Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Just Making the Rounds

• I’ve never paid much attention to Saber Books, a line of paperback novels published during the 1950s and ’60s that, as the blog Eleven-Nineteen explains, specialized in “cheatin’ wives and wanton women.” But this morning’s post in Pulp International about 1963’s Call of the Flesh, by Jack Moore (and featuring art by Bill Edwards), caused me to investigate further. Check out Eleven-Nineteen’s collection of Saber fronts here. Vintage Sleaze has its own set here, and there are more on Flickr.

• This is a book I very much look forward to adding to my library: The Art of Robert E. McGinnis. Slated for release by Titan in October, and put together by McGinnis and co-author Art Scott, it will trace the career of this Ohio-born artist “best known for his book cover and movie poster work”--someone whose illustrations I have frequently highlighted in this blog. I can’t tell, by reading the brief Amazon write-up, whether this is an expansion of a 2001 book McGinnis and Scott put together, or a wholly new volume; I hope it’s the latter. By the way, the cover art decorating this Titan book appeared originally on the 1960 novel Kill Now, Pay Later, by Robert Kyle.

• French artist-illustrator Alex Pinon (1900-1961) wasn’t familiar to me until I happened across this post about his 1953 cover for Elle ondule du popotin. After appreciating that image, though, plus one of his contributions to keyhold-themed pulp art, I am hoping to learn more about Pinon as time goes by.

• I concur with “Jade Pussycat” (a nom de plume, if ever there was one!) that this cover--which Jade says “kind of reminds me of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase”--is a winner. It comes from Addicted to Murder, a 1960 “sex and drugs novel” by public health official/author Theodore S. Drachman. By the way, if you haven’t explored Jade’s blog, The Pulp Fiction Project, you really should.

This has to be one of the most beautifully suggestive covers ever!

• Robert Deis (aka “Subtropic Bob”) has written several times in his blog, Men’s Pulp Mags, about “the legendary artists’ model, pinup glamour girl and actress” Eva Lynd. But he has still more to say in this new post, which elaborates on Lynd’s collaboration with paperback illustrator Al Rossi and manages to throw in some of McGinnis’ work, pretty much just for the hell of it.

• And can we all agree that the title Death of a Ladies’ Man has now been used often enough to be retired? Of the assortment of paperback covers available at that link, I’m particularly fond of the one from Lee Roberts’ 1960 novel, featuring artwork by Charles Binger. More of Binger’s creations can be enjoyed here.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Two-fer Tuesdays: The X Files

A twice-monthly pairing of book covers that just seem to go together. Click on either of these images to open up an enlargement.

X marks the spot--twice! On the left is the 1952 Avon paperback edition of The Tragedy of X, written by cousins Manfred B. Lee and Frederic Dannay under their alternative nom de plume, Barnaby Ross. (Lee and Dannay were, of course, much better recognized for their many novels bylined “Ellery Queen.”) The Tragedy of X was originally published in 1931 and was the first of four novels featuring Drury Lane, a retired performer and rather brilliant amateur sleuth. This is how the essential online resource, Ellery Queen: A Website of Deduction, describes that book’s plot:
New York City, the early 30’s. A man is poisoned on a crowded streetcar during rush hour. Everyone saw him die, but no one saw the killer! And far too many people had good reason to hate Longstreet. The few clues lead up to a blind alley, and District Attorney Bruno and Inspector Thumm pay a call on Drury Lane.

Drury Lane! Retired Shakespearean actor. Matinee idol. Master of disguise. Amateur sleuth who finds “crime the highest refinement of human drama.” Ellery Queen’s most flamboyant creation.

Seated amid the splendor of the vast medieval halls of his castle on the Hudson, Drury Lane hears the story. Almost at once, he knows who the murderer is, but refuses to reveal his identity until he has sufficient evidence for the police to arrest him.

