Fred Bennett

Created by Elliott Lewis
(1917-1990)

The first few paperback originals by Pinnacle in the series bill  FRED BENNETT as a “the most upbeat, offbeat detective in decades,” while on Goodreads he’s described as a “crusty ex-cop.”

But let’s not beat around the bush — “upbeat” he’s not, and “crusty” barely covers it. As I recall, the guy’s pretty much an unpleasant loner; a bitter, cynical unlicensed private investigator in Los Angeles, living from crisis to crisis, tooling around town in a battered old Buick, still muttering about (and carrying a torch for) his ex, a bombshell named Polly (née Andrews).

His one friend is his former partner on the LAPD, Rufus Drang, who’s now risen to the rank of Captain of Detectives, and isn’t above using Bennett to do his dirty work on cases too dicey for the police — occasionally without Fred’s knowledge.

It’s not a bad series, actually. Lewis may not have been a great stylist, but he got the job done in a clean, straightforward manner, and the plots and characterizations were tight and right. Which makes it a shame that Pinnacle tried to pimp the series as “men’s adventure,” saddling most of the books with numbers in the title, which may have cost Lewis some sales, and definitely some critical recognition; a plight that may have also affected the sales of Ralph Dennis’ Hardman series.

Granted, the first book was tagged by The New York Times as “a striking novelistic debut,” and Death and the Single Girl was nominated for a Shamus Award for Best Original P.I. Paperback. So you kinda have to wonder — would the series have done better if it hadn’t been lumped in with the men’s adventure books?

Only two books in the series escaped the numerical kiss of death: the prequel, Bennett’s World (1982), of particular interest because it focusses on Bennett’s final days as a cop, still married, and the events that lead to his dismissal from the LAPD, and the final book, Death and the Single Girl.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elliott Lewis work as an actor, writer, producer and director during the Golden Age of Radio. Initially it was his skills as an actor that were in high demand. He played Archie Goodwin, opposite Francis X. Bushman in The Adventures of Nero Wolfe (1945), and other assorted characters on The Phil Harris-Alice Faye ShowHawk Larabee, Voyage of the Scarlet Queen, The Casebook of Gregory Hood, The Clock and hundreds of other shows. Claiming that acting came to him too easily, he moved on to writing, directing and producing. He contributed scripts for The Adventures of Sam SpadeBroadway Is My Beat, Crime Classics and more. All in all, Lewis was involved in over 900 radio productions, either in front of or behind the microphone. No wonder they called him “Mr. Radio.”

Upon retirement, Lewis decided to books, and promptly pounded out seven paperback originals about Fred Bennett, a police officer who becomes a private investigator. Lewis said he enjoyed writing novels because “the writer is the actor, director, producer, wardrobe person, weatherman, location director, stunt and second unit director, crowd handler, transportation gaffer and everything else I’ve ever been around, all rolled up into one person.”

NOVELS

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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