Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Punk & Other Stories

Cleve Adams (1885-1949) was a hardboiled crime-fiction author for the pulp magazines whose premature death robbed him from seeing his work be rediscovered in the paperback era. Author and literary scholar Ben Boulden has resurrected four of Adams’ best novellas from 1937-1941 into a modern volume called Punk & Other Stories. I’ve heard good things about Adams’ writing, so I was excited to dive into the title story from the March 1938 issue of Detective Fiction Weekly.

“Punk” is narrated by Jerry, whose job is collecting coins from slot machines and pinball games located in disreputable taverns. Jerry has two childhood friends: Big Ed, a local hood who owns the machines Jerry services and Slats, an honest police detective.

About a month ago, Jerry murdered a guy who also used to work for Big Ed. The cops are looking for the dead guy and suspect foul play. There’s a lot going on in this novelette: a love triangle, political corruption, more murders, mutilation, a frame-up and lots of hardboiled, tough-guy patter.

Adams was a solid writer with an ear for dialogue, and his style never slips into parody (like, say, Robert Leslie Bellem’s Dan Turner: Hollywood Detective). Like a lot of pulp writing of the 1930s, the novella is over-plotted with way too much happening. To his credit, the author does a nice job keeping all the plates spinning. It’s also plenty violent and action-packed with a tidy ending.

I’m thankful that a forward-leaning editor put this collection together, and I intend to dip back into it in the future. For reference, the other novellas are:

“Default With Doom” (1937)
“Frame for a Lady” (1938)
“Forty Pains” (1941)

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