In the great tradition, all the clues are scrupulously presented to you, the reader. Can you solve the case before the police?
Not everyone finds this yarn impressive. Indeed, the pseudonymous blogger at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel--who’s quite well read in Queen’s oeuvre--says he was “disappointed” by The Tragedy of X. “There’s a critical part of the solution,” he writes, “that is blindingly obvious, which pinpoints for Lane the criminal almost immediately ... [but] is completely overlooked by the police characters. In fact, it’s so obvious that the reader may assume that it isn’t important to the solution of the crime--i.e. that the authors overlooked it themselves--but in fact it makes Thumm and company look like absolute morons for not considering it. One part that is overlooked is how anyone, including the victim, did not notice the weapon being put in the victim’s pocket.”

Almost as significant a letdown is that the cover artwork on this 1952 edition of Barnaby Ross’ X--which apparently shows the shocking discovery of Longstreet’s corpse--is uncredited.

That’s certainly not the case with the book front highlighted above and on the right. Taken from the 1962 Dell edition of Philip MacDonald’s Warrant for X, it bears an illustration by the great Robert McGinnis. And though that painting seems to portray a young Gore Vidal in a chair, with a Doberman Pinscher at his side, I have to assume that was not intended.

Warrant for X was first released in 1938 under the title The Nursemaid Who Disappeared, and was the second-to-last in a series of a dozen novels starring amateur crime-solver Colonel Anthony Gethryn. One writer sums up the story in this manner:
Warrant for X documents a very clever idea that is at the base of this clever novel. An American playwright is in a teashop and overhears the conversation of two women (whom he cannot see) who are apparently planning a crime. One, with a deeper crueler voice, is intimidating the other, with a higher, more gentle voice. He catches a glimpse as they leave of a short stumpy brunette and a tall slender young blonde. And one of them leaves a glove behind that contains what seems to be a scrawled shopping list.

This is an early example of what one might call a proto-police procedural, or perhaps if one allows such a sub-genre to contain amateurs acting like police this designation makes more sense. The playright takes his suspicions to the police and is pretty much turned away, so he enlists the assistance of well-known detective Anthony Gethryn (whose adventures also began with
The Rasp). Together, they piece together crucial details from the few details offered by the playwright and from the shopping list, which turns out to contain much more information than one might have thought, and learn that a child of wealthy parents is going to be kidnapped with the assistance of her nursemaid. And the book moves to an exciting finale, once the police get involved.
British author Philip Macdonald, who died in 1980, is probably best remembered by people like me, who go out of their way to read broadly in the crime/mystery genre. But some folks may not even know they’ve had experience with his work, when they have. After all, Macdonald’s last Gethryn tale was 1959’s The List of Adrian Messenger, which was turned into a popular and well-respected 1963 film of the same name starring George C. Scott.

Double Your Pleasure

It seems as if I’m always referring readers to Pulp International, but that’s only because the folks who are responsible for that other blog have a sharp sense of humor and seemingly endless access to sleazy, sometimes darn right questionable artwork from old books, magazines, films, etc. For example, click here for a gander at the front and back sides of two Giant paperback “double novels” published in the early 1950s. I actually referred to one of those works, Steve Harragan’s Dope Doll, in the Comments section of a Rap Sheet post from 2010, but at that time didn’t have an image of the book’s cover as fine as the one Pulp International now provides.

Daly Specials

Curtis Evans, author of the non-fiction book Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery, also writes a blog called The Passing Tramp, in which he usually talks about old, sadly little-recalled mystery writers. But in this post, his subject is the work artist Dennis Ziemienski did on the fronts of Elizabeth Daly novels from the 1970s.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Encore for a Kiss

Five years ago, in a post that collected numerous “Peeping Tom” covers, I highlighted a 1955 Beacon Books paperback titled Keyhole Peeper, by Stewart Sterling (a pseudonym used by Prentice Winchell). What I didn’t know at the time was that its captivating but uncredited artwork wasn’t original to that book. It was, in fact, taken from an earlier, 1953 novel, Runaway Blonde, written by the prolific Daoma Winston. You can compare both of those fronts below.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Sleazy Is As Sleazy Does

You may notice an addition to this page’s blogroll under the heading “Book Design/Illustration.” It’s a site called Sleazy Digest Books! and was launched just last month by a guy who signs himself “Mick Sidge.” I added that blog to my already extensive list partly on the basis of posts such as this one, about 1950s paperbacks produced by Carnival Books, an imprint of Hanro Corporation. I think it’s worth your keeping an appreciative eye on Sidge’s site.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Two-fer Tuesday: What Are the Odds?

