Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Day to Give Thanks … in Some Way

Thanks to the Saint, by Leslie Charteris (Pocket, 1959). Illustration by Darrel Greene. You’ll find another Thanksgiving-appropriate paperback cover here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Duped: “The Deadly Reasons”

The latest installment in Killer Covers’ “haven’t we seen this front someplace before?” series. Previous entries are here.

I’ve been holding onto the cover above for months now, trying to recall why that image of a rather well-endowed young brunette looked so darn familiar. I just couldn’t put my finger on the answer.

I knew that the man responsible for the painting that fronts this 1958 Popular Giant paperback edition of The Deadly Reasons was Owen Kampen (1922-1982), a Madison, Wisconsin-born artist and illustrator who once worked as an instructor with the Famous Artists School. I also knew that The Deadly Reasons was written by Edward D. Radin (1909-1966), an American criminologist and journalist whose best-known work is probably Lizzie Borden: The Untold Story (1961). The Deadly Reasons was the book he published just prior to that Borden history. Nominated for the 1959 Edgar Award in the Best Fact Crime category, it’s a collection of 10 true-crime tales about homicides and the people who commit them. As Radin explains in an Author’s Note, “in each of the cases in this book, a different motive was the cause that led to murder. While there are many motives in the broad range of human emotions, the ten deadly reasons in this book--Love, Fear, Revenge, Pride, Passion, Hate, Lust, Greed, Profit, Jealousy--are the most frequent causes of homicide I have found in a study of more than two thousand different murders.”

Of course, knowing all of that helped me not one iota when it came to pinning down why I recognized the Deadly Reasons cover illustration. But then one day last week, during a mostly frustrating Web search for an entirely unrelated book, I suddenly came across what was described as a “prostitution novel,” Martha Crane, by Charles Gorham (Popular Library, 1954). Imagine my delight at seeing that its cover--displayed on the left--used the original, larger Kampen painting from which the image on The Deadly Reasons was taken.

A short biographical note found on the backside of the 1949 Signet paperback edition of Gorham’s second novel, The Future Mister Dolan (released originally in 1948, following his publication of The Gilded Hearse), says the author “was born in Philadelphia, attended Columbia, [and] saw war service as navigator with the RAF and 8th Air Force. He has worked on newspapers and in publishing houses.” Kirkus Reviews offers this synopsis of Martha Crane’s plot:
An autopsy on Martha Crane omits flowers and provides a case history of a girl whose heart and conscience had been numbed--to refrigerated--by her father. Enlisting at eighteen in the WACS to escape him, Martha now at 24 is still embattled in her emancipation but a chance night on the town finds her pregnant. The attempt made by a home for unwed mothers in St. Louis to contact the father of the child she will bear drives her on to New York and the chance encounter with Farkas, a pimp, who arranges for the care, delivery and disposal of the child. Back in shape again, she goes to work for Farkas as a high-class call girl; her attraction to him has an unhealthy aura which is also a reminder of the father she hates; she submits to every degradation and contributes to the suicide of a client; and finally, with the knowledge that Farkas is using her child as a means of expensive extortion from the family who has adopted it, she kills him. … An anatomy of a driven as well as fallen woman, this is for those who stimulate rather than shock easily and is thoroughly demoralized.
Not exactly the most glowing review, eh? Fortunately for the author, it wasn’t the only one. The Boston Herald was kinder to Martha Crane, saying that “Mr. Gorham has created here a frightening character, one who will repel you and at the same time hit you so hard that her agony will remain with you a long time after you have put the book down.” Gorham went on to pen such works as Trial by Darkness (1952), The Gold in Their Bodies: A Novel About Gaughin (1955), McCaffery (1961), and a biography of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie titled The Lion of Judah (1966).

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Finds: “The Diamond Boomerang”

Another in our growing line of context-free covers we love.

The Diamond Boomerang, by Lester S. Taube (Pocket, 1970).
Illustration by Robert Foster.

From what I can tell by searching the Web, this novel was originally released in 1969 by British publisher W.H. Allen under the title The Grabbers. Its author, Lester S. Taube (1920-2013), was born in Trenton, New Jersey, to Russian and Lithuanian parents. During his teens he joined the U.S. military, and in World War II fought with the Marines on the islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Following that war, Taube ran an electronics company in California, then a paper stock enterprise in Pennsylvania, and eventually a logging operation in Canada. He went back to serve as a military adviser and intelligence officer during the Korean War, and ended his armed forces career amid the chaos of the Vietnam War, when he found himself stationed in Europe as “a general staff officer working in intelligence and war plans.”

(Right) A much less attractive, 1970 UK edition of Taube’s novel.

Settling once more into civilian life, this time in France, Taube apparently opened a “chain of coin-operated laundries … that would become the largest in Europe.” It was during this later period of his life that he started penning fiction, ultimately putting his name to eight novels, the last of which was The Grabbers, described on what looks like the official Taube Web site as “a diamond theft thriller.” Here’s a brief plot account:
Dan Baldwin, an ex-colonel whose life has crashed, is rescued from a gutter in North Africa and finds himself elected at gunpoint to the company of a purposeful trio about to raid the secret diamond field of a relentless south-west African cartel. He contrives to locate the diamonds, and, for his pains, is left for dead by the gang’s treacherous leader, who has conspired to secure the entire illicit haul for himself.

