Showing posts with label Steve Bentley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Steve Bentley. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Steve Bentley #05 - Murder on her Mind

The fifth Steve Bentley novel is Murder on Her Mind, originally published by Dell in 1960. The novel, authored by Howard Hunt using a pseudonym of Robert Dietrich, has been reintroduced to modern audiences in an exciting new version by Cutting Edge Books. It exists in both paperback and digital as well as an inclusion in the massive Steve Bentley omnibus Bentley for Hire.

As a reminder, Bentley is a former U.S. Treasury agent who experienced combat in The Korean War. Now, he works as a successful accountant in Washington, D.C. and spends his free time sailing his boat on the Potomac River. The author positions the Bentley character like an amateur private-eye with plenty of intelligence, street smarts, quick wits, determination, and tenacity. In some ways, Bentley always reminds me of the popular Chester Drum character created by Milton Lesser (better known as Stephen Marlowe). So, it is no surprise that these books normally start with a client walking into Bentley's office needing favors beyond the typical IRS hustle. 

Chula Marques enters Bentley's office wanting an accounting sheet prepared for her father, a Baltimore resident and former revolutionist from an unknown banana country. Bentley is skeptical to become involved with this sort of international diplomat, and his fears are realized when he's handed counterfeit money. Because of Bentley's prior experience rooting out counterfeiters for the U.S. Treasury, he can easily identify saggy president eyes on American currency. 

Bentley dismisses Chula, but her memory stays with him. He visits the local club where she performs, and has a run-in with her drunk and disorderly husband as well as the bandstand leader who may be having an affair with her. Bentley is also approached by a newspaper reporter that represents a sensational publication that focuses on the hottest D.C. scandals. They want the scoop on Chula and her father.

All of this is entertaining enough to read, but the author understands his consumer's needs. One morning, Bentley receives a phone call from Chula that her father is missing. His last known whereabouts is a small shoreline town in Maryland. When Bentley arrives at the beach cottage (a popular staple in crime-noir) he discovers the dead reporter. Someone killed the reporter to put the hush on whatever they feel was blabbed to or by Bentley. So, if the journalist has been whacked, it is only a matter of time before someone tries to hush Bentley. 

Howard Hunt's plot is a little convoluted with some stolen jewels, a gunrunning enterprise, and the ins-and-outs of his relationship with Chula. The most entertaining aspect of the story for me was the abrasion between Bentley and a local criminal kingpin named Renzo. The story-line featuring Bentley squaring off with Renzo's two hitmen was worth the price of admission. Also, uncommon to this series, is a rather foul mood conveyed by Bentley. The imagery of the hero hoisting a rifle and walking down the beach to possibly kill his pursuer was just so vivid and memorable. Hunt was really on his game with this novel. 

If you love intriguing private-eye novels with interesting characters and an intense, calculated story, then by all means Murder on Her Mind should be your next read. While Hunt is often unfairly dismissed by crime-fiction fans, I continue to find his literary work exceptional. The Steve Bentley series is the best representation of the Howard Hunt formula and this is no different. Highly recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Steve Bentley #04 - Mistress to Murder

Mistress to Murder, the fourth installment in the Steve Bentley series, was published in 1960 by Dell. The book's author, E. Howard Hunt, wrote the series using the pseudonym Robert Dietrich. Bentley is former military and runs a successful accounting business in Washington D.C.'s turbulent political beltway. While dabbling with stocks and blondes, Bentley always finds himself as a pseudo private-eye working random cases that fall into his lap. In the aptly titled Mistress to Murder, now available in a brand new edition by Cutting Edge, Bentley becomes entangled with a wealthy international family in the posh D.C. suburbs. 

From a rural stretch of Northern Virginia blacktop, Bentley sees a young woman fall from her horse. After running to her aid, Bentley is stopped by the woman's chauffeur. Helping the woman into the car, the chauffeur becomes aggravated with Bentley's assistance and nearly K.O.'s him with one punch. Thankfully, Bentley memorizes the vehicle's license plate. Later, back at his home, Bentley discovers that the woman secretly placed a necklace in his pocket.

Consumed with the woman's odd behavior and injury, Bentley hires his old PI friend, and series staple, Artie to locate the vehicle's residence. It belongs to Baron Alejandro Esquivel, located in the high-end district of Georgetown. Bentley goes to the home, receives a cool welcoming, and meets Esquivel's young wife Anita, which eventually leads to a quick make-out session. Bentley pries himself away from Anita and is re-introduced to 19-yeard old Megan, the woman Bentley helped previously. Megan behaves normally, is “sick in bed” due to the fall, and both Anita and The Baron are keeping watch. But, Megan slips a note to Bentley asking him to meet her that night.

