2 out of 5
The rating is a bit misleading: this is a very readable book. It’s Brett Halliday, and it’s Mike Shayne – the smart-alek, always-planning, in-it-for-a-buck P.I. – but it very much coasts on those values, carried by Halliday’s snappy narration and his characters amusingly laid back way of negotiating through chaos. The story itself, though, is rather cluttered, and disarrayed to the point of being rather uninteresting; Halliday backs himself into a corner of such seemingly disconnected threads that he has to start dropping some final clues in the penultimate chapter, and then do a huge chunk of exposition dump in the concluding chapter. It’s a pretty dissatisfying end, especially considering that we started with a good hook: politician Towne, with whom Shayne has some bad blood, has self-reported his involvement with a traffic accident – he hit a man at a blind corner, then immediately tried to proffer help, but the victim ended up passing away. As a current mayoral candidate, Towne “knew” it was his duty to fess up, and the action has seemingly kept him on the right side of the polls. Shayne’s experience with the man has had him suspect something being up, and he encourages an autopsy which reveals that the deceased was actually dead before Towne hit him; definitely curious.
From there, though, things spiral out in a rather unhurried fashion. Part of Shayne’s shtick may be to roll with the punches, but there are no punches here, just different events happening – other dead bodies pop up with some bizarre details; a sequence of people identifying the victims incorrectly – and while they’re all tangentially linked, those tangentials remain in that status for too long, and without much of a ticking clock to make it feel like it’s all that necessary to tie them together. Shayne is more there out of amusement than anything else, so he bops around at leisure. Again, on one level, this is fine – Halliday knows his character, and it’s definitely fun the way Shayne bullshits his way into learning info, but instead of dripping us clues, Halliday (and Shayne) hold onto almost all of them until those concluding chapters, and the initial oddities of the case start to fade far into the background, piled under the preceding stacking up of the aforementioned tangentials. Combine this garden path-style plotting with the lack of immediate stakes, and it qualifies as a lower-tier mystery; cap it off with that end chapter exposition dump and it comes across as a bit sloppy, unfortunately.
Wrapping back around, though, the book is still a breezy read. It’s just the kind of breeze that, once it’s passed by, maybe you recognize there was a bit of a stink in the air.