BRETT HALLIDAY. Blood on the Black Market (1943).

07 Mar

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. BloodBlackMarket.jpgClem 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.]


Posted by on March 7, 2013 in American, Hard-Boiled, Novel, Puzzle


8 responses to “BRETT HALLIDAY. Blood on the Black Market (1943).

  1. Cavershamragu

    March 8, 2013 at 6:07 AM

    I tried a few Halliday stories in my teens but wasn’t too impressed – the one short story I remember liking was, it later turned out, ghosted by Bill Pronzini! Have you ever seen the 40s movie adaptations starring Lloyd Nolan? They are great fun but Halliday/Dresser had an argument with Fox after the first one the films were instead based on novels by the likes of Clayton Rawson (!) and Raymond Chadler (!!) – apparently the Shane Black film KISS KISS BANG BANG Is also from a Halliday book, “Bodies Are Where You Find Them”, but I don’t know how faithful or not it may be …

    • Mike

      March 8, 2013 at 11:56 AM

      Sergio: “Black Market” is no masterpiece, but it’s definitely a title to consider if you have any inclination to give Halliday another try. Kevin Burton Smith, in the “Michael Shayne” entry on the Thrilling Detective site, calls it “maybe the best book in the series.” I haven’t seen any of the Nolan-as-Shayne flicks. (I love Lloyd Nolan as a character actor, but the notion of him as a leading man or a detective hero is laughable to me.) I have seen “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” and recall liking it quite a bit—although the mise en scene, as I also recall, has almost nothing in common with the world of 1940s detective fiction.

      • Cavershamragu

        March 9, 2013 at 12:57 AM

        The Nolan films are very comedic but great fun – the box set also includes a nice profile of Halliday / Dresser

      • Mike

        March 10, 2013 at 7:59 AM

        Thanks fit the tip, Sergio. I’ve added those discs to my Netflix queue.

  2. Richard

    March 8, 2013 at 8:07 AM

    I like the Shayne novels, and have this one under the later title, still unread. Have to get to that one soon.

    • Mike

      March 8, 2013 at 11:59 AM

      Hi, Richard. This book is the only one that I’ve read so far in the Shayne series. It has a lot going for it, and I could definitely enjoy reading another like it.

  3. John

    March 8, 2013 at 8:47 AM

    Almost off topic here: Did you read the Cunningham book in that Detective Book Club edition? Which one is it? I admire his detective novels. They are so different form anything any other American mystery novelist was writing. A unique voice, a unique viewpoint, and stories about rural Americans during World War 2. They’re fascinating to me. I have yet to find one that is a clunker. There’s always something odd or quirky or even Gothic about them.

    As for Halliday, I’ve only read his wife’s books (Helen McCloy, that is). I started the very first one DIVIDEND ON DEATH but lost interest because it seemed like so many other private eye novels and I think I needed something fresher at the time. Sergio just gave me an idea for a post about Halliday and that movie with Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr.

    • Mike

      March 8, 2013 at 12:06 PM

      John: I’ve seen your posts about Cunningham, and they’ve spurred me to think about giving him a try. The ABC title in that DBC edition is “The Great Yant Mystery,” and that’s probably the one that I’ll delve into first. (The D.B. Hughes book in that triple-decker volume, by the way, is “The Blackbirder,” one of the few titles by her that doesn’t seem to have been reprinted very often.)

      As I’ve pointed out before, I’m a huge Helen McCloy fan. Perhaps it’s not coincidental that Halliday/Dresser, her husband, was—judging by this book, at least—a more careful puzzle plotter than many others who were writing then in the tough-guy-PI genre.


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