Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Another Look: “Friday”

Warning: Artistic inspiration drawn from book titles may vary.

Left: Friday, by Robert A. Heinlein (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1982); cover art by Richard M. Powers. Right: Friday, by Robert A. Heinlein (Del Rey, 1983); cover by Michael Whelan.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Challenging Times Changed Popular Fiction

(Above) The Sit-In, by George B. Anderson (Ace, 1970). Cover illustration by George Gross.

“As has been widely celebrated, derided, and mythologized, the 1960s was a time of significant social and political change across the world,” write editors Andrew Nette and Iain McIntyre in their diversely entertaining new book, Sticking It to the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1950 to 1980 (PM Press). “Decolonization, second-wave feminism, mass opposition to conscription and the Vietnam War, Black Power, wildcat strikes, campus ferment, lesbian and gay liberation, a flood of ‘hip and groovy’ consumer items”—all of these, they say, “swirled together in a surge of radical and rebellious ideas and practices challenging everyday life and existing structures.”

During that same era, paperback novels witnessed their heyday, offering inexpensive distractions (“particularly in the fields of crime, erotica, thrillers, and romance”), but also often reflecting the cultural shifts and political uncertainties of the time. Subjects that had previously been considered taboo—such as “prostitution, interracial relationships, and homosexuality”—became creative fodder for the authors of those mass-marketed softcover works. “With some publishers happy to push the envelope to make their otherwise niche books stand out,” notes Steve Holland in his Bear Alley review of Sticking It to the Man, “writers found their subjects in the headlines of newspapers—not always the best source of accurate information, but certainly a good guide to what people were talking about and what authors who could turn a book around quickly should be writing about to take advantage of the zeitgeist.”

It’s that intersection of societal upheaval and more or less literary fecundity that Nette and McIntyre, together with their 24 other contributors, investigate in this beautifully illustrated new paperback, a follow-up to their 2017 release, Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980. The text covers everything from the works of Chester Himes (A Rage in Harlem) and the proliferation of college campus revolt fiction to Vietnam War/antiwar yarns, vigilante thrillers, and pulpish tales featuring Aboriginal Australians. (The editors are both based in Melbourne, so have broadened their book’s perspective to encompass not only American and British stories, but also some that were once popular Down Under.) E.R. Braithwaite’s autobiographical 1969 novel, To Sir, With Love, is the subject of an essay here, as are other individual books such as Marc Olden’s Black Samurai (1974), Kristin Hunter’s The Soul Brothers and Sister Lou (1968), and Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975).

Ernest Tidyman’s famous black series private eye, John Shaft, wins the attention in these pages of not merely one, but two different contributors: Steve Aldous, who gave us 2015’s The World of Shaft, and Harlem native Michael A. Gonzales. And California educator Bill Mohr offers a fond recollection of Joseph Hansen, who created gay gumshoe Dave Brandstetter (Fadeout, 1970). But of course it’s the Sticking It to the Man articles examining less-familiar writers to which I am most drawn. People such as Joseph Gober Nazel (the man behind the Iceman series), Nathan Heard (Howard Street, 1968), and Roosevelt Mallory, who gave readers African-American series hit man Radcliff and is one of two subjects tackled by sometime Rap Sheet contributor Gary Phillips. His second contribution to the book looks back at Virgil Tibbs, I Spy’s Alexander “Scotty” Scott, killer-for-hire Larry Jackson (Daddy Cool), and other “archetypes of black male characters in mystery and crime novels.”

(Left) Bad Day for a Black Brother (1970); art by Mitchell Hooks.

Even I managed to get into the act. Nette kindly invited me to submit a 2,500-word profile of Joseph Perkins Greene (1915-1986), a Spokane, Washington-born songwriter and composer who, under the pseudonym B.B. Johnson, concocted a six-book series (beginning with 1970’s Death of a Blue-Eyed Soul Brother) that starred Southern California football player-turned-troubleshooter Richard Abraham Spade, aka “Superspade.” As I explain in the article, Greene’s concupiscent protagonist—“the spitting image of Hollywood star Cary Grant, ‘but a bit darker’”—briefly rivaled Shaft as “the baddest, blackest, and most beautiful crime solver of the 1970s.” My essay for this book is an expansion of a piece I wrote for Killer Covers four years back.

