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Dick Tracy Goes to War
Author Max Allan Collins
Publication date 1991
Published by Bantam Books
ISBN 767830049528890
Publication Order
Preceded by
Dick Tracy: The Movie Novelization
Followed by
Dick Tracy Meets His Match

First published in 1991, Dick Tracy Goes to War is the second of three novels authored by Max Allan Collins during his tenure as the writer of the Dick Tracy comic strip, following his 1990 novelization of the Warren Beatty film, and preceding his 1992 novel, Dick Tracy Meets His Match

Where the film novelization was set vaguely in the Depression-era 1930's, and Meets His Match is specifically set in late 1949, Dick Tracy Goes to War is set in the early 1940's (by implication, late 1942, though this is not specified), during the height of World War II.  Essentially an original novel, it utilizes plot elements and characters from several different wartime storylines in the strip.  Like the previous novel and the film from which it derived, Goes to War pits Dick Tracy against a coalition of many different foes, rather than just one or two.

Plot Summary[]

As the novel opens, the United States has been at war for about a year.  As an able-bodied young man, Tracy is anxious to do his part, but has, against his will, been exempted from military service because his dual civilian roles, as Chief of Detectives in a major city police department, and as the Commander of that department's Major Crimes Unit, have been deemed essential occupations.

But, after cleaning up a couple of open cases (exposing a bunco scheme of Shaky's and raiding a warehouse full of bootleg tires intended for sale on the wartime black market by B-B Eyes), Tracy has finally managed to convince Chief Brandon that his two partners, Sam Catchem (who's too old for military service) and Pat Patton (designated 4-F because of a perforated eardrum) have been sufficiently trained up to take over his duties. Sam will serve as Acting Chief of Detectives and Pat as Acting Commander of MCU, thus enabling Tracy to accept a direct commission as a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve and to go on active duty as an agent of the Office of Naval Intelligence.

Tess, Tracy's long-time fiancee, wants to marry him before he goes off to war, but he's reluctant to make her his wife knowing she might be a military widow before the final victory is won.  He promises they'll tie the knot as soon as he returns to the City.  

Boarding a train for Washington, DC, at Union Station, Tracy is seen off by Tess, by his adopted son, Dick Tracy, Jr., by his colleagues on the force, and by his close friend, billionaire industrialist Diet Smith, who has converted most of his businesses to the production of war materiel, and who, to that end, has employed Professor Roloc Bard (a brilliant scientist recently rescued by Tracy from the clutches of Yogee Yamma) in his R&D department. 

We also learn that the Club Ritz, once the headquarters of mob kingpin Big Boy, has been converted into a Stage Door Canteen, like those operated in New York, Philadelphia, and Hollywood, by Tracy's actor friend, Vitamin Flintheart. 88 Keyes, recently released from prison, is back at his old stand playing piano, this time accompanying songstress Black Pearl.  Other performers include sister act May and June Summer, and the comic band led by Spike Dyke.  

Tracy arrives in DC and immediately reports to Admiral Bowline, the head of ONI.  His meeting with the admiral is somewhat dismaying.  Under the impression that he would be sent to the European Theatre of Operations, possibly working behind enemy lines, Tracy is disappointed to learn that, not only will he not be leaving the country, but that he will be sent back to his home town, where he'll operate in plainclothes as the ONI's liason officer with his City's police department.  Though finally a military officer, Tracy will, essentially be doing the same job he had been doing as a civilian.  But orders are orders, and Tracy dutifully catches the next train home.

Meanwhile, back at the City, a lot of things are going on.  Tess has been hired as a riveter (or more correctly, a "bucker," who flattens the rivets once they've been driven in) in one of Diet Smith's factories.  Junior has been hanging around a diner operated by a kindly woman named Mary Steele, who seems to take a special interest in the boy.  Bard is developing a new explosive called Xylon, the most powerful non-atomic explosive ever. 

On the criminal side, Shaky, who managed to escape during the raid on his warehouse, and B-B Eyes, who jumped bail after his arrest by Tracy, have, in their new poverty-stricken state, taken refuge in the warren of abandoned sewer and subway tunnels that is operated, by Louis Rewes, aka "The Mole," as a criminal "hotel" for fugitives needing a hideout.  While staying there, they, like the Mole, are recruited, by apparent Axis espionage operatives, into a Fifth Column composed of professional criminals. Led by the mysterious "Mrs. P," this Axis espionage cell also includes 88 Keyes and Black Pearl.  And, because Pearl and Keyes are performers at Flintheart's Stage Door Canteen, and Mrs. P has a job as a cook there, the Canteen is, for practical purposes, the spy ring's headquarters. 

The ring is planning several operations.  Ongoing con jobs carried out by Shaky, designed to undermine public confidence in the war effort; continued black market activities by B.B. Eyes; a major plot to counterfeit both ration stamps and currency, using actual Treasury Department paper; and a  plot to destroy one of Smith's key factories with a time bomb, while simultaneously kidnapping Professor Bard (and the formula for Xylon he carries in his head) are all in the works.

When Tracy arrives back home, he does not live up to his promise to tie the knot with Tess "the day I get back."  He's not really back in the sense of being out of the service, he explains. Tess, unsatisfied with this explanation, breaks off their engagement and begins a casual romance with 88 Keyes.  On Tess's side, this new relationship is, at least subliminally, designed to make Tracy jealous, but Keyes is actually starting to develop genuine tender feelings for the girl Tracy loves. 