The furious climax is reached in London, where Dan, after a tempestuous clash and torrid love affair with the beautiful, blonde Ingrid Talaanger, daughter of the diamond cartel’s head, discovers that for all his violence and cynicism, he can again love a woman devotedly and be changed by her.
Apparently, the lithe, topless lovely depicted on the 1970 cover of the retitled Diamond Boomerang is not Ingrid, for the hue of her hair is all wrong. Nonetheless, the illustration certainly suggests that the adventure inside is fraught with risk and possible romance, all set against a territory made foreign by the endeavors and ethics of its inhabitants as much as by its natural environment. The painting is credited to Robert Foster, an accomplished (but now largely forgotten) artist who, after working during the mid-20th century as a popular instructor at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, relocated to the East Coast. He taught for a while with the Famous Artists School Correspondence Course in Connecticut, hoping to build up a portfolio that would gain him entry into the illustration market in New York City. As Tom Watson, a now-retired West Coast illustrator, art director and educator, who studied under Foster in San Francisco, recalls in this 2010 piece for the blog Today’s Inspiration,
[Foster’s] original intent was to break into the magazine illustration field, where the spotlight of modern illustration had been centered throughout the 1950s, but that market was starting to shrivel and gave less opportunity for the new guy in town. So he found a lucrative niche illustrating mostly pocket book covers for the major publishers and had built a substantial reputation, particularly in the science-fiction market.

Frederik Pohl was a well known sci-fi writer at the time and Bob did many illustrations for the covers of his books. One of his crowning achievements was a series of the first four covers for John Norman’s famous (sci-fi) “Gor” series. He illustrated the covers for other well-known writers of the day, such as Doris Lessing, Paul Gallico (
The Poseidon Adventure) and Somerset Maugham, to name a few. …

Depending on the subject, his illustrations varied in their degree of realism, and some were rendered quite painterly. He was one of the very few successful sci-fi illustrators who used a unique surrealistic technique, ideal for that market. He used his anatomical knowledge to depict and render accurate human form, and blended innovative elements and backgrounds reminiscent of surrealism in a dramatic theatrical setting. Bob’s illustrations were carefully designed, positioning his figures and props to visually flow together, and to contrast and complement each other. In several examples, he extracted shapes and forms from small watch parts, gears, wheels, etc., enlarging and altering them for unique background props.
Watson’s multi-installment recollection of his time with Robert “Just Call Me Bob” Foster is well worth reading, if you’re at all interested in this artist. Follow these links to find his complete series: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV. Watson notes, amid his memories of the illustrator’s three-piece suits and use of his students as studio models, that Foster “passed away of a heart attack in 1977, at the age of 49, after having progressively poor health.”

I don’t usually provide, in these “Friday Finds” posts, galleries of work by the principal artists under consideration. But I am quite struck by Foster’s exceptional talent. So below, you’ll find 11 of the paperback fronts he created during his career. These include his off-kilter cover for The Dakota Project (1971), the stunning back and front images he created for the 1970 Avon edition of Michael Moorcock’s Behold the Man, his artwork for Dell’s 1972 paperback release of The Poseidon Adventure (a copy of which I happen to have in my own library), and his illustration for 1969’s Muscavado, a West Indies slave revolt tale touted in its time as “more explosive than Mandingo,” Kyle Onstott’s rather racy novel of the antebellum South (later turned into a movie of the same title).

Click on any of these images to open an enlargement.

Obviously, Robert Foster is an artist who deserves much greater recognition than he has received in recent years.

READ MORE:Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: The Art of Robert Foster, Part I” and “Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: The Art of Robert Foster, Part II,” by Joachim Boaz (Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations).

Desire by Design

I was familiar with American author Jack Woodford (1894-1971) as a result of my using the covers of his books in one or two posts on this page. But I hadn’t realized, until the blog Pulp International mentioned it this week, that his tame-by-modern-standards “sleaze fiction” had, in the mid-20th century, helped Avon Books “prove that pulp readers would pay for sexual thrills.” You can appraise a small selection of Woodford’s lightly suggestive book covers here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Two-fer Tuesdays: Patience, Patience

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’ve mentioned St. Louis-born author Manning (Lee) Stokes (1911-1976) in at least one previous Killer Covers post, and will undoubtedly do so again. He was a particularly productive fictionist who penned both original books and film novelizations under a variety of pseudonyms (Kermit Welles, Ken Stanton, Nick Carter, etc.) as well as his own name. His 1955 novel Murder Can’t Wait (Graphic)--shown above, left--evidently offered the one and only appearance of a New York City private eye named Vince Donnellen, who has recently lost his license to do business. This has left him in need of money, susceptible to dubious employment propositions such as the one brought his way in Murder Can’t Wait. Vintage45’s Blog provides the following synopsis of Stokes’ storyline:
[Donnellen’s] sometimes girlfriend Yvette Farrell dumps him since it looks like she’s landed a millionaire. He’s publisher David Fenston.

Later, Yvette goes to Vince’s place and tells him David wants to hire him to take his alcoholic niece Lee to a sanitarium in Indiana. Vince thinks there’s more to the job than that. He’s right.

David takes him out on his boat and tells Vince the real deal. Lee is set to inherit a million dollars in eleven days. If she dies before then, David gets the money. He needs it since he’s almost broke. He only fooled around with Yvette in order to contact Vince.

