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).

Playing the Links

Yeah, yeah, I know: Things have been pretty darn quiet on this page ever since Christmas Day. But hey, I was exhausted after putting together year-end wrap-ups for The Rap Sheet (see here, here, and here) as well as Kirkus Reviews (here and here), and I needed a break. I am back on the beat now, though, bringing you first some links to design-related stories elsewhere on the Web.

• I’ve written infrequently in the past about 1950s British “girlie” paperback cover artist Reginald Heade, both in The Rap Sheet and in Killer Covers. Those efforts pale in comparison, though, to the gallery Rob Baker has assembled for the blog Flashbak. As he explains,
Heade’s lurid covers adorned pulp paperbacks of authors such as Hank Janson, Roland Vane, Michael Storme, Paul Renin, Gene Ross and Spike Morelli. The artwork often pushed to the absolute limits of what was legally allowed for the time. Heade also worked in comics and drew “The Saga of the Red”, “The Captain from Castille”, “Sexton Blake versus the Astounding John Plague” and “Robin Hood” in Knock-Out (1949), and “The Sky Explorers” in Comet (1952-53).

After [World War II] Heade had moved to Barons Court in Westminster and this was where he died in 1957 aged just 56. There were no obituaries in the press and to this day not much is known about the English pulp-fiction cover artist.
Flashbak’s entertaining array of Heade works includes the fronts from such intriguingly titled books as White Slaves of New Orleans, Dame in My Bed, Plaything of Passion, and Me and My Goul.

• Fragments of Noir offers collections of covers by artist Lou Marchett (about whom you can learn more here) and those taken from the novels of James Ellroy.

• In his blog, Illustrated 007, Peter Lorenz showcases a new set of James Bond audiobook fronts from Audible UK (more on those here). He also presents a new interview with Brian Bysouth, who, he explains, “has created adverts, storyboards, covers and hundreds of iconic film posters in his 40-year career,” though “007 collectors probably know him best for his work on the posters for For Your Eyes Only, A View to Kill, and The Living Daylights.”

• If you’re interested in the history of paperbacks, check out this splendid piece by Louis Menand in a recent edition of The New Yorker, looking back at the history of those cheaper editions and how they “transformed the culture of reading.”

• Finally, the Classic Film and TV Café’s Rick29 has dug up some of the much-prized comic-book tie-ins to vintage American television programs, including The Wild Wild West and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. You can enjoy those right here.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas!

Actually, whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, those of us at Killer Covers wish you the very merriest holiday season! The magazine cover embedded above comes from the December 11, 1912, edition of Puck. (Hat tip to Print.)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Best Face Forward

Perhaps you haven’t noticed them yet, but The Rap Sheet’s 20 nominees for “best crime novel cover of 2014” were posted earlier today. You can take a cruise through the gallery here.

I spent the last 12 months gathering possible contenders for this annual competition. To those, I recently added suggestions from Rap Sheet readers, and then cut the list in half (a painful process, believe me). The finalists this year include book fronts produced on both sides of the Atlantic, boasting a wide variety of designs--from covers that emphasize creative uses of type to others on which moody photographs or illustrations are central. Although I have my favorites among the bunch, I think any of them is qualified to win.

But you be the final judge. Click here and choose as many covers as you think are deserving of praise. Voting will remain open until midnight on Sunday, December 21, after which the results will be tallied and announced in The Rap Sheet.

What are you waiting for? Cast your ballot now!

UPDATE: The top six winners of The Rap Sheet’s 2014 Best Crime Fiction Covers contest were announced on December 30.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Borrowed Beauty?

Twice over the last four months, the pop-culture blog Pulp International has exhibited paperback book fronts featuring the work of French illustrator James Hodges--first here, and now here. That second post collects 15 of Hodges’ Détective Pocket covers, most if not all of which were published during the 1960s. There’s no question that Hodges created eye-catching book façades, but three of those Pulp International showcases bear a rather startling resemblance to work that has appeared before on this page by other artists.

Above, for instance, you will see Hodges’ effort for Festival des Maccabees, which looks more than a little like the work Harry Bennett did for Alone at Night, a 1963 Gold Medal paperback by Vin Packer (aka Marijane Meaker). Below, Hodges’ cover from Razzia Sur le Drogue is compared with the 1960 Bantam edition of Ross Macdonald’s The Three Roads (which I once applauded here), while his art for Pieges a Loup is matched up with Mitchell Hooks’ front for The Long Saturday Night, by Charles Williams (Gold Medal, 1962). Far be it from me to suggest Hodges supplemented his imagination by cribbing from the work of American book-cover artists, but …

You can ogle more of Hodges’ artistry here.

Lehr’s Epic Eye

Yes, they’re decorating science-fiction yarns rather than crime novels, but Paul Lehr’s paintings are nicely highlighted in this post from Battered, Tattered, Yellowed & Creased. Another site, Melt, offers additional artwork by Lehr--“one of the greatest future-fantasist painters of the post-pulp era”--right here.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Two-fer Tuesdays: One-Two Punch

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

People who ask too many questions have a habit of paying for their inquisitiveness with bruises and broken bones. Or worse. That seems especially true in crime and mystery fiction, where protagonists often sustain injuries far more numerous and serious than those of us in the real world might be willing to endure. Just consider these two covers as cautions against being too nosy in the presence of suspects or lawbreakers. Likewise the paperbacks showcased above.

