RARA-AVIS: One Night With Nora

From: Moorich2@aol.com
Date: 15 Dec 2000

While I have all the early Mike Shayne mysteries in a box somewhere, the one certain Halliday/Dresser written novel I could put my hands on was ONE NIGHT WITH NORA from 1953. The edition I have is the Dell from November 1960, which features a good Bob McGinnis cover. This was one of the Shaynes I bought new on the stands when at age 14 I was a big fan of the series.

The early novels were more overtly hardboiled but even with "Nora" there are hardboiled touches. Unfortunately, I have to agree with those who say Shayne was more a collection of attributes than a real flesh and blood character. The third person narrative doesn't help and Halliday seemed to be concentrating on pace and plot with very little attention to character.

That being said, I rather enjoyed "Nora" in the same way I can pick up a Perry Mason from the same period for a breezy bit of enjoyment. In fact, I would say that following their first hardboiled wave, Halliday's steered the series more toward the popular Mason books than the new and quickly best selling Mike Hammer novels. The plots I recall from the 50s Shaynes could be very complicated but well done enough to be noted for praise by Anthony Boucher in at least one review I remember.

ONE NIGHT WITH NORA has a grabber opening with a beautiful, naked stranger slipping into Shayne's apartment and getting into bed with him. I am sure this opening scene contributed to my enjoyment at age 14, as the concept of a naked woman mistakenly getting into bed with a guy was a good fantasy producer. In the novel, Shayne does not take advantage of her. That was admirable of him but it also reminded me that Shayne never seemed to get laid after Phyllis' death, at least as long Dresser was doing the actual writing.

At about the same time Nora was climbing into Mike's bed, her husband was murdered in the apartment directly above Shayne's. Soon it is apparent that someone is impersonating Shayne and new complications develop with each chapter. Looking back, much of the plot seems forced but Halliday/Dresser maintains such a furious pace that the reader is swept along.

Police Chief Mike Gentry is not a real character but more of a handy device to bring characters to Shayne to be interrogated, provide details the redhead is too busy to investigate himself and so on. Lucy Hamilton has by 1953 replaced the thankfully dead wife Phyllis and serves Shayne very much as Della Street assists Perry Mason.

So I found my 40 year reunion with ONE NIGHT WITH NORA to be enjoyable but it is by no means in the first tier. If before the end of the month I can locate one of the earlier novels, I will have more to say about the series. My impression is that the better novels were those where Halliday/Dresser ventured from Miami. Shayne was briefly based in New Orleans but there were others where he made one-shot uses of locales.

Richard Moore

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