Violet McDade and Nevada Alvarado
I’m always looking for stories with tough women. Last week I gave you one such woman, Julie Killeen in The Bride Wore Black by Cornell Woolrich (Julie Kohler, in Francois Truffaut’s film adaptation.) Julie was a bad girl. Although we sympathize with her, she took on the role of vigilant to kill the people who killed her husband. Today, I will introduce a pair of nearly-forgotten detectives who were on the side of the angels, though neither of these women seem particularly angelic.
Violet McDade and Nevada Alvarado were private detective partners in the McDade and Alvarado Agency. The creation of Cleve Adams, they appeared in thirteen stories in Clues, Detective Stories from 1935 to 1938. They were a most unlikely pair. Violet was a former circus fat lady, weighing in between 300 and 400 pounds. Nevada was a slim dark-haired beauty who served as her partner’s Watson, narrating their escapades.
The stories are firmly in the hard-boiled, pulp tradition. Both Violet and Nevada are hard-drinking, gun-toting women. Violet carries a pair of .45s in her voluminous sleeves and Nevada wears a .32 in a thigh holster. They solve their cases through deduction, but are not afraid to give chase and fight when necessary. And it is usually necessary. Here their styles differ. Where Nevada opens doors with a smile, Violet will knock them open with a fist and when she hits a man, they stay hit. Violet is at least as tough as her adversaries but is more cunning and morally flexible. She uses guns, fists, or anything else handy to get information out of men. Nevada is the equal of her partner. She drives fast and is quick to bring her gun into play.
There is a lot of teasing between the two, some of which modern readers might find objectionable. Nevada sometimes describes her partner as “elephant” and Violet often refers to Nevada as “Mex.” Nevada takes a lot from Violet, but she can give back, too. At one point she says to Violet, “You — you lout! My family dates back beyond the conquistadors and the Spanish grants. Where did you come from? A circus tent!” Nevertheless, the two have a fondness for each other and are always concerned about the other’s welfare.
Adams penned other hard-boiled series in the forties: Rex McBride, John J. Shannon, and Bill Rye, all popular during the that era. He was a fixture among California writers and organized a group of about twenty writers who called themselves the Fictioneers. He remained as their mentor until the group broke up with the advent of World War II.
A few McDade/Alvarado stories can be found with some diligent sleuthing. You can read one here: http://davycrockettsalmanack.blogspot.com/2014/07/forgotten-femme-fatales-cleve-f-adams.html. You can also find a reprint in Hard-boiled Dames, edited by Bernard Drew, 1986.
Hard-boiled Quote #2
Violet hit him. Not hard, just a backhanded sweep across the room.
Nevada Alvarado about her partner Violet McDade