“The streets were dark with something more than night.”
— Raymond Chandler
“Mr. Noonan,” she said, “you – you’ve got to help me.”
“My few friends call me Mike,” I said pleasantly.
“Mike.” She rolled the syllable on her tongue. “I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that name before. Irish?”
“Enough to know the difference between a gossoon and a bassoon.”
– S.J. Perelman, “Farewell, My Lovely Appetizer”
Although it’s hard to tell if the many copy-cat Chandlers who sat and “Spat Ka-Chowed!” their Smith-Coronas in imitation of the hardboiled style took themselves seriously, Robert Leslie Bellem (1894-1968), the creator of legendary Hollywood orb for hire Dan Turner, seemed to be having so much over-the-top absurdist fun wielding outlandish similes and slang and creating new murder methods that it seemed his tongue just had to be forever cheek-bound. That or — as Dan might say — our “cook is goosed.”
In a now-classic New Yorker piece, “Somewhere a Roscoe,” humorist S.J. Perelman, a forthright fan, tipped the scales toward the former consideration, extolling Bellem – the who’s-kidding-who middleman of a probable parodist Perelman took inspiration from — calling Turner “the apotheosis of all private detectives … out of Ma Barker by Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade.”
Come for the pulp, stay for the pulchritude. With Turner starring in at least 300 out of over 3000 of Bellem’s pulp stories (Bellem also wrote as Franklin Charles and John A. Saxon, Dan Turner being his most popular series), not to mention 60 or 70 comic book stories, “Future Book” is a fairly representative cliché-laden slice of the “spice,” the kind of story that would show up in the “racy” magazines such as Spicy Detective, Spicy Adventure, and Spicy Western published by Harry Donenfeld and Frank Armer at Culture Publications.
Set at a horse track, “Future Book” was published in the May 1941 issue of Spicy Detective, and finds Turner in knighthood mode in the course of coming to the aid of a distressed damsel, with slender gams and “lyric hips,” weeping “fit to bust a brassiere.” She had just been fired – for buying tickets on the wrong horse — as the personal maid of movie star Arlynne Quistan, “one of the biggest names in the galloping snapshots, a voluptuous blonde goddess with a figure that made men feel like writing Santa Claus, and a heart the size of a flaxseed.”
But all Dan’s do-goodism does is get him enmeshed with muckety-mucks in the movie biz, including tussling with the “moneybags bozo” who heads up a studio, and dropping a “pimply mock-genius on his noggin,” while getting our innocent victim into more hot water. Meanwhile, in a bit of character assassination of sorts, big-time film star is found in a stable as dead as vaudeville — along with her race horse, seemingly hit by a stray bullet — where a “.38 slug had ripped diagonally northward from chin to temple, finally finding lodgement in her think-tank. Gore and grey matter welled up from the ground, ugly as an open pulse.”
The upshot – um, so to speak – after cutting to the steeplechase, introducing new subplots and secondary characters, negotiating the twists and turns, tying up the loose ends, and who-dunning the whodunit, is one of those original Bellem storyline developments. As it turns out, the intended murder victim was the horse! Actress Arlynne actually took second billing, having waited for her cue to be killed by a stray bullet while her nag was being croaked – in order to keep it from winning the Handicap the following week and bankrupting a bookmaking syndicate. Oh, and the name of the horse? Paradox. Insert Tongue A firmly into Cheek B….
In any case, truly an absurdity Perelman would appreciate, while avid pulp fans could count on the Depression-era sex and violence in its titillating imagery — both prose and interspersed illustrations — and crack-wise jargon in the behind-the-counter Spicy Detective (Bellem appeared in each issue from June 1934 to 1947, when it was rechristened Speed Detective, as well as in his own eight-year-long-mag Hollywood Detective). So guns didn’t fire – they were “roscoes” and they spat, coughed, and “belched Chow-chow.” The end result was the same, though — people ended up dead as vaudeville, as a fried oyster, as an iced catfish. As for women — they were chicks or wrens or frills, and their breasts were “perky pretty-pretties” or “creamy bon-bons.”
Of course, Turner’s paws-on approach to his work in “Future Book” often allowed for such anatomical assessment. In helping the dewy-eyed damsel out of criminal implications and through a tiny backroom window, Dan finds, in boosting her over the sill without being “too polite concerning where my hands strayed,” that her “skirt hiked up as she straddled the woodwork; I caught a thrilling glimpse of smooth thighs and silken panties. I said: ‘Haul bunions, baby.’” Nobly he gave her the key and address to his apartment to use as a hideout, which will later serve for a secluded refuge. Even after the case is solved, no doubt.
And in true gumshoe fashion, Dan’s the equal opportunity P.I. letting the femme fatale, a suspect in the homicide, ply her wiles while letting himself give into them: “…and then she was in my arms like a silken sylph, her mouth working on my kisser and her curvesome body throbbing against my sinews, hot, yielding, ardent.”
And why not? As Mike Noonan said in Perelman’s “Appetizer,” “Her bosom was heaving and it looked even better that way.”