He’ll pay Vince fifty grand to kill Lee. Vince says he’ll do it. As planned, he and Lee head for Indiana. Vince comes up with a plan to make David think Lee’s dead. Before he can take that any further he has to sober Lee up.
The copy on the flipside of this 1955 paperback gives the tale in between a decidedly grim aspect, especially in reference to the targeted niece, Lee: “She was a lush, no good to anyone, a million bucks worth of body and booze and bygone husband.” Yet Vintage45’s Blog assures us that it’s a “fast-paced story that is well worth reading.” Notable, too, is the novel’s front. It was painted by Saul Levine (1915-?), who did a good deal of work for Graphic Books during the 1950s (you’ll see, on the left, his cover illustration for 1956’s The Intruder, by Octavus Roy Cohen) as well as other publishers, such as Beacon (which was behind the 1954 release of Fred Malloy’s Rooming House, also on the left).

One of Levine’s contemporaries, Rudolph Belarski (1900-1983), was responsible for creating this week’s other featured façade, from the 1951 Popular Library edition of While Murder Waits. The artwork here presents plenty of intrigue, from its clearly cautious redhead with a gun exiting what might be a basement staircase to the dark-coiffed ruffian waiting behind that stairway door, a metal bar clutched in his paw, ready to strike. Even the book’s tagline--“Night Is the Time for Killing”--abets the suspense Belarski’s illustration is meant to suggest, though Eric Beetner, in this Criminal Element piece about such cover copy, observes that it “[doesn’t] make a whole heck of a lot of sense.”

While Murder Waits was originally published in 1937 by Doubleday Crime Club, and is by-lined “John Estevan.” However, the author was really Samuel Shellabarger (1888-1954), a Princeton graduate and well-traveled writer-educator who penned both historical adventures (such as 1945’s Captain from Castile, which was made into a 1947 movie starring Tyrone Power) and mysteries. While Murder Waits was one of five books he produced under the Estevan pen name. The only plot description I can find comes from the Goodreads site:
Retired sea captain George Gleasing named his three daughters after the reefs and then raised them as he had ruled his crew, as a tyrant and a bully. His ruthlessness roused so much hatred that, now, old and ill, but still brutal and unrepentant, he lives in fear that one of his daughters would breach the old stone walls—and take his life.

When heads begin to roll, Dr. Miles Le Breton of the Department of Justice finds himself both curious and repelled as much by the ruthless old captain as by his three daughters who mirror the sea that flows through their blood—no pity, no love, no truth; only cunning, strength, power, and, yes, beauty.

Fans of the old style mysteries will love this one.
At present, the full text of While Murder Waits is available online.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

This Cat’s Got It in the Bag

While writing recently about the roots and escapades of Ernest Tidyman’s famous African-American private investigator, John Shaft, for both Kirkus Reviews and The Rap Sheet, I kept coming across references to an author known as “B.B. Johnson” and another fictional troubleshooter of the early 1970s, Richard Abraham Spade, also known as Superspade. I don’t think I have ever come across any of the Superspade novels, but The Thrilling Detective Web Site provides this brief profile of their protagonist:
Richard Abraham Spade was a strapping 240-pound fellow who went from the ghetto to UCLA, where he made All-American as an offensive tackle, acquiring the interesting nickname of “Superspade” in the process. He was headed for a pro-football fame, but was sidetracked for two years in Vietnam. Returning stateside, forty-three pounds lighter, a lieutenant with a Silver Star and a Purple Heart; he wasted no time in turning his attention back to pro ball, only to have his career cut short by a serious injury.

At the start of his first case, he is 33 years old and has been working at Greene College in Santa Barbara for three years, as the black studies lecturer and part-time football coach, while pursuing his masters in political science. But this is just the calm before the storm. When his buddy is killed for political reasons, Spade finds himself “in the middle of a deadly blitz of bullets, broads and burning revolution …”

Each of these six men’s adventures paperback originals are billed as “a tough novel by B.B. Johnson,” which we’re told is “a pseudonym for one of Hollywood’s most talented and creative black personalities.” [The series is] resonant with Black Power relevance, and full of typical “out there” plots for the time, such as
Mother of the Year, which features Spade protecting a black beauty queen marked for death by a group of militant black feminists.
In an examination for Criminal Element of black 20th-century pulp fiction, Gary Phillips, creator of the Ivan Monk detective series and the Angeltown comics, adds that “If memory serves, Superspade’s super power was that he gave off a hyper pheromone that made a woman go weak in the knees for him. No, really.”

OK, since I have not (yet) read the Superspade paperback yarns, I can’t attest to whether their star exercised phenomenally seductive sway over the curvaceous women with whom he came into contact--though that would hardly have been unusual for a crime- or thriller-fiction leading man of the era. And certainly the tagline on the front of Black Is Beautiful (1970), the second Superspade outing, suggests this “other” Spade is no monk: “He’s a bad, bold soul brother up to his sweet hips in revolution--and women!”

What I do understand from conducting Web research, though, is that the man behind the nom de plume B.B. Johnson was in fact songwriter-composer Joseph Perkins Greene, who was born in Spokane, Washington, in April 1915 and passed away in Pasadena, California, 71 years later. The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) provides this page of references to Greene’s work being used in film soundtracks (including mention that Lauren Bacall performed part of his 1944 song, “And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine,” in Humphrey Bogart’s The Big Sleep). Another page on the same site offers this short record of his musical career:
Songwriter (“Across the Alley from the Alamo,” “And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine”), composer, author, producer and conductor, educated in high school and in private music study. He was a singer over KFRC in San Francisco, and later produced records for RCA Victor, Liberty and Vee Jay. His credits include conducting, scoring and writing work for television and films. Joining ASCAP in 1946, his other popular-song compositions include “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Cryin’,” “All About Ronnie,” “Make Me a Present of You,” “Soothe Me,” “A Ting A Ling,” “Chicken Road,” “Softly,” “Dusky January,” “Let Your Love Walk In,” “Tender Touch,” and “Annabelle.”
If it seems strange that a musician would eventually turn to composing crime novels, the Toledo Blade newspaper explained the shift in a syndicated article from May 17, 1970:
Orphaned at 14, Greene [said he] “earned all the education I got.” One of the ways he earned it was to peel 100 pounds of potatoes every morning before going to school.

