Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday Finds: “Frenzy”

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

Frenzy (original title: Junkie!), by Jonathan Craig (Lancer, 1962).
Illustration by Harry Schaare.

The author “Jonathan Craig” was actually Frank E. Smith (1919-1984). Born in Santa Barbara, California, he moved with his family to Kansas City, Missouri, in the midst of the Great Depression. According to this translated page in the French version of Wikipedia (why there’s no similar biographical information in the English version is beyond me), Smith worked as a clerk for the Kansas City Star newspaper and then relocated to Washington, D.C., to take jobs with the U.S. government. During World War II he joined the navy and, despite still being in his mid-20s, was apparently appointed as head research analyst for the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It’s said Smith later served as President Harry Truman’s advisor at the 1945 Potsdam Conference, during which representatives of the Allied powers met to determine what would become of defeated Nazi Germany and how peace would be restored in  Europe.

I’m not clear on exactly when Smith began penning fiction (though it was at least by the late ’40s), or why he adopted the Craig nom de plume, but in 1952 he finally left government service to devote himself to the art and business of writing. He penned short stories for both Western-fiction periodicals (Mammoth Western, Thrilling Western, etc.) and others, such as Manhunt, that specialized in tales of crime. “Given that the editor of Manhunt was keen to have his authors be seen as leading colorful, even mildly gamey lives,” editors Jack Adrian and Bill Pronzini remarked in their 1995 book, Hard-boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories, “it’s difficult to ascertain the truth about Craig’s history. But without a doubt Craig clearly had more than enough experience of the hard end of life to become one of the leading chroniclers of the ‘JD’ (juvenile delinquest), or ‘juvie,’ genre, which was so popular with editors and readers in the ‘rebel without a cause’ era of the mid-1950s. He combined a gritty realism with a sardonic outlook and mastered a style that was spare, while at times hinting at lushness and moral decay.” Readers ate up whatever Craig could serve them.

Nowadays, folks who are familiar at all with Jonathan Craig usually think of him in association with his 10-book police procedural series centered on New York City’s Sixth Precinct, the opening installment of which is 1955’s The Dead Darling. “The two detective leads are Pete Selby, who serves as narrator, and his partner Stan Rayder,” explains John “J.F.” Norris in his blog, Pretty Sinister Books. “The police methods are some of the most methodical and bureaucratic I've read in an early novel of this type. Before anyone says, ‘Oh yeah, Ed McBain did that kind of thing and with a bigger cast of cop characters,’ it should be said that the first 87th Precinct novel (which uses a fictitious city based on New York) was published in 1956. Craig started his series of cop novels in 1954 and dares to use the real New York as his setting. McBain has said that he was inspired by the Dragnet TV series. I can’t say where Craig got his inspiration, but he beat McBain at this idea by a couple of years.” The Sixth Precinct series continues through Case of the Brazen Beauty (1966).

But before Craig sent cops Selby and Rayder out on their first call, he produced the noteworthy standalone works Junkie! (1952), Red-Headed Sinner (1953), and Alley Girl (1954, also published as Renegade Cop). The first of those, Junkie! (aka Frenzy), is described by Kirk Reichenbaugh in The Ringer Files blog as a “tawdry little tale of love among squalor … likely written to cash in on the Beat craze going on thanks to [Jack] Kerouac and the gang …” It seems Smith/Craig’s “experience of the hard end of life” came in handy when he was concocting this novel. Here’s Reichenbaugh’s plot synopsis:
It’s set among the jazz alleys and clubs of Washington, D.C., in the ’50s instead of the standard hangouts like Greenwich Village or North Beach. Steve Harper is a horn man, one of the best, who’s burning a torch for a former call-girl and heroin junkie named Kathy. Kathy came out to the big city to find success, but found the needle in a brothel instead. Soon as she meets Steve things start to look up. Sure, Steve has some existential angst and all, falling in love with a prostitute, but damn! Kathy lets Steve have his way with her on their first night together. Well, a bit more than that actually. Steve’s big moment of passion is pretty much raping Kathy in the front seat of his car. He figures in some psychotic way that going all caveman on her is what one does to a chick that’s peddling it for everyone. A good bout of self-loathing immediately follows. Kathy thinks Steve [is] something of a lost and tortured soul. Just the sort of cat to kick the needle for, and ‘toots-sweet,’ Cupid’s flinging arrows at them. There was no mention of how much scratch changed hands, but she definitely leaves some deep scars in his heart.

Jump ahead a couple months and Steve is mooning over Kathy after sleeping with one of his gal-pals, Lois. Lois is a trip. Lois is one of those wound-up kittens who like to scratch too. Not only that, but Lois plays a hell of a boogie on the ivories, and once upon a time Steve could have really gone for her. But Lois ups and marries a clown with dough instead. Lois decided that banging the ivories in reefer joints is the slow boat to Endsville, so why not take a short cut and marry some rich moke for his money. That was the plan, anyway. But Lois’ hubby, Mel, has a problem with the sauce. He drinks and likes to get rough. He’s also got a jealous streak. So it’s not long after the wedding bells stop ringing that Lois resumes slinking around Steve’s pad, sitting around in her sexy underwear, smoking reefers and playing Steve’s records and torturing him about Kathy dumping him. And that’s the scene, until one night a cop friend of Steve’s calls him up and drops the news that Steve’s old mentor Wally Haynes was given the dirt nap. And the chief suspect is … Kathy!