A twice-monthly pairing of book covers that just seem to go together. Click on either of these images to open up an enlargement.

Sometimes the books I highlight in this continuing series have little in common save for their titles. The two covers above are a good example of such coupling.

The image on the left shows The Oddballs, a “daring” 1965 work released in the States by Beacon Books (one of the mid-20th-century’s most successful publishers of sexually oriented mass-market paperbacks), but in Canada by Softcover Library; the image here is from the Softcover edition. Listed as the author of this tale about a beautiful young woman who “shunned healthy sex as if it were poison” (in other words, she became a--gasp!--lesbian) is one Stacey Clubb, who also produced such risqué wonders as The Middle Sex (1963), Left of Sex (1964), Young Lust (1965), and Girl High (1966). Let’s just say that it’s unlikely any of these books would have been conveniently found on drugstore spinner racks available to impressionable American youngsters.

Unfortunately, that also meant only adult readers had the chance to appreciate the (sadly uncredited) cover art from The Oddballs, which--although it certainly offers some oddities of its own--would have caught my attention; there’s no question about that. It was evidently a favorite, as well, of the Beacon Books designers, for they’d previously featured the same artwork on the front of a “show business novel” titled The Love Goddess (1962), by Dan Temple.

Now switch your gaze to the book façade on the right. It’s from a 1959 paperback printing of the science-fiction semi-classic, Odd John--coincidentally, also produced by Beacon Books (which included SF among its titles). That novel first saw print in 1935 and was penned by British author Olaf Stapledon. As Wikipedia explains, Odd John “explores the theme of the Übermensch (superman) in the character of John Wainwright, whose supernormal human mentality inevitably leads to conflict with normal human society and to the destruction of the utopian colony founded by John and other superhumans.” Hmm. From simply glancing at the Beacon cover--painted by Robert Stanley--I would have pegged it as just another soft-porn work. Which confirms that old and too-oft trotted-out adage about never judging a book by its cover.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Secret of the Mystery of the Old Chums

Given all the recent hoopla over the HBO-TV crime drama True Detective, it was inevitable that fans--hungry for more story--would imagine other twists and turmoils in the investigative careers of Detectives Rustin Spencer “Rust” Cohle and Martin Eric “Marty” Hart. But it took Todd Spence, a writer-editor with the Web site Break, to conceive of a mash-up between Nic Pizzolatto’s series and … the Hardy Boys. You’ll find his half-dozen cover concepts here.

READ MORE:True Detective (2014),” by Keishon (Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog); “What’s Going on with True Detective Season 2?” by Prachi Gupta (Salon).

Saturday, March 22, 2014

OK, But I Only Have So Much Patience

You may not have noticed this problem, but the blog list titles that are supposed to appear in the right-hand column of this page--separating the rotating rundowns of book-, news-, and design-related blog leads--are no longer showing up. I became aware of their disappearance days ago, and contacted the Blogger/Google software folks for help. The message I received in response read simply:
Google staff is aware of this issue and working towards a solution. Thanks for your patience.
Let’s hope this snafu, which has also affected numerous other Blogger sites, will be remedied soon. Otherwise, I’ll have to find a workaround of some sort.

UPDATE, 3/25/14: And suddenly, with no fanfare, those list subheads are working again. Thank you, Blogger.

Friday, March 21, 2014

“Violent Jungle of Drugs and Vice”

Not surprisingly, metropolitan red-light districts tend to stimulate the creation of wild and fantastic fiction. That certainly seems to have been the case with Sydney, Australia’s Kings Cross neighborhood, known for its groggeries and strip clubs. Blogger-author Andrew Nette provides this panorama of provocative Kings Cross pulp tales.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Two-fer Tuesday: A Lothario’s Lament

A twice-monthly pairing of book covers that just seem to go together. Click on either of these images to open up an enlargement.

