I used to own a copy of the original Handi-Books edition of this 1950 novel by the creator of the iconic Dan Turner, but it was missing some pages and so I never got around to reading it. Luckily, Pulpville Press has reprinted it in a nice-looking, affordable trade paperback edition that uses the same cover art as the original (which is pictured alongside this post).
Bellem is a prime example of a “love him or hate him” author. I happen to love his work, and have ever since I discovered the Dan Turner stories years ago. No author has made me laugh more often. I think Bellem’s use of language is brilliant, and most of the Turner stories are very well-put-together mysteries, to boot, packing some pretty complex plots into short story and novelette lengths.
THE WINDOW WITH THE SLEEPING NUDE proves that Bellem’s writing works equally as well at novel length and in third person. This isn’t a Dan Turner yarn. The hero is store detective Barney Cunard, who’s in charge of security at the biggest department store in an unnamed town. Barney arrives at work one rainy, hungover morning to find a nude blond female mannequin on his desk. He’s barely started trying to figure out how and why it got there when something else happens that has to be connected to this mystery. The body of one of the store’s window dressers is discovered in a bed in one of the store’s window displays, dressed only in lingerie and stabbed in the heart. Obviously, the killer replaced the mannequin with the corpse and left the mannequin on Cunard’s desk for some unfathomable reason.
But this is one of those novels where very little that seems obvious turns out to be true. The plot twists and turns with dizzying speed as all the action takes place in just a few hours. In that short period of time, there are several more murders and a kidnapping. Cunard gets hit on the head and knocked out, guzzles rye, runs around in the rain, and finally figures everything out from clues that Bellem cleverly plants along the way. Of course, as a veteran of the Spicy pulps, Bellem manages to find excuses for several of his female characters to wind up in various stages of undress. This novel reads very much like it could be an expansion of one of Bellem’s hundreds of pulp stories, but I don’t know if that’s the case or not. He also tuckerizes at least one obscure pulp author who must have been a friend of his, and there may be more such instances that I missed.
Bellem has been mentioned as a possible influence on Richard S. Prather, and there are definite similarities between Bellem’s Dan Turner and Prather’s Shell Scott. I think Prather was a slightly better writer, giving some of his novels a more serious undertone than you’ll find in Bellem’s work, but Bellem’s stuff is laugh-out-loud funny, well-plotted, and very much worth reading in my opinion. I had a great time reading THE WINDOW WITH THE SLEEPING NUDE and I suspect some of you would, too. Highly recommended.