While this book’s prose is certainly intriguing and informative, it’s the illustrations that really make it special. More than 350 vintage book covers are peppered throughout the volume, many of them boasting striking artwork. This follows the pattern set by Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats. I only wish the publisher and editors had made an effort, whenever possible, to identify the painters behind those handsome façades. I’ve done my best to credit the artists in captions accompanying the 13 fronts embedded in this post, all of which also appear in Sticking It to the Man.

The Real Cool Killers, by Chester B. Himes (Avon, 1959). Cover illustration by George Ziel (aka Jerzy Zielezinski).

Black Cop, by “Dom Gober,” aka Joseph Nazel (Holloway House 1974). Cover artist identified only as “Rogers.”

Beebo Brinker, by “Ann Bannon,” Ann Weldy (Gold Medal, 1962). Cover illustration by Robert McGinnis.

Harlem Hit, by Roosevelt Mallory (Holloway House, 1973).

The Dark Angel series, by James D. Lawrence (who penned many of the early Hardy Boys mysteries): Dream Girl Caper, The Emerald Oil Caper, The Gilded Snatch Caper, and The Godmother Caper, all published by Pyramid in 1975.

A Cold Fire Burning, by Nathan C. Heard
(Simon & Schuster, 1974).

Havana Hit, by “Mike Barry,” aka Barry N. Malzberg
(Berkley Medallion, 1974).

The Last Shaft, by Ernest Tidyman (Corgi UK, 1977).

For readers and collectors of old-time paperbacks, as well as for anyone who’s curious to learn more about how cultural upheavals of the mid-20th century were mirrored in that period’s often-now-forgotten novels, Andrew Nette and Ian McIntyre’s new book is an essential purchase. Or perhaps a great gift idea to suggest to friends and family members. Isn’t there some kind of present-oriented holiday coming up later this month?

The editors state, in their introduction, that they have yet a third non-fiction study, this one showcasing experimental and offbeat science fiction—tentatively titled Dangerous Visions & New Worlds: Radical Science Fiction, 1950 to 1980—due out sometime next year. I’ve already made a bit of room on my bookshelves, right next to their other two volumes, where it can be accommodated.

READ MORE:Sticking It to the Man,” by Paul Bishop (Bish’s Beat); “A Groovy Pulp-in: Sticking It to the Man,” by Richie Narvaez (Mystery Tribune); “Blowback: Late 1960s and ’70s Pulp and Popular Fiction about the Vietnam War,” by Andrew Nette (CrimeReads); “Get Radcliff!: The Search for Black Pulp’s Forgotten Author,” by Gary Phillips (CrimeReads).

Worth Having for Their Fronts Alone

Literary Hub last week released its list of “The 78 Best Book Covers of 2019,” based on the suggestions of 26 designers. The majority are drawn from mainstream fiction, but at least a couple (by Olga Tokarczuk and Rachel Eve Moulton) come from works that arguably belong in the crime-fiction section of bookstores.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Because I Needed a Gallico Fix ...

Trial by Terror, by Paul Gallico (Dell, 1953).
Cover illustration by Walter Brooks.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Another Look: “Pattern for Panic”

Warning: Artistic inspiration drawn from book titles may vary.

Left: Pattern for Panic, by Richard S. Prather (Berkley, 1956); cover art by Robert Maguire. Right: Pattern for Panic, by Richard S. Prather (Gold Medal, 1961); cover illustration by Barye Phillips. To see a still different version of this novel—one that features a painting by Paul Rader—click here.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Ending the Great Book Hunt

For those of you who have been keeping track of progress toward cleaning out my late in-laws’ residence (see previous posts here and here), I thought I’d better offer a final accounting. After a year’s consistent—and frequently frustrating—labors, and way too much dust ingested along the way by everyone participating in this endeavor, the job has finally been completed. And the house has been put on the market. It’s a small but fairly cute suburban abode, really, though the buyer will likely have to spend a good chunk of change replacing the antiquated wiring, fixing up spots where water leaks occurred over the years, and tearing out all of the damp and worn carpeting. (My in-laws apparently thought that ignoring the problems with their living conditions for a few decades would magically make them go away.)

