“I’m jealous,” she said, pretending not to be. “You could have had room service with me.” She said that flatly, without stressing the innuendo – but the “nuendo” was in there, all right.

“Kill your darlings” is writers’ jargon for one of the hardest lessons of the craft – that the particular passage you worked hardest on and are proudest of is very likely the one you need most to cut.

Max Allan Collins’ early novel Kill Your Darlings is another of his Mallory books, a series written before his break-out Nathan Heller novels, about an Iowa mystery writer who gets involved in real life mysteries. This is the second I’ve read of this series, and I liked it very much. Collins (it seems to me) writes meta-mysteries, mysteries that work on the surface level, but also comment on the genre and its conventions. This particular book is literally about a convention – Bouchercon, an actual writers’ and fans’ convention, fictionalized here. Collins takes the opportunity of writing about hard-boiled mystery authors to place his hero in a genuine hard-boiled adventure. As hero/narrator Mallory notes to his own amusement, every event in the story follows hard-boiled conventions plot point for plot point, until he himself decides to break the pattern, in a scene that might irritate some fans but pleased me greatly.

Anyway, in this story Mallory goes to Chicago for Bouchercon, and there reunites with his mentor and hero Roscoe Kane, a sort of Micky Spillane-esque writer who’s fallen on hard times. When Kane is drowned in a hotel bathtub, Mallory has suspicions, but he can’t convince the police to look closer. He suspects a sleazy publisher with mob connections whom he hates, and uncovers a literary fraud inspired by greed and arrogance, traits not uncommon in gatherings of writers.

Kill Your Darlings is a thoughtful, well-written, fun mystery with only mild objectionable language or subject matter. Mallory mentions at one point that his politics are not conservative, but that’s all there is about that. Highly recommended, especially if you enjoy the golden age of Hard-Boiled.

Lars Walker is the author of several published fantasy novels, the latest of which is an e-book, Hailstone Mountain.