“Richard Foster” was only one of several noms de plume employed by New Yorker Kendell Foster Crossen, an ex-insurance investigator, guide book contributor, screenwriter, and, incidentally, editor of the magazine Detective Fiction Weekly. (He also published criminal tales under the byline “M.E. Chaber”). I haven’t read either of his two books featuring “two-fisted Miami private eye” Pete Draco, but I should, because they both have knockout covers. The front of Too Late for Mourning (Gold Medal, 1960)--displayed above, on the left--was painted by Robert K. Abbett, whose work I have applauded previously on this page (see here, here, and here). As I noted, I haven’t read Mourning, but the pseudonymous Vintage45 has, and here’s a bit of what he/she has to say about it’s story line:
Pete wraps up a case involving the bugging of stables at the race track. He gets back to his office and two guys tell him to take a vacation and then work him over with a blackjack. Later he goes to the Hapsbug Hotel for a few drinks.

He notices a good-looking brunette and the bartender fills him in. She’s Susan Sienna from New York. With her are Frank and Katherine Thorney. Katherine is decked out with expensive jewelry. Pete wants to make some moves on Susan, but instead Katherine makes moves on him.

Hours later Pete finally manages to get out and go home. The next morning he gets a visit from his friend Lt. Dick Weston. The D.A. wants to see him. Frank Thorney has been murdered and the jewelry stolen.
You’ll find Vintage45’s full review here. And click this link to see the cover from Bier for a Chaser, Pete Draco’s 1959 outing.

Everyone who’s been reading this blog from the beginning should be quite aware by now that I’m a fan of Frank Kane’s more than two dozen novels starring New York City private eye Johnny Liddell. Even though Kane wasn’t exactly Shakespeare, and he tended to repeat himself from book to book, he could really make a story move. And that’s just what he does in The Mourning After (shown above, left). A plot synopsis of this 1961 tale reads:
A hurry-up call from L.A. brought Johnny Liddell 3,000 miles to the sprawling Beverly Hills estate of TV star Dirk Messner. New York’s shrewdest private eye found the handsome playboy in the middle of a press conference. The reporters were asking questions. Messner didn’t feel like talking--and from the looks of the gaping hole in his chest, he wouldn’t feel like doing anything again. …
It’s hard not to love a private-eye yarn that can be summed up in such punchy fashion. And the cover of this Dell paperback is no slouch, either. It’s by the great Harry Bennett, whose sexy paintings graced a number of the Liddell titles.

Don’t Fool with Mother Nature

Really, these 28 “killer creature” covers from the old Man’s Life magazine might make you want to avoid the wild. Forever!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Talk About “Titled to Move”

Here’s why the “sweat mags” of the mid-20th century were such persistent sellers on newsstands. What walking, breathing male could resist at least checking out a story titled “The Plot to Kill the Commie Nude Who Stole an Empty Coffin”? This April 1969 edition of the adventure slick Man’s Life was found in Pulp Covers.

Best Covers, a Second Shot

Not long after I announced the winners of The Rap Sheet’s competition to choose the Best Crime Fiction Covers of 2013, Clare Toohey, the site manager and editor of Criminal Element, kindly asked if I’d like to comment further on that rivalry for her blog. My response has now been posted here. I hope you enjoy it.

And pay attention to the offer at the end of that write-up: Three free hardcover copies of Complex 90, by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins--which was one of the top vote-getters in The Rap Sheet’s covers contest--are being made available to registered users of Criminal Element. No purchases necessary to enter or win. All you need do is post a comment there by the morning of March 7.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Two-fer Tuesday: Fears of a Clown

A twice-monthly pairing of book covers that just seem to go together. Click on either of these images to open up an enlargement.

