Friday, August 14, 2015

Encore FFB: DECOY by Cleve F. Adams (1941)


NOTE: I was tempted to blame this rerun post (from 2010) on last weekend's Willamette Writers Conference. It's true I'm still tired in body and brain and didn't read much this week, but the real truth is that I was planning on reviewing another book and chickened out. Not for my own sake, but for the author's. That other novel presented an unflattering portrait of a certain Middle Eastern Icon, and with all the crazy shit going on right now, it occurred to me that calling attention to it could be bad for the author's health. Ain't that a sorry state of affairs?

Decoy, published in 1941, is the third book in the Rex McBride series, and also Cleve F. Adams’ third novel. It first appeared earlier that same year as a 6-part serial in Detective Fiction Weekly. I reviewed the first two McBrides, Sabotage and And Sudden Death in earlier Forgotten Books posts, and invite you to take a look.

Decoy picks up shortly after the events in And Sudden Death, in which McBride foiled a pre-war plot by Japanese agents. Rex is throwing an extravagant party at a fancy hotel to spend some of dough he made on the previous job. That’s when his usual employers, the execs of an insurance company, come begging him to take on a new case.

Three commercial airliners have crashed (one burning with all passengers) and the insurance companies are taking it in the shorts. When a fourth plane vanishes completely, they come begging McBride to save them. McBride tells them to go to hell until he learns that another insurance investigator - a man he likes - has also gone missing. His takes the case to find out what happened to his friend.

Rex McBride is never quite comfortable in his skin. He wear expensive clothes and drinks good liquor (or any other kind), but never forgets his roots. He came from the gutter, and is more at home with cab drivers, bellhops, barflies and petty grifters than with folks in his own income bracket. He has nothing but contempt for the insurance execs and captains of industry who employ him. They're phonies who pretend to have clean hands, but hire McBride to do their dirty work for them.

A stock element of Adams’ books is a temporary sidekick/drinking partner for the hero. In this one, that role goes to a down-on-his-luck pilot who’s lost his license to fly. He helps McBride in some tasks, but more often just helps him get into trouble. Every Adams novel also features at least one deadly dame who tries to cozy up to the detective, usually for nefarious purposes. Somehow, the hero’s inamorata (in McBride’s case that’s Miss Kay Ford, secretary to an insurance exec) always manages to walk in on one of the cozier moments and get her nose out of joint.

This evil babe factor was all the excuse a British publisher needed to issue a 1956 reprint under the title Decoy Doll. In the U.S., the 1944 Books Inc hardcover reprint isn't too hard to come by, but as far as I know the only paperback edition was an early Handi-books abridgment. Too bad. This is a good read. Don’t believe me? Maybe you’ll believe a youngster named James M. Reasoner, from a 1982 issue of The Not So Private Eye:


Adams' distinct prose style is tough to describe, but I find it infectious. It's what keeps me coming back for more. If you haven't tried him, click HERE for a complete 1938 novelette from Detective Fiction Weekly called "Jigsaw."

And after that, be sure to check out the latest slew of Forgotten Books at pattinase.

4 comments:

James Reasoner said...

My reviewing style hasn't changed much in 33 years, has it?

Stephen Mertz said...

Some are better than others, naturally, but I've never been disappointed in Adams' prose style. Rex McBride is a great PI character, and DECOY is one of his best cases.

Evan Lewis said...

Good then and now, Mr. R.

And you praised this book in a letter back in '81, Mr. M. Glad to see you still feel the same.

Richard R. said...

Yeah, a hell of a sorry state of affairs. That a bunch of radical jehadists half a world away could influence us to not post a book review is insane and very, very, sad.