Greene displayed musical talent early, sang and played in local bands, then drifted south to San Francisco to become a radio singer.

“I made band arrangements in bed and sold them to orchestras,” Greene said. “My biggest break came when Stan Kenton recorded one of my songs, ‘And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine.’ Following that I had ‘Across the Alley from the Alamo,’ which sold 4 million records by Kenton, the Mills Brothers, Woody Herman, and others.”

Greene established himself as a song writer, record producer, and composer of musical scores.

This prompted Paperback Library to commission the Superspade series, which are by-lined “B.B. Johnson”--“in case I get tired of writing the books and they hire someone else.”
The author of that newspaper piece, Associated Press Hollywood correspondent Bob Thomas, explained as well that Greene’s novels had already drawn film-industry interest. Producer Saul David (Fantastic Voyage, Our Man Flint) was said to have been planning a James Bond-like movie franchise based on the Superspade stories, with major help from Greene. But as far as I can tell, nothing came of that partnership. In his exceptional new book, The World of Shaft, Steve Aldous mentions that Greene had also submitted a proposal to Ernest Tidyman and his filmmaking partners for a sequel to the 1971 motion picture Shaft, but it had also been rejected. (The sequel was instead Shaft’s Big Score!)

Yet Greene’s conviction that “Negroes need to have their own heroes” did leave us with those half-dozen action-packed books, all of which were published between 1970 and 1971, and boasted cover illustrations by the extraordinarily talented Mitchell Hooks. I’m embedding images of those novels above and below, in order of their original appearance. You can find short synopses of the stories inside by clicking on this page from the Museum of Uncut Funk site.

Pop Porn, Anyone?

Caustic Cover Critic’s J.R.S. Morrison has nice things to say about the jacket of a soon-forthcoming memoir by author-screenwriter Chris Offutt, My Father, the Pornographer (Atria), but is less thrilled with the sleazy covers of works the senior Andrew J. Offutt produced during his lifetime, “almost all published under various pseudonyms by various dodgy outfits.” Cringe at his gallery here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Point of Disorder

According to this new article in The Washington Post, Ted Cruz, the Canada-born junior U.S. senator, low-polling presidential contender, and right-wing extremist from Texas, enjoys and actually tries to exploit the intense animosity he has stirred up during the mere two and a half years he’s served on Capitol Hill. A related post by Washington Monthly’s Martin Longman notes that
The piece has the familiar stories. When Cruz filibustered John O. Brennan’s nomination as director of the CIA, fellow Republican Senator John McCain called him “a wacko bird.” Back in August, then-Speaker John Boehner said that he was grateful that Cruz’s presidential ambitions kept “that jackass” out of Washington, D.C., where Cruz is always trying to tell him how to do his job. This past October, [former] President George W. Bush even got into the act, mentioning at a fundraiser for his brother that he just doesn’t like the guy. [Post reporters Katie Zezima and David Weigel] dutifully assemble quotes from several senators and Senate staffers who all seem to agree that Cruz is not a team-player and that he puts his own ambition over any other consideration.

Back in late-September, I noted that Cruz had become more unpopular with his colleagues than any senator since at least the notorious Joe McCarthy. This is not a recipe for being an effective legislator, but Cruz has never aspired to be the next Lion of the Senate.
Reading this put me in mind of a vintage mystery novel that might’ve been titled with the loathsome Cruz in mind: The Case of the Hated Senator, by Margaret Scherf. Published by Ace Books in 1954, and part of a “double novel” set that featured Gordon Ashe’s Drop Dead! on its reverse side, The Case of the Hated Senator was actually this tale’s second title. It had originally been published in 1953 by Doubleday/Crime Club as Dead: Senate Office Building. A short review on the Goodreads site offers this rather cryptic plot synopsis:
Frank Scott is a much reviled senator who has mysteriously disappeared. Milo works for a small New York trucking company summers to pay his college tuition. When he finds that the safe he picked up for shipment to the senator’s Washington office should not have been as heavy as he found it, he gets an idea. Perhaps meeting Athalie, the petite blonde daughter of one of Scott’s enemies, has inspired him? The ending is a little flat, and there's less of Scherf's trade-mark humor in this book.
Responsibility for the art fronting The Case of the Hated Senator goes to Puerto Rico native Rafael de Soto (1904-1992), more of whose illustrations can be appreciated here. If you’re not familiar with prolific author Scherf (1908-1979), check out this brief online bio, or perhaps this one about her trio of juvenile mysteries.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Bonds Away!

With the 24th and latest James Bond film, Spectre, scheduled to premiere this weekend in U.S. theaters, it’s no wonder my mind has been active with all things 007. Just this afternoon, I remembered that I had in my files the cover from the November 9, 1999, edition of The Sunday Times Magazine, a supplement to The Times of London. Illustrated by Robert McGinnis--who over the years had done the artwork for posters promoting a variety of Bond films, including the 1967 spoof version of Casino Royale, 1965’s Thunderball, 1967’s You Only Live Twice, and 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever--it was published to coincide with the release of The World Is Not Enough, the 19th Bond flick and the third to star Pierce Brosnan.

