Created by Raoul Whitfield
Pseudonyms include Ramon Decolta and Temple Field
“I’m after a killer, man or woman. It’s my business. I’ll take your money…I’ll take anyone’s money, if I can give something for it. This isn’t a hobby with me. I don’t work in a library, or go into trances. I don’t dope out involved codes. And I don’t bother too much with the D.A.’s office or the harness bulls.”
— Jardinn, staking his turf
BEN JARDINN first appeared in the pages of Black Mask in 1930, in the first of three stories that would later be published collectively as the classic Death in a Bowl (1931), and he’s pretty much the stuff that hard-boiled dreams are made of. He was also, as far as I can tell, the very first of the Hollywood dicks.
Ben’s runs a small detective agency on Los Angeles’ Hollywood Boulevard, a couple of blocks from Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. He’s a pretty tough, cynical son of a bitch, “cold as hell,” and hard through and through, although he does seem to have a soft spot for “Irish,” the nickname he’s given his head secretary/receptionist, Carol Torney. He likes her almost as much as he likes money. But doesn’t quite trust her.
There’s some great period detail, and some intriguing behind-the-scenes peeks at the movie industry, when Jardinn’s hired by both the screenwriter and director of a film being made, but the real treat is the murder of the director’s brother, who’s shot while conducting a symphony at the Hollywood Bowl–in front of 20,000 witnesses. It’s all complicated, and convoluted, but Jardinn may be just the man to cut through all the lies.
He suspects everyone and trusts no one, even his own employeees. He may have been a cop once — he certainly seems to know a lot of people on the force. He may occasionally seem soft-spoken, and may even display an unexpected fondness for classical music (although he admits he doesn’t “know much about it”) but make no mistake — Jardinn’s the real deal.
As is his creator, pulpster Raoul Falconia Whitfield (1896-1945), often considered one of the truly great Black Mask boys. only a fraction behind such contemporaries as his drinking buddy Hammett, or Chandler. Whitfield also created disgraced spy/ eye Donald Free, and, under the pen name of Ramon DeCorta, Island detective Jo Gar. Born to a well-to-do family in New York, he spent much of his childhood in the Philippines where his father was a senior civil servant. Returning to the States due to an illness in 1916, he tried to find work as a movie actor, but when war beckoned, he joined the air force and became a pilot during World War I. Post war, he worked as a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post before moving to Florida and taking up writing full time. During the twenties he became one of Cap Shaw‘s boys at Black Mask, and became drinking buddies with another of the writers, Dashiell Hammett. He was a prolific short story writer in this period, with many of the stories featuring aviation themes or Far Eastern locales. In the thirties he turned to writing novels, but his output stopped when he married his second wife, Emily Vanderbilt Thayer. He died in 1945 of tuberculosis.
- “I hate a rat–male or female! I’ll break your damned, white neck–”
— Jardinn shows how well he’s overcome the gender bias so prevalent in the genre…
- “Business is business…and pleasure is pleasure.”
- Suspect: “Do I look like a killer?”
Jardinn: “I never saw a man who looked like one…You look like a liar to me–I’ve seen them before.”
- “You’re too damned good-looking to hang.”
- “So many humans like to tell lies…It’s hell finding out what really happens.”
- “A hard-boiled tale capitally told”
— The Saturday Review of Literature
- “Whitfield ranks near the top of the class in the Hammett-Chandler school.”
— Publishers Weekly
- “Death in a Bowl (Part One)” (September 1930, Black Mask)
- “Death in a Bowl (Part Two)” (October 1930, Black Mask)
- “Death in a Bowl (Part Three)” (November 1930, Black Mask)
- “Murder by Request” (January 1933, Black Mask)
- “Dark Death” (August 1933, Black Mask)
- One and Done
Some Great Private Eyes Who’ve Appeared in Only One Novel