John J. Shannon

Created by Cleve F. Adams
Pseudonyms include John Spain

Detective Lieutenant JOHN J. SHANNON appeared in several short stories that ran in the pulps in the late thirties until, at the urging of his girlfriend, he quit the police force to open up his own detective agency in the 1942 novel, The Private Eye.

The back cover blurb of my copy of The Private Eye reads:

“The town of Las Cruces was enjoying booming business in vice when J.J. Shannon, a hard-boiled private cop, moved in to check a fishy suicide. But when he kidnapped the mayor, caught the police chief in a bribe trap, and managed to get control of the local paper in a fight for justice, he blew the lid off this lawless mining town. Shannon had to dodge lead from a dozen racketeers while he used three beautiful, dangerous dames to trap a cunning syndicate killer!”

As Bill Denton of Rara-Avis once put it, “How can you pass up something with that on the backcover?

Despite its generic title, more than a few folks have pronounced it Cleve F. Adams’ greatest novel, although to be honest, there’s very little difference between Shannon (“the toughest private eye west of the rockies,” one blurb proclaims) and Adams’ most famous–or is it notorious?–creation, Rex McBride. They’re both hard-drinking, ill-tempered, rough-mannered cynical Irish dicks at war with the world.

There are also a distressing number of similarities between The Private Eye and an earlier McBride novel, Sabotage (1940). But that’s because they’re both rip-offs of Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest–a book that, as one critic put it, Adams “probably ripped off a few too many times.”

Still, if you’re going to rip off a story…

Anyway, an old girlfriend drags Shannon to the tough mining town of Las Cruces, Arizona, to look into the suspicious death (was it really suicide?) of her husband. It’s no Poisonville, but the set up ought to be familiar enough to any fan of this site: the town’s being torn apart by two warring factions, in this case two rival mining operations, plus the usual assortment of murderous thugs and crooked cops.

Naturally, Shannon finds himself caught in the middle, and pits each side against the other. Along the way, he abducts the mayor, gets the goods on the police chief and ends up buying the local paper, while dodging several femme fatales.

Shannon appeared in at least two pulp stories, “Jigsaw” from Detective Fiction Weekly and “Mannequin for a Morgue” from Double Detective. I’m pretty sure he appeared in more than that, but can’t prove that either. Yet.

Shannon also makes an appearance in No Wings On a Cop (1950), a novella completed by Adams’ friend, Robert Leslie Bellem, creator of Dan Turner, after Adams passed away. It’s a sort of prequel to The Private Eye, with Shannon still a police officer.

Besides Shannon and McBride, Adams  also wrote about mob fixer Bill Rye, not to mention Violet McDade and her partner Nevada Alvarado, two of the very first hard-boiled lady eyes, who slugged their way through a string of stories in the pulps.



  • “Pattern of Panic” (November 1937, Double Detective)
  • “Jigsaw” (July 11, 1938, Detective Fiction Weekly)
  • “Mannequin for a Morgue” (December 1938, Double Detective)
  • “Help! Murder! Police!” (February 4, Argosy)
  • “Greek Meets Greek” (November 1939, Double Detective)
  • “Clean Sweep” (August 24, 1940, Detective Fiction Weekly)



Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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