BRETT HALLIDAY – She Woke to Darkness. Mike Shayne #25. Torquil/Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1954. Dell #867, paperback, 1956; reprinted as Dell D446, paperback, 1962.

   The 25th case for Michael Shayne, who finally appears in Chapter 11. Since 1938, Shayne arrived in the first sentence of 21 books. I will mention some of the plot in this review, but truthfully, I am compelled to talk about significant changes in Davis Dresser’s writing style; his sudden desire to “crank up” the sexiness and violence in dialog among a lower class of despicable characters.

   Brett Halliday, the major character, attends a Mystery Writer’s Convention in NYC, 1953. In the author’s foreword, Dresser, as Brett, states that Mike Shayne’s “previous 24 books were written in Third person by me”, but now this case has happened to me,’ and in first person. Brett becomes the #1 murder suspect.

   Surrounded by contemporary writers both real and fictitious, Brett overhears harsh criticism, describing him as an ”out-dated old timer”, a hack writer… doubt if he ever reads anything but his own stuff… what a bore that must be”. From peer pressure, style changes begin.

   As usual, the cognac flows throughout pages 11 to 25. This boozing allows Brett to meet his newest admirer, Elsie, the heavy-drinking, hot babe, mystery-writer-wannabe. She’s writing a True Crime murder mystery based on her own horrible experience three months ago, and would Brett please read it to suggest a continuation?

   They go back to her place, Brett gets the original 56-pages, they drink more, kiss more, as Brett begins his new-found romantic style. He lights two cigarettes (a la film Now, Voyager, 1942) “… her eyes dancing, ‘Darling’. It was a long kiss…”. Elsie gets a phone call then kicks Brett out at midnight. Guess who the Police find strangled at 2am?

   Elsie had commented that she read all 24 Shayne mysteries, in order, and considers Mike Shayne, ” …so real, not like Philo Vance (the 1920s-30s fictional crime solver). … Characters like Philo remain so exactly the same book after book, year after year. They never change.”

   Brett’s words here are his own, sarcastic comment upon his Shayne, because for 24 books Shayne is one that has remained the same… and sadly, Dresser knows it. Shayne never develops from his hot-headed ways; his cognac for breakfast, lunch, dinner, cognac before driving and taking Lucy Hamilton’s affections for granted. (Spoiler alert: Readers will see changes in books 25 – 31)

   Halliday now reads Elsie’s first chapters where several cruder types, not found in earlier Shayne novels, are described using their new names, but keeping the true facts in the case.

1. Aline, is Elsie’s new name… “She Woke To Darkness” alone (?) in a hotel bed with a two-dollar bill stuffed in her rolled-down nylons. She’s become a “two-dollar whore,” has alcoholic black outs. She remembers nothing about last evening.
2. Mr. Unknown, an unattractive, dead guy with his throat slashed… on the hotel room floor.
3. Ralph, the suave, ever-horny, ladies’ man.
4. Doris, the plump, blonde, that opens her front door at midnight, for Ralph.
5. Dirk, the (again) alcoholic-black-out, married guy, smooched, then was rejected by Elsie, and he can’t remember anything either.
6. Gerry, who will swear Elsie is guilty of murder, or could her body keep him quiet? New vocabulary: “he pressed his pelvic bone against hers”’ (This was probably pretty racy dialog in 1954.)
7. Brett Halliday, who is described thusly:, “drunk as a coot, has-been loser, one-eyed bastard, He writes those lousy books about a redhead Miami detective.”

   Shayne flies into NYC becoming desperate character #8 because murder suspect #1, Halliday, goes missing. Two murders and now Halliday might be number three? Shayne visits suspects and lays on the new, 1953 charm, “Give me his name or, so help me, sweet Jesus… I’ll kick your face into a pulp that none of your women will ever recognize again.”

   “Tell him…” sobbed Estelle, “He’s capable of anything.”

   Shayne yells, “I’m going to beat his God-damned brains out.” (Yikes, Brett, Mike, the Lord’s name taken in vain? That’s a change!)

   In conclusion, the romance ended in chapter three, everybody lies, and kidnapped Brett is beaten senseless. The cops were stumped, Shayne solves it and Mr. Unknown never spoke a word. Usually the victim has a role somewhere in a Shayne novel… not here.

   Rest assured Readers, these changes affect the next few Dresser novels. After 24 shy novels along the lines of, “she had a small waist, her skirt rose above her knee, her curves…” Those days are over. In #26, Death Has Three Lives, Shayne demonstrates undying love for kidnapped Lucy. Violence abounds in #27, Stranger In Town, Shayne is beaten to a pulp and still kills a guy. #30, Shoot The Works, we meet Kitty and Lola; two of the horniest, hot young ladies yet. But Shayne is still loyal to Lucy.

   Finally, in 1958, Dresser rewrites 1946’s Dinner At Dupré’s, into an expanded version titled, Murder and the Wanton Bride. Dresser ends his writing career with #31, a “Wanton Bride” to surpass all previous babes; more desirable and provocative than any McGinnis cover art. (Chapter 8 is devoted to her.)

   Viva the new 1954-style Brett Halliday!