The first novel façade under consideration--from the 1953 Dell Books edition of The Big Fist, by Clyde B. Ragsdale--was painted by Carl Bobertz (1899-1974), whose résumé also included fronts for paperbacks by Ellery Queen, Rex Stout, Helen Nielsen, Frank Kane, A.A. Fair (aka Erle Stanley Gardner), and others. (You can enjoy more of Bobertz’s covers here.) It provides a rather, uh, punchy introduction to a tale that a review in Ohio’s Toledo Blade said “exemplifies a novel written in the undergrowth of the jungle of American life in a chaotic era.” That critique, by Robert A. Brainerd, appeared in print on July 16, 1950, and goes on to explain that The Big Fist focuses around Hosy Whittle, a guy who follows his father’s simple philosophy (“A good pair of dukes is a man’s best friend. You can’t go wrong with a good fist to back you up.”) as he
stomps boldly and mercilessly through a life of murder and cruelty, against law and against men who become obstacles along the way to Easy Street. Easy Street is the dominating and propelling force of Hosy Whittle’s existence. … From an Oklahoma city, to the oil lands of Texas, to the cotton fields of Southern California, Hosy Whittle bootlegs in the days of the Volstead Act and lives the way of “the big fist.” His aliases are changes of name only.

The steel and muscle of the boom in a Texas oil town, uncertain and shadily flamboyant, provides Hosy Whittle with a setting that heightens the drama of his character. Those elements in other men that are similar to his own, he can understand. Battles are won for him by preying on the weaknesses of his opponents and forcing their like strengths into physical combat. … Hosy Whittle’s saga of big fists and Easy Street unwinds in the manner of the ballad, a ballad of rambling proportion, of many climaxes, of erratic pitch.

“The Big Fist” is the kind of novel a reader would expect of Clyde Ragsdale, once he is familiar with his background of riding freights and sleeping in grain fields through the boom and bust of the ’20s and ’30s.
Pulp International has more to say about the author’s history:
Ragsdale was editor of the Texas City Sun newspaper. He took a disliking to the gambling dens that had sprung up around Galveston County, because, in his view, tolerance for gambling would soon lead to prostitution, drugs, and worse. So he published editorials, had reporters write stories on the evils of gambling, publicly questioned the sheriff’s abilities, and even once led Texas Rangers to a hidden cache of 320 slot machines. To our knowledge, he was never beaten up in front of his girl like the unlucky fella on the cover of 1950’s The Big Fist, but he was targeted by threats serious enough to finally convince him to stick to writing.
Now let’s switch our focus to the second of today’s highlighted book fronts, from the 1960 Pocket edition of The Big Blackout, by Don Tracy (originally released in hardcover a year before that). An online biography of Tracy (1905-1976) explains that the author’s first novel, Round Trip (1934) “was an unblinking and unflattering look at a tough reporter, a drunkard whose vices leave him in the gutter more often than not,” but it was Tracy’s second work of fiction, Criss-Cross, that earned him special recognition--and even comparisons to James M. Cain. (Criss-Cross later became the basis of Burt Lancaster’s 1949 film noir of the same name.) August West, writing in Vintage Hardboiled Reads, offers these remarks about the plot of The Big Blackout, which he calls a “well-written and sharp” novel:
The story is about Johnny Thompson, who struggles to earn a decent buck during the 1930s Depression era. Right now he’s an ex-boxer with a flat nose working as an armored car delivery guard. His biggest problem is coming up with enough cash to take out the girl he is obsessed with, Anna. Anna loves money and the cushion[ed] life it brings. Johnny can’t compete with Slim, an acquaintance of his who has plenty of dough usually obtained by shady dealings. Anna ends up marrying Slim for his money, which tears the guts out of Johnny. But the trio continues a “friendly” relationship, and Slim takes a liking to Johnny. Eventually Anna and Johnny play around behind Slim’s back. Johnny knows he is being used by Anna, but he doesn’t care just as long he can spend time with her. Slim offers Johnny a chance to make some big money, by being the inside man in robbing a payroll carried by his delivery truck. Johnny takes the offer and it changes his life, and the lives of Anna and Slim, forever.
Credit for the artwork on this edition of The Big Blackout goes to Robert K. Abbett, whose efforts have been noted several times before on this page. Tracy’s yarn was adapted (very loosely) in 1960 as an episode of Thriller, Boris Karloff’s anthology TV series.

Don Tracy went on to compose a variety of other novels, including a nine-book series starring Giff Speer, “a master sergeant and undercover agent in the U.S. Army Military Police.” Among the Speer installments is the engagingly titled Naked She Died, which was featured in Killer Covers’ fifth-anniversary celebration.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Short Subjects

• It’s always interesting to see what different artists will do, when assigned to come up with covers for the same book. Here you’ll find three treatments for the front of Macamba, Lilla Van Saher’s novel (first published in 1949) about “a group of characters in Curaçao, and how one in particular struggles to deal with his biracial background as he grows to manhood.” Dance must be a chief feature of the book, because the illustrators all used it as a theme for their work.

• I have no memory of Del Rey Books’ three-volume cycle of Star Wars universe novels, published during the early 1980s and starring the character Lando Calrissian (played on-screen by Billy Dee Williams). Fortunately, Christopher Mills resurrects those paperbacks in Space: 1970. The cover paintings are by Williams Schmidt.

What a splendid novel façade by Harry Schaare!

This is beautiful horror-fiction artwork by Rowena Morrill.

• And Flavorwire collects two dozen covers from Jack London novels, all featuring wolves (with good reason, of course).