Showing posts with label Cleve Adams. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cleve Adams. Show all posts

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)

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Paperback Warrior Podcast - Episode 100

It's the 100th episode of the Paperback Warrior Podcast! Tom and Eric discuss their favorite moments from the show's past three years as well as the life and literary work of pulp and crime-fiction author Cleve Adams. Reviews include a Matthew Scudder installment by Lawrence Block and a 1957 vintage paperback called Sin Pit. Listen on any podcast app, or download directly HERE. Additionally, you can watch the video version of this episode on YouTube HERE.

Friday, July 15, 2022


Cleve Adams (1895-1949) was originally a pulpster that broke into writing in the 30s, along with contemporaries like Raymond Chandler and Cornell Woolrich. Adams was the co-founder of a Hollywood literary club called The Fictioneers, made up of other authors like Erle Stanley Gardner, Richard Matheson, and Frank Bonham. Adams transitioned from the pulps into paperback original novels. His serialized pulp story Sabotage, starring private-detective Rex McBride, was converted into a novel version in 1940. It has been reprinted several times, including this 1957 Signet reprint with cover art by Robert Schulz. It can also be found as a trade paperback offered by Altus Press.

The Alliance of Southwest-Pacific Underwriters, which is an insurance company, hire McBride to investigate a high number of costly incidents in Palos Verde, California. The company has insured a construction company to build a large dam. The problem is that the company is bleeding money now due to workers being killed on the job, faulty machinery, and numerous other expensive setbacks. 

McBride is considered one of the most repugnant heroes of detective-fiction, with many readers and literary scholars pointing to Adams' racist, fascist, rude, and disparaging characteristics. In Sabotage, McBride gets black-out drunk, quits the job after nearly dying (sort of), and makes passes at every female character. However, Adams presents it in a non-abrasive way that came across innocently enough as nothing more than a humorous flavor. 

Unlike the shining stars of detective-fiction, often mantlepieces of brave perfection, McBride is an average guy that routinely gets beaten, arrested, and caught – with his pants down. I think this heavily flawed, often hilarious character is a shining star of imperfection, thus making him immensely enjoyable. His abstract investigation leads through a spiral-network of shady characters and brutish town cops, but somehow makes sense by the book's conclusion. 

Sabotage is over-the-top, pulpish, and completely unnecessary. That's why it's a necessity to read if you love this era of crime-fiction. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, April 17, 2020

The Key

The fiction of Cleve Adams (1895-1949) first appeared in pulp magazines like Double Detective and Detective Fiction Weekly. Beginning in 1940, Adams launched a seven-book series of private-eye novels starring Rex McBride. He also authored two novels starring private-eye John Shannon as well as a two-book series of mysteries starring Bill Rye (published under the pseudonym John Spain). The author also wrote a handful of stand-alone, hardboiled crime novels and a number of short stories. One of those, "The Key", was featured in the July 1940 issue of Black Mask and collected in the 2010 collection The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories.

"The Key" stars Canavan, a tough-as-nails police lieutenant working the beat in Los Angeles. After bringing a thug into Night Court, Canavan spots an attractive young woman named Hope who seemingly doesn't belong with the night's typical lot of thieves, prostitutes and miscreants. After paying her $8 fine for skipping out of a restaurant tab, Canavan offers to drive Hope back to the hotel where she resides. It's on this drive that Hope confesses to Canavan that she was to meet a man at the diner but he didn't show. Her belongings were apparently stolen from her room, including her meal money. Canavan, feeling pity for the young woman, escorts her to her hotel room only to awaken a few hours later with a knot on his head, his wallet missing and Hope nowhere to be found. Literally.

Canavan believes Hope is attached to something other than just petty theft. After chasing her trail, the police lieutenant runs into a Syndicate goon named Kolinski who may be behind the murder of Hope's brother. After learning that Hope may be on the run from her brother's killer, Canavan defies the law and finds himself as a wanted fugitive. In attempting to find Hope, Canavan hopes to prove his innocence as the corpses pile up.

This was a rather odd whodunit with a number of nonsensical scenes involving Canavan searching for clues. There's Kolinksi's racket of running a protection association for morticians begging them question: were mortuaries frequently robbed and vandalized in the 1940s? The idea of a “key to solve the murder” is an old genre trope that even feels over utilized for the time period. At six chapters, the novella moves briskly and Canavan is a believable hero. Everything else wasn't. Overall, "The Key" was an enjoyable albeit average mystery that left me curious to read more of Cleve Adams' literary work.

Buy a copy of this mammoth collection HERE