Friday, March 7, 2014

Forgotten Books: THE PRIVATE EYE by Cleve F. Adams (1942)

The Private Eye is the eighth Adams novel I’ve featured so far in Forgotten Books, and some folks consider it his best. It’s pretty good, I admit, but I suspect some folks prefer it because they don’t care for his number one hero, Rex McBride. Me, I like McBride just fine, so I suffer from no such bias.

Still, as I said, it’s pretty dang good. And truth be told, there’s really very little difference between John J. Shannon, the hero of this one, and aforementioned Rex. Both are hot-tempered, sorely-tried Irishmen with patient but frustrating girlfriends and bitter enemies on the police force. The main difference is that Shannon was, until quite recently, a cop himself. At the urging of his lady love he’s now gone into business for himself, hence the title The Private Eye.

This book is one of Adams’ several homages to the best detective novel of all time, Hammett’s Red Harvest. So hey, no wonder it’s a pretty good read. Private Eye Shannon is lured to the tough mining town of Las Cruces, Arizona by a former girlfriend convinced her late husband’s suicide was actually a murder. Shannon soon finds himself caught in a war between two unscrupulous mine operators, with miscellaneous gangsters and corrupt cops thrown in to keep him hopping.

In a move even the Continental Op would have envied, Shannon puts the screws on all concerned by gaining control of both the local branch of the miners union and the town’s only newspaper.

As I’ve come to expect in Adams novels, there’s a semi-evil seductress trying to divert the hero’s attention for her own ends, a flunky he keeps around partly to make himself look smarter and a universe hell-bent on making his life difficult.

Like most of Adams’ novels, I suspect this one was at least partially cannibalized from his pulp stories. Can’t prove it yet, but the quest continues. Shannon appeared in at least two pulp stories, “Jigsaw” from Detective Fiction Weekly and “Mannequin for a Morgue” from Double Detective. I’m pretty sure he appeared in more than that, but can’t prove that either. Yet.

This book has the distinction of being in print as late as 1975, well over a decade later than other Adams novels. The reason, I suspect, is the ultra-generic title. But another factor might be (as I may have mentioned) that it's a pretty good book.

More Adams to come. And more Forgotten Books at pattinase.


George said...

I've enjoyed all the Cleve F. Adams books I've read. You're right: THE PRIVATE EYE is his best book.

Rick Robinson said...

Sounds great, though as you say, generic. You said that about the title, but the plot seems so too.

Red Harvest is in your opinion "the best detective novel of all time"? Hmm, I have to think on that. I'd probably nominate a Chandler for that honor.

Evan Lewis said...

Marlowe was okay, but the Op would eat his lunch.

Todd Mason said...

I, too, prefer Hammett to Chandler, have never quite understood the degree of greater affection for Marlowe, other than that he chats with the reader more. A lot more. Adorably at times. (I prefer Millar/Macdonald to Chandler, too, since Archer seemed a bit better at conversing with the reader.) I'm not sure I've read Adams yet, but you have a strong sense he was definitely bowled over by Hammett's example (as well as the common pulp practice of remasticating the shorter fiction into the novels)?

Rick Robinson said...

For me the difference is the sense of place, and here I bow also to Ross Macdonald. Hammett always seemed to set his books in Anywhere, U.S.A. (probably the midwest somewhere), whereas with Chandler I knew right where I was, whether it was the city, the lake or etc. Not saying who's the toughest character, just whose writing I like better.