I was listening the other day to National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Saturday program, when I heard host Scott Simon chatting with Murray Horowitz, an ex-professional circus clown, Tony Award-winning Broadway lyricist, and former NPR executive, about the present-day shortage of clowns. During their exchange, Horowitz observed that “clown, which was a word that used to be associated with joy and laughter and happiness, now has a lot of negative connotations to it. You’ve got characters like Krusty the Clown on The Simpsons, and there are members of Congress.”

Horowitz was mostly joking, of course, but it’s true that clowns aren’t of a single variety. There are happy clowns, there are sad clowns, and there has been at least one “killer clown”--Chicago serial slayer and rapist John Wayne Gacy Jr., who once talked with undercover police detectives about his work as a registered jester. “You know …,” he confided, “clowns can get away with murder.”

That radio conversation inspired this week’s pairing of vintage paperback fronts. Above and on the left you’ll see the cover from the 1957 Permabooks edition of Stuart Palmer’s Unhappy Hooligan, with a cover illustration by James Meese. Originally released in hardcover by Harper in 1956, it’s the first of Palmer’s two mysteries featuring Howie Rook, a former newspaperman and “the least hard-boiled of all private eyes,” according to Michael E. Grost, writing on the Web site A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection. The joint venture Mysterious Press/Open Road Integrated Media, which has reissued Unhappy Hooligan in e-book format (along with its 1968 sequel, Rook Takes Knight), teases the tale’s plot thusly:
A newspaperman investigates the strange case of a
murdered society clown

Howie Rook does not care for the police. After a long career in newspapers, he has seen too many cases loused up by unimaginative detectives to have any faith in by-the-book investigation. Recently retired, he spends his leisure hours writing letters to the editor regarding police stupidity. He’s so good at pointing out the department’s screw-ups that it has decided to reach out to him. They have an impossible crime, and it requires an amateur’s eye.

Real estate magnate James McFarley is found dead in a locked room, a bullet in his chest, and clown make-up on his face. The police have no suspects, no witnesses, and no hope but Rook. The amateur’s skill is about to be put to the test. Will he find the killer, or will he end up looking sillier than a murdered clown?
I haven’t read Unhappy Hooligan (which should of course not be confused with Stuart Palmer’s 1941 Hildegarde Withers whodunit, The Puzzle of the Happy Hooligan), but Grost notes that it’s “a full-fledged locked-room mystery” with “a fair, plausible solution.” At the same time, he derides the book as rather dull, “full of the fashionable Freudianism of the fifties, and contain[ing] some nasty Freudian homophobia--something which returns, briefly, in Rook Takes Knight.” I’d welcome comments below from anyone else who has read those two Howie Rook novels.

Speaking of paid funny men, check out the cover--above, on the right--from the 1963 Ace softcover edition of Charlotte Armstrong’s The Better to Eat You. “At first it looks like your run-of-the mill mystery paperback,” opines a poster on the image-hosting Web site Flickr, “but then you realize that the usual villain? That is a CLOWN. And then you put the title with that CLOWN, and then the blurb about ROMANCE and you’ve got yourself the shivers and a little nausea.”

The Better to Eat You is a standalone novel, which was first published in 1954 (and sometimes appears under the less interesting title Murder’s Nest). A review of the book, posted in Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald on December 6, 1954, described it as a “comparatively unhorrifying tale of a young college professor who falls in love with a girl whose friends have a habit of dying.
She believes that he is under a curse. He does not. When his car slips down the street and kills a woman, he knows there is something human behind it all.

“Something human” turns out to be a wily ex-clown with as many twists as a snake. We know why almost right from the start, but arson, poisoned brandy, and wires on cliff paths keep up the interest all the way to the slight gooey end.
Ace Books’ 1963 paperback version of The Better to Eat You was paired in a single volume with another Armstrong suspenser, Mischief (1951). Sadly, I hear, the artist is not identified in the book, nor is there a credit to be found on the Web.

Like Palmer’s Unhappy Hooligan, both The Better to Eat You and Mischief are available as e-books from publisher Mysterious Press/Open Road.