JOHN SPAIN – The Evil Star

Popular Library 239, paperback reprint; no date stated [1950]. First Edition: E. P. Dutton, hardcover; April 1944. Digest paperback reprint: Detective Novel Classic #44 [date?]. Magazine appearance: Thrilling Mystery Novel Magazine, Spring 1945.

   The detective in charge of the case that develops in The Evil Star is Lt. Steve McCord, a member of the Los Angeles Police Department, Homicide Detail. Cleve F. Adams, noted pulp fiction writer who wrote a tidy sum of hardcover novels as well, wrote three novels as by John Spain. The other two featured a private eye named Bill Rye.

The Evil Star

   The link will take you to Kevin Burton Smithís Thrilling Detective website, where you will, if you wish, learn more about a couple of other PIís, one named Rex McBride (five novels), the other John J. Shannon (two books). From Adamís pulp days but no stories in book-length form, Kevin also has an entry for Violet McDade & Nevada Alvarado, two very early fictional private eyes in the overall scheme of things (seven novelettes in Clues Detective Magazine between 1935 and 1937).

    Since these detectives are fairly well-documented, thereís no need for me to do so, which means all the more space to discuss the book at hand. (The rundown in the paragraph above does not include all of Adamsís novels, however. Perhaps Iíll get back to some of the rest of his fiction sometime soon.)

    This is a complicated case, and I wonít even begin to try to spell anything out for you. Whatís sort of unique, though, is that there are not twins involved, but triplets. Three young women named Faith, Hope and Charity, and while they live far apart and separate lives, they for some reason all turn up in LA at the same time.

   Charity is a school teacher, in town for a national convention of school supervisors.

    Faith is a secretary and traveling companion of an elderly woman named Gretchen Van Dorn, who is also wealthy and the owner of the Ayvil Star, said to have a curse on it. (Weíve heard that story before.)

   Hope is another story altogether. Sheís a bubble dancer from San Francisco who disappears from police headquarters after being brought in bruised and without her memory. She may be involved, it turns out, with the killing of a crooked LA public works commissioner named Welles up in San Francisco.

   If you were to put some of the pieces of the puzzle from here, as meager as Iíve left the details, some of them, Iím sure, would fall right into place.

    I might mention two other matters, though. First, there seems to be a leak in the LAPD, and McCord might be the person responsible, so most of the time heís working on the case unofficially and on leave from the department. Secondly, and the reason he stays working on the case, is that he quickly falls for one of the sisters, and Charity in particular. Solidly and with a loud thud. So solidly that he cannot believe his good fortune, thinking that she might vanish like a piece of fog or mist in his hand. It colors his thinking, but so do various konks on the head and the killing of at least one good friend on the force.

The Evil Star

    The end result is a hard-boiled case combined with a semi-screwy caper that has aspirations of being a detective story, with an ending definitely not from Agatha Christie. From page 157 (of 159):

   ó [the killer, name omitted] sighed gustily, lifted [his/her] gun at McCord, hesitated for one brief fatal second. In that second McCord shot [him/her] squarely in the mouth.

   This never happened in a Christie novel, or did it? I havenít read all of hers, and some of the endings in her books may have been equally tough, in a purely figurative sense, mind you. You tell me.

   But to get back to John Spainís book, it all turns out well in the end. Just in case you were wondering.

— March 2007