Click on the image below for an easier-to-study enlargement.

Edward Biddulph explains in his blog, James Bond Memes, that McGinnis’ complex picture for the Times Magazine was
Conceived to resemble an ornately framed painting, though also alluding to a certain extent [to] the heraldic-style artwork used alongside the main poster campaign for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the artwork is topped by a crown (representing Bond’s service to Queen and Country) flanked by near-naked and suggestively positioned women. The faces of the Bond actors are placed below the crown--naturally Sean Connery is at the centre--and below them is the main body of the artwork, which celebrates the best of Bond with representations of iconic moments from the film series, which are divided into themes of space, land, and sea. The panel is bordered by the faces of the most memorable villains of the series, and the whole artwork is framed by more scantily clad women.
Biddulph goes on to provide a more detailed examination of this magazine front here, noting that “Thunderball, Diamonds Are Forever, The Spy Who Loved Me, and Moonraker are Robert McGinnis’ principal reference points. Perhaps these are his personal favourites, but undoubtedly each have contributed more than their fair share of classic scenes and images.”

READ MORE:10 Best Bond Movie Posters of All Time” (The 40 Fathoms Journal).

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Two-fer Tuesdays: Hard Times Ahead

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

What kind of a moniker is Ovid Demaris? Apparently, it’s better than Ovide E. Desmarais, which is the name this 20th-century newsman turned novelist was given at the time of his birth in 1919. A native of Biddeford, Maine, Demaris went on to become a newspaper reporter and a correspondent for the United Press (later United Press International) news agency. During his time (he lived to be 79 years old, finally passing away in 1998), Demaris also penned a number of books. Some of those were non-fiction, such as 1961’s The Dillinger Story (aka Dillinger), 1966’s The Boardwalk Jungle, and 1980’s The Last Mafioso. He even worked with Judith Exner--who claimed to have been a mistress, during the early 1960s, of both President John F. Kennedy and Mafia boss Sam Giancana--on her 1977 memoir, Judith Exner: My Story. In addition, however, Demaris concocted at least 17 novels, among them Ride the Gold Mare (1957), The Gold-Plated Sewer (1960), The Organization (1965), and what has been called an “anti-Mafia potboiler,” Ricochet (1988).

The Long Night was, as far as I can tell, Demaris’ fourth novel, a paperback-only Avon release from 1959. It marked the sole appearance of fictional Los Angeles private eye Vince Slader, described by The Thrilling Detective Web Site as “an ex-cop with a weakness for booze and dames in trouble.” (In other words, he was very much like other for-hire gumshoes of the Eisenhower era.) In the blog Vintage Hardboiled Reads, August West noted that
The Long Night has a unique start. Slader is in front of a Senate Crime Committee hearing, sassing it up against two powerful senators. It seems that the private eyes in L.A. have been getting a bit out of control and Slader is the committee’s poster boy. He leaves the hearings with warnings that they will be watching him and he better keep his nose clean. Like that’s going to happen. Slader is hired by a scumbag casino owner to find a guy called Ben Russell. Russell has a $28,000 gambling debt and Slader gets a percentage if Russell pays up. Russell also has a young wife who has plans of her own, and those include a life insurance scam. Of course P.I. Vince Slader gets caught in it. He first gets set up to be murdered and burned to a crisp in Russell’s car; the idea is that the authorities will believe he was Russell. Slader gets banged up pretty bad, but survives. Next he walks in on Ben Russell’s actual murder, and here is where he gets pegged as the murderer. Along with Mrs. Russell’s motives to get her husband’s life insurance money, elements of the local crime organization have an interest in this case. So besides the Senate Committee, Slader has thugs and cops after him now.

As for a plot, there is really no new ground breaking in this one. It’s your typical P.I. being played for a patsy story. But that’s OK, it still was an enjoyable read. The Senate Committee angle in the story was different and refreshing. Slader has an ex-con as an assistant called Emilio Caruso, who he kiddingly refers to as his “little wop.” I liked the guy, unfortunately he doesn’t make it through to the end of the novel. There is a good dose of explosive (and descriptive) gunplay in
The Long Night. One of the best takes place in the desert outside of Las Vegas, with Slader having some fun with two hired killers. Slader plays the ladies throughout the story and even with his rough mug, they are attracted to him. He even gets serious with a redhead who helps him survive in the end.
Having not yet read The Long Night myself, I’m not sure of the identity of the dead woman decorating its façade (above); I presume the male figure is supposed to be Slader. What else I can tell you is that illustration was done by Ernest “Darcy” Chiriacka, one of my favorites among book cover artists of the last century. Nobody should be at all confused about what kind of story can be found inside. The front--with its wonderful hand-lettered title--positively screams “crime fiction.”

Less obvious about the nature of its contents is The Long Nightmare (Crest, 1958), displayed above and on the right. Credit for its cover painting goes to Charles Binger, but authorship of the tale inside belongs to John Roeburt (1909-1972), who has been described as “an American writer and criminologist.” Roeburt’s hard climb to recognition in the mystery- and detective-fiction field might have begun with the publication, in 1944, of Jigger Moran, which introduced J. Howard “Jigger” Moran, characterized (again by Thrilling Detective) as “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.” Moran starred in two more post-war novels, There Are Dead Men in Manhattan (1946) and Corpse on the Town (1950). During the same period, Roeburt took jobs as a scriptwriter for the radio mystery series Inner Sanctum and won an Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1949 for Best Radio Drama. He subsequently did some TV writing.

