Bar Noir Trilogy Part 2: Rome ‘an Halliday

Miami Mayhem by Anthony Rome
Miami Mayhem by Anthony Rome
Don't miss Part 1 and Part 3.

 

There I was, in my usual spot at the bar. Last stool, under the TV. I was there because I was on the outs. I figured some time in a neutral corner was in order.

I’d been there a while, as evidenced by the small platoon of empty shot glasses in front of me. Bill stood at the other end of the bar, boot on the rail, working on another crossword. I was glum, irritable, trying to ignore two local bozos sitting nearby. Frick and Frack argued back and forth, going on about, of all things, books.

It was when Frick turned to Frack and said, “I’m tellin’ ya, Anthony Rome was a better writer than Marvin Albert, and both were better than Brett Halliday!” that I got really steamed.

“Was not,” replied Frack

“Was! Look it up, idiot.”

These two jokers needed a good three feet of Louisville maple. I finished my shot, slammed the glass down on the bar. Bill looked up from his paper and gave me “The Look”: a warning to not do anything that would chase customers away. I have to admit, I often fail in honoring “The Look.”

Frick took a swallow of his drink before continuing. “Rome was better. Go read My Kind of Game. That book seriously rocks. Rome has the private detective; also named Rome, go to one of those fictitious Florida towns rife with gambling and dames. Rome gets the stuffing knocked out of him, but keeps coming back. It’s a tangled web he uncovers. One of my favorites of the pulp detective genre from that period. Came out in 1962.” Frick then picked up his beer with the air of a generous and patient man, one who’d just finished informing the sadly uninformed.

“Well, la de da,” Frack said, slumping down on his stool. A beaten man is not a pretty sight, I can tell ya.

I gave Bill the signal for another shot. As he put it down in front of me, he gave me “The Look, Mach II.” I picked up my glass, saying to the Pushmepullyou (look it up, youngins), “You guys are both so wrong, it’s embarrassing. Seriously, if your mothers could see you now, they’d hop in the nearest time machine and go back to before meeting your fathers and shoot ‘em rather than date ‘em.” I paused for the drama of it all. “In no possible way could Anthony Rome be a better writer than Marvin Albert, and vice versa, because…” and here I downed my shot for emphasis, “they were the same guy!

“The hell you say!” said Frick.

“Look it up,” I shrugged. “Marvin H. Albert wrote three books as Anthony Rome: Miami Mayhem, The Lady in Cement, and My Kind of Game. Wrote those between 1960 and 1962. Sinatra starred in the movie versions, but the books are way better, and this coming from a devotee of The Chairman of the Board. Albert wrote for TV, too. And film. He also wrote some killer stuff under the pen name of Nick Quarry.”

Frack looked up from his beer. “Nice name. Tough guy stuff.”

No Chance in Hell by Nick Quarry
No Chance in Hell by Nick Quarry
“Exactly. And boys, let me tell you,” I continued, “If you think Rome was a tough guy? Well, he ain’t got nothing on P.I. Jake Barrow. Go and find yourself a copy of No Chance in Hell, and try to prove me wrong. Probably the greatest creation of Mr. Albert, writing as Mr. Quarry.”

Frick looked around, desperately hoping to get the support of the house. Trouble was, there were only four of us in the house, and one of them was the owner, and Bill only gets involved if violence erupts. He brought me another shot, along with “The Look, 3.0.” Poured a couple more beers for the kids. An act of mercy, really. We drank in silence for a moment, then Frack said, “So, what about Holiday?”

Halliday,” I sighed, sounding like a preschool teacher pushed way past her threshold for patience. “Brett Halliday. And, I must admit, I did not know this until recently, but that was a pen name, too. The guy’s real name was Davis Dresser, but he earned his fame for writing as Brett Halliday. His creation, private eye Mike Shayne, is up there with Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe and Dashiell  Hammett’s Sam Spade. He was one of those writers who was as tough as his creation too. Rode with General Pershing at the tender age of 14, chasing after Pancho Villa in Mexico. Got kicked out, once everyone tripped to his real years.” I chuckled softly. “What a guy, to do that!

“Didn’t Mike Shayne also do his thing down in Florida? Like Rome?” Frack asked.

“Yup.” I thought for a moment. “You know, it’s really hard to give you just one or two Mike Shayne books, but, if you put a gun to my head—”

“Not a bad idea,” Frick mumbled.

When Dorina Dances by Brett Halliday
When Dorina Dances by Brett Halliday
“Like I said,” ignoring the poster child for celibacy, “if you put a gun to my head, I would say When Dorinda Dances is sure-fire fun. So is Mums the Word for Murder, and also Marked for Murder. The Robert McGinnis covers are the best in the world. More fun than you guys probably deserve, but there it is.” I slid off my stool. Made my way to the door before Bill ordered me out.

“Hey,” Frack said to me, “you a writer? That why you know all that stuff about those guys?”

“Yeah. I write mysteries as Roman Holiday. Also as Marvin Gardens. See ya, kids. Don’t stay up past your bedtime.”

 

Images via Pulp International, Thrilling Detective, and Cover Browser.


Robert Lewis grew up under the pier at Venice Beach, CA. There, by firelight, he would entertain the stray dogs with weird and wonderful tales. He’s still telling stories, but now he lives in a place with walls, a roof, and cases of red wine. Crime fiction and blues guitar are his things. He blogs over at NeedleCity, and twits sporadically and nonsensically as @robertklewis.

Comments

  1. Dr. Lewis Preschel

    Great piece. I love the information, and the style. When did Dresser find time to breath and how did he come up with the plots for all those novels? Make my head spin.

  2. Robert K. Lewis

    Thanks! I know, right?!!? How did guys do all the work? I picture all day in a studio apartment, old typewriter and desk (like my desk, actually), and a bottle, lol.

    But then, I love to romaticize the whole thing. I think that’s part of what draws me to noir and writers from this time period. It’s definitely all about what Chandler said, about the detective being the white knight in a dark world, etc.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. db

    Great article!

    I had no idea “Brett Halliday” was a pen name. Wasn’t there a magazine called “Mike Shayne Mysteries” or something like that? I think it was a bit like the old Ellery Queen mystery magazine…could be wrong, though….

  4. Robert K. Lewis

    You’d be correct, db. Here’s a great [url=http://www.philsp.com/mags/mikeshayne.html]site[/url], all about the covers, and man… THERE are some killer covers.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  5. SJones

    What fun! I too think I remember Mike Shayne Mysteries and Ellery Queen magazines(EQ for sure). I love the Robert McGinnis artwork; now I’m really interested to know if the model for No Chance in Hell and When Dorinda Dances is the same woman. Perhaps she is McGinnis’ muse? Thanks for another great installment!

  6. Robert K. Lewis

    You’re welcome! I would bet it WAS the same woman, ya know?

  7. sophie littlefield

    love this!! i am definitely stealing all those great retro insults to use on the next person who gets on my nerves in a bar. great stuff RL.

  8. Lloyd Cooke

    “One of my favorites of the pulp detective genre from that period. Came out in 1962.” How? The pulps were dead and gone by then.

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