DOLLS ARE DEADLY by Brett Halliday (Detective Novel, 1960, Dell Books).
Don’t be fooled by the cover art–the “dolls’ in the titles in this mediocre pulp crime book in the Mike Shayne series are NOT dangerous-if-hot females–they’re voodoo dolls that a mixed bag of victims receive shortly before being ‘offed.’ Oh, well–at least the artist in this edition got the heroic detective’s HAIR right (another edition of the same title pictured Shayne with black hair). Considering the obsessive way Shayne’s red hair is so often used as a tag (in all the books, but especially here–where it rose to near-fetish-like proportions), that’s pretty inexcusable.
The first Mike Shayne novels began appearing in the 1940s, written by a middling pulp/mystery writer whose actual name was Davis Dresser. He used a bunch of pen names, like many pulp writers, but the one he adopted to tell stories involving the “long-legged, redhead from Miami” was Brett Halliday. The series was easily his biggest succcess, but Dresser was tiring of it by 1958. His publisher, Dell Books, didn’t want the series to fizzle out–it was a moderately-good-selling cash cow–so after Dresser quit, they hired a succession of mostly forgettable ghostwriters to keep churning out hardboiled crime adventures for Shayne (and his loyal audience of readers).
I have no idea which of the stable of ghostwriters is responsible for DOLLS ARE DEADLY, and perhaps that’s just as well. This tale of drug smuggling, fake spiritualism and double- and triple-crosses resulting in multiple murders just…well…isn’t that good.
The Mike Shayne books continued for quite a while thereafter and were popular. The back cover of this dud brags of “over 30,000,000 copies” of the series sold. And there was even a MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE that had a decent run (though never as successful, classy or as well regarded as the ELLERY QUEEN and ALFRED HITCHCOCK titles that are still being produced). The most interesting thing for me about this book was a then-topical reference in the plot–Fidel Castro having seized control of Cuba, his followers get unintended credit for shutting down the Cuba-to-Florida drug smuggling network corrupt members of the previous regime had been part of. Did the author really intend to portray Communist Cuba as a sort of accidental ally in this ancient version of the infamous War on Drugs?
I doubt it–for he soft-pedals the theme so much that it barely registers.
Anyway, that sets the stage for the laughably silly new criminal smuggling scheme that Shayne blunders into and finally helps destroy.
The Mike Shayne books aren’t all as bad as this one–though he was never more than a second-tier adventure hero. But this one? Give it as pass…