Ben Helm

Created by Bruno Fischer
Pseudonyms include Russell Gray & Harrison Storm
(1908-92)

A popular P.I. of the late forties/early fifties, middle-aged, middle-class BEN HELM is rather unique, in that he's happily married, to Greta Murdock, an actress.

Not that we see her much, at least in the books I've read. Mostly Ben's off on a case somewhere, only periodically checking in, usually by phone.

But then, sometimes it seems he's barely in his own books, flitting in and out of the action. Although always pivotal, he's rarely the central character in these multiple viewpoint thrillers, although he does always seem to be the one to (mostly) tie things up.

Although licensed as a private investigator, Ben makes much of his living as a criminalogist, writing and lecturing in that field. It's fortunate for us readers, then, that he believes in hands-on research. He's not your typical hard-boiled, Hammeresque eye of the time, either, relying more on his wits than his fists, and he's more likely to reach for his pipe than his bottle, or his gun. Not that he packs heat all that often, but when he does, it tends to be a small /32 automatic. Hell, Ben doesn't even like to be called a private eye, although that's exactly what he is, and a darn good one.

The books are are so damn fiftiy-ish, capturing that whole smug, post-war suburban vibe, that I'm surprised they don't come with tail fins. But in their own mild-mannered way, they're every bit as gripping and true to their era as any of their more blood-specked contemporaries.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Fischer was one of the more prolific popular writers of the genre, starting out in the weird menace pulps back in the thirties (featuring "defective detectives" such as Calvin Kane and Ben Bryn) and eventually moving into the paperback market of the fifties, putting his name or one of his many pen names on over 300 stories and 25 or so novels. He was born in Germany in 1908, and emigrated to the United States with his family in 1913. His first publishing job was editing The Socialist Call, the official weekly of the American socialist party, but when a friend who had sold some fiction introduced him to the better paying world of pulps he decided to give it a whack, and was soon rewarded with a cheque for sixty bucks for the first story he submitted to Dime Mystery. He was drawn to the "realistic" horror stories in the weird menace pulps and with his crab-like private eyes Calvin Kane and Ben Bryn helped father the "defective detective" sub-genre.

When the weird menace thing had run its course, Fischer simply turned to more mainstream detective and crime fiction, and his name continued to pop up on pulp covers throughout the the 1940, eventually moving on to writing paperback originals. He ended his days in an old socialist cooperative community in New York State.

Other noteworthy creations of Fischer include Rick Train and Ethan Burr, a particularly bloodthirsty P.I. known as the "Killer Vigilante."

NOVELS

  • The Dead Men Grin (1945)
  • More Deaths Than one (1947)
  • The Restless Hands (1949)
  • The Silent Dust (1950)
  • The Paper Circle (1951; aka "Stripped for Murder") ...Buy this book

SHORT STORIES

  • "The Quiet Woman" (1954; also October 1962, MSMM as "Death Attends Rehearsal")

RELATED LINKS

A list of married eyes...

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.


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