December 22, 2011

Off the Shelf: Dick Tracy

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Written by: AHudson
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Title: Dick Tracy
Author: Max Allan Collins
Publisher: Bantam Book

I usually don’t read novelizations. Perhaps the reasons is that with so many books out there, I only have so much time to read and I’d rather be reading others. Also, I feel like novelizations, even if they’re good, are often marketing. No different than the Happy Meals for the literate.

With that being said, though, I couldn’t resist checking out the novelization of Dick Tracy. Why? Max Allan Collins. Not only is he an award winning novelist (Private Eye Writers of America “Shamus” award and nominated for the Edgar award) who wrote the Nathan Heller series and the Quarry series; he’s also a comic book writer who wrote Road to Perdition. Most importantly, Max Allan Collins took over the Dick Tracy comic strip in the 70s. So if anything, Max Allan Collins is the perfect match for the novelization. It would be like having Neil Gaiman write a novelization for a The Sandman novelization.

If you’ve seen the film Dick Tracy, then you probably know what to expect. The plot (most of it), characters, and story line are all familiar here. However, since it is a novel, Max Allan Collins took the liberty to add a few more scenes, characters, and even expand on the scenes in the film. One example, is that there’s a scene early on where Dick Tracy and Tess Trueheart are at the opera. Or another example is how the relationship between The Kid and his “guardian” Steve is detailed in the novel.

Not only are the scenes expanded, the characters that weren’t prominent in the film get used more. One of my favorite characters in the novelization was Texie Garcia. It’s a shame they didn’t use her more in the film (especially since she was portrayed by Catherine O’Hara).

But it’s no surprise that the story got expanded in the novelization. It’s a characteristic with most novelizations and the film left plenty of room for it to be expanded without convoluting the plot. The real challenge is whether or not Collins can make the writing and descriptions interesting. After all, the film’s true strength wasn’t the plot, but rather the visuals and style to it all. Although bright, vivid colors don’t exactly translate well on text.

Fortunately, Collins is great with descriptions here. Rather than falling into the trap of trying too hard to describe everything, he keeps it short, simple, and can describe it all in a mere sentence. It might not be as bright and whimsical as the film sets, but he makes it darker and grittier than the film. Of course, this is still tied into the film so don’t expect any Spillane like violence. But it still has the action that you would expect, and the book doesn’t shy away from the deaths. There’s one death in particular that’s much more interesting than the film’s and a lot more ironic, but I won’t spoil it for you (hint, happens near the end).

The only major problem I have with this book is the ending, which doesn’t reveal the last mystery. I’m not blaming Collins for this, but rather the studio. You have to realize Dick Tracy came out in 1990. Before Wikipedia and bloggers could spoil an ending or even leak the script long before the movie is out. So I guess it makes sense that they didn’t want the true ending to be revealed before the film came out, but still, it’s a pain in the ass. Even if I knew the true ending from the film.

With that being said, though, it was a fun read. And by “fun” I don’t mean shallow yet entertaining, but more along the lines of pure entertainment. Even knowing the plot, it was fun revisiting Dick Tracy and in much more detail and expansion. In fact, this is enjoyable enough to where it can stand on its own apart from the movie. Though, what else do you expect from a mystery master who’s well acquainted with the yellow coat detective?

Note: Andrew Hudson now has a book out. You can purchase Drift here.

Andrew Hudson



  1. I fought a long, bloody battle with Disney and Warren Beatty’s people to have the full ending in the book. (It had been written but was censored.) That was one of the most frustrating professional experiences of my life. Finally they agreed to allow the complete novel with ending to appear in any printings after the movie opened.

    So the 6th printing is the complete novel, ending and all. That printing was sold to school book programs and actually turns up now and then. This is a rare instance where you don’t want the 1st printing, but the sixth….

    I also wrote two follow-up TRACY novels, without interference.

  2. […] James Bond.CA: With your own blog and constant interaction with reviews (e.g. a certain Dick Tracy film adaptation review) and forums, you certainly seem to be up to date on the digital age. What […]

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