(Right) Crime and mystery fiction scholar Howard Haycraft

In addition to just lifting and hauling overfilled boxes, many of them stuffed to the brim with garage-sale items that had been once acquired and then never used, my job throughout this project was to gather together the thousands of books we found inside the house and garage (mostly boxed and packed away, rather than on display), and divide those I thought might be worth selling from those that were best given away or—in the case of moldy works—thrown out with regret.

Because my wife’s birth father was a big reader of crime and mystery fiction, I was rewarded during this “excavation” with occasional discoveries of long-buried, primarily paperback copies of yarns by big-name writers such as Erle Stanley Gardner, John D. MacDonald, M.E.Chaber, and Ian Fleming. However, since my last post on this subject, I also managed to find among the clutter a two-volume, hardcover set called A Treasury of Great Mysteries, edited by Howard Haycraft and John Beecroft, and published in 1957 by Simon & Schuster. In addition to full novels by the likes of Agatha Christie (Murder on the Orient Express), Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep), and Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca), it contains novellas by Ellery Queen and Rex Stout, and short stories penned by Georges Simenon, Patrick Quentin, Ngaio Marsh, and others. I already own many of these yarns in different editions; and the condition of the two volumes isn’t perfect (the covers will require plastic jackets in order to extend their life, and the pages smell a bit musty). However, A Treasury of Great Mysteries seems to be regarded as something of a landmark publication, and Haycraft (1905-1991) is celebrated as an early authority on this genre, his 1941 anthology, Murder for Pleasure, being much-prized. So I’ll add this pair of volumes to my personal library and, when I get a chance, read the stories in them that I have not already enjoyed. (You can see the full jackets here.)

Worth saving too, I think, are what appear to be a first-edition hardcover copy of Queen’s Cat of Many Tails (Little, Brown, 1949), though it’s missing its original jacket; a 1942 Sun Dial Press reprint of Charteris’ The Saint vs. Scotland Yard; a 1969 Bantam Books release of the James Bond novel Colonel Sun, by “Robert Markham” (aka Kingsley Amis), with cover art by Frank McCarthy; and Fannin, a retitled 1958 Unibook edition of David Markson’s Epitaph for a Tramp, with cover art attributed to Ron Lesser. (When contacted about this illustration, Lesser responded: “It looks like mine from that period; however the poses [and model] photography do not look familiar. I am not sure either way. Your guess is as good as mine.”)

Of course, not all of the books salvaged from my in-laws’ house fall into the categories of crime, mystery, or thriller. Rescued, too, was a 1973 Beagle romance paperback titled Pool of Dreams, by “Lucy Walker” (aka Dorothy Lucy Sanders), with a cover painting signed “W. Popp” (which I presume to mean Walter Popp); a 1967 Dell edition of Madeleine L'Engle’s adult standalone novel, The Love Letters (its illustration credited only to “Thomas”); 1973’s Making U-Hoo (Dell), a soft-core porn novel by Irving A. Greenfield; and a 1974 Fawcett Crest reprint of The Devil on Lammas Night, by British author Susan Howatch (with art by the great Harry Bennett).

Sadly, my wife’s mother and stepfather, along with her birth father, have now all passed away, so I can’t learn who purchased and read these various works. While I understand that her mother was a prodigious consumer of romances, and her father laid claim to most of the crime and westerns/historicals (we found lots of Louis L’Amour novels stored away and a full but rather mildewed set of Dana Fuller Ross’ Wagons West series), I remain curious as to who left behind the bawdier stories that kept turning up. In all likelihood, nobody who lived in that house would ever admit to having such tastes.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

And a Happy Halloween to You, Too!

Blood Sugar, by Daniel Kraus (Hard Case Crime, 2019).
Cover art by Paul Mann.

