Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Once Around the Web, Please

Way back in 2010, Rebecca Kalin, the daughter of renowned artist Victor Kalin, launched an excellent Web site devoted primarily to her father’s numerous paperback illustrations. More recently, she’s created this second site, which features other examples of his work, including record covers and portraits of famous folk.

• Because I’ve occasionally showcased the covers of Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer private-eye novels on this page, my eye was caught recently by this gallery of Macdonald’s works in the blog Fragments of Noir. It includes several examples of artist Mitchell Hooks’ beautiful Archer paperback fronts from the 1970s (The Far Side of the Dollar and The Underground Man, for instance). Damn! I was busy collecting Macdonald’s work back then; I could have--and should have--bought all of those Hooks editions, rather than a mere handful. But I reasoned that I didn’t need duplicates of works I already owned. What a fool I was!

• No matter how obscure the theme, it’s almost always possible to dig up vintage paperback covers to illustrate it. Consider this set, from Pulp International, of book fronts featuring men with women in their arms--only some of them conscious.

This could have been another choice along that line.

• And Andrew Nette, the Australian writer responsible for the blog Pulp Curry, has assembled this collection of covers from The World of Suzie Wong, a 1957 novel penned by Richard Mason and adapted three years later as a film starring William Holden and Nancy Kwan. I’m particularly fond of the 1963 Horowitz Publications edition he’s embedded at the top of his page, though this is a better representation of that book. (Look also at the link for another Suzie Wong cover, by James Avati, that Nette doesn’t mention.)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Two-fer Tuesdays: Neck and Neck

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

It can be easy sometimes to understand why literary reductionists dismiss crime and mystery fiction as being merely about murder and mayhem. Certainly that’s the impression a person might be given, if the covers posted above were his or her only references.

On the left we have Yesterday’s Man, a 1965 release from Leisure Books, which by then had a history of publishing soft porn penned (pseudonymously) by the likes of Robert Silverberg, Lawrence Block, and others. This paperback novel, too, was by an author with a far better future: Ed McBain (aka Evan Hunter), who by ’65 had established himself as the man behind the 87th Precinct series of police procedurals. According to blogger Jerry House, during the 1960s and ’70s McBain delivered to Leisure “a book a month for a flat fee of $1,000.00 cash,” which he used “to finance some of his baser habits.” These works appeared under the byline “Dean Hudson.” As House observes, such soft-core fiction was “pretty mild; most of today’s women's romance books are more graphic. The formula was simple: any type of plot (logical or not) with sex scenes every so-many pages. Metaphors for sex and body parts were preferred, and no really bad words.” House suggests there were at least 74 “Dean Hudson” titles (Wikipedia puts the count at 93), some of which might actually have been composed by McBain’s writing students.

The front of Yesterday’s Man shows a young woman stripped down to her dainties, being strangled by a man at the edge of a lake--or maybe it’s a creek; or could it be an iceberg? (It’s damnably hard to tell!) The artwork was by Robert Bonfils, who began his illustration career in Chicago during the 1950s, and went on to create some of the most provocative and over-the-top paperback covers of the late 20th century. You can enjoy more of his artistry here.

A remarkably similar pose, equally violent, is struck by the couple on Night Extra, by William McGivern. That novel was originally published by Dodd, Mead in 1957, but the cover shown above is from the 1960 paperback edition of Night Extra, released by Fontana Books, an imprint of William Collins, Sons (now part of HarperCollins). The blog Mystery*File offers this plot synopsis of the tale:
A big city reporter (which McGivern was at one time) investigates the murder of a woman whose body was found in the house of a reform mayoral candidate. It soon becomes clear that the entrenched political machine has engineered a frame-up and appears likely to succeed in destroying a feared political opponent.

