It may be that I’ve missed the joke with Blue Murder. The author was one of those pulp fiction writers who could type as fast as he could think. He published some 3,000 short stories in his career, many in Spicy Detective. Several collections of his stories have recently been reprinted. His fans today appreciate his over-the-top use of Chandleresque prose. But there’s a question whether he was engaging in parody or just writing badly. I’m guessing the latter.
Blue Murder by Robert Leslie Bellem. Phoenix Books (1938), 256 pp.
Duke Pizzatello works as an investigator for Joe and Steve Kohlar’s detective agency in Los Angeles. He’s told to find evidence that Nelia Mason’s husband has been cheating on her. Nelia is interested in a more permanent separation than divorce. When she arranges an incident in which Duke shoots the husband in his wooden leg, Duke wants off the case. But then Gertie Kohlar, Joe’s wife, tells Duke that she’s pregnant, he’s the father, and she needs money for an abortion. Nelia is his only source of ready cash. Dixie Parker, a secretary for the agency, urges Duke not to get involved with Nelia again. But he does – and soon discovers her husband’s dead body and the hacked up remains of an unidentifiable woman. Duke becomes the prime suspect in the double homicide.
This is a tough-guy novel that relies almost completely on plot twists. Duke, the protagonist and narrator, is neither sympathetic nor perceptive. At best he’s amusingly irresponsible as he bounces from one episode to another. The women in the story are notable primarily for their flimsy outfits, though Dixie adds a ridiculous determination to keep Duke out of trouble. The male characters are hardly developed at all. Bellem might have been able to get all this to work if he had kept the plot under control. But too much of what happens just makes no sense. The book was perhaps mildly titillating seventy years ago. Today it’s likely to appeal only to less discriminating fans of noir fiction.