READ MORE:A Conversation with Daniel Kraus on Blood Sugar,” by Scott Adlerberg (Mystery Tribune).

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Worst Cover of the Week?

According to Joe Kenney, master of the Glorious Trash blog, “Ross Webb” was one of several pseudonyms employed by J.C. “Jim” Conaway, who, during the last quarter of the 20th century, specialized in producing “low-thrills, high-sleaze” fiction.

Get Nookie, released by Manor Books in 1975 (and conceivably titled in imitation of the 1974-1975 TV cop drama Get Christie Love!), was the sequel to another paperback, put out that same year: Meet Nookie. Kenney observes that the earlier book introduced “Italian-American Indian beauty Nakomis ‘Nookie’ Narducci … a ‘well-stacked female dick.’ She has straight black hair that flows past her shoulders but no other body hair to speak of; her ‘hairless femininity’ will often be mentioned in the copious sex scenes, but none of her male consorts seem much surprised by it, which is strange given that this was written in the shaggy-hairy ’70s.” Based in New York City’s Greenwich Village—just like another Conaway protagonist, Jana Blake—the oft-naked Nookie finds herself quite literally in hot water in this novel. Here’s the back-jacket copy:
Swing Spas were places where young swingers got to know each other … very well. They offered free love for a fee, massages that rubbed you the right way and the kind of physical exercise that everyone loves to practice.

Suddenly the spa swung the wrong way. People were being stabbed in the steam room, strangled in the sauna and sucked to death in the whirlpool.

Nookie, the poverty-prone detective, took the case for money—and because she was tired of laying service charges on her boyfriends. But before she knew it, she was all balled up in a steamy conspiracy and someone was out to … GET NOOKIE.
Kenney provides a good deal more information about Conaway’s dubious literary endeavors here.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Another Look: Déjà View

Warning: Artistic inspiration drawn from book titles may vary.

Left: The World of Suzie Wong, by Richard Mason (Signet, 1958); cover art by James Avati. Right: The World of Suzie Wong, by Richard Mason (Signet, 1960); cover illustration by James Avati.

Left: The Bamboo Bomb, by “James Dark,” aka J.E. MacDonnell (Signet, 1965), the second book in the Mark Hood spy series; cover art by Barye Phillips. Right: The Bamboo Bomb, by J.E. MacDonnell (Horowitz, 1965). The artist who created the cover for this Australian edition isn’t known, but he/she was obviously influenced by Avati’s second Suzie Wong front.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Because I Needed a Prather Fix …

Lie Down, Killer, by Richard S. Prather (Gold Medal, 1961), one of the relatively few novels Prather wrote outside his famous Shell Scott series. Cover illustration by Barye Phillips.

A different cover for Lie Down, Killer, this one painted by Ernest “Darcy” Chiriacka, can be seen here.

Who’s Got Crabs?

Above: Night of the Crabs, by Guy N. Smith (Grafton, 1989).

This might put you off shellfish for a while!

Beginning in 1976, English horror writer Guy N. Smith penned a succession of pulpy novels that imagined colossal, intelligent, man-eating crabs invading the British coastline. A far-fetched idea, yes, but evidently also a popular one. The blog DLS Reviews describes the series’ first installment, Night of the Crabs (1976), as offering “as much juicy blood spillage as possible” within an “outrageously over-the-top storyline” that was nonetheless satisfying: “An enjoyable read is most definitely the understatement of the century!” DLS Reviews further notes that Night of the Crabs has spawned “five sequels, one insightful prequel, a number of related short stories and a graphic novel …” The most recent of those books, The Charnel Caves, was published just this summer by Sinister Horror Company.

Here’s the lineup of “Crabs” novels, most of which have been reviewed by Thomas McNulty in Dispatches from the Last Outlaw:

Night of the Crabs (1976)
Killer Crabs (1978)
Origin of the Crabs (1979)
Crabs on the Rampage (1981)
Crabs’ Moon (1984)
Crabs: The Human Sacrifice (1988)
Killer Crabs: The Return (2012)
Crabs Omnibus (short-story collection, 2015)
The Charnal Caves (2019)

I can’t say I have read any books by Smith (who has also produced many other works of horror fiction and soft-core porn), but I’ve certainly spotted a few of the “Crabs” offerings in used book stores through the years. I have always enjoyed their deliberately outrageous covers, three of which I am embedding in this post.

