Violet McDade and Nevada Alvarado were a couple private detectives created and written by Cleve F. Adams and published in 14 stories in Clues detective magazine between 1935 and 1937. Female hardboiled detectives were not unheard of, even in the 1930s, but McDade and Alvarado may be some of the most interesting sleuths of any gender.
Violet McDade is a former fat lady from the circus, weighing anywhere between 300-400 pounds, depending on whether or not she's dieting. She carries a pair of guns inside her sleeves, always ready for quick deployment, and she punches like a hammer as well. She loves attention and talking to the press, and she's more than willing to bend the rules if it solves a case and makes her some money.
Nevada Alvarado is, compared to Violet, a bit less interesting. She's slimmer, more conventionally attractive, and is more likely to be following Violet's lead, though she's not always a big fan of her boss's overblown antics and refusal to share information. She's still good with guns and her fists, and she actually narrates the duo's adventures. She also has a fantastic name. More parents should name their daughters "Nevada Alvarado."
Just the descriptions of the characters make me want to read more about them. Unfortunately, that's very difficult to do. You can find old issues of Clues on eBay, but they're very expensive.
I've managed to find just one of the McDade/Alvarado stories online -- "The Voice" from 1936, which is also available on the Kindle for 99 cents. Violet and Nevada run afoul of a mysterious crime lord who calls himself The Voice. He only communicates by telephone, he seems to know everything, and he's got the city's other crime kingpins -- and more than a few upstanding citizens -- under his thumb. Our sleuths must survive several assassination attempts, an evening of torture, and the suspicion of the police to unmask the Voice and save a friend from a life of crime.
It was a pretty fun story -- not the greatest writing, but we are talking about the pulp magazines here. Still, the plotting was good, the mystery and resolution were well done, and the character work was lots of fun. The downsides of the story are the stuff that plagued a lot of the old pulps: racism. In this story, there's lots of Sinister Chinese Mastermind stuff in there. There are also some more subtle jabs at Latinos. Violet sometimes calls Nevada "Mex," and Nevada refers to Violet as "the elephant" -- these nicknames are apparently used throughout the series.
Violet is very much the two-fisted hardboiled badass you expect from the detective pulps, and I was pleased to see that Nevada wasn't just a pretty face. Frankly, Nevada probably gets knocked around more than any other character -- she survives a point-blank car bomb, gets the worst of the torture, spends a big chunk of the story covered in her own blood, and still manages to kick a little ass.
Reading "The Voice" made me want to read more of the stories about Violet and Nevada -- even though I recognize that, like many of the old pulps, they'll have even more content that's offensive to my 21st-century ears. Even more than that, I'm a little surprised someone hasn't already taken up the torch and written more stories about them -- they seem tailor-made for the more diversity-friendly audiences of the 2010s.
Thrilling Detective website
Read The Voice