Created by Cleve F. Adams
Pseudonyms include John Spain, Franklin Charles
“An American Gestapo is goddam well what we need… The only way you can lick these guys is to fight as dirty as they do… bite and gouge and use a knee where it will do most good.”
— Rex shows he’s a man for the ages in Murder All Over (1943)
Adams was a contemporary and apparently a good pal of Chandler. But while Chandler’s Marlowe was the classic tarnished knight going down those mean streets, clinging to a personal code of honour, working outside the system, perhaps, but generally staying within the lines drawn by that system, McBride was something else entirely. Think of him as the Donald Trump of detective fiction, if you will. It’s not quite clear if Adams believed some of the stuff he spouted, but McBride sure did.
As Richard Moore put it on Rara-Avis once:
“(McBride) was a cretin, famous for his statement that ‘an American Gestapo is goddamned well what we need.’ Marlowe became the model for the future, the classic tarnished knight. McBride, for the few who have read him, is one of the most repugnant characters in detective fiction history. Lessons learned.“
The quote’s from Murder All Over (1943), and if you think he couldn’t possibly have meant it, he goes on to elaborate, adding
“The only way you can lick these guys is to fight as dirty as they do… bite and gouge and use a knee where it will do most good.”
That must have gone over well, with the U.S. shipping the boys across the Atlantic to battle the Nazis. And frequently not coming back.
But what Do I know? Adams sold well back then, and there are plenty of folks who feel McBride deserves to be rediscovered. The argument seems to be that Adams was trying to intentionally portray McBride as a flawed individual, rather than the squeaky clean Marlowe clones.
As David Vineyard pointed out:
“The line isn’t a reflection of Adams’ politics so much as the kind of remark someone like McBride might actually make. It’s rare for any writer to present their series character with warts and all, which is what Adams tried with the McBride books.That said, he lifted plots and more from Hammett and Chandler, though to give him credit he never pretended he didn’t nor made any bones about doing it.”
Another theory was that Adams’ bad rap was a conspiracy by liberals?
According to Davy Crockett, the head honcho over at Davy Crockett’s Almanack:
“Back in the extremely socially-conscious 80s, an intelligent and well-meaning critic labeled McBride a racist and a fascist. That’s unfortunate, because other critics took up the cry, tarring the reputations of both McBride and Adams. A later critic, a guy I both like and respect, called McBride “one of the most repugnant characters in detective fiction history.”
Which brings us full circle. Although it seems hard to believe it took thirty or forty years for anybody to have a problem with a character calling for an American Gestapo.
Still, the McBride stories well worth seeking out. They’re undeniably pulp, but high-energy pulp of the finest kind. Rex might be crude and coarse, but the action never stops. The plots, apparently nicked from other, better writers, don’t always make a lot of sense, but there’s a rough and raw wildness to it all that thrills and chills like a prolonged scream in the night. Keep your smelling salts handy.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adams cranked out over eighty hard-boiled short stories and novel-length chunks of malice and menace in his day, spitting them out like they were nails, all hard and to the point. He also created P. I., John J. Shannon, who at least has some redeeming qualities, and even more surprisngly, Violet McDade and her Hispanic partner, Nevada Alvarado, two of the very first hard-boiled lady eyes, who slugged their way through a string of stories in the pulps.
Born in Chicago, Adam starting writing well into his thirties, having already worked as as a manual laborer, a copper miner, a private detective, a soda jerk, an accountant, a window trimmer, a motion picture art director, a chain store operator and a life insurance salesman. He was a founding member of The Fictioneers, an LA-based social club for pulp writers that included, among others, Chandler and William Campbell Gault.
MORE FUN WITH REX
- “A guy can take care of his enemies. Friends are just a plain damned nuisance.”
- Sabotage (1940) | Buy this book
- And Sudden Death (1940)
- Decoy (1941)
- Up Jumped the Devil (1943 aka “Murder All Over”)
- The Crooking Finger (1944)
- Shady Lady (1955)