CLEVE F. ADAMS – Shady Lady. Rex McBride #6. Ace Double D-115, paperback original, 1955. Published back-to-back with One Got Away by Harry Whittington.

   [The first paragraph of this review, written back in 1994, consisted of some conjecture about the background of the book, when it was written and by whom. In the comments following Mike Nevins’ 1001 Midnights review of the book, posted here, Steve Mertz told of some correspondence he had with Mrs. Adams in the 1970s. in which she told him that “After Adams died, (Robert Leslie) Bellem and W. T. Ballard, who were collaborators, stepped in to help Mrs. Adams through a difficult time by expanding and selling as books the pulp stories that became No Wings on a Cop and Shady Lady.”

   [Following my review of No Wings on a Cop I posted here earlier this year, it was determined that the source material for the novel was “Help! Murder! Police!,” a three-part serial in Argosy beginning February 4, 1939. Shady Lady was an expanded/revised version of “Too Fair to Die!,” a novella that first appeared in Two Complete Detective Books, March 1951.]

   Is this an undiscovered classic? Not really. PI Rex McBride, hot on the trail of an embezzler, is sidetracked into a cutthroat gubernatorial race in Montana, along with a pair of sisters easy to fall in love with. A nice start, with some good scenes along the way, but it’s still rather ordinary.

   [At the end of the issue of Mystery*File this review first appeared in, I took some time to write up some additional thoughts about the book.]

   First of all, I don’t think Cleve F. Adams is any threat to Raymond Chandler or his work. He wasn’t when they were both alive and writing, and he isn’t now. I do think this is a better book than I left you to believe, however.

   The characters are the standard ones found is all good politically-based 1940s detective fiction: the free-lance PI on the prowl; the local operative with strong ties to whoever is politically on top at the moment; the suave politicians looking for the next convenient toehold to use against their opponents; the overtly corrupt police chief with a sadistic streak a mile wide; the philosophical taxi drivers who know more about what’s going on in their town than any reporter could possibly know. And the women. There are three categories of women in these novels: those ambitious for power; those ambitious for love; and those ambitious for money.

   There isn’t a one of them you haven’t met before, and yet, in this book Adams manages to bring them to an unruly sort of life just about as well as anyone. Toward the end of the review I also mentioned some scenes I thought were better than average. They must be, because I find myself still thinking about them. For example, in the mining town where much of the action takes place, there is a section where the night life goes on all night long. There is also the shanty town where the hunkies live, and that’s where the two sisters McBride is attracted to both have their roots.

   I don’t usually think that quoting excerpts from a book adds a great deal to the reviews I write — out of context, they never seem to have the same effect on someone else who’s reading them cold — but I’ll give it a try — an exception this time. This is an entire paragraph taken from pages 31-32. It has nothing to do with the mystery, but it seems to frame the story pretty well:

   A two-story frame mansion of the gingerbread era was outlined in the blue-neon at the end of the street. There were many cars parked in front, and for every one that departed another arrived to take its place. Cabs from Copper Hill spewed out their loads, swallowed others and went away. Above the mansion, cutting diagonally across the street were giant cables, suspended from steel derricks that hummed and slapped over pulleys on some mysterious journey up the hill toward where pinpricks of light pierced the night. Underfoot, the ground occasionally shook and trembled, though there was no actual sound of blasting, The air was dirty, faintly tinged with an acrid, chemical smell.

   One thing’s for certain. The book has been out of print for far too long, and it deserves a new edition.

–Reprinted from Mystery*File #18, December 1989, in slightly revised form.