Category: Book Review

Book Review: The Private Practice of Michael Shayne

The Michael Shayne that appeared in his first book, Dividend on Death has little resemblance to the character as he’d come to be known in film, television, and future books. In the second book, The Private Private Practice of Michael Shayne, the later character begins to emerge.

The book features the close friendship and partnership between Shayne and reporter Tim Rourke, which was a hallmark of the series. In addition, Shayne shows a bit of character and humanity in trying to ward off an ambitious young lawyer from an unethical deal. The barely grown Phyllis Brighton returns from the first book and Shayne steps in (against her wishes) to save her from crooked gamblers. There’s a bit of reluctant romance that begins to develop between Shayne and Phyllis and it’s handled nicely and believably.

To be clear, he’s not Philip Marlowe, certainly not as mopey and world-weary. The character is plenty of fun and has a lighter, comedic flare. The plot of this book was used as one of the major inspirations for the first Shayne movie starring Lloyd Nolan, Michael Shayne, Private Detective, and the movie and book track pretty well. The result is a Michael Shayne who manages to be comical but not foolish, and tough without being abrasive.

The story is well-plotted, even if it’s not particularly innovative. The humor works a couple twists including Shayne finding a way to get himself out of a murder charge but later outsmarts himself when he tries to mess around with the murder gun. Given all the evidence tampering both in this book and the previous one, it was satisfying to see a consequence to it for Shayne.

This still isn’t quite the Michael Shayne of later books, but it’s a huge step forward for the character.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

Book Review: A Study in Terror

In A Study in Terror, while trying to work on his latest novel, Ellery Queen is distracted by a friend who brings him a manuscript purporting to be a lost Sherlock Holmes story where Doctor Watson recounts how Holmes investigated the Jack the Ripper murders.

The book is mostly a Sherlock Holmes pastiche with an Ellery Queen story framing it. The pastiche is a good one that shows proficiency in Holmes and a love for the character that the author obviously possesses. The framing story is mostly okay. It’s hindered by an unnecessary romantic angle that doesn’t add much to the story. It takes quite a while to figure out why Ellery Queen is in this book and it’s that someone thinks the conclusion of the Sherlock Holmes story is wrong. The author deserves credit for finding some way to make this argument without creating a situation that makes Ellery Queen out to be a better detective than Sherlock Holmes.

The book is enjoyable but those looking for a realistic solution to the Ripper murders will have to look elsewhere. The solution offered in the book is consistent with the book but not with all the evidence that’s been put out on the Ripper murders. It would have probably been better to fictionalize the murderers rather than to make it a well-known case and not offer a plausible solution.

Still, A Study in a Terror is an enjoyable mash up of two great detectives that gives both of them their due.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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Audiobook Review: Nightbeat: Night Stories

Nightbeat: Night Stories presents readers and listeners with six new stories based on the 1950s Radio series that starred Frank Lovejoy by Radio Archives.

Radio Archives offers an ebook of the stories for $3.99. There’s one reason to choose the audiobook version instead and that’s Michael C. Gwynne who does one of the flat out best readings that I’ve ever heard. He should read all the best hard-boiled detective novels. His voice carries the production and brings each tale to life. Gwynne doesn’t try to imitate Frank Lovejoy’s take on Stone, but his interpretation of the character captures Stone as the street wise yet warm hearted reporter.

The stories themselves have a very strong love for the series that comes through loud and clear. While the tone varies a bit from story to story, they all carry the idea that Stone is a hero and friend to the ordinary people of Chicago that are so frequently the subject of the Night Beat column.

The book leads off with, “The Strangler” which finds Randy going to an ex-girlfriend who returned to town and began working as a stripper. She’d promised a clue in a series of serial killings. Instead she’s the next victim. It’s probably the most hard-boiled story in the collection and it’s brilliantly written with a decent mystery that I didn’t figure out until 2/3 in. The atmosphere is perfect. It’s a little darker story than would have been played on the radio but I don’t think it went over the top.

In, “The Chicago Punch,” Randy is called in to help a boxer who is at risk of being drawn into an illegal fight scene that could ruin his career and maybe cost him his life. It’s a terrific story with the mix of knowing skepticism about the manager’s proclamation that the kid has what is to be champ, along with an interesting concept that seems plausible for the time.

“The Puzzle in Purple,” finds Randy walking into the police department only to find a lieutenant sweating over a puzzle that’s a potential clue to the location of a kidnapped woman. It’s a two act story with the first being Randy helping the lieutenant and how the two relate to each other as they try to solve the puzzle, and the second finds Randy trying to save the woman on his own when he solves the puzzle. The first half was superb as the interactions between the lieutenant and Randy are brilliantly written. The second half was okay but is probably one of the stupider things Randy Stone ever did, though not unbelievably stupid.

“Down Addison Road,” has a mother with an absent husband asking Randy’s help to get her teenage son out of a racket he’s become involved in. This story works well because it features some well-written action and also the type of quirky characters that made the best Night Beat episodes so interesting to listen to.

“Lucky” is inspired by a couple quirks in the show’s history. In the pilot episode of Night Beat starring Frank Lovejoy, the character was known as Lucky Stone rather than Randy.

In addition, there’s a division among fans as to whether the series is Night Beat or Nightbeat*. So it happens Randy Stone had a competitor, a guy nicknamed Lucky with a first name that starts with an “R.” And he started at a rival paper around the same time Randy started at his and he had a column on Chicago after dark and it was called Night Beat while Randy’s was called  Nightbeat. However, he was fired for plagiarizing one of Randy’s stories. When Randy gets word that Randy Stone’s dead, it’s actually Lucky who’s been killed and Randy has to figure out who wants him dead before the murderers find out they killed the wrong Stone. This story manages to take radio show production issues and add some tense action and make a very enjoyable yarn.

Finally, “The One that Got Away” finds Randy meeting another old flame, this one a famous singer who stopped writing him quite a while ago. She’s back in town and she’s in trouble. This one has good atmosphere, but the characters aren’t as strong as in other stories.. Though, it’s probably my least favorite of the six, it’s still a solid well paced tale.

I was blown away by this collection. There are so many mistakes that you can make with a book like this. It can easily become weak fan fiction or modern ideas and concepts can be inserted and take readers and listeners out of the story. However, the authors avoided these pitfalls and they produced stories that feel genuine to the era and also the type of adventures that Randy Stone might actually have. If you love Night Beat  or even good, 1950s, hard-boiled mysteries, this audiobook is definitely a must-buy.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

*As best I can tell, the spelling of the show is Night Beat  based on promotional materials from the time. However, Radio Archives uses the spelling, “Nightbeat.”

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Book Review: Dividend on Death


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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Audiobook Review: Terror Town


Terror Town finds a small town New England librarian wondering what happened to a bright farm boy who frequented the library. The teenager turns up dead under mysterious circumstances and he’s the only the first to die as the town is gripped by panic as the body count rises.

Originally released in 1956 and re-released as a standalone Novella, Terror Town is a very good time capsule. It captures the feeling and mood of its era. The idea of a peaceful town suddenly beset by homicides with no great detective around to sort things out, but rather local police doing the best they can, is different for the era.

Yet, at the end of the day, the story only goes so deep. The librarian’s unrequited love for the town deputy who can’t seem to get it in his head that the girl next door has grown into a woman to be taken seriously takes up too much energy and isn’t really resolved. The solution is decent, but a little bit predictable.

It’s an okay audiobook, but not the best example of Ellery Queen’s work.

Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0

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