Sabotage ran as a six-part serial in Detective Fiction Weekly in 1939 and was published in hardcover the following year. The book introduced Adams’ number one detective Rex McBride, a character who has - like Adams himself - been both ignored and reviled for far too long.
Back in the extremely socially-conscious 80s, an intelligent and well-meaning critic labeled McBride a racist and a fascist. That’s unfortunate, because other critics took up the cry, tarring the reputations of both McBride and Adams. A later critic, a guy I both like and respect, called McBride “one of the most repugnant characters in detective fiction history.”
I think McBride (and Adams) got a bad rap. In Sabotage, McBride exhibits no fascist behavior. He’s tough when necessary, but he’s a long, long way from Jack Bauer. The racist charge is inflated as well. In this book’s 252 pages, there are two instances of racial insensitivity (not uncommon in 1940) and one of them offends McBride himself.
And repugnant? Not from where I’m sitting. McBride doesn’t care what his employers think of him, and tells them so, but he stays the course and gets the job done in spite of them. He chases women, but only as far as they want to be chased. When one who’s a bit too young and innocent offers herself to him, he sets her straight and sends her home, at his own expense. McBride may try to act like a heel, but he always ends up doing the right thing.
Adams’ style is smooth and laconic, with a rhythm every writer should envy. Though I hadn’t read him in twenty years, the first two pages of Sabotage sucked me right back in and slapped a smile on my face. I invite you to enlarge the pulp spread below and see for yourself. If you like what you see, you’ll find ten other books bearing his name (five featuring Rex McBride), and three more under the pseudonym John Spain. Though none have been reprinted in over 50 years, low demand has kept the prices reasonable. I guess that’s something we can thank the critics for.
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Tomorrow: “Jigsaw” - a complete (and no doubt never-reprinted) Cleve F. Adams novelette from a 1939. Ya’ll come back, now.
Links to more Forgotten Books await you at Patti Abbott’s pattinase.