Monday, June 19, 2006

Call for Michael Shayne/Brett Halliday



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.

10 comments:

Carl V. said...

Of course I LOVE the McGinnis cover. On a trip this week I ended up in a really cool used bookstore in Jeff City, MO that had several vintage mysteries. I am trying to slowly collect McGinnis paperbacks and I managed to find an excellent copy of So Young, So Cold, So Fair which I later found out was McGinnis first book cover work. Its also by John Creasey which is a plus for me because I really enjoy his Toff novels. There were several Mike Shayne books at that store but unfortunately none that had McGinnis covers. I went through the entire mystery section and was disappointed that there weren't more McGinnis covers...other than the one I picked up there were only 2 or 3 others that weren't favorites of mine. Ah well, it will be fun to keep searching. This book that you review is one of the ones I would love to get my hands on some day, glad to hear its an entertaining read. And that's really cool about you penning Shayne novels!

Chris said...

On the Flagler Street website it says........

"Former Halliday-ghoster James Reasoner spills the cognac on the big red headed shamus! (seriously, coming soon!)"

Can you tell us when soon is?

I used to love these novels and remember reading many of the magazines. I'm sure many by you, I just didn't know it then. Too bad I never keep them.

Thanks.......

Kent Morgan said...

My father used to read the Michael Shayne novels when we were living in northern Manitoba and the only place you could buy books was the local tobacco store. I started reading them at the time and I still have many of his copies at our cottage on Lake Winnipeg. In recent years I have been trying complete the collection as well as upgrade re the cover art. Still missing from the collection are Uncomplaining Corpses, Framed in Blood and I Come To Kill You. I also would like to find copies of a couple of novels that had title changes. I just checked my records and my copy of Call For Michael Shayne is the same one as yours - D269.

Like you have said in the past on your blog, finding books you want in used bookstores is part of the fun. I'm off to the Twin Cities on Saturday to watch baseball and visit bookstores. We don't have any Half Price stores in Winnipeg so the ones in Minneapolis and region are on my must-visit list. Hope I have as much success as you seem to in your stops at Half Price.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Carl V, you need a copy of Art Scott's book about McGinnis.

Carl V. said...

I have it actually and just borrowed a friend's copy of the Tapestry art book by the Fenner's. Both are fantastic. There is allegedly a DVD in the works too.

James Reasoner said...

Chris,

I sent that article to the fellow who does the Flagler Street website a while back, but I don't know when it'll be posted. Like a lot of websites devoted to fictional characters, Flagler Street is a labor of love, so I imagine real life often gets in the way of it being updated. The article itself, which is titled "Bullets, Babes, and the Big Redhead", was originally published in the pulp fanzine ECHOES sometime in the late Eighties, I believe. If I can find my list of the Shayne stories I did, I'll post it later.

Carl,

I haven't read a Toff novel in probably forty years or more, but I remember liking a lot of Creasey's books. One of the libraries I frequent has several Toff novels. Can you give me the titles of a few good ones, so I can give the series a try again?

Kent,

Good luck on your book-hunting!

James Reasoner said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Carl V. said...

It has been a good long time since I've read a Toff book. I found this site:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A610895

That, towards the bottom, lists all the Toff books with their original British and US release dates which at least gives some sense of order.

I remember liking Toff and the Tuffs (Toff and the Teds in the UK version) and Here Comes the Toff but I think those are in mind because I read those first as a teen and have reread them a few times over the years.

About 8 years ago I introduced my wife to the Toff and we made many trips to the library, devouring Toff books. At that time I noticed that some of the names of steady characters changed. I did some research and found out that when they started printing U.S. editions there were some name changes requested (probably for really dumb reasons) and so the name of the former boxer/bar owner, etc. occasionally changes back and forth from one name to the other depending on when the book was published.

James Reasoner said...

Carl,

Thanks for the URL. That's an interesting site about the Toff. I looked around and discovered that I own about a dozen books in the series, including HERE COMES THE TOFF and THE TOFF AND THE TOUGHS. I'll give them a try when I get a chance.

Carl V. said...

I'll be interested in what you think. Reading them as a teen I was enthralled. The Hon. Richard Rollison was such a cool character. Reading them as a young adult I still enjoyed them but could see that they were somewhat formulaic. It didn't change my enjoyment of them, however. I realize they aren't great literature but they are just the kind of fun reading that I occasionally need.