Michael Brett (1921-2000) was the author of the ten-book Pete McGrath detective series in the 1960s and a regular contributor to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. It’s a little confusing because there were other mystery writers from the same era who utilized the name Michael Brett as a pseudonym, but the guy who wrote the Pete McGrath books was actually Michael Brett, the genuine article.
Before the success of his flagship series, Brett authored two crime novels starring a bald bookmaker named Sam Dakkers. Both were published in 1959 as Ace Doubles (inconveniently not paired together) under the name Mike Brett. Same guy, I promise. The first was titled Scream Street and the second was The Guilty Bystander, reviewed below.
Sam Dakkers is an sports bookmaker, a convicted felon, and a rather funny first-person narrator. One night he meets a loopy chick in a bar and winds up at her place. Right as he’s closing the deal, her apartment buzzer goes starts frantically buzzing. She says it’s probably her violent mobster boyfriend, and Sam makes for the fire escape. As he’s working his way down to the alley, he hears the gunshots from the girl’s apartment.
So, we’re dealing with a pretty basic and commonplace murder mystery setup here. The cops initially suspect Sam. The real killer is trying to kill Sam. Sam needs to save his hide by solving the case. This dire setup doesn’t prevent the author from thrusting Sam into several comedic set pieces with mistaken identities, sexy babes, and the like. Nothing hilarious, but often amusing. The central mystery is wrapped up tidily in a little more than a hundred pages with no heavy lifting involved for the reader.
Some books are fine dining. Others are cotton candy. The Guilty Bystander was the latter. The writing was simple and straightforward - never flashy but serviceable. The narrator was a lovable oaf surrounded by archetypes you’ve seen before in better novels. Despite its lack of distinction, I genuinely enjoyed the little book. It was an easy read to pass the time between more substantial novels. Sometimes cotton candy does the trick.
Both of the Sam Dakkers novels have been reprinted as trade paperbacks by Armchair Fiction (again, as doubles) for modern audiences. I enjoyed The Guilty Bystander just enough that I ordered Scream Street. Watch this space for a review sometime this decade.
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