Saturday, April 18, 2020

Target: Mike Shayne (Brett Halliday, 1959)

End of the hiatus, I'm back! Plenty of time to kill in these strange covid-19 times and besides, I've been missing the quiet nights in the company of my good friends Arthur Guinness, Joe Camel, Tom Waits and such. So let's make social distancing fun again!

The good old gumshoe Michael Shayne is as good as anyone to help me restart this blog. I keep chasing these books on eBay because of their incredible McGinnis' covers and keep reading them even though for the most part they turn out to be pretty lame. Especially the latter additions to the series - when they were penned out by god knows which ghostwriter - in my experience vary a lot in quality. With 200+ pages this one is pretty hefty so I was a bit reluctant to pick it up. But as usual, I was eventually persuaded by the voluptuous blonde giving me looks from the bookshelf.

Glad I did and happy now to report that the book's length is more than justified because it covers two intertwining stories. They both revolve around an ex-con who's planning a heist but at the same time also dividing his attention to plot a murder of certain private detective who had put him into the slammer.

The heist part is great. It's not the usual bank or armored car job but a high-stake private poker game on the top floor of some luxurious hotel which makes it a bit more elaborate and the author puts a good effort in describing just enough details of our teams' preparation and execution. Which goes reasonably smoothly and they actually manage to pull it off! There's a cool detail during the heist that reminded me of Melville's Bob le Flambeur when Clayton (he's the inside man) gets on the roll with the dice and starts winning big time. Don't know, maybe our mysterious ghostwriter also saw the movie and got inspired. It was released only three years before this book was published.

But the team of misfits makes it special: along with Clayton, there’s a femme-fatale past her prime (both of them with the "one last job" attitude) and a trigger-happy and a bit psychotic kid. A well-known template that was perfected a couple of decades later by the likes of Elmore Leonard and Charles Willeford, but it really works well here too. The shifting alliances and relationships between the three of them are sometimes more compelling than the job itself. Good stuff indeed.
What ruins it for me is our main man himself. Shayne is kind of a Mike Hammer's distant cousin and so excessive drinking and conservative macho persona do come along with the territory. And we've got used to this. Fine. But in this one, his "lone wolf against the system" attitude is driven to absurdly and even comical extremes. His dogged determination goes as crazy as beating the cops (twice!) and in the final showdown he literally uses his wheelchair as a weapon. It stopped being funny after 50 pages and became simply annoying for the remaining 150+.

But all in all, this one is an interesting addition to the series. Also, to be fair, it does have a cool identity swap twist at the end that I didn't see coming. And now, when this one is off the shelf, I can see another beauty smiling straight at me. So stay tuned.

3.5/5

Facts:

Hero:
"You seem to know Miami pretty well," he said. "Is Shayne still around?"
"Who?" she asked sleepily.
"Mike Shayne, the fearless, incorruptible, two-fisted private eye."

And then a tall, rangy figure came out of the hotel. His shoulders were wide and powerful, and he had the narrow hips and long legs of an athlete. His face was deeply lined. Even before she saw the red hair Miriam knew that this was Mike Shayne.


Dames:
Barring Shayne's faithful secretary and love interest Lucy, Miriam is the only woman in this one. I'm including the back cover scan but that description doesn't really do her justice. I found her to be a quite complex and likable character.

Location:
Miami

Body count:
Only 2. Possibly another one as Clayton is badly injured and doctors don't know if he will survive.

Object of desire:
For Clayton - killing Shayne while getting some money and eventually going away with Miriam
For Miriam - getting some money at first but at the end simply keeping Clayton 
For Fran - killing some people

Blackouts:
None less than on three occasions. During the climax, he first gets shot point-blank in his side with a dummy bullet but he's such a tough guy that it doesn't put him out yet. But the next bullet, this one to his head (and obviously dummy too), does the job and "The night closed down around him".

Once he's in the hospital and interrogated by the cops, he blacks out due to the exhaustion: "Shayne could feel the mists beginning to close in around him again."

Finally, he loses consciousness after his semi-successful wheelchair attack when he's totally exhausted from the fight and preceding chase. This one is also pretty straightforward: "He felt a violent explosion behind his eyes."

Title: 
Clayton holds a grudge against Shayne for putting him in prison thirteen years ago. Now he’s out and it’s payback time.

Dedicated to:
“For Leah and Lee with Love”

Blame it on covid-19 psychosis, but I actually did some sleuthing myself trying to find out who the author is. From this very informative page on Shayne I got the list of ghostwriters and then checked their biographies for kids or spouses or friends named Leah and Lee. Came up with nothing. So far...


Edition:
Dell D355, first printing - June 1960

Cover:
Another gorgeous and iconic illustration by Bob McGinnis. Amazing job that must have substantially accelerated the sales (it definitely made me buy it). And am I right in thinking that it was actually used as a cover for one of those books on paperbacks publishing history?

Cool lines:
As he crouched on the floor, his forehead was on a level with her automatic. He started to bring up the tommy gun. She shot him between the eyes.

1 comment:

  1. I own all 70 SHAYNE titles, plus books that have one Shayne story among a collection of detective mysteries.
    YOUR descriptions and comments here are very good, thank you. If you chose this book for its cover, then I recommend, "Marked For Murder", DELL D291, June 1959; it has almost the same woman in another red dress! Another blonde kills 3 guys and shoots Tim Rourke as well.
    I have a list of 21 books ghosted by Robert Terrall, if you're interested. And I have made the true list of all 70 books in order; so many errors online for this list!

    ReplyDelete