Don’t you know there’s a war on? Mike Shayne certainly does. He’s the raw-boned, redheaded super-sleuth who makes the center hold in this tale of multiple murder and antically multiplying suspects, all set against the backdrop of the World War II homefront. Clem Wilson, an acquaintance of Shayne’s, phones the Miami-based private eye late at night from the filling station that he owns, out on the Tamiami Trail. The call has barely begun, and Shayne has barely woken up, when he hears a shot ring out on the other end of the line. Driving through dimmed-out streets, he rushes to the filling station and finds its proprietor dead. What ensues is a daylong, harum-scarum adventure in which Shayne follows a big, fat hunch: Wilson’s killing, he surmises, can be traced to various shenanigans that surround the black market in ration-limited gasoline. Shayne despises gas racketeers, just as he despises an army deserter who figures in the plot, and his commentary on those subjects reads like government-issue propaganda. Halliday’s prose, likewise, is mostly a blunt instrument. Yet it serves to move his hero swiftly through many complications and several violent encounters, and finally to a neat, satisfying wrap-up.
[ADDENDUM: Postwar editions of Blood on the Black Market appeared with the title Heads You Lose, presumably so that it would seem less dated—less a relic of the early war years. But this book appealed to me precisely because of its title, and precisely because it so well evokes a very specific moment in history. I don’t have the Dell Mapback edition pictured here (which is too bad, since this tale is one in which having a crime map would definitely come in handy), but I do have a nifty Detective Book Club edition that also includes novels by A.B. Cunningham and Dorothy B. Hughes.]