Steve Bentley

Created by Robert Dietrich (pseudonym of E. Howard Hunt; 1918-2007)

"(Washington, D.C. is) a great town if you've got the stamina of a Cape buffalo and the wealth of a Punjab prince."

-- Steve comes clean on D.C.

Here's a rare case in the P.I. game where the author is better known than his creation. Robert Dietrich was one of several pseudonyms used by convicted Watergate conspirator and CIA agent E. Howard Hunt.

Yeah, that guy.

And it's a shame, in a way, because the STEVE BENTLEY series simply rocks; a string of entertaining high-energy, hard-boiled romps that are perfect examples of the late fifties/early sixties paperback P.I.

Even if Bentley wasn't actually a private eye. Nope -- in fact, like David Dodge's "Whit" Whitney, the Washington-based Bentley is actually a chatered accountant.

No, seriously...

Not your standard accountant, though. A Korean war vet, he's done time in CID and the treasury department. But now he has his own shingle out, and he seems to be doing well. He's got a "hip" bachelor pad, a small ketch, an Olds, and he's been known to keep the company of a beautiful woman or two.

And wouldn't you know it -- danger and dames seem to follow Steve around. So he packs a Walther, and he keeps in touch with Lieutenant Kellaway of the D.C. cops.

Just, you know, in case.

All in all, a pretty enjoyable series. There just aren't enough hard-drinkin', two-fisted, pistol-packin' playboy accountants who make like P.I.s, if you ask me.

And as if to prove my point, after a thirty-seven year hiatus, Steve Bentley returned in 1999's Guilty Knowledge. Steve's now a hotshot DC tax lawyer, but the book's full of all sorts of the good old stuff we've come to expect from this series, like political ambition and dirty tricks -- and an incriminating piece of recording tape. You just have to wonder where Hunt got his ideas.

Maybe during his long and colourful stint in the CIA? Long before anybody had ever heard of Watergate, Hunt was bopping all over the world as an operative making it safe for democracy (supposedly sticking his finger into everything from the Bay of Pigs to -- !!! -- the Kennedy assassination), while churning out at least one and sometimes as many as three books a year in his spare time. Besides the Dietrich pen name, he wrote as John Baxter, Gordon Davis and David St. John, eventually writing over seventy novels, not surprisingly mostly spy and espionage stuff, and served as the inspiration for the pulp-writing Cigarette Man in television's The X-Files.

Maybe Hunt should have stuck with writing, instead of getting mixed up with that Nixon guy.

UNDER OATH

  • "The most interesting novel from a historical point of view is Angel Eyes (1961), where the McGuffin is a tape recording that can destroy a politician's career."

-- gleefully pointed out by William DeAndrea, in his wonderful Encyclopedia Mysteriosa

NOVELS

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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