Saturday, September 24, 2016

From Meeting Rooms to Bedrooms

I’m sorry to have neglected this page for most of September, but other editorial responsibilities have demanded extraordinary expenditures of my time. In addition, my mother-in-law passed away recently at age 86, and I was called on to help attend her in her final weeks and to later prepare various versions of her obituary. Then, of course, there was Bouchercon, the “World Mystery Convention,” which took place in New Orleans, Louisiana, this year and drew me from my writing desk for most of a week.

My hope is that I can soon return to blogging at Killer Covers. Meanwhile, though, and as something of a follow-up to my new two-part photo report on Bouchercon in The Rap Sheet (see here and here)—I offer, above, the cover from Convention Girl (Beacon), a 1959 paperback sleaze novel credited to one Rick Lucas, whose byline also appeared on such literary “gems” as Huckster’s Women (1954), Boss Lady (1954), and Dreamboat (1959).

Click here to see the back cover of Convention Girl, along with the original, regrettably uncredited cover painting.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Bond by Any Other Name …

Here’s a story that’s almost too good to be true, coming from a blog I had never heard of until today, Birth. Movies. Death. It seems that in the 1990s, Donald E. Westlake—the prolific author perhaps best known from his series about a professional thief known as Parker (The Hunter), who had also scripted the 1999 film The Grifters (based on Jim Thompson’s 1963 novel of the same name)—sought to make a contribution to the film series based on Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels. According to Birth. Movies. Death.,
In 1995, before [the 17th Bond film] GoldenEye was even released, Westlake turned in to Eon [Productions] two treatments for “Bond 18.” Both his treatments apparently used as their backdrop Hong Kong’s transfer of sovereignty to China. In one of the treatments, Westlake had 007 facing off against Gideon Goodbread, an American businessman who planned to level Hong Kong after robbing its banks—a revenge scheme for the death of his missionary parents at the hands of the Red Chinese. Westlake described his Bond villain as “John Goodman with a Southern accent,” and likened him to the lead character in Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me. Goodbread commanded an army of Amerasian orphans he called “the Children.” (For more details about Westlake's take on the Bond franchise, pick up Issue 32 of MI6 Confidential.)

Westlake floated the following titles for his Bond adventure:
Dragonsteeth; Nobody Dies; Forever and a Death; Never Look Back; On Borrowed Time. That last title was prophetic; the time-sensitive nature of the Hong Kong changeover backdrop was deemed unsuitable, we got Tomorrow Never Dies [1997] instead, and Westlake’s script was shelved.

Now Hard Case Crime has resurrected this lost story, which at some point Westlake rewrote as a novel—
Forever and a Death. It’s no longer a James Bond story of course, and we’re not sure how many (or indeed, if any) of the details described above will be included, but the vestigial elements of the story seem to be in place, and at any rate a new novel by the late Donald Westlake is nothing to sneeze at. As a bonus, the novel will contain an afterword by one of the Bond producers, describing the history of the project.
This book is due out next June, with stunning cover art by Paul Mann. Click here to read an excerpt from Forever and a Death.

(Hat tip to Bill Crider’s Pop Culture Magazine.)

READ MORE:Donald E. Westlake’s Sort-of James Bond Book Coming Out Next Year,” by Matthew Bradford, aka Tanner (Double O Section).

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Two-fer Tuesdays: Just a Little Off the Top

