Adams, Cleve (pulp fiction writer)


(1895-1949) Also wrote as: Franklin Charles, John Spain

The missing link between Dashiell hammett and James Ellroy, Cleve Adams wrote rambunctious, violent, corrosively cynical private eye fiction from the mid-1930s until his untimely death from pneumonia in 1949 at the age of 54.

Like Hammett and many another pulp star, Adams found his way to writing after a peripatetic life and an assortment of odd jobs and adventures. Born in Chicago, he was a copper miner in the West, an accountant, a window trimmer, an art director for a movie studio, a life insurance executive, a soda jerk and—like Hammett again—a private detective. Like Raymond chandler, he was already middle-aged when he took up his pen, or, more likely, began battering his typewriter. He started selling stories to such detective pulps as Clues, Double Detective, Detective Fiction Weekly, and eventually Dime Detective and Black Mask. By the late 1930s his byline appeared at least once or twice a month, and he wrote several topic-length serials. His most unusual and interesting contribution to the pulps was probably his series of stories published in Clues about a female private detective in Hollywood, Violet McDade, a 400-pound former sideshow attraction, and her gorgeous Mexican sidekick Nevada Alvarado.

In 1940 Adams joined the other crime pulp-sters on the bandwagon to hardcover publication. His first three published novels—And Sudden Death (1940), The Black Door (1941), and Decoy (1941)—were in fact reprints of his pulp serials. Those first three, and a subsequent trio of titles (one published posthumously), all featured raucous case histories from the files of Rex McBride, a tough private detective. Adams’s other hard-boiled heroes, including those chronicled under his pen names would have been hard to distinguish from McBride in a police lineup. Adams also stuck to a few basic plotlines, usually ones that seemed familiar from the works of Dashiell Hammett. But the topics had their own style, snarly in tone and chaotic in construction. Adams has been accused of writing from a pro-fascist perspective. Adams’s “hero” McBride in Up Jumped the Devil (1943) does in fact bark that “an American Gestapo is goddam well what we need . . .” and Adams’s mysteries are filled with unpleasantries about women, foreigners, and miscellaneous races and religions. But Adams, to paraphrase Ellroy on Ellroy, is writing about bad white men doing bad things, and his political viewpoint seems less ultra-right-wing than nihilistic, creating a nasty landscape full of chauvinist pigs, rotten cops, crooked politicians, rich slatterns, and sadists—a big, ugly, wisecracking world of everyday corruption.

Other than some early paperback editions, Adams’s work has never been reprinted, and yet he was a leading contender in the hard-boiled field in his day, receiving many enthusiastic reviews. One of his topics, The Private Eye (1942), was bought for the movies (but never produced) by director Howard Hawks at about the time Hawks was filming Raymond Chandler’s novel The Big Sleep for Warner Bros. Vincent Starrett, a respected author and columnist of his day, wrote of Adams: “He is far and away the best writer of the hard-boiled school who has come along in recent memory to delight those of us who, in the safety of our homes, like to be frightened by events which, if we were part of them, would send us scurrying to the nearest sanatorium. . . . For exhilarating adventure, rowdy humor, and cynical awareness of much of the contemporary scene, it would be difficult to find a more entertaining raconteur than Mr Adams.”

Adams was friends with many of the West Coast pulp mystery writers, including Chandler, and he dedicated some of his topics to fellow pulp-sters such as Dwight babcock, W. T. Ballard, and Robert Leslie bellem (who completed Adams’s unfinished novel, No Wings on a Cop).


  • And Sudden Death (1940);
  • Black Door, The (1941);
  • Contraband (1950);
  • Crooking Finger, The (1944);
  • Decoy (1941);
  • No Wings on a Cop (1950);
  • Private Eye, The
  • (1942); Sabotage (1940);
  • Shady Lady (1955);
  • Up Jumped the Devil (1943);
  • What Price Murder? (1942)
  • As Franklin Charles:
  • Vice Czar Murders, The (1941)
  • As John Spain:
  • Dig Me a Grave (1942);
  • Death Is Like That (1943);
  • Evil Star, The (1944)

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