Brett Halliday was the pen-name of Davis Dresser. One of the most prolific pulp writers in the crime genre. He wrote under a slew of pen-names (he pulled of some westerns and romances to boot). I chose to write about Dresser under his Halliday pen-name, because it is the Mike Shayne mysteries that I consider his most influential.
As a boy, Dresser lost an eye to a barbwire fence and wore an eye-patch for the majority of his life. Like Chandler and Hammett before him, Dresser failed at many odd jobs. Also, like Chandler and Hammett, Dresser used his failed jobs to lend a realism to his later writing. He was a muleskinner, farmhand, freighter deckhand, and worked in the California oilfields before going to college and earning a civil engineering degree.
1939 saw the publication of the first of many Mike Shayne novels, Dividend on Death. The book was rejected by twenty-one publishers, before getting published by Holt and Company. The 50 Shayne novels (many by other commissioned writers) were highly successful, leading to a 1940’s radio show, a TV show, and twelve movies.
The books often had Shayne stumbling through a crime which seemed unsolvable. Shayne would gather the suspects together to explain the crime and unmask the culprit. The early books generally had a fair bit of humor, but by the eighth book, the tone became more somber and the humor all but vanished.
Shayne was a bit of an arrogant hot-head (ascribed to his Irish heritage and red-hair). He wasn’t as smart as Chandler’s Marlowe and he wasn’t as tough as Hammett’s Continental Op. He was a PI struggling to get by and often taking cases he shouldn’t or getting roped into situations he didn’t want to be part of.
Dividend on Death (1939 – Not the best, but the first in the series).
Bodies are Where You Find Them (1941)
Blood on the Black Market (1943 – Heads You Lose)
Blood on Biscayne Bay (1946)
When Dorinda Dances (1951)