But it was novels into which John Roeburt seemed to invest most of his heart. His résumé soon ballooned to include Manhattan Underworld (1951), The Case of the Hypnotized Virgin (1956), Sing Out Sweet Homicide (1961), and The Mobster (1972). The Long Nightmare was originally published in hardcover as The Climate of Hell (Abelard-Schuman, 1958). It was a standalone yarn with a plot that Kirkus Reviews described this way:
Larry Stevens, a fisherman in Florida, is brainwashed into the identity of Kirk Reynolds, taken--by three men--to New York to live the life of a gilded bum, to renew his marriage with Laura, a lush, and to witness the murder of his presumed father--before his will is changed. Running away--to give himself up--he must finally face the revelation of his own responsibility in the situation to which his sick, truant conduct has led. Up from the pulps, loud and lewd and lurid.
The back cover of Crest’s The Long Nightmare (embedded above, on the right) features a quote from now-famous New York Times critic Anthony Boucher, praising Roeburt’s novel as “a memorable nightmare of menace.” Honestly, though, I think “loud and lewd and lurid” beats that judgment by a long shot.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Occult Following

What could be a more fitting accompaniment to today’s spooks-and-sweets-filled festivities than Andrew Nette’s splendid selection, in Pulp Curry, of vintage paperback fronts featuring Satanism, witchcraft, and black magic? The cover shown above, from the 1952 Dell paperback edition of Catherine Turney’s The Other One--a story of humiliation, possession, and the supernatural--isn’t among those Nette showcases, but it certainly could have been. The artwork is by Bob Hilbert, more of whose illustrations can be seen here.

By the way, The Other One was adapted in 1957 as a big-screen horror flick titled Back from the Dead. Turney herself inked the screenplay. According to this Los Angeles Times obituary, she had previously been the “chief architect of the script for [1945’s] Mildred Pierce, which earned [star Joan] Crawford an Academy Award.” Turney subsequently wrote for TV series such as Maverick and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.

Remains to Be Seen

Just in time for Halloween, the online marketplace AbeBooks has posted a collection of “101 books with corpse in the title.”

Friday, October 30, 2015

Get Carter

More than five years ago, in the early days of this blog, I wrote a post about the phenomenally productive Carter Brown (aka Alan Geoffrey Yates), who during his three-decades-long career penned hundreds of paperback crime and detective novels, most of which were fronted by paintings of women in various stages of undress. That has since become one of Killer Covers’ 10 most-visited posts.

When I originally assembled the piece, I stocked it with just 15 examples Carter Brown cover art, noting that those were “just a few of my favorites.” Well, since that time I have added numerous scans to my Carter Brown computer file, enough that I’ve decided to beef up my original online gallery of that author’s work. The revised post--which you will find by clicking here--boasts 71 paperback fronts, including the one embedded above from the 1961 Signet edition of The Tigress, with a cover illustration by Ron Lesser.

I hope you enjoy the revamped Carter Brown post. Please let me know if you find any of your own favorites among the bunch.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Convenient Bevy of Beauties

Yours truly, J. Kingston Pierce, with sometime co-authors Barbara and Max Allan Collins at Bouchercon in Raleigh.

(Editor’s note: One of the genuine delights of my attending this month’s Bouchercon convention in Raleigh, North Carolina, was seeing author Max Allan Collins and his wife, Barbara. I first interviewed Max, a resident of Muscatine, Iowa, way back in 1999, but have since had many more opportunities to quiz him about his fiction. And whenever we both find ourselves at Bouchercon, he and I manage to catch up a bit on what’s new in our respective lives. When I saw him in Raleigh, I also asked Max if he could write a short article for Killer Covers about how he had managed to secure Robert McGinnis-painted fronts--shown below--for all five of the Quarry novels Hard Case Crime plans to reissue between now and March of 2016. His not-so-short explanation follows.)

Like many baby-boomer males around my age, I looked in awe at the wonderfully lurid paperback covers riding the spinner racks at newsstands, bookshops, and drug stores. As an aspiring writer since age 13, I dreamed of one day having beautiful cover paintings like those of Robert McGinnis, James Avati, Barye Phillips, and Robert Maguire adorn my novels.

Alas (I’ll spare you the “alack”), by the time my first paperbacks began appearing in the early ’70s, those glorious paintings were replaced by cheaper (and cheap-looking) photography. This approach doomed Bait Money, Blood Money, The Broker, The Broker’s Wife, The Dealer, and The Slasher to covers that labeled the product within as mediocre. Later, when Pinnacle reprinted Bait and Blood and published more of my Nolan novels, they used men’s adventure-style paintings, which were much better if not quite what I’d dreamed of. And in the mid-’80s, when The Broker became Quarry (and the other three Quarry novels became Quarry’s List, Quarry’s Deal, and Quarry’s Cut) at Foul Play Press, the publisher utilized cool but very modern, almost abstract covers. Still better than cheap photography.

Cut to decades later, when editor-writer Charles Ardai began publishing the Hard Case Crime line, with covers that evoked the grand old style. Unfortunately, when Charles published a reprint of Bait and Blood under the joint title Two for the Money, the cover was one of the weakest in the Hard Case lineup (and it still is). Charles, who was publishing some of his own novels with Hard Case, had meanwhile enlisted the legendary Robert McGinnis for his covers.

So when Charles called me in 2006 (or it may have been 2005) and asked if I might write a new Quarry novel for him--the previous one (Primary Target, aka Quarry’s Vote) having appeared in the mid-’80s--I said I’d write the book on one condition.