At the meeting, Bentley learns that Megan, and her half-sister Anita, are originally from Venezuela. Their father, the original Baron, was partners with Esquivel in a shady, yet lucrative, business. Long story short, their parents were suspiciously killed, Esquivel became the new, yet fraudulent Baron, married Anita and now the three of them live unhappily ever after. Anita cheats on Esquivel and Megan is the princess trapped in the castle. But, the wrench in the gears is a string of pearls that are internationally coveted and now owned by Esquivel. They are a sort of collector's piece worth well over $100K. Like these things tend to go, murders begin, the pearls are stolen, and Bentley is caught up in the deadly ruckus.

Hunt borrows similar plots of the first two Bentley novels. In the series debut, Murder on the Rocks, the plot involves a precious emerald, a South African ambassador and two women searching for the stone. In the series second installment, End of a Stripper, a man being dragged from a strip club discreetly places a small camera in Bentley's pocket. The camera is then traced back to the man and the purpose of the novel. However, Hunt writes Bentley so well that the recycled elements can be easily overlooked. 

Mistress to Murder, and the Steve Bentley series as a whole, is excellent crime-fiction written by an experienced, seasoned pro. While Bentley doesn't receive the same fanfare as other private-eye literary heroes, I think his steadfast willingness to do good things for people in peril is unmatched. The crimes are detailed, the characters dynamic, and the pace is flawless. All of the elements contribute to Mistress to Murder's success. This is just another great novel proving that this series is a cut-above your average gumshoe procedural. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Steve Bentley #03 - The House on Q Street

Many fans point to the Steve Bentley series as the best representation of E. Howard Hunt's literary work. Hunt, a former CIA operative and convicted Watergate conspirator, authored over 70 novels using a variety of pseudonyms. The Steve Bentley series was written under the name Robert Dietrich between 1957 through 1962, with one additional novel penned in 1999. I've previously read the first two installments and thoroughly enjoyed them. The books were originally published by Dell and have recently been reprinted by Cutting Edge Books. Savoring the series, it's been 20 months since I've visited the character. Continuing in series order, I'm picking up with the third installment, 1959's The House on Q Street

Steve Bentley is a Korean War veteran that was once employed by the U.S. Treasury Department to break up black market rings internationally. Now, he is employed as a busy tax accountant surrounded by the I-495 beltway in Washington, D.C. In The House on Q Street, Bentley is referred by a friend to Major General Walter Ferrand Ballou, U.S.M.C. Retired. The desired meeting is for Bentley to possibly replace Ballou's recently deceased accountant. But, when the two meet face to face, it's a rather unusual discussion. 

Ballou's family is immensely wealthy based on old Washington money. Ballou is quite the war hero, fighting in WW2's Pacific Theater and earning his fruit salad the hard way. In a cavalier approach, Ballou never cashed his paychecks because he felt it was his duty to serve America. Ballou retired and then served as Chief of State Police before later declining a bid for governor. Bentley, respecting Ballou, asks how he can assist the retired general. Without stating the obvious, Ballou needs Bentley to hide a $100,000 payout to a blackmailer by creating a corporation and providing various write-offs and losses. The secrecy is to protect both his son and daughter from noticing the withdraw from their eventual lucrative trust. 

By creating the corporation, Bentley learns that Ballou's daughter Francie is a drop-dead knockout that's divorced and flirty. Her brother Winston is a screw-up that dabbles in horse racing and slowly whittles away his trust funds. Upon a return visit to Ballou's house, Bentley tackles an intruder and then notifies the police. The next day, Bentley learns that a former state police officer that Ballou had previously fired had been shot to death. What's interesting is that the dead man's wife shows up to bail out Ballou's intruder from jail. How are these connected? When Bentley discovers that this same woman was married to a doctor eight years earlier, he finds out that the man was murdered as well. Two husbands. Two murders. The link turns out to be way more than Bentley bargained for.

There is a lot to unpack in The House on Q Street, but it's never too convoluted for its own good. I read the novel in nearly one sitting and absolutely loved the pace and the influx of clues as each chapter scurried by. Hunt sometimes floundered in the “literary hack” echelon of crime-noir and espionage writers. But, with these Steve Bentley thrillers, he absolutely nails it every time. Bentley's probing into the murders leads to a missing gun, a mysterious nurse, the General's secrets, and a high-level criminal in Baltimore. Of course, the hero still has time for the Scotch and Ballou's hot daughter.

The House on Q Street is another D.C. thriller, complete with a twisty mystery and compelling characters. Steve Bentley remains a competent paperback hero that rubs shoulders with politicians while also digging into their darkened past to expose hidden truths. The combination of romance, intrigue, violence, and scandal makes it an absolute pleasure to read. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Steve Bentley #02 - End of a Stripper

E. Howard Hunt authored over 70 novels utilizing pseudonyms including David St. John, Gordon Davis, John Baxter and variations of his own name. He also used the name Robert Dietrich to write 12 novels, 10 of them featuring a fictional Washington D.C. tax accountant named Steve Bentley. The character debuted in 1957's Murder on the Rocks and continued with two to three books per year through 1962. In 1999, Hunt revisited the character with one final chapter, Guilty Knowledge. Cutting Edge Books has released several of them as affordable ebooks. I really enjoyed my experience with the series debut and was happy to obtain a digital copy of the second installment, 1959's End of a Stripper.

