May 25th, 2014

The Librarian

Another one off the to-read pile

Well, off the sitting in the unread file in my Kobo, really.

Just finished the last few chapters of Brett Halliday's Murder is my business, which is the tenth volume of the Mike Shayne mystery series (and the only title in the series currently in print ... in both paper and ebook editions ... having been re-released recently as part of a classic crime novel revival). My love of Halliday's Shayne stories goes back to my teens ... Mom owned (well, still does) a copy of What really happened (hers has the MUCH nicer fifties cover) and it was just so VERY different from any other mystery book that I'd ever read, hard-boiled detective or otherstyle. I can look back and know now that this was due to a mix of damned good storytelling and the fact that Mike Shayne was a much more developed and rounded character than those in most other books ... appearing in 77 novels plus numerous short stories will do that for a guy. Unfortunately, by the time I'd discovered this book, Halliday and his creation seemed to be pretty much forgotten, by bookstores, libraries and publishers (rather surprising considering the previous popularity of the series ... along with the print tales there'd been a "Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine" which was published for decades, numerous movies, multiple radio series and a television series)

Fast forward many many years over which I'd always kept an eye out for more Halliday titles with very little luck; it was only after I moved to Calgary in 2003 that I found a trove of the books, many with those distinctive painted cover illustrations, in a secondhand bookstore. Happy, happy me! My collection is far from complete ... only 23 titles ... but what I've got is nicely spread over the entire series, giving a good picture of Shayne's print existence, and I've been lucky enough to acquire the landmark-in-Shayne's-personal-life volumes. That first teenage impression was correct ... Mike Shayne was quite different from his fellow hard-boiled detective contemporaries ... probably why the book series ran the length it did. He was well-read, had a wicked sense of humour, and he wasn't contemptuous of women. Most of the novels are set in Miami, Florida; they cover his first encounter with his future wife (in the first novel), his marriage, Phyllis' death in childbirth (the baby also died) in the eighth and a devastated Shayne living in his office because he can't bear to go into their apartment (he keeps paying the rent, he just refuses to live there), moving the P.I. business to New Orleans where he takes on a secretary named Lucy Hamilton who he very slowly develops a relationship with, and eventually moving back to Miami with Lucy coming along to continue as secretary/receptionist. There's a vast difference in the two women in his life ... both intelligent, funny, and good company, but Phyllis was more domestic while Lucy is a scrappy little thing half his age and size who doesn't hesitate to get right in Mike's face and tell him exactly what she thinks of him and whatever he's up to (Mike starts out scared of any involvement with Lucy, afraid he'll lose her too, but they at least got to the dating stage before the series wound up). The mysteries themselves are always tight and well-plotted and each fits into the times and events of the year they were written including pre-, during, and post- WW2 politics, rationing, military security/espionage, etc. when such things were issues in RL; despite their being very much stories of their times, they also have a timeless quality which makes them continue to be good reads many decades afterwards.

In a nutshell, they're good! And someday I hope I'll manage to put together a complete set of the books ... that'd be such a joy to read through in order. :-)

From "Murder is my business" (which takes place during the New Orleans era, so the early days of Mike/Lucy):
Lucy came in a few minutes later and stopped in front of his desk with her hands belligerently on her hips. "You certainly let Captain Denton put a sweet one over on you this time. Just forget about the expenses, Mrs. Delray. Where are we going to get next month's office rent?"
Shayne grinned and opened a drawer to get out a bottle of cognac and two four-ounce glasses. "We've still got a drink left. Relax and have one with me."
"As long as you've got a drink of cognac, you don't think about expenses," she charged, her brown eyes blazing with wrath.
Shayne's grin widened. He poured one glass full and looked at her inquiringly. She shook her head and took a backward step. "You just want to get me woozy so I won't mind if you go off on a trip to El Paso."
He lifted his glass and arched his eyebrows at her. "Why, Lucy. I didn't realize you would mind."
"I don't. Not the way you think. I hate to see you fall for a sob story like that. No wonder Captain Denton told her you could be had cheaply."