The novel is set in an unnamed East Coast city that suffers from pervasive corruption. Anyone who fights against the corruption places their job, if not their life, in jeopardy. Crusading reporter Sam Terrell spends much of the story trying to convince witnesses to come forward and tell what they know. He also must navigate through the city’s numerous layers of civic, political and bureaucratic corruption in order to find allies who might advance his investigation.
Credit for the illustration on this Fontana title goes to John L. Baker, a native of Birmingham, England, who was born in 1922 and went on to create fronts for a variety of Agatha Christie novels as well as other crime and thriller novels.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Two-fer Tuesdays: Have Lust, Will Travel

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

There should be no question in your mind as to why I think these two paperback fronts go together. The artwork for both comes from George Gross (1909-2003), who produced hundreds of cover illustrations for U.S. pulp publications in the mid-20th century (such as Mystery Novels Magazine, Baseball Stories, and Detective Book Magazine), as well as for men’s adventure mags (Male, Cavalcade, Argosy, Man’s Illustrated, Saga, and True Adventures).

The Dubrovnik Massacre was published by Ace Books in 1981. It’s one of more than 250 entries in the popular Nick Carter-Killmaster spy-adventure series, released between 1964 and 1990. As Wikipedia explains, the title character “is an update of a pulp fiction private detective named Nick Carter [who first appeared] in 1886. … [Here he] serves as Agent N3 of AXE, a fictional spy agency for the United States government. The novels are similar to the literary James Bond novels--low on gadgets, high on action. Sexual encounters in particular are described in detail.” That male-enticing sex element is much in evidence in Gross’ illustration, the foreground of which shows a man and a woman in most amorous embrace, while the larger figure of an armed agent Carter looms in the background. Although these novels credit “Nick Carter” as star and author, they were actually penned by a wide variety of writers, among them Michael Avallone, Manning Lee Stokes, Craig Nova, Dennis Lynds, and Robert J. Randisi. The Dubrovnik Massacre was reportedly produced by Henry Rasof and Stephen Williamson.

At first glance, you might suppose the Dubrovnik version of Gross’ illustration came first, and that it was trimmed some to be used for Love Hunters (above, right). But you’d be wrong. In fact, Love Hunters was published by Softcover Library in 1966, a decade and half before the Nick Carter adventure reached print. The artwork on Love Hunters shows a young couple making out on a beach somewhere, both of them attired in bathing suits (rather than the underwear the pair seem to be wearing on The Dubrovnik Massacre), with a surfboard in the background. Again, sex is reflected in both the illustration and the cover lines (“The surfing crowd started early and loved fast--as if love were going out of style”).

Love Hunters carries the byline “Dean McCoy,” but that tale was actually written by Dudley Dean McGaughey, a Californian who, according to this short biography on the Mystery*File site, was born in 1906 (or perhaps 1909) and died in 1986. Quite prolific, he produced primarily crime and western fiction, using noms de plume such as Dean Owen, Dudley Dean, and Owen Dudley. However, “to make ends meet, one must assume, in the 1960s he turned to the genre of adult fiction, churning out a long list of ‘sleazy’ but non-explicit novels for Beacon under the name of Dean McCoy.” (Softcover was apparently an imprint of Beacon, one of the mid-20th-century’s most successful publishers of sexually oriented mass-market paperbacks). Love Hunters ranked among almost two dozen Dean McCoy novels, others carrying names such as No Empty Bed for Her (1962), The Love Pool (1964), Free-Loving Wives (1965), and Group Sex (1965).

Hmm. The Beacon/Softcover editors weren’t even remotely subtle with their book titles, were they?

READ MORE:Killmaster Art by George Gross,” by Christopher Mills (Atomic Pulp and Other Meltdowns).

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Looming Threats

I was fairly unfamiliar with author Ursula Curtiss (1923-1984) until this year, but I’ve now showcased two of her novel fronts in the last two months. The first came from Out of the Dark (1964), which I incorporated into Killer Covers’ sixth-anniversary succession of posts last month. And now we have The Deadly Climate, carrying a dramatic illustration by James Meese and published in paperback by Pocket Books in 1955. It’s a work I thought of recently while reading about how Republicans in the U.S. Congress--often derided for being “at war with science”--sought, in quite farcical fashion, to acknowledge the existence of climate change, while simultaneously denying that human activity contributes to such dangerous environmental developments.