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

Midwood Books was an American paperback-publishing house that, from 1957 to 1962, churned out myriad works of “sleaze fiction” targeted at a primarily male audience (though they attracted lesbian readers, as well). Employing the early—and often pseudonymous—talents of such authors as Mike Avallone, Donald E. Westlake, and Orrie Hitt, Midwood competed for sales with Beacon Books, Nightstand Books, and similar enterprises. Southern California bookseller and vintage books historian Lynn Monroe recalls the company’s origins in this piece from his Web site:
Harry Shorten came from the Midwood section of Brooklyn, NY. With his partner, artist Al Fagaly, Shorten made his fortune with a comic strip called “There Oughta Be a Law.” Shorten thought up the ideas and Fagaly would do the drawings. Looking around for somewhere to invest all the money he was making from his cartoon, Shorten decided to become a paperback-book publisher. He looked at the success of Beacon Books, a series of slick cheap throwaway melodramas and sexy romances with flashy girlie art covers marketed to men and published by Universal Distributing. Shorten figured he could do the same, and at 505 8th Avenue in Manhattan, in 1957, he started a paperback book line named for his old neighborhood. The first batch of Midwood Books were either “There Oughta Be a Law” paperbacks or unnumbered experimental forays in the Beacon style. By Midwood 7 in 1958, the authors and artists we recognize as Midwood Books were in place. Midwood 7 [Love Nest] is by Loren Beauchamp [aka Robert Silverberg] and has a cover by Rudy Nappi, Midwood 8 [Carla] is by Sheldon Lord [aka Lawrence Block] and has a cover by Paul Rader. Shorten was getting his early manuscripts from the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, where Meredith’s band of employees and clients were soon churning out a book a month for Nightstand Books, too. And he was getting his cover paintings from the Balcourt Art Service, the same agency that supplied many of the covers for Beacon.
As provocative as some of Midwood’s titles could be—from Anybody’s Girl and The Seduction Game to Morals Charge and Ladder of Flesh—its illustrated covers could be still more titillating. Just two examples are shown atop this post. The one on the left the comes from 1961’s Intimate, by Martha Marsden, while its next-door neighbor graced 1963’s Take Me, by John B. Thompson (who also penned such never-bestsellers as Hitch-Hike Hussy and Male Virgin). The term “male-fantasy novel” might have been created to describe both these works, with their images of women enthusiastically stripping off their tops. According to its back cover, Intimate focuses on a woman named Linda Gardner, “who dared throw herself into the whirlpool of life and reach its most intimate depths”—where both male and female partners craved her companionship. Take Me promises “a completely uninhibited sex story” that’s “shockingly candid.”

The painting that fronts Intimate is credited to award-winning Connecticut artist and graphic designer Victor Olson (1927-2007), who produced a variety of cover illustrations for Midwood over the years, and about whom I have written before on this page. The façade from Take Me has also been identified as Olson’s work, though not with quite the same confidence. If anyone can confirm Olson as the creator of Take Me’s artwork, or supply a correction to that attribution, I’d be most grateful. Click on the image for an enlargement.

Finally, since I hate not to overwork a theme, let me just leave you with one additional example of a paperback featuring a woman removing her shirt in alluring fashion. The front on the left comes from Bedroom a Go-go (Brandon House, 1965), by “Amy Irwin,” a nom de plume employed by an author named Harry Kantor. Its illustration was done by Fred Fixler.

LEARN MORE: A Web site called Book Scans features collections of covers from Midwood releases, as well as those from books published by Beacon, Greenleaf, and other mid-20th-century houses.

Monday, August 8, 2016

That “Girl”

Well, look at what today’s mail brought my way! It’s a copy of German-born American author Peter Rabe’s 1965 novel, Girl in a Big Brass Bed (Fawcett Gold Medal), one of his three novels featuring resourceful, globe-trotting lawyer Manny DeWitt. This paperback was sent to me by Philadelphia copy editor and blogger Peter Rozovsky, who last week announced on his Facebook page,

I got so excited ordering books for the panel I’ll moderate at Bouchercon that I inadvertently bought one book twice, and now you can benefit. I'll send a copy of the book,
Girl in a Big Brass Bed, by Peter Rabe, to the first person who sends me a Facebook private message with mailing address and the correct answer to this question:

Peter Rabe earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in which field?

Good luck.
It didn’t take but a moment’s Web searching to confirm my memory that the fairly prolific Rabe had been awarded a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in psychology from Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Shortly after I dashed off a note to Rozovsky containing that information, he replied, “You won.” So here I am, the proud new owner of what I believe is Rabe’s 24th novel. Although a photo graces the façade, it’s a splendid addition to Killer Covers’ collection of brass bed fronts.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

I Must Have Missed Seeing the Memo

According to the Malay Mail, a free newspaper serving Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and confirmed through a search of Facebook as well as other sources, today—July 30—is National Paperback Day here in the States. By way of celebrating, the Mail has put together what it says are mini-bios of “some of the best cover artists of all time.” That list mentions James Avati, Robert McGinnis, Gerald Gregg, Robert Stanley, and Robert Jonas. It might have been more extensive, taking in all of the vintage paperback illustrators mentioned in this fine wrap-up from The Thrilling Detective Web Site.

