“Bookie” Barnes

Created by Robert Reeves

Reminescent at times of Frank Gruber and Norbert Davis, Robert Reeves is best known for creating private eye Cellini Smith, but he also created another memorable (if short-lived) hard-boiled hero: trucker and “highway detective” “BOOKIE” BARNES, who appeared in just three short stories (the first in Black Mask, and the other two in Dime Detective).

Employed by the Murdock Motor Freight, he got the “Bookie” nickname, not because of any gambling affiliation, but because he went to college and frequently reads books, a pastime not normally associated with truckers of the era–or many pulp heroes either. Not that he was some pasty-faced bookworm–he was plenty tough, described in one story as ” “tall, heavy-chested, with a build you see only in physical culture ads, and, though barely twenty-six, he’d been on the trucks for three years.”

And I wasn’t kidding about trouble-prone.

In “Over a Barrel” (March 1942, Dime Detective) for example, Bookie’s precious cargo of Havana tobacco is hijacked and a corpse is left behind in the bed of his 10-ton rig. Or “Murder Without Death” (June 1942, Dime Detective), where he takes a wild, 60 mile ride in a hearse with a killer on his heels.


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. 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 High Gear” (August 1941, Black Mask)
  • “Over a Barrel” (March 1942, Dime Detective)
  • “Murder Without Death” (June 1942, Dime Detective)


  • The Complete Cases of Bookie Barnes (2021) Buy this book
    Includes all the Bookie Barnes stories, plus a non-series character story, “Dance Macabre.”


  • 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.
  • Amateur Hour
    Official Occupations of Some Popular “Eyes by Accident”


  • June 26, 2023
    The Bottom Line: Short-lived series following a trouble-prone trucker and “highway detective” riding the highways & byways of Black Mask and Dime Detective, when a working class hero was something to be. Good stuff.
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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