Wednesday, September 3, 2008

"Heads You Lose"

"A conscience is a luxury no private dick can afford."

Mike Shayne from "Heads You Lose," page 46.

Before "Hammer" became the detective name most synonymous with "Mike" and way before Horatio Caine perpendicularly sidled up to people, to pelt them with bad puns and clichés, there was another Mike that had the red-headed crime fighting market cornered, Mike Shayne.

This book was given to me by the Baroness and "Heads You Lose" is a reprint of the 1943 story "Blood On The Black Market." This was the eighth Mike Shayne story to be printed, according to the Brett Halliday forward. So in a sense, the 1950's cover can throw a reader's expectations off, though not me, I read it with open mind in terms of wanting to soak up the era.

The history buff/dilettante in me feasted on all the details of WWII black outs, gas rationing, the old speed limits (which would've drove me out of my skull, 35 mph on Florida's highways???) and black marketeers.

Mike Shayne likes a sip of cognac...or four and he tugs his earlobe in this book, almost as many times as Carol Burnette typically did in one season. You can see Dashiell Hammett's influence on Halliday. Shayne puts the booze away like Nick and Nora did, though unlike them, he didn't have quite as many quips, bon mots, and he was lacking a dog. He made moves on one character's wife while that character was still in the room, just like Ned Beaumont. And Shayne tried to pit good and evil against each other...though he didn't manage with quite the same finesse as Ned did.

Other observations-

In "Heads You Lose," the Miami Dade Police Department sure has absolutely no reservations about drinking while on the job.

Everbody in this book seems to have a two cigarette pack-a-day habit.

Bad editing strikes again! Cointreau is not wine, mon Dieu!

Spoiler! You have to highlight it with your mouse to read it(cool, a "The Usual Suspects" ending!)
My second favorite bit of dialogue is...

"You're a fool," she said drearily. "We could have had so much, but you're afraid to believe in anything. You're cursed with the need to look beneath the surface for a hidden motive. I feel sorry for you."

Shayne's laugh was sardonic. "Hidden motives are my meat," he confessed.


Baroness von Bloggenschtern said...


Just like the Hardy Boys was a market ploy for boys to girls' Nancy Drew, this sounds like Harlequin-for-Guys.

Although, I have to admit, the quotes were SO definitely worth the price of admission! Who doesn't love a bit of bad writing? (I'm thinking Mr. Halliday won one or two "It was a dark and stormy night" contests back in the day...

Cormac Brown said...


Thank you very much for the book and a "Harlequin-for-guys?"

Absolutely and it was the good kind of bad, more potboiler than hardboiled. Apparently the women in Halliday's novels were what was "dark and stormy."