I shall have to remember next year that National Paperback Day is an annual event. It could’ve provided another good excuse for me to create a gallery of classic compositions for Killer Covers.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Fixed in Posts

• New York City-born Tom Lovell (1909-1997) was really a magazine illustrator and a painter of Western scenery, rather than a book-jacket artist. So, though I’ve seen examples of his elegant work in Pulp Covers and elsewhere online (here, for instance, and here), he hasn’t been a principal focus of my interest. However, there’s a handsome new, limited-edition volume about his work due for release in October, titled simply Tom Lovell—Illustrator (The Illustrated Press), and I may just have to add it to my library. The book carries a $44.95 cover price, but judging by its contents—which you can flip through here—that charge doesn’t seem so very exorbitant.

Robert McGinnis fans, take note: The now 90-year-old artist is creating a whole new line of retro covers for paperback re-releases of Neil Gaiman’s novels, at the author’s request. The first one, gracing American Gods—rushed into print in advance of the 2017 Starz TV adaptation of that 2001 yarn—is due out in mid-August from William Morrow. You can appreciate its artwork on the right. After seeing the results here, author Duane Swierczynski (Revolver) wrote on Facebook that it “guarantees that … I’ll be buying my Neil Gaiman books all over again.”

• Not being a regular (or even irregular) reader of “swashbuckling space fantasies,” I might never have spotted Nathan Long’s 2012 novel, Jane Carver of Waar (Night Shade Books), had it not been for the blog Thinking About Books, which I stumbled across only recently. It showcased Jane Carver of Waar a while back, and made clear in the course of things that its dramatic cover illustration, by Dave Dorman, is a “cleaned-up” version of the artist’s original topless painting. You can compare the two versions more easily in this post from Pulp Covers, which elsewhere offers the no-less-“sanitized” front from Long’s sequel, Swords of Waar (2012).

• In his blog, Pretty Sinister Books, writer and bookseller J.F. Norris features a handsome gallery of Holt Mystery novels, all published between 1939 and 1941. Probably my favorite of those shown is Murder’s Coming, a 1939 novel by Donald Clough Cameron.

• And of course, what would one of these links compilations be without mention of some post or other in Pulp International? Especially worth seeing there recently have been this seductive cover from the 1962 sleaze novel Wait Your Turn (its artwork uncredited) and this Robert Maguire-painted front for the 1954 paperback original The Blonde on the Street Corner, by David Goodis.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

MacDonald’s Century: Closing Arguments

Above: The 15th Travis McGee tale, The Turquoise Lament (1974, with artwork by Robert McGinnis). Below, right: The Drowner (1969, featuring artwork by Stanley Zuckerberg).

Today marks 100 years since the birth, in Sharon, Pennsylvania, of John Dann MacDonald, the business school grad who grew up to become famous as crime and thriller novelist John D. MacDonald.

After spending the last two weeks celebrating MacDonald’s centennial with a series of book-cover posts on this page, what I have come to realize is just how little experience I’ve had with the breadth of MacDonald’s fiction. Yes, I have enjoyed a number of his colorful 21 novels starring larger-than-life “salvage expert”-cum-detective Travis McGee. Additionally, I have read probably a handful of his standalone novels, including Murder in the Wind (1956), The Executioners (aka Cape Fear, 1958), and The Drowner (1963). But MacDonald published more than twice as many non-series books as he did McGee adventures—some of which have earned acclaim from authorities such as Ed Gorman—and most of those, I haven’t so much as touched yet. It seems I have many years of catching up to do. Spurred on by Killer Covers’ recent observance of MacDonald’s birthday, I am enthusiastic about getting on with that task, familiarizing myself not only with more of his novels (including the science fiction he wrote), but also with the short-story anthologies he produced during his almost 40-year career.

Since I cannot be in Sarasota today—the Florida town where this author lived and wrote for many years before dying in Wisconsin in December 1986, at age 70, and where commemorations of his centennial are set to take place—the next best thing is for me to build on Killer Covers’ display of vintage MacDonald book fronts. There are far too many to feature them all, but if you scroll down you’ll find 74 façades that have decorated his novels and non-fiction books over the years. On top of the 14 I have recently posted on this page, and others I’ve highlighted here over the years, I feel pretty good about representing MacDonald’s literary range. Among the artists whose work appears on the covers below are Bill Johnson, Barye Phillips, Stanley Borack, George Gross, James Avati, Jerry Allison, Darrel Greene, Owen Kampen, Ron Lesser, Mitchell Hooks, Victor Kalin, Barbara Walton, Samuel Peffer, Milton Charles, and of course Robert McGinnis. Enjoy the show!

READ MORE:John D. MacDonald Before Travis McGee,” by Lee Sandlin (The Wall Street Journal); “Who Is Travis McGee?” by Prakriti (To Be or Not to Be).