Cleve Franklin Adams was born in 1895 in Chicago, where he spent his childhood and his youth. In 1919, at the age of twenty-four, Adams moved to California and worked at a variety of jobs, including soda jerk, window trimmer, interior decorator, copper miner, screenwriter, life insurance executive, and detective.
Adams began producing hard-boiled mystery fiction around 1934, writing almost exclusively for pulp magazines such as Detective Fiction Weekly, Double Detective Tales, Argosy, and Black Mask. Between 1936 and 1942, he published fifty short mystery stories.
In 1940, Adams published his first detective thriller, Sabotage, followed by a second novel, And Sudden Death, that same year. In the next eight years, he published thirteen more novels, one of which, No Wings on a Cop (1950), was expanded by Robert Leslie Bellem, and another, Shady Lady (1955), was completed after his death by Harry Whittington. He also worked as a film director and screenwriter; cofounded, along with W. T. Ballard, the Fictioneers, a group of local Los Angeles writers (including Raymond Chandler); and worked with the Authors League of America. On December 28, 1949, he died of a heart attack at his home in Glendale, California.