Some of you reading this may not know that in the early days of my writing career, more than twenty-five years ago, I was "Brett Halliday" for a while, penning more than three dozen short novels about Miami private eye Michael Shayne for MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE. And I do mean penning -- most of my first drafts in those days were written in spiral notebooks with a fountain pen. I'd been reading the full-length Shayne novels for years and read a lot more of them after MSMM's editor, Sam Merwin Jr., asked me to try my hand at writing a Shayne story. So I have a great fondness for the series and have always considered it somewhat underrated by the critics. These days, of course, Mike Shayne is mostly forgotten. But not by me. I still read (or sometimes reread) one of the novels now and then.
From 1949, CALL FOR MICHAEL SHAYNE is one of the books I hadn't read until now. It's by Davis Dresser, the creator of the series and the original Brett Halliday. It starts with a situation that's very familiar to readers of hardboiled mystery novels: Insurance executive Arthur Devlin wakes up in a seedy hotel room with no memory of where he's been or what he's done during the past two weeks. And oh, yeah, there's a dead body in the room, too, a weaselly-looking guy with his head bashed in by a blackjack. Instead of muddling through and finding out what's going on by himself, though, Devlin does the smart thing. He turns to Mike Shayne for help.
As always in a Shayne novel, there are plenty of twists and turns in the plot. Some of it is fairly easy to figure out, but there was one "D'oh!" moment near the end when I smacked my forehead and realized I should have made a certain connection a lot earlier. Dresser was a master at staying one or two or sometimes three jumps ahead of the reader.
There's no sign of Shayne's faithful secretary Lucy Hamilton in this one, or his reporter friend Tim Rourke, but Miami Chief of Police Will Gentry and Shayne's longtime adversary Peter Painter make appearances. The fact that all the action in the novel takes place in less than twenty-four hours just didn't leave room for Lucy or Rourke, I guess. The scenes where Shayne spars verbally with Painter are great fun, as usual.
CALL FOR MICHAEL SHAYNE belongs in the second or maybe even third tier of Shayne novels, but it's still very entertaining. The cover illustration above is by the great Robert McGinniss and is from the second of three different Dell editions. For more on Michael Shayne, including lots of cover scans, information about MSMM and the radio and TV versions of the character, check out the website Flagler Street, named after the Miami street where Shayne had his office in most of the novels.