Friday, March 03, 2017

Forgotten Books: Ladies of Chance - Anthony Scott (Davis Dresser)

Davis Dresser was a busy author during the Thirties even before he created one of the iconic fictional private eyes in Mike Shayne in 1939, turning out a number of mysteries and romances under assorted names. LADIES OF CHANCE was written for the lending library publisher Godwin in 1936 under the pseudonym Anthony Scott, then reprinted in digest format in 1949 by Novel Library. The protagonist/narrator Ed Barlow is a hardboiled, two-fisted tabloid newspaper reporter who's come to Miami to bust wide open the story of a gambling ring that's using crooked games to force respectable women into prostitution by getting their IOUs for gambling losses and then blackmailing them. To get the scoop, Barlow has to get close to several of the women involved and insinuate himself into the gang, an effort that more than once finds him getting hot and bothered with some dame or in danger of losing his life to gangsters.

In some ways this novel is very much a dry run for the creation of Mike Shayne a few years later. There's the Miami setting, with a lot of mentions of Flagler Street and Biscayne Bay. Despite being a reporter, since he's undercover Ed Barlow functions very much like a hardboiled private eye, and like Shayne, he's usually two or three steps ahead of everyone else. He even has another reporter who helps him out, like Tim Rourke in the Shayne novels. There's no buddy on the police force like Will Gentry or an official nemesis like Peter Painter, but there is a beautiful young woman named Lucy.

There are certainly some differences, too, though. Barlow is much more of a heel than Shayne, who always followed a rough moral code. In some scenes, Barlow is almost as unsympathetic as the crooks he's after. LADIES OF CHANCE isn't as well plotted as the Shayne novels, either, and the big twist ending won't come as a surprise to anyone. Dresser's usual smooth, fast-paced prose is already on display, though. This book reads really fast and enjoyably. I liked it quite a bit, and if you're a Mike Shayne fan it's well worth reading to see an early prototype of the big redheaded shamus.

In fact, because of the Shayne connection, there's an ebook version of this novel available under the Brett Halliday pseudonym, although it was never published with that name on it until now. That doesn't change the fact that LADIES OF CHANCE is a nice piece of sleazy, hardboiled fun.


George said...

Although Davis Dresser didn't write most of them, I started reading MIKE SHAYNE paperbacks published by DELL back in the early 1960s when I was a 12-year-old kid. Of course the cover artwork (my favorites were by Bob McGinnis) might have had something to do with my attraction to these books.

Paul R. McNamee said...

Helluva cover! :)