MAX ALLAN COLLINS “A Wreath for Marley.” PI Richard Stone #1. First published in Dante’s Disciples, edited by Peter Crowther & Edward E. Kramer (White Wolf, 1995). Collected in Blue Christmas and Other Holiday Stories (Five Star, hardcover, 2001). Rewritten as “Blue Christmas,” an unpublished and unproduced screenplay.

   “A Wreath for Marley” takes place in Chicago, 1942, at Christmas time, and it doesn’t take long before you, the reader, realize that PI Richard Stone is a louse. He’s bribed his doctor to come up with a note to say he’s 4-F, he buys steak on the black market, and he has been sleeping with the widow of his now deceased former partner, Jacob Marley.

   Marley was shot and killed a full year ago, and to this date, Stone has done nothing about it. I don’t know if you know what’s ahead of him that evening, but if you are already suspecting that this is a mashup of Charles Dickens and The Maltese Falcon, you are one hundred percent correct.

   The ghost that Stone first meets is a gent named John Dillinger, and the one who takes Stone to see his (possible) future looks and sounds very much like the King himself, Elvis Presley. This in spite of the fact that in the real world, the latter is still only seven years old.

   You can get away with a lot of things when you’re writing fantasy, but you can take from me that this is a good one, even if you do know exactly where it is going. In his introduction to hardcover collection of several holiday-based stories he’s written, Max Allan Collins says that while this may not be his best story, it is his favorite one. I can see why.

   

      The Richard Stone series –

“A Wreath For Marley” (1995, Dante’s Disciples, Blue Christmas)
“A Bird for Becky” (1996, Shades of Noir, Blue Christmas)
“Flowers for Bill O’Reilly” (2001, Flesh and Blood, Blue Christmas)