Cassandra in Red

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Michael Collins, in a productive writing career that includes some seventeen novels, has gradually moved the formulaic detective story into the realm of serious social comment. He has developed a style in which investigative speculation is presented as a present-tense scenario, a dramatic reconstruction of what must have happened. This device offers opportunities for a more three-dimensional portrayal of character and a better developed motive for action than traditional crime novels afford.

In CASSANDRA IN RED, private investigator Dan Fortune refuses to give up on what appears to be a random killing of a homeless girl under a Santa Barbara city park gazebo. His inquiries take him into the heart of the barrio and the subtle power structure of Hispanic gangs; along the way, the reader sees a family deteriorate, a desperate clown try to save a city, and a group of free-enterprise hopefuls murder a young boy who gets in the way of their plans.

The barrio gangs are not the culprits here. A boys’ school has bred an underground commando group whose xenophobic fantasies include the annihilation of all “different” persons, including Hispanics and the homeless. Dan Fortune’s insight into human actions and their sources finally reduces the murderer to the size of a weeping child, himself a victim of his father’s warped sense of values.

What sets Collins’ work apart is his ability to humanize both the victims and the criminals, to penetrate the labyrinth of influences— childhood incidents that cement personalities, turning points of good or evil—leading finally to complex motives for action, constructive or destructive.