Friday, January 14, 2011

Forgotten Books: Little Jack Horner - Robert Leslie Bellem

I’ve been a fan of Robert Leslie Bellem’s Dan Turner stories for at least three decades, but I never read much of Bellem’s other work until recent years. And there was a lot of it, because he was very prolific over and above the hundreds of Turner stories. He wrote under several names besides his own, too, among them Ellery Watson Calder and Jerome Severs Perry.

As Perry, Bellem authored the Little Jack Horner stories that appeared in the pulp HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE during the Forties. Like Dan Turner, John J. Horner works as a troubleshooter in Hollywood, although Horner appears to have only one client, production chief Lew Quarrie of Epicure Pictures. Also like Turner, Horner has a habit of stumbling over beautiful starlets and murder. There are some important differences in the two series, though. The Little Jack Horner stories are told in third person and are played much straighter than the Dan Turner yarns. There are a few moments of humor, but the Horner stories lack the linguistic fireworks of the Turner stories. Actually, since Horner is big and redheaded and usually several steps ahead of everybody else in the stories in his thinking, he reminds me quite a bit of Mike Shayne.

The Pulpville Press collection LITTLE JACK HORNER contains half a dozen novelettes and novellas about Horner, and they’re all good. The novella “The Big Fix”, in which Horner visits the resort town of Surfside Beach and finds that the police department is being run by former gangsters (no spoiler; it’s revealed almost right away) is particularly outstanding. Bellem was a fine plotter, and while these stories aren’t as complicated as many of the Dan Turners are, they still have quite a few appealing twists. His prose style is fast and very readable, too.

After being out of print for a long time, a lot of Bellem’s work is available again. If you’re a fan, don’t overlook LITTLE JACK HORNER. These are very entertaining yarns and well worth reading.


George said...

I've been buying Robert Leslie Bellem books as they've been published. Another title to add to order!

Cullen Gallagher said...

I've read a number of the Dan Turner stories as well as Blue Murder, but I hadn't heard of these. I'll keep my eye open for them, I've enjooyed the Bellem that I've read so far.

Todd Mason said...

Huh...they do sound like fun, and that is a thing to wonder about, whether and how much they nudged Shayne into existence.

James Reasoner said...

Shayne was already around and fairly successful by the time these stories appeared, so any influence was more likely the other way around.

Anonymous said...

As always, James, another great review. And speaking of influence, the real inspiration for those great Horner stories (certainly Bellem’s best work after the Turner stuff) was two of Bellem’s LA writer friends, WT Ballard and Cleve F. Adams. The stories are written very much in Adams’ distinctive screwball hardboiled voice, and the studio trouble shooter role is patterned after Ballard’s Bill Lennox stories that ran in Black Mask. In fact, Bellem and Ballard shared an office, collaborated often and together edited and sold some of Adams work while he was ill and after he died.

--Stephen Mertz