Showing posts with label Mike Shayne. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mike Shayne. Show all posts

Monday, March 29, 2021

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 84

Welcome to Paperback Warrior Episode 84! Our feature this week is Robert Terrall, who wrote mysteries as Robert Kyle, John Gonzales, and Brett Halliday. Also discussed: Nursing Noir, Manhunt Companion, E. Howard Hunt, Robert Bloch and more! Listen on your favorite podcast app or or download directly HERE

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Listen to "Episode 84: Robert Terrall" on Spreaker.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Mike Shayne #01 - Dividend on Death

It's no secret that Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer series was an empire. It's like the KISS of crime-fiction and by the late 1940s Spillane and Hammer boosted the genre to lofty commercial heights. Detective fiction was real cool...again. But, a decade before, a guy named Davis Dresser had done the same.

Dresser's Mike Shayne character was a media phenomenon. Beginning with the character's debut in 1939's Dividend on Death, Dresser, using the pseudonym Brett Halliday, penned fifty novels through 1958. The series forged 12 films, three decades of magazines, over 300 short-stories, comics, nine years of radio and 32-episodes of NBC television. Not that anyone is counting...but after Dresser's departure the book series continued for another 27 installments. That's remarkable considering Dividend on Death was reportedly refused by 21 publishers before finally being finding a home. Unfamiliar with the character, I chanced on a copy of Dividend on Death and spent the night with it.

While the series debut doesn't reveal much backstory, Shayne is a red-headed, Miami private-eye. Like most of his literary peers, Shayne is a heavy drinker and smoker who enjoys mingling with the ladies. Mixing business with pleasure is his M.O., and occasionally he can rely on his friendship with Miami Police Chief Will Gentry to ease him out of the most complex jams. In this first case presented to readers, Dresser creates a conundrum for Shayne and Gentry to navigate together. 

A young woman named Phyllis drops in on Shayne and asks him for a rather odd job. Phyllis' mother is arriving at the family's Miami mansion and Phyllis wants Shayne to keep her from killing her own mother. The client suffers from a fixation that makes her want to kill her own mother to keep from sharing her with her new stepfather. Shayne takes the case but later finds Phyllis wandering around in the dark mansion with blood on her nightgown. A further probe shows that Phyllis' mother has indeed been murdered and Phyllis is the likely suspect. But here's the curveball: Shayne quickly scoops up Phyllis and drops her at his own apartment - including the bloody knife! Any reader would feel Phyllis is guilty as sin, but Shayne draws a different conclusion.

Dividend on Death was excellently written for 1939. For 2020 readers, I feel that Dresser's voice hasn’t aged as well as Mickey Spillane, Frank Kane, Ross MacDonald or even Richard Prather for that matter. This early novel comes across in a pulpy style that reminded me of the Golden Age detectives. I enjoy stuff like The Avenger, Green Lama and Doc Savage because I know what I'm getting. Dividend on Death took me by surprise in its rudimentary story-telling. Shayne is beaten senseless, shot four times, hides Phyllis from the very people that want to help him and her, including the city's police chief. Shayne seemingly steers completely off-road when he doesn't have to. These things don't necessarily ruin the story, but they certainly don't elevate the hero to a heightened sense of alertness and heroic turpitude. Maybe that's the whole point – screwball clumsiness meets investigative hunches. Like Shell Scott.

As a new Mike Shayne reader, I have an entire universe to explore. I'm not going to saddle my criticism, disappointment and lack of enjoyment on the fact that Dividend on Death wasn't a fabulous book. It probably isn't a fabulous representation of Dresser's voice and the style that he attained after numerous novels. If there is a short-list of Shayne’s greatest paperback hits, I'd entertain a deeper dive. For now, I respect the character, enjoyed witnessing Dresser's developing talents and appreciate what the Shayne character has contributed to the success of the crime-fiction genre.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Monday, June 8, 2020

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 47

On Paperback Warrior Episode 47, we explore the multimedia empire of Private Eye Michael Shayne and review a rare Harry Whittington book from 1959. Join the discussion on your favorite podcast app, stream below or download directly HERE: Listen to "Episode 47: Mike Shayne" on Spreaker.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Mike Shayne #65 - Last Seen Hitchhiking

Mike Shayne began his life as a fictional private detective in a 1939 novel written by David Dresser under the pseudonym of Brett Halliday. After about 50 novels by Dresser, the series was handed over to a number of ghostwriters including Robert Terrall, who also wrote the Ben Gates mysteries under the pen name of Robert Kyle. As Mike Shayne was nearing the end of his run in 1974, Terrall authored the 65th novel-length installment, Last Seen Hitchhiking, a book that takes Shayne to some very dark places.

Meri Gillespie is a 23 year-old grad student hitchhiking north from Miami - a mode of transportation she’s been using without incident since she was 14. She ignores news reports of a maniac killing female hitchhikers on Florida highways and takes a ride from a sour-smelling young man. Just her luck, he injects poor Meri with a needle rendering her unconscious in the passenger seat of his station wagon.

Meri awakens naked and strapped to what appears to be a gynecologist’s examination table with her feet belted into stirrups. The kidnapper explains that he is a med student seeking to use Meri in his own research involving human sexuality - specifically unlocking the female orgasm with an unwilling participant. If you’re gathering that this is a bit more graphic and extreme than Michael Shayne circa 1945, you’d be right. The scenes where Meri is forced to submit to her captor’s wishes are far more graphic than we normally read in vintage crime paperbacks. Consider yourself warned.

Before getting kidnapped, Meri had been banging her college professor (consensually), and the relationship had gone south. As Meri was leaving to hitchhike to an ex-boyfriend’s place in Fort Myers, she stole a valuable artifact of great academic significance from the professor who hires a female private investigator named Frieda to recover the artifact. The lady gumshoe quickly learns that Meri never made it to Fort Myers and brings Mike Shayne into the case suspecting foul play on the highway. After all, there’s a maniac in Florida snatching up female hitchhikers.

The Florida Highway Patrol has been notified of Meri’s disappearance, but it doesn’t seem like they’re doing much. Working as partners, Mike and Freida trace logical leads to see if Meri’s disappearance was a targeted attack by someone looking to obtain the valuable artifact that Meri swiped from the professor. It’s an interesting literary tactic because the reader is told in the opening chapters the precise awfulness that actually befell the young coed - making the normal investigation seemingly fruitless. How will Mike and Freida connect the dots to find the creepy sex-researcher holding Meri and the artifact?

The story regarding the sex-fiend kidnapper of hitchhikers was awesome. It was a fantastically perverted cat and mouse game. The subplot about the missing artifact was a distraction that felt like filler to me. It was a weird dichotomy to have Shayne so concerned about an archaeological treasure and be seemingly unconcerned about the missing hitchhikers for much of the paperback. Interestingly, Freida was one of the best female detectives I can ever remember reading. She far outshines Shayne in his own book.

Despite these reservations, I still thought Last Seen Hitchhiking was a pretty good Mike Shayne installment. I’ve always found Shayne to be rather generic, and this one was no different in that regard. The biggest asset for the novel was a villain who will really make your skin crawl, so this late-series installment is an easy, if not full-throated, recommendation.