Sun 24 Feb 2008
BRETT HALLIDAY – Tickets for Death.
Dell 8885; paperback reprint. 1st printing, new Dell edition, July 1965; cover art by Robert McGinnis. Hardcover first edition: Henry Holt & Co., 1941. Several other paperback editions, including Dell 387 (mapback); cover art by Robert Stanley.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a Mike Shayne private eye novel, and I think I’d forgotten how hard-boiled a guy he was. Back in 1941, Shayne was a two-fisted detective in the Dashiell Hammett-Black Mask mode, a bit derivative, maybe, but by no means a fellow to mess around with.
Take pages 24 and 25, for example — a very early event in this case centered around a sudden influx of counterfeit racetrack tickets. Shayne and his wife have just registered in a hotel, when he’s called down to another room. Something triggers his suspicions, and he goes in ready for action. Within four paragraphs the two hoodlums in the room are slumped on the floor dead. Shayne himself is injured, but “It was only a flesh wound.” Naturally.
Nor does the wound hamper his range of action for the remainder of the night. And there is a lot of action, and during the midst of it, Shayne runs into a lot of characters that both he and the reader have to keep constant track of:
There is a pint-sized newspaper editor who seems to delight on rousing up stories. There is the owner of a disreputable night club just outside the city limits. There is a cop who, while not perhaps crooked, is heavily beholden to the criminal elements in town. There is the manager of the race track, and there is a girl who tries to frame Shayne up in the old badger game. There is another girl who knows something and tries to entice Shayne into paying her for what she knows. There is a shyster of a lawyer who is trying (among other activities) is trying to get the inventor of a new camera gimmick to sign the rights over to him.
And there is Phyllis, who (at the time of this story) is married to Mike Shayne. Having a wife on hand is an interesting twist added to a tale of a hard-drinking private investigator, but (apparently) there are only so many twists that an author can manufacture from the concept — and marriage vows really have to tie a guy down a lot — and Phyllis soon disappeared from Shayne’s long life in fiction.
What’s remarkable is not so much any of the above, but that out of the tangled morass of a plot (as indicated above) the author Brett Halliday makes a coherent mystery novel out of it. Most (if not all) of the confusion that the tangled non-stop motion and literary sleight-of-hand is eventually unraveled, and neatly so. Good work all around.
[UPDATE.] 02-24-08. I’ve read a few other Mike Shayne novels since Tickets for Death. In fact, the very next book I read (back in the year 2000) was one. Look for my comments about it here sometime within the next couple of days.
As for Phyllis, I’ve done some investigating on my own, and I have the answer. In Brett Halliday’s own words (well in the words of Davis Dresser, who ought to know), taken from The Great Detectives, by Otto Penzler (Little, Brown, 1978):
“20th Century Fox bought The Private Practice of Michael Shayne as a movie to star Lloyd Nolan and gave me a contract for a series of movies starring Nolan as Shayne. For this they paid me a certain fee for each picture starring Shayne, promising me an additional sum for each book of mine used in the series.
“I finally inquired as to the reason from Hollywood and was told it was because Shayne and Phyllis were married and it was against their policy to use a married detective.
“Faced with this fact of life, I decided to kill off Phyllis to leave Shayne a free man for succeeding movies. This I did between Murder Wears a Mummer’s Mask and Blood on the Black Market (later reprinted in soft cover as Heads You Lose).
“With the movies no longer a factor, in my next book, Michael Shayne’s Long Chance, I took Shayne on a case to New Orleans where he met Lucile Hamilton and she took the place of Phyllis as a female companion. I brought her back to Miami with Shayne as his secretary, and in that position she has remained since.”
“I don’t know exactly what the situation is between Shayne and Lucy Hamilton. They are good comrades and she works with him on most of his cases, but I don’t think Shayne will ever marry again. He often takes Lucy out to dinner, and stops by her apartment for a drink and to talk, and she always keeps a bottle of his special cognac on tap.”
[BONUS.] From a website called www.bookscans.com I have found an image of the back cover I will add here at the end. Why have a map of the mystery available, and not use it?