Saturday, October 4, 2014

Blood on the Stars: Review

I'm back in the hard-boiled game's my go-to genre for "out of my comfort zone" reads--especially when it comes to a mystery category. I've found that the Brett Halliday series with Mike Shayne, private eye, works better for me than most. Yes, we have the tough-talking detective, the curvy dames, and the over-the-top bad guys, but Halliday also puts together a pretty good standard mystery plot. There are clues and red herrings and a real puzzle to figure out--not just tough talk and shoot-em-ups and the bad guys knocking our hero around. 

Blood on the Stars (1948) has Shayne returning to Miami after a two-year hiatus in New Orleans. He hasn't even quite decided if he's going to put out shingle and get involved in the Florida detective business again when fate makes the choice for him. He and his new secretary-heading-towards girlfriend stop by a well-respected jewelry shop to look into an upgrade on her strand of synthetic pearls. They are just in time to witness a wealthy westerner, Mark Dustin, drop almost $200,000 on a star ruby bracelet for his wife. Shayne himself drops a few remarks about insurance and insurance adjusters and the next thing he knows, Dustin has landed him right in the middle of a jewel heist, murder, and another round of traded insults with police detective chief Peter Painter. 

Celia Dustin receives the bracelet just in time to wear it to a gala concert at the White Temple. She and her husband dress appropriately--for both the function and to display the rubies to their best advantage--and hop in their car to head to the White Temple. They never make it. A black limo forces them off the road, three masked men hold them up at gun point, take both the bracelet and a wad of cash in Dustin's pocket, and give Dustin a slashed cheek and broken hand as souvenirs when he gets a little too frisky in defense of his property. The Dustins return to the hotel and call in the police. Enter Peter Painter: as soon as he hears the complete story from purchase to theft and realizes that Shayne is involved--no matter how slightly--he demands the private eye's presence.

In fact, it's really Painter who pushes Shayne back into the private eye business--practically daring him to find the bracelet just so he can arrest Shayne for being involved. With a challenge like that, how can Shayne resist? After hearing the details of the hold-up from Dustin, Shayne heads out to well-remembered haunts to try and get a lead on stones. And gets beaten up for his trouble. The odd thing is that--given the rarity of the rubies and the fact that cutting up star rubies will make them lose the bulk of their value--the thieves ought to be looking to arrange a deal to get the stones back to the insurance. But nobody seems to want to discuss star rubies or rewards with him. When his secretary is involved in a near-fatal attack and then someone does commit a murder, Shayne is quite sure that there is more to this jewel robbery than meets the eye. The difficulty will be figuring out who really benefits if the gems are never recovered.

This is a fun ride for any mystery lover and I would expect those who favor the hardboiled school to especially enjoy this one. Halliday can write and he delivers the tough-guy detective very effectively. I have a good time each time I grab one of the Halliday books from my shelf and I'm glad I have the Mike Shayne books to read when I need to go outside my Golden Age and cozy mystery boundaries. I'm sure part of the reason I do so well with them is that he behaves more in the classic detective mode than most in the private eye world. He even goes so far as to gather all the suspects together for a grand finale when it's time to finger the culprit. ★★ and a half stars.

This fulfills the "Out of My Comfort Zone" category for the Golden Vintage Bingo card and gives me my seventh Bingo.

1 comment:

fredamans said...

The lady on the cover reminds me of Jean Harlow and actresses like her.
Great review!