31 July 2019

Today in Mystery History: July 31

This is the third installment in my occasional stroll through the calendar.  Enjoy.

July 31, 1904.  David Dresser was born on this date.  You probably remember him as Brett Halliday, the creator of Miami private eye Mike Shayne.  His first novel was rejected more than 20 times, but he went on to write 30 books, which were adapted for radio, TV, and a series of movies.  He stopped writing in 1958 but authors labelled "Brett Halliday" went on to write many more books about Shayne.  Until I was researching this I had no idea that the excellent movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was inspired by one of his books.

July 31, 1930.  The Detective Story Magazine Hour began broadcasting on radio today. This is mainly significant because of the show's announcer, a sinister presence played by an actor whose identity was kept firmly hidden.  He was known only as The Shadow and proved so popular that he spawned his own show, a magazine, and tons of novels written by Walter B. Gibson.  Bwaa ha ha!

July 31, 1940.  The British magazine The Sketch published "The Case of the Drunken Socrates" on this date.  It was part of a series of stories about a Czech refugee detective which Eric Ambler wrote while waiting to be drafted into the army. (Notice the title of the book that collected the tales.)  Of course, Ambler was much better known for his espionage thrillers.

July 31, 1948.  The issue of Saturday Evening Post with this date featured the first installment of The D.A. Takes A Chance, the next to last novel Erle Stanley Gardner wrote about district attorney Doug Selby.  Alas, the prosecutor was never as popular as that other lawyer Gardner created, the defense attorney whose clients always turned out to be innocent.

July 31, 1951.  On this date Mr. and Mrs. Rackell came to Nero Wolfe to seek the murderer of their nephew.  "Home to Roost" is probably the high point of Rex Stout's literary attacks on American Communists.  You can find it in his collection Triple Jeopardy.

July 31, 1975.  On this date the movie Bank Shot was released.  It starred George C. Scott in the unlikely role of Donald E. Westlake's hapless burglar John Dortmunder.  (Okay, his name was changed to protect the guilty.)    

 July 31, 1986.  Stanley Ellin died on this date.  He was one of the greatest author's of mystery short stories ever.  If you don't believe me, try "The Specialty of the House," "The Payoff," or "You Can't be a Little Girl All Your Life."

July 31, 2001. This date saw the publication of Nightmare in Shining Armor, part of Tamar Myers' series about a shop called the Den of Antiquity.  I haven't read it, but I'm guessing it's a cozy.


  1. Seems like a pretty good day in Mystery History, Rob.

  2. So David Dresser a/k/a Brett Halliday stopped writing when he was 54 (apparently, according to Wikipedie, Bill Pronzini was one of the people who wrote the later "Mike Shayne books). What did he do for the next 19 years? (He died, it seems, on my 29th birthday.)

  3. Another excellent installment, Rob. This one includes some personal favorites of mine, including Eric Ambler and The Bank Shot. The Bank Shot is a forgotten 70s gem not loved by the critics. I think it’s a riot.

  4. Bravo on another great Mystery History post. I love these! Did you know that the slightly more recent film "The Nice Guys" (written & directed by "Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" writer/director Shane Black) was also based on another Brett Halliday novel: Blue Murder? Check that one out if you haven't already seen it (book and film). Fun stuff!
    -Bob D.

  5. "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" is an unfairly overlooked film, especially in light of the fact that it's clearly a love letter on Shane Black's part to Brett Halliday. Downey was juuust coming into his own after his (hopefully) final stint in rehab, Val Kilmer showed why we had loved him for two decades up to this point (and not so much since) and, well, Michelle Monaghan, ladies and gentlemen. She is right up there with Lynn Collins among my list of actors whose careers ought to be bigger deals. GREAT movie.

    And thanks for the heads' up on Ambler's short story collection. I'm a big Ambler fan (especially A COFFIN FOR DIMITRIOS and JOURNEY INTO FEAR) and love well-done short stories, so win-win!

    Lastly, I'd never heard of BANK SHOT. Is it worth a look?


  6. Spellcheck please. Author Tamar Myers (no A at the end)

  7. THanks for the comments, all. Anon, the A has beenr emoved. Yes, KISS KISS BANG BANG is a god movie. UNfortunately I don't think BANK SHOT is. (Sorry, Larry.) Val Kilmer as the gay private eye is the highlight of KKBB. I will have to try TNE NICE GUYS.


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