That Robert McGinnis did the cover painting.

Charles, bless him, made that happen. Since then there have been another half-dozen Quarry novels, the most current of which (Quarry’s Choice) also sports a McGinnis cover, as does my Spillane collaboration, The Consummata. There’s also been a feature film, and now a Quarry TV series is poised to begin airing in early 2016.

To tie-in with the TV show, Charles thought that Hard Case Crime republishing the first five Quarry novels--at the time only available as print-on-demand titles (and e-book)--might be a good idea. I thought it was a great idea. I’d never had a chance to review the text of the novels (I’d never seen galley proofs of the first four) and create definitive editions.

The only problem was that the books would have to be published quickly, to take full advantage of the Cinemax series. And of course Hard Case Crime is famous for its magnificently pulpy covers, which don’t happen overnight. In addition, there were no promo photos from the TV show available yet--it was still filming.

So I suggested we approach Robert McGinnis and see if he had any appropriate paintings (i.e., of beautiful girls) in his inventory. After many decades of work, he surely had a few put away.

Charles approached the great man, and indeed he did have several such paintings in inventory.


I studied the paintings and arranged them to match up to the novels (mostly the hair color of the beauties dictated that).

Which is how I managed to gain five more McGinnis covers in one fell swoop. And no other writer of my generation can boast as many--counting the as-yet-unwritten Quarry on Target, that will make nine.

I only wish I could whisper in that 13-year-old’s ear, as he spun the paperback rack at Cohn’s Newsland in Muscatine, that his wishes were going to come true.

(Top photo © 2015 by Ali Karim)

READ MORE:The Early Quarry Novels of Max Allan Collins,”
by Tom Callahan (Graphic Novel Reporter).

River of No Return

Since I recently highlighted a post in Noah Stewart’s blog, focusing on what he thinks have been the worst Agatha Christie paperback covers ever produced, it seems only fair to also mention this post, in which Stewart showcases a collection of his favorite Christie fronts. My personal preference from among this new bunch is the cover of Death on the Nile, though I wish Stewart had provided a larger image of that front. This scan is bigger, but still not very clear.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Bare Wench Project

While writing here a few weeks ago about the colorful “spy-fi smut” novels of Clyde Allison, I dug up some other works by that same author, whose real name was William Henley Knoles. He was quite productive during his time (you’ll find a bibliography here), and while many of the books he turned out were the sort you might think twice about displaying in public--among them his Man from SADISTO thrillers, The Lustful Ones (1960), Sexperiment (1966), and Bang the Doll Slowly (1969, published under another pseudonym, Clyde Ames)--I, for one, would like to get my hands on a copy of his 1962 novel Have Nude, Will Travel (Berkley Medallion).

Allison/Knoles’ plot doesn’t boast many literary merits. Here’s a synopsis from the AbeBooks Web site, which sounds as though it originated on this novel’s back cover:
Jake O’Day, otherwise known as Jake of Arabia (because of an unfortunate experience with an Arabian harem), was a private eye by choice--and he only liked very “choice” women: First there was voluptuous Mrs. Tamerlane, the 14th. In his wildest dreams even Jake couldn’t have imagined anyone as wild as Mrs. T. But then there was Suger, a sumptuous young thing who never wore clothes, never said a word, but who made all her desires quite clear. And still there were the insatiable Chinese Twins, those two action-stacked girls who initiated Jake into the Oriental subtleties of love--only the Twins weren’t subtle.
The greater attraction, of course, is this paperback’s cover. Painted by the brilliant Victor Kalin (more of whose artistry can be enjoyed here), Have Nude, Will Travel shows a beautiful young blonde woman--presumably bare of attire--wrapped bodily around a dark-haired guy dressed in a trenchcoat, with a burning cigarette in his mouth, a suitcase dangling from his left hand and an automatic pistol clutched in his right one (perhaps hinting at the 1957-1963 TV Western series that inspired the novel’s title). It’s hard to tell whether this situation presents the gent (O’Day himself?) with delights or a dilemma, but the cover line--“One private eye and too many girls …”--suggests the latter is true.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Full Frontal Exposure

I’m sorry this page has been left unattended for the last fortnight, but I was away in Raleigh, North Carolina, attending Bouchercon 2015, and then I had to deal with a death in my family after I returned home. With any luck, I shall resume a normal posting schedule next week. Meanwhile, here are few links to explore.

• Pulp International offers up the distinctive paperback fronts from four of Chester Himes’ detective novels, all illustrated in the mid-1960s by Harry Bennett for Berkley Medallion. You’ll find those here. “In contrast to [Bennett’s] lushly rendered romance covers, or more conventional crime novel art, these have an almost spontaneous quality,” the blog observes. “Publisher input usually has quite a bit to do with it, but we suspect Bennett was also influenced by Himes’ writing and the Harlem setting, and as a result produced this jazzy art for a jazzy novelist. Excellent stuff.”

• Blogger Noah Stewart showcases a few of what he considers the worst paperback editions of Agatha Christie novels. And yes, he has certainly found a few barkers. But I kind of like the front he’s embedded from So Many Steps to Death (despite its “sullen redhead”), and would be equally happy to have those editions of There Is a Tide and The Mystery of Blue Train (again illustrated by Harry Bennett) on my bookshelves.

• I would also be most pleased to have among my collection this 1964 edition of Richard S. Prather’s The Cockeyed Corpse.

Classic Esquire covers from the 1960s.

• Boing Boing has put together a gallery of “swamp smut” paperbacks that includes illustrations by Barye Phillips, James Meese, Mitchell Hooks, and others.