A daughter of Golden Age police procedural writer Helen Reilly, Curtiss penned almost two dozen mystery and suspense novels over her 36-year-long career. I believe The Deadly Climate was her fifth book, released originally by Dodd, Mead & Company in 1954. Writing about this novel last fall in Pretty Sinister Books, John Norris delivered the following synopsis of Curtiss’ tale:
Caroline Emmett has been sent to a rest home in Wicklow, Massachusetts, upon orders from her doctor. There she will recuperate from pneumonia and mental duress following her discovery of her husband’s dallying with a woman half his age. Walking in the countryside she finds to be more therapeutic than any treatment from her nurses and doctors at the rest home. One evening she takes a detour from her regular path and climbs up a hill. She witnesses the brutal beating of a woman at the hands of a bulky figure wearing a man’s raincoat. Or so she thinks. He shines his flashlight on her, leaving it there for several minutes, and Caroline flees. Bad weather--rain and wind--force her to seek shelter before she can return to her room. She manages to gain entry to the home of the Olivers, where she tells her story while they listen with a mixture of disbelief and curiosity. She’ll remain here for the next twelve hours while the killer in the raincoat tracks her down.

This is familiar territory, to be sure--the eyewitness to a crime who seems to have imagined everything. Of course no body is found where Caroline said she saw the attack. But don’t expect the story to fall into the trap of a well-worn formula and an obvious unfolding of events. Enter Carmichael, the editor and owner of the local newspaper, with a nose for news and a healthy dose of common sense. He is the only one who believes Caroline. With the permission of a lackadaisical and skeptical policeman named Trunz the newsman heads out to the crime site to do some real work. He quickly finds two sets of footprints in the mud and a woman’s patent leather shoe. Size 9. Something bad has happened he is sure. And he begins his dogged search for the woman with one shoe. Or her dead body.
Curtiss’ novel obviously has naught to do with ideology-driven right-wing efforts to separate the modern warming of Earth’s atmosphere from the deleterious behavior of big industries and other human endeavors. Yet when I look at that pillow being pressed down toward the woman’s face in Meese’s painting, I can’t help but imagine a time when our climate might similarly threaten all of humankind, unless short-sighted, science-eschewing politicians stop discounting the existence of environmental change and start trying to reduce its potentially disastrous effects.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Two-fer Tuesday: Curtains for Cuties

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

Philadelphia-born and notably prolific reporter-turned-author Robert Leslie Bellem (1902-1968) is best known for having created hard-boiled Hollywood private eye Dan Turner. But as author-blogger James Reasoner explains in this post, The Window with the Sleeping Nude (Handi-Book, 1950) “isn’t a Dan Turner yarn.
The hero is store detective Barney Cunard, who’s in charge of security at the biggest department store in an unnamed town. Barney arrives at work one rainy, hung-over morning to find a nude blond female mannequin on his desk. He’s barely started trying to figure out how and why it got there when something else happens that has to be connected to this mystery. The body of one of the store’s window dressers is discovered in a bed in one of the store’s window displays, dressed only in lingerie and stabbed in the heart. Obviously, the killer replaced the mannequin with the corpse and left the mannequin on Cunard’s desk for some unfathomable reason.

But this is one of those novels where very little that seems obvious turns out to be true. The plot twists and turns with dizzying speed as all the action takes place in just a few hours. In that short period of time, there are several more murders and a kidnapping. Cunard gets hit on the head and knocked out, guzzles rye, runs around in the rain, and finally figures everything out from clues that Bellem cleverly plants along the way. Of course, as a veteran of the Spicy pulps, Bellem manages to find excuses for several of his female characters to wind up in various stages of undress. This novel reads very much like it could be an expansion of one of Bellem’s hundreds of pulp stories, but I don’t know if that’s the case or not.
The cover illustration on The Window with the Sleeping Nude is credited to Victor Olson (1927-2007), a graduate of New York City’s Art Career School, whose work I mentioned last fall on this page. Fortunately, when Pulpville Press--a reprint publisher of some note--brought this novel back into print in 2009, it did so with Olson’s original artwork intact.

