-- from "Click", Said the Camera
There's plenty to love about this long-running series by Dean Davis, "the world's coolest mystery writer," featuring Las Vegas private eye KING BENNETT. In over fifty books, from "Bang", Said the Gun (1956) , to the very last, Somewhere the Sun is Shining (1969), Davis consistently delivered the gumshoe goods, capturing the finger-snapping beat of Rat Pack-era Vegas with style to spare.
The first few books featured King working as a P.I. in LA, but the series really picked up when he moved to Las Vegas at the end of Dead Man's Party (1957). Along the way, King managed to visit Reno a few times, Philadelphia and even a pre-legalized gambling Atlantic City but for most the series, Las Vegas was his home turf. And that suited him fine.
King's a suitably wise-assd and hard-boiled dick, with a taste for babes and a nose for trouble, part lounge lizard, and part man about town. Imagine Richard Prather's Shell Scott hanging out with Frankie, and you've about got it. By today's standards, he'd almost certainly be viewed as a politically incorrect, sexist pig, but this was Rat Pack-era Las Vegas, and he was, well, the King. In fact, the tongue-in-cheek raunchiness is pretty tame by today's standards.
And, of course, every King must have his court. Once Bennett was in Vegas, the rest of the supporting cast soon fell into place: Jack O'Hara, a former failed stand-up comedian from New York City whose luck changed when he changed his stage name to Stanky Field and geared his act towards stories about growing up Jewish in New York, Joy, King's twenty-something blonde secretary, and police contact Captain Ted Fleming. King's favourite hangouts in Vegas were Jingo's Coffee Shop and Chook's, the quintessential smoky jazz club where all the hepcats met.
Davis' modest claims of being "just some guy who wrote mysteries" are belied by the sheer whallop of these books. And Davis himself was a character in his own right. Not only did he write the books, half the time it seemed he'd just stepped out of its pages. He was quite a prolific writer, and enjoyed a challenge. Responding to a dare from a rival writer, he even wrote four romance novels, under the pen name of Elizabeth Sheridan Ritz, and he wrote several westerns under the Jericho Long byline. All his books were PBO's, and all were published by the legendary Green Shield press.
But Davis' crowning achievement was "The Crime Scene Trilogy," three linked books in the Bennett series (And Those Who Die, And Those Who Kill and And Those Who Know -- all 1959). The premise took the old saw about "three sides to every story"and applied it to the murder mystery, looking at one case from three different angles that of the victim, the killer, and the detective. He won the prestigious American Sleuth and Mystery Award for the trilogy. Six years later, he won again, for The Dark Makes No Noise (1965), but the trilogy is still what he's best remembered for.
About the only thing, in fact, that's not easy to love about this series is that it doesn't exist.
That's right. While Dean Davis is real, he's not some grizzled, hard-living wordsmith from the fifties, but a fellow web monkey with a heart of gold and a taste for P.I.s, the Rat Pack, old paperbacks and girlie mags. And he's got his tongue jammed so far into his cheek it's almost poking out his ear.
In real life, he's a multimedia specialist for Delaware Technical and Community College. He began free-lance writing for Marvel Comics in 1996 and now writes for "Secret Agent Corrigan," produced by King Features in Europe. His Golden Web Award-winning site, Dean Davis: Just Some Guy Who Wrote Mysteries, just has to be seen to be believed. Everything you wanted to know about King Bennett and "that other" Dean Davis, but were afraid to ask...
Like Ron Miller's' site for Velda Bellinghausen, a 50's-era chorus-girl-turned-P.I., this is a finely-rendered labour of love, a fitting tribute to the P.I. genre of the past. Maybe Velda and King should date.
In fact, it sorta makes you wish these guys would actually cough up the real deal, instead of just teasing us so well.
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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