Monday, March 22, 2010

Dan Tuner - Page Turner

Not all literature is great. But sometimes it can be fun. Like the work of Robert Leslie Bellem.

Bellem was an amazingly prolific and successful mystery author who wrote an estimated 3,000 stories between 1934 and 1947 when the pulp magazine market collapsed. Without breaking stride, Los Angeles-based Bellem transitioned to movie and then TV script-writing which he continued until his death in 1968.

Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective was Bellem's most enduring character. Turner starred in over 300 stories. Turner self-narrated his stories set in a fun-house mirror version of Tinseltown.

Anyone interested in classic hard-boiled detective stories should be conversant with Dan Turner. Bellem racheted up the tough-guy slang to the point of parody, with over-the-top plots to match.

In Dan Turner's world, guns didn't fire; roscoes coughed. Instead of lighting a cigarette, you fired up a gasper. Lamped instead of looked, yodeled instead of telephoned, ankled instead of walked -- the list is almost endless.

Bellem wrote fast, and that's the best way to read a Dan Turner story. These 2,000-3,000 word stories usually had a sparse cast of cardboard characters and a mystery that turned on a single clue.

But what a lot of fun to read. There's nothing simple about Bellem's writing. They're so full of tough-guy slang you almost need an annotated edition of the text. Here's the start of "Snake Tangle"

I was buying a shine from Pete the Greek when a gorgeous gazelle planted her shapely form on the chair next to me. The instant she sat down she issued herself a ticket to her own funeral -- although naturally I didn't know it at the time When I sneaked a sidewise swivel at her she looked as far removed from the morgue as I am from my first million bucks.

And here's the denouement from "Headlines in Hell" (1943)

"Going somewhere?" I said.

The black-haired wren froze. "You - !"

"Yeah, babe. Me. Get away from Farlow so we can slip the nippers on him. He's the guy that cooled Polly Todd."

As I said this, the publicity bozo plunged his good hand into his coat; hauled forth a roscoe. "No, you won't! You won't take me alive!" And he triggered a slug at my favorite vest.
If you get a collection of Dan Turner stories, treat them like a box of rich candy -- don't consume more than one per sitting. There's a certain sameness to them that can lessen the enjoyment. But individually, they're pure fun.

 - Ralph

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