Friday, December 21, 2012

Forgotten Books: This is It, Michael Shayne - Brett Halliday (Davis Dresser)

Numerous times I've mentioned the bookmobile that came out to our little town every Saturday from the public library in the county seat. One Saturday in 1963 or '64 (after the people who worked in the bookmobile stopped trying to steer me to the kids' books and let me check out whatever I wanted) I picked up a rather drab-looking gray hardback in the mystery section: THIS IS IT, MICHAEL SHAYNE. I'd never heard of the author Brett Halliday or the private eye character Michael Shayne, but I checked it out anyway, took it home, and read it.

Things, as they say, were never the same again.

The book must have made a big impression on me because I started seeking out more Mike Shayne novels and quickly became a big fan. Shayne was tough and smart, he had a beautiful secretary (who he was obviously sleeping with), and this was probably the coolest thing of all to me at ten or eleven years old: he had a phone in his car.

Well, many of you know how this story ends up. Fifteen years later I'm Brett Halliday and I write more than half a million words about Mike Shayne myself. I remain a big fan of the original novels and still read or reread one from time to time.

But until now I'd never reread the one that started it for me, so I decided it was time. In the nearly fifty years since then, I had forgotten nearly all of the plot, so it was almost like reading a book I'd never read before.

This one starts out with Shayne receiving a call for help from a crusading, crime-busting journalist who's visiting Miami. Before he can reach her, though, somebody murders her. Shayne figures he has a responsibility to track down her killer, and Shayne being who he is, he thinks maybe he can find a way to pick up a nice chunk of change for doing so.

All the action in THIS IS IT, MICHAEL SHAYNE takes place over a span of six or seven hours, and since the plot involves a gambling den, blackmail, an old murder charge, clashes with gangsters, a multitude of alibis, a secretary (not Lucy Hamilton) who turns out to be beautiful when she takes her glasses off, and another murder, you can guess it's pretty much of a whirlwind. As usual, Shayne stays two steps ahead of the cops (represented by Miami chief of police Will Gentry) and his reporter pal Tim Rourke, and he's at least three steps ahead of this reader, anyway. The plots concocted by Davis Dresser, the original Brett Halliday, rival those of Erle Stanley Gardner for complexity.

While THIS IS IT, MICHAEL SHAYNE was good enough to turn me into a life-long fan of the series, now that I've read a lot more Shayne novels I wouldn't put it in the top rank. The killer is maybe a little too easy to spot. However, it's a good solid entry and I really enjoyed reading it again. If you're a Shayne fan and haven't read it, it's well worth seeking out.

Now here's a couple of oddities. I said I didn't remember much about the book from reading it back in the Sixties, but a couple of scenes stuck with me. The problem is, they're not in the book, and I would have sworn they were. They must be in some other Shayne novel I read back then, and I'm just confused about where they appear. But I sure thought they were in this one.

The other thing has to do with the original hardcover from Dodd, Mead and the paperback reprint from Dell. I own copies of both and decided to read the paperback since it's got a cool McGinnis cover, as most of the Shayne paperbacks from that era do. But in comparing the two editions I immediately noticed that the paperback has chapter titles and the hardback doesn't. I wonder if Dresser added those for the paperback edition or if some editor at Dell was responsible for them. It doesn't really matter, of course, but things like that intrigue me.


Rick said...

I just listened to your interview on the Reading and Writing Podcast. You spoke of the Michael Shayne connection there as well. And I just began reading HUNT AT THE WELL OF ETERNITY. It's a fun read.

Anonymous said...

Great post, James I enjoyed reading it.

Ed Lynskey

Rick Robinson said...

According to my file, this is # 18 in the series, published in 1950. I have the McGinnis paperback too, and it's not marked on my list as read, but since I'm trying to read or reread them in order, the next one up for me is # 3, The Uncomplaining Corpses (1940). I started reading these willy-nilly and only now trying to do it in order, which makes sense since the Shayne character does develop, as do the other regular troupe of characters.

RJR said...

I was also a Shayne fan from a young age. I found Mike Shayne's 50th Case at a subway platform newsstand with a great purple cover! Wasn't my first, but it's one I remember.


James Reasoner said...

This one, I'll bet:

RJR said...

That's the one, James, but Marked For Murder (5603) was actually the first Shayne I ever bought.


James Reasoner said...

MARKED FOR MURDER is a good one, the novel that brings Shayne back to Miami after he's been in New Orleans for a while following Phyllis's death. I first read it in a Dell Mapback edition with some fine cover art by Robert Stanley.

As far as I recall, the first Shayne novel I ever bought (after reading all of them I could from the bookmobile) was the Mapback edition of THE CORPSE CAME CALLING. Paid a dime for it at Thompson's Bookstore in downtown Fort Worth.