Re: RARA-AVIS: Mike Shayne Month!

From: James Reasoner (
Date: 09 Dec 2000

----- Original Message ----- From: "William Denton" <> To: "RARA-AVIS" <> Sent: Friday, December 08, 2000 11:09 PM Subject: Re: RARA-AVIS: Mike Shayne Month!

> Going back a couple of days, on 6 December 2000, James Reasoner wrote:
> : I'd been reading Shayne novels for years, so I really enjoyed having
> : the chance to write about the character as Brett Halliday. For a
> : long-time fan, it was quite an honor.
> At the time, how did you place Shayne in the hardboiled pantheon? What
> sort of view did you have of hardboiled stories? I'd be interested to
> hear how you thought of the character, given all the things that had come
> along since his creation, your age (I found your web page and you were
> only in your late twenties when doing the MSMM stuff), the times, etc.
> With such a long-running character, handled by so many writers, if they
> stayed near the bible and the editor wasn't picky, I imagine there could
> be a fair bit of room for them to play around. Did you do things with him
> that Davis Dresser wouldn't have liked, or wouldn't have thought of?

It seems now that I was just a kid when I was writing the Mike Shayne stories, but by that time I had read just about everything hardboiled I could get my hands on, especially the private eye stuff. I'd read all of Hammett, Chandler, and Ross Macdonald, most of Prather's Shell Scott novels, quite a bit of Henry Kane, Frank Kane, Stephen Marlowe, and of course a lot of the Shayne novels by Dresser and others. I'd read MSMM hardly at all, because you just couldn't find it where I lived. One newsstand in Fort Worth finally started carrying it not long before I started selling to it.

Even at the time, I would have put Dresser in the second tier of private eye writers. As Doug Levin pointed out a couple of days ago, other writers from the time period have certainly aged better, probably because their work depended more on the individual voices of those writers. Dresser's prose is very workman-like, nothing fancy about it at all. Which makes him easy to imitate. I think it was Art Scott who referred to Mike Shayne as the generic private eye, and there's some truth to that. If he wasn't, then it wouldn't have been possible for so many writers to contribute successfully to the series. Dresser populated the books with stock characters in a setting that at least seemed exotic. His real strength was in his plotting. Shayne was usually two jumps ahead of the reader and three or four ahead of the other characters. I always loved it when he did something that seemed to make no sense at all, but by the end of the book it wound up exposing the killer and putting a nice chunk of change into Shayne's pocket. And the early books in the series, with their combination of private eye cliches, screwball comedy, and fair-play detection are something if not unique at least unusual in the mysteries of the time period.

> In the stories then in the magazine, what time was Shayne in? Were they
> set in the past, in the present, or in a nebulous netherworld?

I made a conscious decision going in that, time paradox be damned, Shayne would be the same character who was in his late thirties during World War II, even though I set the stories in the present time and he still wasn't much older than that. To go back to Doug Levin's comparison of Shayne to a comic book hero, that's exactly how I treated his age. However, you have to remember that I was writing these stories before the advent of personal computers, cell phones, and all the other technology that's so prevalent today. As a kid reading the Shayne novels, I always thought it was really neat that Shayne *had a phone in his car!* Of course, it was a radio-telephone, as Dresser referred to it. Anyway, the point is that the trappings of a late Seventies stories weren't really that much different than the trappings of a Fifties story. I just didn't refer very often to contemporary events. Some of the other authors updated Shayne after I left,
 making him into a Vietnam veteran.

I like to think Dresser would have approved of much of what I did with the character.

Sorry for the length of this post. Nostalgia does it every time.

Best, James

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