Dividend on Death is the first Michael Shayne novel by Brett Halliday. In it, eighteen-year-old rich girl Phyllis Brighton tries to hire Shayne to protect her mother by watching Phyllis to ensure she doesn’t kill her. A psychologist wants Shayne to work for him for a similar reason. However, the mother is dead by the time Shayne arrives, and he takes on the task of sorting things out.
Having read many of the later Shayne books from the 1950s, I have to admit this book surprised me. The professional detective who is assisted by a loyal secretary and a reporter friend is nowhere to be seen in this book. Rather, he comes off as a bit of a poor man’s Sam Spade mixed with the roughneck redhead private eye that inspired Halliday to write Shayne. You don’t see much of the charm that made the best Lloyd Nolan Michael Shayne films so enjoyable. This book does explain what might have inspired the worst Nolan film, Dressed to Kill. In, Dividend on Death, Shayne is the uncharming, evidence-destroying oaf of that picture. There’s a sense that Halliday is trying too hard to be hard-boiled in his first detective novel.
That’s not to say it’s all bad. The plot is quite intricate and the solution is clever. The story has some good moments that foreshadow the type of Shayne stories that would come in the future, but it’s not quite there yet. If you’ve read Shayne books before, it’s an interesting curiosity as to how the character began, but if you’re new to the character, I don’t recommend this as it may give a distorted view of what the series will be like.
Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0
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