one that hits more than half of the things it’s aimed at.

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