Above: Killer Crabs (Dell, 1959) and Origin of the Crabs (Dell, 1988), both by Guy N. Smith.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Happy Paperback Book Day!

To celebrate this annual occasion, let’s focus on two different versions of a fantastically titled, pulpy novel that was originally published in 1947: Lady, That’s My Skull, by Carl Shannon (mentioned in Bill Pronzini’s 1982 work Gun in Cheek). The first image below appeared on the 1951 Harlequin Books paperback edition, featuring cover artwork by Lyle Glover (sometimes credited as “Amos” Glover). The second front comes from the 1948 Boardman Books edition; illustration by Denis McLoughlin.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Another Look: “Again and Again”

Warning: Artistic inspiration drawn from book titles may vary.

Left: Again and Again, by “March Hastings,” aka Sally Singer (Midwood, 1963); cover art by Robert Maguire. Right: Again and Again, by “March Hastings,” aka Sally Singer (Midwood, 1968); cover illustration by Paul Rader.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Because I Needed a Wentworth Fix …

The Key, by “Patricia Wentworth,” aka Dora Amy Elles (Popular Library, 1950), the eighth novel to star schoolteacher-turned-sleuth Miss Maud Silver. Cover illustration by Rudolph Belarski.

Friday, June 21, 2019

“Operation Delta,” by Anthony McCall

After having composed a variety of posts for this page about American artist Harry Bennett (1919-2012), my eyes are now alert for examples of his work that I haven’t previously spotted. I was, therefore, thrilled to see the cover above, from Operation Delta (Pocket, 1968), appear yesterday on the Today’s Inspiration Group Facebook page. It sure looked like Bennett’s work to me!

So last evening I sent off an e-mail note to Bennett’s youngest son, Tom (who I interviewed just over a year ago), asking whether he could confirm that his father painted the front of Operation Delta. “I do not specifically recall this book or cover,” he responded, “but can confidently say I recognize this as my father’s work. Yes, this is his.”

Not familiar with the writer “Anthony McCall”? That was a pseudonym used by Henry Kane, creator of swingin’ New York City private eye Peter Chambers (A Halo for Nobody, Fistful of Death, etc.). Operation Delta was one among many standalone novels Kane produced during his career. Of its plot, Kirkus Reviews explained back in 1966:
Taking advantage of two timely topics, Civil Rights and Espionage, Mr. McCall integrates them successfully for some split second suspense. Maurice Lauriac, Negro Nobel Prize candidate, is undergoing the southern comforts of jail after a Civil Rights demonstration and the subsequent murder of an NAACP worker. Lauriac, an epileptic, is about to be cut off from medicine by Sheriff “Bull” Hauptner and Co. Meanwhile, up North, Lauriac’s co-workers are mysteriously dying off and the sophisticated anti-missile system they’ve been developing is about to be grounded. It’s up to “Golden Boy” Christopher Prescott Adams (public image-Playboy) to resolve the crisis. Shazam!
It’s hard to tell, judging solely by that reviewlet, whether I would enjoy reading Operation Delta. However, I sure do appreciate Bennett’s cover. I might track down a copy for that reason alone.

(Hat tip to Tim Hewitt.)

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Happy Father’s Day!

Come on Out, Daddy, by Bernard Wolfe (McFadden, 1964). Cover illustration by James Meese. Other novels by Wolfe have been recalled in The Rap Sheet.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Another Look: “Madball”

Warning: Artistic inspiration drawn from book titles may vary.

Left: Madball, by Fredric Brown (Dell, 1953); cover art by Griffith Foxley. Right: Madball, by Fredric Brown (Gold Medal, 1961); cover illustration by Mitchell Hooks. A new edition of this carnival crime novel will be released later this month by Black Gat/Stark House Press, fronted by Foxley’s painting.