From a childhood spent watching (mostly) Grade B mystery movies and early TV detective shows, I have fond memories of Mike Shayne, a private eye fond of the two-fisted, take-no-prisoners approach who was featured in a lot of those movies and TV shows. Somehow, I had never actually read one of Brett Halliday's books about Michael Shayne. I knew "Brett Halliday" was a pen name originally created by a prolific author named Davis Dresser and later licensed for use by other writers. So when Open Road Media and MysteriousPress.com announced plans to publish all the original Dresser/Halliday books about Shayne, I figured it would be a good opportunity to read something a little outside my usual line of traditional puzzle-oriented mysteries and meet up with an old acquaintance.
The first of those books, Dividend on Death, was first published in 1939, and it's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the entire review by clicking here. The story begins when a young woman named Phyllis Brighton walks into Mike Shayne's Miami office and begs him for help: she believes she is going to murder her mother, and she wants him to prevent it. When Shayne tries to refuse, she tries to jump out his office window. He stops her and agrees to help.
Shortly thereafter, he's contacted by other relatives and friends of Phyllis Brighton and her mother, and they too say they want to hire him to keep Phyllis from murdering her mother. By the time Shayne gets to the family home, however, murder has been committed - though the detective refuses to believe that Phyllis Brighton is guilty. And the deeper he digs into the mystery, the more he becomes convinced that there's a great deal more to the plot than just a simple, pointless murder committed by an insane young woman.
It's an interesting - and pretty violent - story, but a lot of the violence really is cartoonish; the image of Shayne, after getting shot (twice), joking with hospital attendants and refusing to let broken bones slow him down, really strains the required suspension of disbelief. As far as clues go, Shayne plays it very close to his vest; while we’re sometimes told , for example, that he had a question to ask someone, he usually asks that question and gets his answer without sharing the information with us. On the other hand, we’re not really talking about puzzles in this kind of story. Certainly Mike Shayne has earned a place among those classic American two-fisted private eyes, and if you enjoy this kind of medium-to-hard-boiled P. I. genre, you owe it to yourself to meet him.
The 2015 Bingo Challenge
We're closing in on the last few titles for remaining categories in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. under way at the My Reader's Block blog, Dividend on Death is my entry for the square (fourth row, fourth column) calling for one book outside my comfort zone.