Review by Frank Plowright
Before we meet her here, Michael Tree has been through a lot. A former policewoman turned private eye, she worked in an agency owned by her husband-to-be, coincidentally bearing the same name. He was murdered on their wedding day, although as detailed in I for an Eye and Death Do Us Part, Ms. Tree subsequently learned her husband-to-be kept plenty of secrets.
‘The Cold Dish’ opens with the consequences of the final act of the previous volume playing out as Ms. Tree is acquitted of murders she committed, securing her freedom by means of lying to an official inquest. It’s a neat ploy on the part of writer Max Allan Collins, as we’re used to detectives bending the law a little, but not acting as judge and executioner, and what sets Ms. Tree apart is that underneath everything she believes in a means to an end, not the law.
Among other characters introduced in the earlier stories was Anne, the first wife of the male Mike Tree and the son he only learned about just before his death. Shortly before her own death Anne asks Ms. Tree to take care of Mike Jr. should anything happen to her, and the plot mixes Ms. Tree’s conflict with his grandparents while attempting to discover why Anne would seemingly commit suicide.
Artist Terry Beatty’s becoming used to the needs of a mystery strip. The characters are still a little static in places, particularly when they’re meant to be moving fast, but his sense of how to tell a drama dramatically has greatly improved from his earlier work. His character portraits are strong, and he’s nailed the difficult proposition of making sure Ms. Tree’s tough without sacrificing femininity.
Using quotation marks around crime terms like “safe house” now comes across as quaint and dated, but the plot still stands up. Collins identifies the obvious bad guy early, but surrounds that with a series of inventive killings indicating resources and influence, and there’s no sentimentality when it comes to the cast. The revelations are unexpected and the conclusion hits the spot. However, this is probably best read now combined with the previous volume in the 2021 Hard Case hardcover also titled The Cold Dish.