I wish I had as much information to share about The Corpse in the Picture Window (Ace, 1961). But I don’t. I can tell you that the author, Bruce Cassiday (1920-2005), was born in Southern California and penned fiction in a variety of genres, ranging from spy and mystery to action-adventure. The Corpse in the Picture Window was issued as a “double novel,” the flipside of that volume being If Wishes Were Hearses, by J. Harvey Bond (né Russell R. Winterbotham). Who did the cover artwork is a mystery; one source suggests it might have been Ernest Chiriacka (aka Darcy), but I’m skeptical of that. If anyone knows the actual illustrator’s identity, please share it in the Comments section below.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Can I Trade Some Rain for Sunshine?

The renowned Mitchell Hooks painted covers for 18 Ross Macdonald novels during the 1970s, all of them Bantam paperback editions. I own a few of those, including Find a Victim, The Chill, and The Blue Hammer. However, I don’t have this 1977 Bantam release of The Way Some People Die, Macdonald’s third novel featuring Los Angeles private eye Lew Archer (originally published in 1951). Because the weather here in Seattle has been so dreary of late, this sunny Southern California cover just screamed out for my attention. It reminds me that summer is only five months away!

(To see another artist’s very different façade for The Way Some People Die, check out this first entry in Killer Covers’ sixth-anniversary series of posts.)

Babe and Bullets, Oh Boy!

Probably like most readers, I think of British author John Harvey in relation either to his long-running series about Nottingham police detective Charlie Resnick (Darkness, Darkness) or his trilogy of mysteries featuring retired Detective Inspector Frank Elder. However, the now 76-year-old, Dagger Award-winning Harvey penned a number of other books before he debuted those two series, four of which showcased American-style English gumshoe Scott Mitchell, touted as “the toughest private eye--and the best.”

The first of the Mitchell outings was Amphetamines and Pearls (1976), followed closely by The Geranium Kiss (1977), Junkyard Angel (1977), and Neon Madman (1977). All good titles, though I’ve never come across any of the actual books here in the States.  I did, though, recently happen onto the 1977 Sphere paperback front of Junkyard Angel. It’s a photographic façade, but a rather memorable one, combining ample imagery to draw the eyes of male readers. A well-kept cover of Junkyard Angel is shown above, while a front-and-back scan of a more used copy can be enjoyed below.

READ MORE:John Harvey Cover Gallery,” by Steve Holland
(Bear Alley).

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Two-fer Tuesdays: Frozen Assets

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

Because I live way out here in more temperate Seattle, I’m missing all the snowstorm woes currently being inflicted upon New England. But that doesn’t mean the cold has not been on my mind. In fact, my wife and I spent a good chunk of last night watching “Blizzard 2015” TV coverage, and I woke this morning with the desire to devote this week’s Two-fer Tuesday installment (the first since early December--my apologies) to the chillier side of mystery fiction.

Above and on the left, you’ll find the 1957 Signet New American Library paperback edition of The Flesh Was Cold (a book originally published in 1950 as The Angels Fell). This “medium-boiled detective thriller” was the 11th novel by Bruno Fischer (1908-1992), a Berlin-born sports reporter turned pulp-fictionist, who in the late 1930s ran as a Socialist candidate for the New York state senate. And though The Flesh Was Cold was not technically an entry in Fischer’s post-World War II series about New York City private investigator Ben Helm (who apparently doesn’t make a showing until the novel’s second half), it is often lumped in among those.

Credit for the illustration fronting this edition of The Flesh Is Cold belongs to the renowned Robert Maguire.

Now please direct your attention to the paperback façade opposite Maguire’s. I hadn’t intended to revisit the bulging portfolio of Robert McGinnis, after my month-long celebration of his creativity last October. However, this front from the 1962 Signet paperback issue of Carter Brown’s The Ice-Cold Nude, featuring series P.I. Danny Boyd, provides excellent proof of McGinnis’ many talents as a painter, not to mention his fondness for the female form. The painter later created another, different cover for the 1969 Signet edition of The Ice-Cold Nude, which you can enjoy here.


