Monday, October 29, 2012

She Woke to Darkness: Review

Here I go venturing into the hard boiled realm again with She Woke to Darkness by Brett Halliday.  Halliday actually writes a more mystery-oriented hard boiled story.  And this one is a real treat--one I wasn't expecting.  I picked this up simply because it was one of my beloved little pocket size editions. And the blurb on the back didn't really indicate that this was anything beyond the typical P.I. story:

Who is this girl?
Loves good times and parties. After third martini has habit of giving her key to the nearest man, walking out with another. Natural enemy of all wives.

Who is this man?
Takes fun where he finds it, and finds plenty. His little black book covers territory from Greenwich Village to Yorkville. His goal is usually fun. This time it was murder.

Mike Shayne in a tense, violent, deadly game tries to out-guess a sinister combo and plays hide-and-seek with murder.

 See?  No hint at all that what we have here is the author himself appearing front and center and all lined up as the prime suspect.  Halliday attends the 1953 Edgar Allen Poe Awards in New York City.  While there he has to put up with arrogant young writers who look on him as an old-timer who has over-stayed his welcome in the writing world and who needs to step aside and make room for their up and coming brilliance.  He's getting a little disgruntled with the world, when Elsie Murray is introduced to him.  Elsie is every male author's dream--a lovely young woman who adores his books, can actually talk intelligently about them, and apparently is intent on making it with her idol.

They have a few drinks at the MWA bar and then decide to take the conversation back to her place for more drinks....and whatever else they might decide to do.  But...Elsie isn't just a crime story fan-girl.  She's got an unfinished manuscript of her own that she'd like Halliday to take a look at (isn't that always the way....everybody's got an angle).  She tells him that the novel is based on actual events.  She knows what actually happened up to a point, but she's had to figure out the ending (and she claims to have come up with a doozy) and is having trouble figuring out how to get from point A to point B.  She's hoping Halliday will be able to give her some pointers on how to fill in the middle section of the book.

Before they can discuss things much further, Elsie receives a phone call that obviously puts her in a panic.  She hands Halliday the manuscript and shoves him out the door.  He agrees to read the draft and call her to arrange a meeting of the minds later.  He heads straight to his hotel, reads the thing straight through, and decides to call her right back and give her his initial thoughts. Only it isn't Elsie who answers the phone.  It's a rather official, policeman-sounding kind of guy.  Which seems to Halliday to be kind of ominous.  He's quite sure that something has happened to Elsie and gets a true-crime writer friend of his to scope things out with the cops.  Unfortunately, he's right.  Elsie's been strangled and guess who's going to be number one on the suspect list.  That's right, the fella who took her home from the party.  

Halliday calls up his good friend and detective, Mike Shayne, and asks him to come to NYC as quickly as possible.  By the time Shayne arrives, Halliday has disappeared and the cops are sure that he's on the lam.  It's up to Shayne to decipher the clues in the unfinished manuscript and hunt down the real villain before Halliday becomes another body in the morgue.

This is a lovely little romp through New York in the 1950s.  As an added bonus, Halliday spends the first part of the book dropping prominent names from the mystery field like nobody's business. The reader finds herself rubbing elbows with Helen McCloy, Helen Reilly, Clayton Rawson, Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee with near misses with John Dickson Carr and George Harmon Coxe.  There have been other authors who have dropped themselves down into the narrative, but it doesn't always work out as successfully as this does with Halliday.  He gives the reader a good mystery to chew on and manages to make his participation in the story very realistic.  I thoroughly enjoyed this "soft" hard boiled mystery.  Three and a half stars.

1 comment:

TracyK said...

This sounds great! And this is a really good review. AND a great paperback edition.

I don't think I have ever read this author, I will go looking for this one and others... when I have time, money, and room on the shelves.