RARA-AVIS: John Spain

From: abc@wt.net
Date: 08 Dec 2002

When thinking about something to read from the '40s, I had another glance at THE ANTHONY BOUCHER CHRONICLES II, which reprints Boucher's reviews from 1942-1947. Boucher reviewed just about every mystery published during that time, so it's a great thing to have around when talking about the 1940s. One of the early reviews (November 8, 1942) is of John Spain's DIG ME A GRAVE: "Confidential agent William Rye breaks up blackmail and murder in L. A. politics. Authentic hard school -- as close to Hammett himself as anything in many years." Well, who wouldn't want to read that one? Luckily I had a copy lying around the house, so I dug it out.

First of all, I should mention that Spain is really Cleve F. Adams, who's been brought up here recently I believe. It's possible that his novels a Spain got more praise than he got for books under his own name.

Bill Rye works for a man named Callahan, a guy who's made a fortune and who now has a lot of influence in California politics up to and including the governor. His political rivals would like to ruin him, and his family (a straying wife, a weakling son) aren't doing much to help. Then a young woman shows up and claims to be his illegitimate daughter. Her abusive step-father appears. People start getting killed, and it's up to Rye to keep Callahan out of jail, clear him of a murder charge, and keep all the bad news from getting in the papers. Things get pretty complicated before the final unravelling, but it's fast, interesting, and well written all the way. Maybe not quite as close to Hammett as Boucher implies, but certainly
"authentic hard school." As such, it should be of interest to nearly anyone on this list.

The sequel, DEATH IS LIKE THAT, was also reviewed in Boucher's column (October 10, 1943): "The entire surviving cast of DIG ME A GRAVE, starring cynical Bill Rye, tangles with more L. A. politics and murder; the cast will be much smaller next time. Better-than-average hard stuff, but more routine than the unforgettable first Spain."

As luck would have it, I have a copy of this one, too, and I plane to read it (as they say in fandom) Real Soon Now.

Bill Crider

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