Friday, January 29, 2010

Forgotten Books: The Window With the Sleeping Nude - Robert Leslie Bellem

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.

10 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Now that's a cover that draws you in.

Bill Crider said...

I have the Handi-Book edition (just don't ask me exactly where), and I read it a few years ago. I agree with your review right down the line. I missed the Tuckerization, though.

Richard Robinson said...

Pulpville is doing a great thing with republishing Bellem. I may have to add this one to the stack I've already gotten from them, all of which were Dan Turner stories.

Thanks for another fine Friday Forgotten Books post, expensive, but tasty.

Carl V. said...

This one sounds great and it is going on my list. Love the cover art. Thanks for the link to Pulpville Press. Had not heard of them, but now that I've went over there I see a bunch of books that I would love to purchase.

George said...

Pulpville deserves our support for bringing these great books back to print. Bellem's BLUE MURDER is wonderful. And every home needs a collection of Dan Turner stories.

James Reasoner said...

I have BLUE MURDER and several other Bellem novels on hand to read, as well as all those Dan Turner collections. The only thing I've read by Bellem that I didn't like very much was THE SEX LADDER, one of the sleaze novels he wrote for Beacon Books as Anthony Gordon. Pulpville has reprinted another of those, DOCTOR LESBOS, but I haven't bothered picking it up yet. Maybe someday.

Evan Lewis said...

I've been hunting my old copy of this, and your review makes me want to hunt harder. Doctor of Lesbos and The Sex Ladder are probably the only true sleaze books I own (unless you count A Feast Unknown). Read them long ago and was not impressed.

James Reasoner said...

When I read THE SEX LADDER, I felt like Bellem was trying to suppress his natural style and write a typical Beacon book. It was too serious. He'd have been better off just cutting loose as usual.

James Reasoner said...

By the way, to backtrack to Bill's comment before I forget again, there's a character in this book named George Armin, which I assume is a Tuckerization of George Armin Shaftel, a prolific but almost totally forgotten contributor to various Western and detective pulps from the mid-Thirties to the early Fifties. If I've ever read any of Shaftel's stories, I've forgotten them, but I recalled the name.

Rittster said...

I also have the Pulpville Press edition but haven't read it yet, so I'm glad to know I have some new Bellem to look forward to, as I've read all my Dan Turner reprints. There are also some other recent Bellem collections listed on Amazon: THE COCK CROWS MURDER AND OTHER TALES FROM THE PULPS, THE ROBERT LESLIE BELLEM MAGAZINE, and LITTLE JACK HORNER (a collection of stories about a P.I. which Bellem wrote under his Jerome Severs Perry pseudonym). They're all $15 or less.