"Have you got a line on the corpse?" Rourke asked. "I can't help wondering where she'll turn up next."
"Bodies are where you find them," said Shayne cheerfully.
The cover above is of the book I read for this review. Due to a recent surge in collectors buying pulp novels mainly for the cover art, prices have skyrocketed. Not only for first printings, but for any pulp covers. It has been a long time since I've read a book this fragile. The book is intact, but I was fully aware that one shift in my posture at an inopportune time and I would crack the binding. The collector in me was almost tempted to wear white gloves, but this is a hard boiled detective novel and it simply wouldn't do.
I've never read a Brett Halliday before, so this was my first introduction to the red headed Irish detective with the long arms and the rough demeanor. This is book five in the series and he has put his skirt chasing days behind him and married a fine young lady who seems to have him on the straight and narrow, well straighter maybe. I was looking forward to reading a detective novel with a happily married detective as most of the pulps focus on an independent, lonely detective that drinks too much, but Halliday promptly ships the wife off to NY and she disappears after only a few pages. Counter to the normal image of a private detective living in near squalor, Mike actually lives in a nice apartment, and has enough money that he can comfortably place a $5,000 bet at a pivotal point in the novel.
Now Michael does drink, in fact he drinks a lot. His drink of choice is Martell Cognac.
I still remember the first time I drank cognac. I was working for Roy P. Jensen out of New Jersey selling remainder books. My territory was Denver West and at the time I lived in Phoenix. Now Roy had always told me not to be shy about buying myself a nice meal at the end of a day. I could have contributed this to the fact that I had quadrupled sales for him out of the Western United States, but I really believed that Roy himself enjoyed a good meal and would often call me up after he would get my receipts and ask me for culinary details about a meal I'd had.
I was in San Francisco and the fog had rolled in bringing a chill with it. I was wearing my London Fog trench coat and it was beaded with moisture. The waiter slid the coat from my shoulders and disappeared into the back with it probably because he didn't want me dripping all over the elegant carpeting. This was a swank joint, full of beautiful people with expensive haircuts. The women wore dresses that probably cost more than my car. I didn't order. The waiter just started bringing me courses of food which now I don't remember exactly what I ate, but at the end of the meal the waiter suggested a warmed cognac to take the cold from my bones. It was on the tip of my tongue to ask him what such a concoction would cost me, but some semblance of how things are done manifested itself in my mind.
He brought it out to me in a wide bell shaped snifter that nestled warmly into my hand like the nubile bottom of a.... The amber liquor glowed in the glass and I swirled it watching the rich liquor leave a tinted trail along the edges of the glass. It felt like I poured it straight into my bloodstream. I could feel it moving through my body nestling somewhere in my groin. I nursed that glass loving each new burst of flavor on my tongue. It was a religious experience. When I got the bill I didn't really care what everything had cost. Although I did care a bit more when Roy calls me up and begins the conversation by saying... $40 for a glass of cognac? I started to explain to him that it was more than a glass of cognac. It was a life changing civilizing moment for me, but I just said...Roy let me pay for that one.
Now I still drink cognac, usually in the winter time, after a heavy meal, but Shayne drinks cognac morning, noon and night. He actually believes he does his best thinking while he is sloshed. When he hits a rough patch and the case is coming down around his ears he knows what the problem is. "I've stayed too sober on this case. That's what's wrong. You know my brain cells don't circulate without stimulation.
Well of course the trouble all begins when a girl shows up just as Shayne is preparing to leave on vacation with his wife. She is inebriated/drugged and passes out before she can tell Shayne what she is there to tell him. He hides her in the bedroom, from his wife, and takes his wife to the train station explaining he will catch up with her in NY later. When he returns the girl is dead, strangled to death in his own bed. Now Shayne has put enough other people in the frame to know what it feels like to be in the frame.
Miami Beach is days away from elected the next mayor. Shayne has backed one candidate and he is sure the other candidate is behind the frame as a way to discredit their campaign. He enlists the aid of his friend Timothy Rourke, a newspaper report that has benefited from his association with Shayne, to help him move the body. The body, when they return, is missing.
As Shayne continues to investigate to clear his name he finds himself up to his neck in dirty political dealing, murder, irate husbands, drugged wives,heavy fisted thugs administering bruises, car crashes, and bodies that keep showing up where they are not supposed to be. As he adds up the clues he is often wrong in his summations, but not because he was incorrect, but because he didn't have all the facts. He is more than willing to fix evidence to fit the facts as he sees them reminding me of the Orson Welles detective in Touch of Evil
.Brett Halliday wearing the eye patch he wore since a childhood incident with barb wire.
In the back of the book there was a short bit about the real life detective that Halliday based Michael Shayne on which I found very interesting. It certainly added further weight to the Shayne character. I'm long past the days when I can stand a steady diet of pulp novels, but spending time racing around Miami Beach evaluating clues, feeling the desperation of being on the run, and taking the punches along with Shayne made for a very nice Sunday afternoon.