Friday, March 5, 2010

FORGOTTEN BOOKS: No Love Lost by Robert Reeves

After last week's Dead and Done For, the first book in the Cellini Smith series, I couldn't resist moving right on to book 2. So here it is.

No Love Lost began life as the three-part serial "Dog Eat Dog", starting in the September, 1940 Black Mask. The cover says "Introducing Cellini Smith" because that was his first appearance in the magazine (or any magazine) despite the fact Dead and Done For had been published in hardcover a year earlier. Ain't this a great cover? The title spreads for Parts 1 and 2 of the serial are shown below.

The copyright page of No Love Lost, published in 1941, says "a condensed and different version" appeared in Black Mask. Was that really so, or was No Love Lost actually an expanded and different version of the serial? We'll likely never know. We can be pretty sure, though, that the book's third and final incarnation, the Mercury digest Come Out Killing, was a slightly abridged version of the hardcover.

Why three titles? Beats me. Any one of them would have served. None of the three is particularly germane to the plot, while all three are general enough to be slapped onto to any number of mysteries.

After the split with his New York gangster friend/boss, Cellini is managing a detective agency in Los Angeles, and has yet to land a case. Lucky for him, his office is across the street from a bar run by a retired boxing champ, and that champ gets himself murdered in Chapter 1. The champ's pals are convinced the killer is his arch-rival, retired wrestler The Terrible Turk (seen below eating oysters) and hire Cellini to prove it. Of course the case is not that simple, and Cellini needs all his wits and wiles to solve the puzzle.

Reeves kicked the humor up a notch for this one. While Cellini is still plenty tough, the book delivers more laughs. I got the feeling the author was feeling his oats and daring to be put more of himself into this book. There's even a bar scene where we meet a drink-mooching bald man who may be Reeves. The guy is feeling sorry for himself because he doesn't know short hand. If he did, he moans, he could have been a writer.

One sample of the humor. While a master of ceremonies is welcoming the crowd to a nightclub, a customer gets up and goes into the can.  "Tell that guy in the can to come out," the emcee says, "because the floor show's starting." Comes the answer: "The guy in the can left because he couldn't stand the smell from the kitchen."

Cellini displays a bit less of his education in this one, focusing more on the three Ds: drinking, dames and detecting. His sidekick Duck-Eye Ryan, a loyal but dumb punchdrunk bruiser, provides additional comic relief and plenty muscle.

Another book that badly needs reprinting.

 (click to enlarge)

Click on over to pattinase for Patti Abbott's weekly list of Forgotten Books.


Rittster said...

You make this book sound very attractive. Your example from the story helped, and the Black Mask cover didn't hurt, either. Also, here's a note that will be of interest to absolutely nobody, but "the can" happens to be my favorite slang term for toilet. "The john" is ok, decent. "The head" I've never cared for. But "the can"...THAT, my friend, is poetry.

George said...

Robert Reeves looks like a writer I need to read. Thanks for bringing him to our attention!

Richard Prosch said...

Great post. Duck-Eye Ryan! (No relation to Duck Dodgers in the 25th Century.)

Fred Salter said...

I just got finished reading Blood, Sweat and Biers in the new Black Lizard Book of Black Mask Stories. After reading that short story about Cellini Smith story I'm looking for more. I think I can pick up a couple of his books on abe.books but for the most part he's a difficult author to find. The Black Mask Magazines are cost prohibitive and have only seen a few of them scanned by people that share. I would love to see them released on a CD. Keith Alan Deutsch probably has no intention of doing any such thing though. If anyone knows a source for reprints of the stories in Black Mask I'd much appreciate a head's up. Thanks, Fred Salter

Fred Salter said...

Forgot to mention that I do have a digital copy of an old Black Mask with Alcoholics Calamitous by Reeves in it. Vol 27 No. 2 Sept 1945. Haven't read it yet but look forward to it.