Friday, February 26, 2010

FORGOTTEN BOOKS: Dead and Done For by Robert Reeves

Not only is Dead and Done For a forgotten book, Robert Reeves is a forgotten author - and one who very much deserves to be back in print.

Reeves compares very favorably to several other hardboiled writers who have been reprinted over the past twenty-odd years. Among them are Paul Cain, Norbert Davis and Jonathan Latimer. Heck, even Robert Leslie Bellem's crappiest work (and there was lots of it) is now available, and Reeves was way better than Bellem.

Anthony Boucher considered Reeves a forgotten, or at least neglected, writer as far back as 1953, and as far as I know, absolutely nothing has been reprinted since then. Boucher called him "one of the best" of the writers developed by Black Mask, but also "one of the least known of the major tough writers". "But," Boucher goes on, "he can hold his own with the best, giving you as sharp and action-packed a story-line as any of them, brightened by vivid dialog and enlivened by the presence of Cellini Smith, who is unique among hard-boiled private eyes in being admittedly an intellectual - and tough enough to get away with it."

While Reeves was clearly influenced by the Black Mask school, he was not actually developed by the magazine. Most others learned their trade writing short stories and progressed to serials that eventually appeared as novels, but Reeves seems to have skipped those steps and went straight to hardcover. As far as anyone knows, Dead and Done For (1939) was his first published work. Only afterward did he begin selling stories to the pulps, and produced fewer than a dozen. The bio here is from the dust jacket of No Love Lost (1941).

Dead and Done For finds Cellini keeping the books for Tony Moro, a big man in the slot machine racket in New York. The two grew up in the same neighborhood, and Tony paid for Cellini's education. Now Cellini just wants to be an anthropologist, but he's still indebted to Tony, and (despite his protests) seems to enjoy the tough life.

When Tony is suspected of murder, Cellini plays detective to clear him. In the process, he finds he's pretty good at it. In the second book, No Love Lost, Cellini is operating a detective agency in Los Angeles.

Reeves' style can be as tough as Paul Cain's, but laced with humor worthy of Jonathan Latimer and Lester Dent. As the series progresses to the third book, he almost strays into Norbert Davis territory. I like this guy a lot.

Here's the bad news: Dead and Done For has only been reissued once - a Grosset & Dunlap edition in 1941. Your best bet may be to get one from InterLibrary Loan or plead with your friendly neighborhood hardboiled reprinter to add it to their list.

Find more of this week's Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott's pattinase.


Walker Martin said...

Robert Reeves died during WWII and there is a long detailed article about him on the Black Mask website. You can read it by going to and typing in The Short Career of Robert Reeves.

He only published 3 novels and 11 short stories but they are all excellent.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I wonder if digitalization must serve a single good purpose and allow books like this to return.

George said...

I'll have to track down DEAD AND DONE FOR. Thanks for bringing this book to our attention, Evan!

Rittster said...


About ten years or fifteen years ago, when looking for mysteries containing humor, I bought Reeves' last book, CELLINI SMITH, DETECTIVE. I read about half of it and then gave up. Since it was so long ago, I don't remember anything more specific as to why I quit on it, other than the fact it wasn't as funny as I expected. Maybe I'll have to try again, or try the book you reviewed. Have you read CELLINI SMITH, DETECTIVE? If so, how does it stack up, in the humor department, against DEAD AND DONE FOR? Also, I don't know why this book popped into my head (probably because I bought it around the same time as the Reeves book), but have you ever read P. MORAN, OPERATIVE, by Percival Wilde? It's a collection of short stories about an incompetent, not exactly literate bungler who's taken a correspondance course in detection. It's written in the first-person, as a series of letters written by P. Moran to his correspondence school instructor, telling about his varous cases and investigations. My memories are again, somewhat vague, but I remember it being funnier than I expected. If you've read it, any thoughts?

Knucklelullaby said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Knucklelullaby said...

I very much agree. Robert Reeves is one of my favorites. He's right up there with Norbert Davis.
After reading Dead and Done For I had to go out and find all his short stories.
Great reads. Let me know if you need any.

Evan Lewis said...

Thanks, all, for stopping by.

I read all three Cellini books (and some of the stories) about 20 years ago and am just now taking a second look at them. I plan on reviewing No Love Lost next week and Cellini Smith, Detective the week after. I'm sure I've never tried anything by Percival Wilde.

That's a mighty generous offer, Knucklelullaby! I'll have to take stock and let you know. I'm pretty sure there are a few I'm missing.