Created by John Spain
Pseudonym of Cleve F. Adams
John Spain’s BILL RYE is a cynical op whose description will probably remind you of Hammett’s description of Sam Spade (or at least that’s who I was reminded of). Rye works for a Los Angeles detective agency run by a gent named Callahan, who raised himself from penniless immigrant to big-time operator and who now has plenty of political power (and enemies), along with plenty of family problems (a straying wife, a wild weakling son).
And then a woman shows up claiming to be the old man’s long-lost illegitimate daughter, in Dig Me a Grave (1942). People start getting killed, and the plot gets really complex. Rye isn’t above bribery and perjury when it comes to protecting Callahan, and there’s plenty of action, all done in the hard, clean (and bloody) Black Mask style. Highly recommended.
Spain was a pseudonym of Cleve F. Adams, best known of course as the creator of notorious LA P.I.s Rex McBride and John J. Shannon, 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. But for some reason, when Dig Me a Grave was first released, its publisher, Dutton, kept the popular author’s name a secret as a promotional gimmick, challenging the public to guess “the real identity” of John Spain. Even Anthony Boucher gave a whack at it in his Criminals at Large column in The New York Times Book Review:
“The only clues of internal evidence are that he knows Los Angeles (as distinguished from Hollywood) very well indeed, L.A. politics somewhat but from the outside, and Dashiell Hammett by heart.
“One sound guess might be Raymond Chandler, best until Mr. Spain of the Hammett followers. Another (a least-suspected-person solution) might be Hammett himself. I’ve heard rumors that he’s been afraid to put out another mystery since his reputation became so overwhelming; a pseudonym would give protection.
“But my own guess is James M. Cain. It’s hard to justify objectively. There’s a certain amount of interest in music and in Mexicans that fits in. There’s the fact that Cain’s non-mysteries stem so directly from the Hammett mysteries. There’s the rhyming resemblance of the names. But I confess that what really gave me the theory, which I am hereby stuck with, was a Mexican girl mentioning an iguana. [The senorita and the iguana figure prominently in Cain’s 1937 novel Serenade].”
- “…brilliantly hard-boiled”
— Anthony Boucher on Dig Me a Grave
- “Bill Rye, related to Hammett’s Ned Beaumont, is the leg man in this. It is as fast, hard and credible as its sequel (Death Is Like That) is not.”
— James Sandoe on Dig Me a Grave
- “The entire surviving cast of Dig Me a Grave, starring cynical Bill Rye, tangles with more L. A. murder and politics; the cast will be much smaller next time. Better-than-average hard stuff, but still more routine than the unforgettable first Spain.”
–Anthony Boucher on Death Is Like That (October 10, 1943, The New York Times)
Respectfully submitted by Bill Crider, with additional material by Kevin Burton Smith.