“Beacon Books was a [19]50s outfit that published a lot of low-end trash,” writes Gary Lovisi, “but what great trash!” Mick Sidge, from the blog Sleazy Digest Books!, makes that case again, in this new gallery of Beacon’s duplicate covers.

Click here to find more memorable Beacon fronts.

READ MORE:Digest Art Meets Star Books Australia!,” by Mick Sidge (Sleazy Digest Books).

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Six for Six: Triple Cross

Celebrating half a dozen years of Killer Covers postings.

Triple Cross, by John Roeburt (Belmont, 1962).
Also published as Murder in Manhattan and There Are Dead Men in Manhattan, this was the second novel in Roeburt’s trilogy of mysteries featuring J. Howard “Jigger” Moran, “a disbarred Illinois attorney and sometime cabbie who now cruises the streets of Manhattan at night, keeping an eye open for the main chance, when he's not shooting craps.”

Illustration by Robert Maguire. The image is reminiscent of another one credited to Maguire, which likewise shows a woman sharing an intimate moment ... while reaching for a man’s gun.

READ MORE:John Roeburt – Corpse on the Town,” by William F. Deeck (Mystery*File).

Friday, January 23, 2015

Six for Six: A Race of Rebels

Celebrating half a dozen years of Killer Covers postings.

A Race of Rebels, by Andrew Tully (Popular Library, 1961).
Illustration by Mitchell Hooks.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Six for Six: Death on the Nile

Celebrating half a dozen years of Killer Covers postings.

Death on the Nile, by Agatha Christie (Fontana, 1960).
Illustration by Ellen Walton.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Six for Six: Out of the Dark

Celebrating half a dozen years of Killer Covers postings.

Out of the Dark, by Ursula Curtiss (Ace, 1964).
Illustration by Bob Schinella.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Six for Six: Yankee Pasha

Celebrating half a dozen years of Killer Covers postings.

Yankee Pasha, by Edison Marshall (Dell, 1959).
Illustration by Harry Schaare.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Six for Six: The Way Some People Die

On January 19, 2009--six years ago today--I acted rather impulsively and created a book-design blog, the one you’re reading now, Killer Covers. For some time before that, I had produced occasional posts about crime-novel fronts in The Rap Sheet. But such covers interested me enough to try building a blog focused specifically around them. Little did I know what I was getting into. Yes, there’s much to be said on the topic of book design, especially if one focuses, as I do, on vintage paperbacks. Too much, in fact. It’s sometimes been challenging to divide my efforts between Killer Covers and The Rap Sheet.

Nonetheless, the last half-dozen years have presented me with numerous welcome opportunities to collect obscure paperbacks from the past and share with you, my faithful readers, what knowledge I’ve gleaned regarding their cover artists. As a way of celebrating this latest anniversary, I shall spend the next six days showcasing novel fronts I discovered within the last twelvemonth. One cover per day through Saturday. The artists won’t all be new to regular readers of this blog, but I hope the works themselves will bring fresh delights to everybody.

First up: The Way Some People Die, by John Ross Macdonald (Pocket, 1961). Illustration by Charles Binger. California-born author Kenneth Millar (1915-1983) employed his real name when he started penning crime novels in the early 1940s, but subsequently adopted the pseudonym John Macdonald, which he hoped would prevent his works from being mistaken for those by his then better-known wife, Margaret Millar. Of course, this change only created confusion with his fellow wordsmith, John D. MacDonald, author of the Travis McGee adventures. Millar eventually altered his nom de plume to John Ross Macdonald, and later to Ross Macdonald. The Way Some People Die was his third novel starring Los Angeles private eye Lew Archer.

READ MORE:Ross Macdonald: The Way Some People Die,” by Peter (Postmodern Deconstruction Madhouse).