Created by Robert Reeves
In his first appearance, in Dead and Done For (1939), we meet Cellini, a young man who studied anthropology in college, and is currently working as an accountant for a New York City gangster who controls the city’s pinball racket. When his boss is accused of murder, Cellini turns detective to clear his name.
By No Love Lost (1941) Cellini has left the Big Apple, and the employ of the mob, cutting all ties, and has set himself up as a private eye in (where else?) Los Angeles, a move that paralelled that of his creator who had moved out west hoping to work for the film industry. He soon finds himself involved in some rather loopy cases, with WWII often figuring in the plot — a surprising rarity in the hard-boiled genre. He always keep an eye out for an easy score — and his back to wall, prompting the editors at Black Mask to refer to him as “L.A.’s chisel-as-chisel-can shamus.”
In fact, by his third full-length adventure, 1943’s Cellini Smith, Detective, he’s considering shucking his struggling P.I. biz altogether and just enlisting, until a gang of hoboes hire him for $26.94 to find out who murdered one of their colleagues.
Robert Reeves was one of those promising young writers who died all too soon. He was born in New York City, and graduated from New York University. Before turning to writing, he was active in New York City theatre, as a stage manager for the Theatre Guild and boasted of a degree in anthropology. Cellini appeared in three novels, plus seven short stories, all published in Black Mask. His only other series character, Bookie Barnes, a trucker and “Highway detective” appeared in only three short stories. In the summer of 1942, Reeves, then all of thirty, enlisted in the U.S. Army and was assigned to the Air Corps, serving in the 500th Bombardment Squadron of the 345th Bombardment Group in the South Pacific. Reeves was killed, possibly in a plane crash or a jeep accident, only only a month before the war ended.
- “Murder in a hobo jungle with tense investigation covering Skid Row–flop houses, B-girls, spielers, burlesque, and all. Well in the top brackett of the hard-boiled school; a book as lean and tough and strong as its detective.”
— Anthony Boucher on Cellini Smith, Detective
- “(Reeves) can hold his own with the best, giving you as sharp and action-packed a story-line as any of them, brightened by vivid dialog and enlivened by the presence of Cellini Smith, who is unique among hard-boiled private eyes in being admittedly an intellectual – and tough enough to get away with it.”
— Anthony Boucher
- Dead and Done For (1939) | Buy this book
- No Love Lost (1941; aka “Come Out Killing” and “Dog Eat Dog”) | Buy this book
- Cellini Smith, Detective (1943) | Buy this book
- “Dog Eat Dog (Part One)” (September 1940, Black Mask)
- “Dog Eat Dog (Part Two)” (October 1940, Black Mask)
- “Dog Eat Dog (Part Three)” (November 1940, Black Mask)
- “The Flying Hearse” (March 1941, Black Mask)
- “The Cat with the Headache” (June 1941, Black Mask)
- “Bail Bait” (January 1942, Black Mask)
- “A Taste for Murder” (November 1942, Black Mask)
- “Murder A.W.O.L.” (November 1944, Black Mask)
- “Blood, Sweat and Biers” (January 1945, Black Mask)
- “Alcoholics Calamitous” (September 1945, Black Mask)
- Dead and Done For: The Complete Black Mask Cases of Cellini Smith (2020) | Buy this book
Intro by Kenneth S. White, cover by Rafael DeSoto
- The Short Career of Robert Reeves
John L. Apostolou’s look at the career of Cellini Smith’s creator, originally published in The Armchair Detective. Currently MIA.