display | more...

"Murder is my Business" is a 1945 detective novel by Brett Halliday, at that time the pen name of Davis Dresser (although other authors would use the same alias), featuring hardboiled detective Mike Shayne. Before I read this book, Brett Halliday and his most famous creation, Mike Shayne, were unknown to me, but apparently they were very popular for a long time, with several dozen books written between the 1930s and the 1970s, either by Davis Dresser or by ghostwriters, and several of the books, including this one, were turned into movies.

The story begins in New Orleans, where Mike Shayne is approached in his office by an old woman without much money whose son, a soldier has died in a mysterious traffic accident in El Paso. Either because he wants to make some money, or because he wants justice, Shayne goes to El Paso to find out what happened...and quickly finds out that the young soldier was dead before he was run over. And the man who ran him over is a wealthy mining baron that Shayne had done business with 10 years ago, finding damaging information on his daughter's suitor. And what will the luscious daughter of that suspect silver baron think about the hardboiled private eye? And how does this relate to enemy spy rings operating across the border, and to a numbers racket trying to fix a mayoral election?

If you are familiar with the patterns of detective novels, even at second hand, then most of what goes on in this book will be expected, even if the specific answer to the murder mystery is not. The detective kicks back endless shots of hard liquor while lurking in seedy dives, and uses a mixture of fisticuffs and fast talking to get information.

One realization I had from reading this is that detective novels exist along a continuum. Sometimes the detective is best at finding clues and untangling motivations, and sometimes the detective is best at the more kinetic parts of their job. This book is certainly in the second category. And, in fact, the El Paso location gives something away, because this detective novel feels more like a Western novel than a crime novel. While it has a requisite amount of cynicism, it reads more like an adventure story than as noir. And whether or not that is a good thing is a matter of taste.