• Designer Joe Montgomery, who was hired by Vintage/Black Lizard to create the latest paperback reissues of half a dozen Ross Macdonald novels (and what a wonderful job he did, if I may proffer an opinion), comments on the task and shows some of his rejected concepts at the Web site FaceOut Books.

• Something for me to keep in mind as a possible Christmas present: Dorling Kindersley’s Bond by Design: The Art of the James Bond Films. (Hat tip to Illustrated 007).

• And though they are drawn from works of science fiction, rather than crime and mystery fiction, Joaquim Boaz’s examples of underwater expeditions cover artwork--see here and here--are certainly terrific. It’s also rather thrilling to know I own one of his highlighted books: The Godwhale (1974), with a cover painting by Paul Lehr, more of whose artistry can be appreciated here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Peerless Pairing

Anyone who has followed my crime-fiction reporting for a while knows what an enthusiastic fan I am of both detective-turned-author Dashiell Hammett and book cover artist Harry Bennett (1919-2012). So I was thrilled to discover that those two men had once worked together. Well, sort of. In 1961--the same year the creator of private eyes Sam Spade and the Continental Op went to his grave at age 66--Permabooks released new paperback editions of all five of Hammett’s novels, from Red Harvest (1929) to The Thin Man (1934), with Bennett-painted fronts. This represented a beautiful combination of talents, one that I thought worth sharing here.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Friday Finds: “Murder in the Wind”

Another in our growing line of context-free covers we love.

Murder in the Wind, by John D. MacDonald (Dell, 1956).
Illustration by George Gross.

You should have no difficulty guessing what inspired this week’s “Find.” That’s right, it’s Hurricane Joaquin, the 10th named storm of the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season. As I compose this post, Joaquin has pretty much stalled over the Bahamas, battering those islands with gales and downpours, but it still threatens America’s East Coast with “heavy rain and potential flooding” in days to come.

John D. MacDonald’s Murder in the Wind (1956, also printed as Hurricane) is set in Florida, and it’s one of several novels he wrote about people thrown together by adversity--with dangerous results. Steve Scott, who writes the exceptional MacDonald blog, A Trap of Solid Gold, outlines the book’s plot this way:
Six carloads of people--two driving solo while the rest [come] in cars of twos, threes and fours--are driving north on Florida Route 19 above Tampa, all on business, personal or otherwise, that will take them out of the state. They are a random group who are still strangers to each other, and like MacDonald’s previous novels with a similar structure, all are moving by automobile. The “adversity” here is Hurricane Hilda, which is forming itself into a storm of historic strength far out in the Gulf of Mexico, a fact nearly unknown to all in the pre-weather satellite days of 1956. By the time they have reached the Waccasassa River the bridge there is out and they are directed down a remote bypass road that passes an old, rambling and now deserted house. With the storm increasing in strength and passing directly over them, they can go no further and all seek shelter in the abandoned house. …

In virtually all of MacDonald's multi-character novels there is a criminal element, and
Murder in the Wind is no exception. Among the author’s little group of cars heading north is a stolen panel truck containing three young bad guys, two males and a female.
All of the ingredients for reader engagement are here, including murder. But Scott says Macdonald set himself a bigger challenge with this tale than simply driving readers to the edges of their seats.
MacDonald is at pains to prove the plausibility of such a strong storm, years before names like Donna, Andrew and Katrina were written in history, providing a brief “Author’s Note” at the beginning of the book and interspersing the narrative with omniscient updates on the track and power of the storm. And while it is obvious to the reader that the hurricane and the characters will eventually “meet,” Murder in the Wind is primarily a suspense novel, with the tension provided by the deep characterization created by the author. I’ve written endlessly in this blog about how MacDonald’s apprenticeship as a short-story writer made him the perfect author for these kinds of multi-character tales, and nowhere is that more true than in this novel. All of the characters--roughly ten in all--are each given a history and background as interesting and as engaging as any in his best shorter works, and it is through this incredibly detailed characterization that MacDonald drives narrative, that attribute of fiction he held in the highest esteem.
Three years ago, Deep South Magazine, an online publication, posted a list of “books to read during a hurricane.” It included a better-remembered MacDonald work, Cape Fear (originally published in 1957 as The Executioners). The editors could just as well, though, have selected Murder in the Wind, which acclaimed author and critic Ed Gorman has named as one of his “10 Favorite John D. MacDonald Standalone Novels.” (Topping Gorman’s list is 1953’s Dead Low Tide; Murder in the Wind ranks fourth.) And had they been in possession of the 1956 original-edition paperback of Murder in the Wind, MacDonald’s 18th novel--shown at the top of this post--they might have been persuaded to do exactly that. It certainly boasts a striking cover, with an attractive brunette obviously at risk from escalating currents. Responsible for the illustration was George Gross (1909-2003), about whom I have written before on this page, and whose range of paperback artistry can be enjoyed here.

BONUS: Over the last several decades some other noteworthy illustrators have taken cracks at creating captivating covers for Murder in the Wind. The front on the left, for instance, was painted by Robert K. Abbett and appeared on the 1960 Dell edition, while the one shown on the right, from the 1965 Fawcett edition of MacDonald’s novel, features an illustration by Robert McGinnis.

Very Mixed Messages

This is an interesting article, from Flavorwire, in which a “kindergarten mom” wrestles with her fondness for the sexy cover of her new novel, knowing that someday soon she’ll have to explain to her daughter why that imagery is exploitative and inappropriate.