"If she was a gal who passed out on her third Martini and developed nympho tendencies--that made it all the more interesting."
As the cover proudly proclaims, this is Mike Shayne's twenty-fifth case and it has a trifold narrative structure that sets it apart from the previous twenty-four. She Woke to Darkness opens with Brett Halliday recounting his experiences at the April 1953 Edgar Awards Dinner (which provides cameos from such luminaries as Frederic Dannay). Criticised as being a boring old-timer by several younger and arrogant MWA members, Halliday is pleased to be introduced to Elsie Murray, a fan of his detective novels, and after a brief conversation, accepts an invitation back to her apartment. Elsie is more than a mystery fan however; she's also an aspiring author with an uncompleted manuscript which she claims is based on a real-life experience. After their evening is interrupted by a telephone call (which Halliday assumes to be from a boyfriend), Brett heads back to his hotel room and begins to read Elsie's novel and SWTD then alternates between Halliday's narrative and the incidents described in the manuscript. Elsie's mystery novel tells the story of a young woman, Aline Ferris, who wakes up during the night, after having one too many drinks, in a hotel room with a man's corpse in the bathroom. Aline doesn't recognise the man, flees the hotel and tries to reconstruct the events of the evening and discover the man's identity and who killed him.
Flattered by her attention, Halliday phones Elsie to give her opinion of the opening chapter of her manuscript and is surprised by two things. Firstly, that a man answers the phone, and secondly, that the man's voice has the official sound of a policeman. Worried by this, Brett phones a friend, true crime author Edward Radin who has contacts within the police department, to discover why a policeman would be at Elsie's apartment in the early hours of the morning. Radin promises to find out and phones back with the shocking news that Elsie has been strangled. Realising that he's about to become the police's main suspect, Brett phones Mike Shayne, a real-life detective whose cases he has been chronicling, for help in clearing his name. Brett is convinced that Elsie and Aline are one the same person, that Elsie was involved in a recent murder case and that the manuscript holds to key to discovering her murderer. The latter part of SWTD is the third-person account of Shayne's investigation.
She Woke to Darkness, with its placement of actual mystery writers into a fictional murder case, is a treat for Brett Halliday fans (who will also appreciate the in-jokes involving Helen McCloy and Matthew Blood) although with Shayne not appearing until well-past the half-way mark it feels more like a Mike Shayne novelette. The investigation, juxtaposing the manuscript with the "real-life" characters and locations is also a clever idea but one which is kept relatively simple (perhaps to bring the book under 200 pages).