Sunday, December 1, 2013

A "Vaguely Incompetent" Hardboiled Eye

By Robert Reeves.
Houghton Mifflin Co.
1943. $2.00

"Robert Reeves," Mike Grost tells us, "was a 'Black Mask' writer of the late 1930's and early 1940's era. He seems to have been a member of the Frank Gruber - Norbert Davis school of humorous private eye writers."
'Cellini Smith: Detective' is a formal, puzzle plot detective novel, as the term would be understood by Ellery Queen or John Dickson Carr. Like many Golden Age detective writers, Reeves builds up his story out of a number of different mystery subplots. — Mike Grost, "Robert Reeves," A GUIDE TO CLASSIC MYSTERY AND DETECTION
Not only is it a detective story, it's also slightly off kilter:
[In 'No Love Lost' and 'Cellini Smith: Detective' Reeves's] humor predominates. Some evidence can be found to support Anthony Boucher’s comment that Cellini “is unique among hardboiled private eyes in being admittedly an intellectual—and tough enough to get away with it.” Cellini does read books on anthropology and does occasionally make a witty quip, but his methods of detection rarely exhibit any real thought or ingenuity. I tend to agree with Ron Goulart, who says that Cellini Smith is “vaguely incompetent” and that the Reeves novels are "fine examples of the screwball side of the hardboiled school." — John L. Apostolou, "The Short Career of Robert Reeves," BLACK MASK MAGAZINE
. . . by his third full-length adventure, 1943's 'Cellini Smith, Detective,' he's considering shucking his struggling P.I. biz altogether and just enlisting, until a gang of hoboes hire him for $26.94 to find out who murdered one of their colleagues. — Kevin Burton Smith, "Cellini Smith," THE THRILLING DETECTIVE
A contemporary review of CELLINI SMITH:
Several murders in and near California hobo camp give detective Smith personal injury and other tough moments. - Good tough hobo dialog. Plenty of excitement, a brash and likeable detective, and thrills by the gallon. - Verdict: Very good. — THE SATURDAY REVIEW (April 24, 1943)
Other Reeves P.I. novels:
DEAD AND DONE FOR (1939): "Tough stuff."
NO LOVE LOST (1941): "Lurid and lively yarn . . ."

Category: Detective fiction

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