Tue 13 Sep 2016
JOHN SPAIN – Death Is Like That. E. P. Dutton, hardcover, 1943. Detective Novel Classic #35, digest-sized paperback, no date stated . Popular Library #178, paperback, 1949.
“Spain” was a pseudonym of Cleve F. Adams, a popular L.A. hard-boiled writer of the forties who is largely forgotten today. This book is one of his very best.
Hero Bill Rye is a trouble shooter for millionaire Ed Callahan. Callahan once saved Rye’s life (we’re never told just how) and there is a far deeper bond running between the two than mere employer/employee.
Callahan owns the Governor of California. However, it’s election time and the campaign is a bitter, under-handed one. The candidate opposing Callahan’s man is owned by a ruthless newspaper magnate who would like nothing better than to dig up a juicy scandal on either Callahan or the Governor to smear across the front pages of his dailies and shoo his own man into office.
Since Callahan’s family is comprised of a promiscuous alcoholic wife, a short-tempered, hell-raising son, and an ex-showgirl daughter-in-law who still yearns on occasion for the fast life, Rye, needless to say, more than has his hands full.
If the Rye/Callahan relationship and the casual acceptance of all-pervasive political corruption reminds one of Hammett’s The Glass Key at times, Adams was nonetheless a supremely gifted, original talent and Death Is Like That is a tough guy masterpiece of intricate plotting, non-stop pace, colorful characterization, incisive wit and a writing style evocative of Chandler at his best:
A hard one to find, but well worth the effort to any fan of the hard-boiled genre.
Bibliographic Notes: There was one earlier Bill Rye novel, Dig Me a Grave (Dutton, 1942). Adams (1895-1949) also wrote one other book under the Spain name, a standalone novel titled The Evil Star (Dutton, 1944).