A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini

ROBERT LESLIE BELLEM – Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective. Bowling Green University Popular Press, softcover, 1983.

   Anyone whose sense of humor leans toward the ribald, the outrageous, the utterly absurd is liable to find himself convulsed by the antics and colloquialisms of Dan Turner, Robert Leslie Bellem’s immortal “private skulk,” who fought, shot, wenched, and wisecracked his way to the solutions of hundreds of pulp-magazine cases from 1934 to 1950.

   The list of Bellem admirers is long and distinguished and includes humorist S. J. Perelman, who in a New Yorker essay titled “Somewhere a Roscoe …” called Turner “the apotheosis of all private detectives” and said he was “out of Ma Barker by Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade.”

   Although Bellem wrote a handful of novels, none features Dan Turner. Turner, in fact, appeared only in a few scattered anthologies until the publication of this collection of seven of his vintage cases from Hollywood Detective, Spicy Detective, Speed Detective, and Private Detective Stories.

   All are set in Hollywood, most deal with the (highly romanticized and inaccurately portrayed) film community, and all are wild, woolly, quite terrible, and very funny. “Drunk, Disorderly and Dead,” for instance, contains such typical Bellem lines as “A hulking lug in chauffeur’s uniform … barged out of the limousine’s tonneau and planted his oversize brogan on my running board. He had an improvised handkerchief mask over the lower section of his pan and a blue-barreled automatic in his duke. He said: ‘Freeze, snoop, or I’ll perforate you like a canceled check.'”

   And from “Dump the Jackpot”: “A thunderous bellow flashed from Dave Donaldson’s service .38, full at the propman’s elly-bay. Welch gasped like a leaky flue, hugged his punctured tripes, and slowly doubled over, fell flat on his smeller.”

   This delightfully wacky collection also contains an introduction, headnotes, and a biographical sketch of Bellem by John Wooley.

   Bellem’s novels, for the most part, are forgettable. The only exception is his first, Blue Murder (1938), which features a Dan Turner-like private eye named Duke Pizzatello and contains some of the same slangy, campy mangling of the English language.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007. Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.