But the unfamiliar feelings Keyes is beginning to have for Tess will, ironically, put her closer to danger than keep her from it.  The spy ring plans to use her in its sabotage plot.  To that end, Keyes has been gently pumping Tess for information about her job at the factory, and passing it along to Black Pearl and Mrs. P.  Then, during a date at the Stage Door Canteen, he slips some knockout drops into her drink, and abducts her, so that Pearl, in disguise, can take her place at the factory, and plant the bomb, while Shaky, disguised as a high-ranking Army officer, kidnaps Professor Bard.

Tracy, meanwhile, acting on a tip, has found a hidden entrance to an unused portion of the City's sewer and subway system, and has followed it to the underground hideout that the Mole is operating as a makeshift hotel , where he encounters the Mole, as well as Shaky and B-B Eyes.  In the ensuing struggle, both Tracy and the Mole are subdued, and Shaky and the B-B Eyes open up some water main to flood the hideout and drown them both, thus ridding themselves of both the relentless cop, and the murderous "hotelier" to whom they are obligated.

As this is going on, Junior, suspicious that Tess, with whom he has been staying since Tracy's entry into the military and consequent giving up of his apartment, did not return home the night before, has been hanging around the Canteen hoping to find out what happened to her.  Seeing Tess leaving the Canteen in her work clothes, he calls out to her, not knowing that she's actually Black Pearl in disguise, and winds up also being captured by the ring.

Now Tracy has his work cut out for him. First, he has to escape from the deathtrap into which he's been placed by Shaky and B-B Eyes, and simultaneously rescue the Mole, if possible, from the same fate.  If he manages that, he has to foil the sabotage plot, prevent the kidnapping of the professor, rescue both Tess and Junior, and identify and apprehend the members of the Nazi spy ring.

Incidentally, he'll also have to attempt to discover what personal grudge the mysterious Mrs. P (whom long-time Tracy fans will have no trouble recognizing as Mrs. Pruneface) has against him, and try to uncover the past of Mrs. Steele, which will  reveal much of Junior's past as well.

But, inasmuch as Tracy survived to star in Dick Tracy Meets His Match, it will probably come as no surprise that he succeeds in achieving each of these goals.


  • Max Allan Collins has said that he considers this book his best Tracy work in any medium, and one of his best novels overall.  Because it was not a novelization of a pre-existing screenplay, and had nothing directly to do with the strip itself, Collins received little editorial interference from Disney Studios and Tribune Media Services, giving him a level of freedom he hadn't had on any previous Tracy project.
  • Tracy is commissioned into Naval Intelligence, but at a higher rank than in the strip. Gould identified Tracy as a "Lieutenant (senior grade)," apparently to distinguish it from a "Lieutenant (junior grade)", though the official title of the rank above Lieutenant (j.g.) would simply be "Lieutenant."  Tracy's rank in the novel, Lieutenant Commander, is one grade higher than his rank in the strip.
  • Tracy is told by Admiral Bowline that during his assignment with his City's police force, he will be reporting to a local military facility- Great Lakes Naval Base.  The real-life Great Lakes Naval Base is located in North Chicago, IL (a suburb north of the city), giving more evidence that Tracy's City is a thinly-fictionalized version of Chicago.
  • In the novel, Sam Catchem is identified as being too old for military service. This is different from the strip, where it was stated that Sam was in the Army during the war, and became a fingerprint expert while serving there.
  • Under the current creative team led by Mike Curtis and Joe Staton, it has been implied that Tracy did a stint of duty as an enlisted man in the Navy prior to joining the police department, and may have gotten his first taste of law enforcement there as a member of the Shore Patrol.
  • Additionally, Curtis has stated that he considers the backstory of the Mole as outlined in this novel to be canonical, and that Lewis Rewes Jr. is the character's real name in the strip as well.
  • In this novel, Collins "tuckerizes" long-time Tracy fan (and former Tracy police technical advisor) Jim Doherty, who appears as a rookie cop with a "lilting Irish brogue" late in the book.  Jim was aspiring to be a police officer around the time Dick Tracy Goes to War came out, but, as a third generation American, does not speak with a brogue.
  • Though several wartime villains are utilized in Dick Tracy Goes to War, two of Tracy's most important WW2 foes are absent because the novel is set (more or less) in the film's continuity.  Nazi agents Pruneface and The Brow, who had been depicted in the film as American gangsters rather than foreign spies, were killed in the film as well as in Collins's novelization.  As a direct sequel to that novelization, they were therefore unavailable for use in Dick Tracy Goes to War.
  • Where the film (and its novelization) is apparently set during the Christmas season, and culminates in a New Year's Eve party at the Club Ritz, and Dick Tracy Meets His Match is explicitly set at Christmastime, to coincide with Dick's and Tess's actual December 24, 1949, wedding date (as established in the canonical strip), Dick Tracy Goes to War is set during Thanksgiving week, partly, according to Collins, to contrast the festive dinner with which the novel closes with the wartime austerity that was far more common on the Home Front throughout the rest of the year, and partly as a device to make it credible for Junior to be actively involved in the plot, since he'd be out of school for Thanksgiving vacation.