The story begins with Bentley entertaining an old war buddy at a swanky strip-club called Chanteclair. It's here where Bentley first sets eyes on a gorgeous Scandinavian stripper named Linda Lee. Enthralled with the woman, Bentley notices that a shady man is taking quick, discreet photos of Lee. After a few minutes, the man is assaulted by two bouncers and hauled outside. Right before his exit, the man furtively slides his camera into Bentley's pocket. After the show, Bentley has a private-eye friend analyze the photos only to determine they are just poorly lit, poorly planned shots of Lee. But, Bentley learns the man taking the photos was a bottom-shelf private-eye named Mousey found murdered in a nearby warehouse. After Bentley is visited with threats to return the camera, the narrative accelerates to furious pace under Hunt's talented writing skills.

With Bentley the target of the bouncers and whoever hired Mousey, the only solution is to discover the identity of the mysterious stripper. In doing so, Bentley finds himself mired in the inner workings of politics in the D.C. beltway. Using his trusted ally Lieutenant Kellaway, the duo investigate Chanteclair's ties to a wealthy criminal mastermind and his connection with a secretive U.S. Congressman.

Hunt's second Bentley thriller is an intriguing, pulse-pounding hardboiled crime-novel with all of the desirable genre tropes – sultry women, crooked men and the inevitable chase for wealth and power. End of a Stripper is a more superior offering when compared to the series debut, Murder on the Rocks. Both are excellent, but it's Hunt’s narrative that readers will find fascinating. His contemptuous views of 1959's amoral Washington D.C. serve as a prophetic message for readers in 2020. 

In an odd twist, it is Hunt himself who would later contribute to unlawfulness in our nation's capital with his involvement in the famed Watergate Scandal. Despite the author's political experiences, Hunt proves once again that he can write the proverbial hardboiled crime classic again and again. End of a Stripper may or may not be one of his best literary offerings. After all, he authored over 70 novels, so further investigation is warranted.

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Steve Bentley #01 - Murder on the Rocks

Everette Howard Hunt (1918-2007, better known as E. Howard Hunt) worked for the CIA as a covert officer specializing in political influence and action. Before devising his best-known plot, the infamous Watergate burglary that saw President Nixon impeached and himself imprisoned, Hunt authored nearly 40 crime-fiction and espionage novels using pseudonyms including David St. John, P.S. Donoghue, Gordon Davis, John Baxter and variations of his own name. As Robert Dietrich, Hunt wrote ten novels starring Steve Bentley, a Washington D.C. accountant who solves murders in private-eye style. The series debut, Murder on the Rocks, was originally published in 1957 and has now been reprinted as an affordable ebook by Cutting Edge.

The first thing to know about Bentley is that he isn't just a paper-pushing CPA. He's a Korean War veteran who was employed at one time by the U.S. Treasury Department. His expertise led to breaking up a number of black market rings globally. It's this reason that a client named Iris Seawall approaches Bentley in a bar. She wants Bentley to assist in locating a valuable emerald that was entrusted to her father.

Bentley's skepticism is fueled by a number of factors. For starters, Iris is married to a rough character linked to a gambling kingpin, and her father is an Ambassador in South Africa. Our hero's questions are valid – why not just use a private-eye? Iris responds that her father doesn't want anyone to know the failure he's brought to his position and feels that a private-eye may attract unwanted attention. Whether that's true or not isn't important, but it's a great way to propel an accountant into a lost treasure adventure.

Hunt uses Iris and her sister Sara as sexy bait for Bentley. Both are soon-to-be divorcees with bodies that were made for sin. However, Bentley mostly passes up the flesh buffet to seek out the treasure. When Iris's neighbor and her father's courier are both found murdered, Bentley's case becomes more complex.

Murder on the Rocks actually begins twice. First, Bentley declines Iris's proposal and the $500 that comes with finding the emerald. Second, Bentley also declines a $10,000 offer from Iris's sister Sara to find who murdered the courier. Third, Bentley declines an offer from a gambling kingpin named Vance Bodine. At one point, I was questioning whether Hunt was declining his own publisher's offer to craft a story. Eventually, the narrative is kick-started with a murder and the investigation is instigated. Murder on the Rocks features two sexy, desperate women, a stolen emerald and a determined hero. If you love vintage crime-fiction you should enjoy this tale.

Buy a copy of this book HERE