Friday, January 13, 2012
Forgotten Books: The Crooking Finger by Cleve F. Adams
It’s been a while since I read Cleve F. Adams, so I decided to soldier on with the Rex McBride series. The Crooking Finger is the fifth, and the last of the true McBride novels, the others being Sabotage, And Sudden Death, Decoy and Up Jumped the Devil, all former FFBs. One posthumous McBride novel, Shady Lady, was published as half of an Ace Double, but it was actually a non-McBride pulp story expanded by Robert Leslie Bellem.
In a comment over on Mystery*File, David L. Vineyard once said that Adams used the plot of Red Harvest several times. I hadn’t noticed that on first reading, but have been looking for it since, and The Crooking Finger, from 1944, was one of those times.
The action takes place in a Nevada gambling town called San Gorgonio, that could be based on Reno. As in the Hammett masterpiece, our hero is up against two factions battling for control of the town. He also meets a femme fatale clearly based on Red Harvest’s Dinah Brand. McBride’s plan is to “dynamite” the situation by setting them at each others’ throats. Unlike Hammett’s Op, he’s not interested so much in cleaning up the town as in nailing the person who killed his friend and getting himself and his inamorata, Miss Kay Ford, out from under the trouble he causes.
Overall, McBride is more subdued here than in earlier novels. He only gets drunk once, is less preoccupied with proving himself a heel, and does not adopt a hard-drinking palooka as partner in anti-crime. If you’re new to Adams, I’d say The Crooking Finger is not the place to start. Instead, go with Sabotage (Adams’ first mining of the Red Harvest theme), and it’s direct sequel, And Sudden Death.
Though this is the last true McBride book, it’s not the end of Adams. There are six other genuine Adams novels and four collaborations, including the aforementioned Shady Lady. I have a lot more re-reading to do.