When its trying to be a pulpy crime novel, its good. When its trying to make a message or two about prejudices, injustices within the criminal system and society in general this book is about as subtle as a sledgehammer.
I’ve read quite a few Michael Shayne mysteries over the years. They’re mostly brain candy whose plots you’ll forget within a day of reading the last page. Davis Dresser wrote them during the 40s and 50s. At their best they were competent mysteries. At their worst they ranged from ridiculous to dull.
The most ridiculous aspect of the books always wound up being Shayne himself – an arrogant know-it-all who always radiated macho bravado. Women adored him. Cops worshiped him. And those that didn’t always seemed to eventually get punched by him should the plot call for Shayne to briefly become a murder suspect. And he’d always skate on those charges (of roughing up cops, that is).
By the early 60s, various house authors took over, still writing under the Brett Halliday name. The most prolific was Robert Terrall. Terrall was a decent writer (seek out his Ben Gates novels). I’d already read a handful of his Mike Shayne novels and they’re generally better. Shayne is more human, more fallible without losing his toughness.
But – holy cow let me get to the point – this book. Tonal shift, is what surprised me. Seriously. If you’ve got the time, go read one of Dresser’s efforts from the 40s. And then read Blue Murder. You’ll get whiplash.
The series had always been a bit PG-rated. There was violence, sure, but nothing gratuitous. And whatever sex there was always happened “offscreen”. Shayne fights the good fight, clobbers the baddies like the comic book character he bordered on and ends the book laughing over a glass of cognac with his his ‘best gal’ and his pals.
Enter the 70s. Blue Murder is set in the pornographic film industry. To solve the mystery, Shayne effortlessly insinuates himself with the adult movie crowd, shares more than a joint or two while asking questions, and even sleeps with a porno film actress. In another chapter, a suspect tries to walk away from him. So Shayne calmly pulls out his gun and shoots him in the leg (the “war era” Shayne would have just tackled him). This book is gritty and sometimes dirty. Shayne is a bit of an amoral guy. People drop the f bomb! More than once!
Lest you think I’m a pearl-clutching prude – I’m not. I was so happy from cover to filthy cover.
(I should probably also mention that this book was the basis for Shane Black’s The Nice Guys.)
I had previously avoided the late Mike Shayne novels from the 70s solely because of the bad photo covers. What a silly reason. Now I’m going to track down as many as I can find.