What follows is pretty much Steve running around town playing gumshoe trying to find Kathy, while also trying to nail the gink who offed Wally.
Interestingly, when Junkie! was released by Falcon Books, it was one of two drug-associated novels in that publisher’s 1952 line; the other was The Evil Sleep!, Ed McBain’s earliest adult novel (recently reissued by Hard Case Crime as So Nude, So Dead). I have embedded the cover from the original Falcon edition of Junkie! above and on the left, featuring artwork credited to one Ketor Seach. Meanwhile, at the top of this post is the more artistically refined front from Lancer’s 1962 edition of the book, using the title Frenzy. Illustrator Harry Schaare does his best on that façade to capture the tone and components of Craig’s yarn, giving us a bit of jazz trumpet, a nighttime encounter between hard men fragrant of trouble, and a young brunette (presumably junkie-turned-hooker Kathy) who’s shedding her clothes with an obvious lack of urgency or interest. It’s a beautiful book front, and if I ever find a print copy of that edition to add to my library, you can bet I will--though I imagine it’ll set me back way more than Lancer’s original 40-cent price.

Of course, you needn’t search used book stores to find Jonathan Craig’s 1952 novel. If you don’t mind reading books on some electronic device, you can buy a copy of Junkie!--featuring Schaare’s cover art--for 99 cents from e-book publisher PlanetMonk Pulps.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

More Marchetti Is Good Marchetti

Somebody’s Walking Over My Grave, by Robert Arthur (Ace, 1961), with cover artwork by Lou Marchetti.

As I have been known to do on occasion, today I went back to an earlier Killer Covers post and made some revisions (including adding several additional book fronts). The post in question comes from 2010 and looks at the paperback work of artist Lou Marchetti.

I think you’ll like the changes. Check them out here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Two-fer Tuesdays: It’s Curtains for You, Lady!

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

Ever since September 2013, when I penned this “Two-fer Tuesdays” post, I’ve been noticing paperback covers that feature women in danger, concealed behind the flimsiest of drapes or screens--just like the front I featured in that earlier post from H.W. Roden’s Too Busy to Die.

Among the most eye-catching additions to this theme is the front of Side-Show Girl (1952), credited to “Steve Harragan.” As comics historian Steve Holland writes in his Bear Alley blog, Harragan was a nom de plume used by British author William Maconachie, who, during the 1950s, wrote a succession of “tough gangster yarns” under the name “Bart Carson.” Those breezy thrillers included Curves Mean Danger, The Lady Is a Spitfire, Champagne and Choppers!, The Late Demented, and the immortal Death Wore Scanties. Apparently, the novels not only carried the byline Bart Carson, but that was the same moniker given to their hard-boiled protagonist.

The Carson yarns were first published in the UK by Hamilton & Company, but were subsequently reprinted in the United States by Uni-Books, a line of “pulp digest” novels from Universal Publishing, which was also behind the Beacon line of paperback-size “sleaze books.” For the American audience, Uni-Books retitled the majority of Maconachie’s works (1953’s Cuban Heel being a notable exception), and even changed the name of their author and leading man from Bart Carson to Steve Harragan. Side-Show Girl, billed as “a lusty novel of carnival folk--packed with raw love and lurid adventure,” began its print life as This Way, Sister.

Furthermore, notes author James Reasoner in a review of 1952’s Sin Is a Redhead (originally Redhead Rhapsody!), the Carson character was “given an eye-patch” when he became Harragan, presumably to make him seem more rugged and ready for anything. Explains Reasoner: “Harragan the character is a former crime reporter who hit it big playing the ponies and retired to become a man about town/hard-boiled amateur detective. Some websites refer to him as a private eye, but he’s not, at least not in this book.”

Critic John Fraser supplies this synopsis of Side-Show Girl’s plot:
Steve Harragan, a reporter for the NY Saturn, goes out to Coney Island one broiling summer night with a couple of poker-playing buddies, where he letches after a sexy brunette glimpsed on a ride, with “creamy white thighs pressed tight together in that way that makes a guy itch to pry them apart, ending in a little fluff of lacy white panties that certainly weren’t made for doing exercises in.” Tracking her through the crowds, he finds her dead inside a booth in the arms of a mechanical skeleton, with a knife in her back.

… [O]f course she’s vanished by the time he gets back with the barker. Bloodhounding, [Harragan] follows the winding trail of her dragged body in the dark under the booths, is knocked out by sinister figures, comes to on the beach under the suspicious gaze of a beat cop, intrudes on a suspicious gathering of carny figures, chases a suspicious figure, is stalked in a hall of mirrors, is knocked out again, and comes to as the carny strong man carries him up the track of the roller coaster. ...

[He] finally learns what’s made everyone so hostile, and figures out who’s behind the protection-racket threat to the group.
I’d really like to say that I know who painted the artwork for the Side-Show Girl cover embedded above ... but well, I don’t. It might be Owen Kampen, Bernard Safran, or George Geygan, all of whom were lending their artistic talents to Uni-Books in the early ’50s; I don’t have the evidence to reach a definitive conclusion (though if I had to make a guess, I’d say the Side-Show Girl illustration might have been given birth on Safran’s easel).

Fortunately, I know more about the images on Lady in the Tower (Dell, 1947), by Katherine Newlin Burt. The illustration fronting this Dell Mapback edition was created by William Strohmer, who during the 1940s worked as the Racine, Wisconsin-based art director for Dell Publishing. Strohmer hired such talents as George Frederikson (his assistant at Dell) and Gerald Gregg to give the company’s paperback releases their distinctive, often surrealistic look, but for Lady in the Tower, he took on the main art himself; the back-cover map he assigned to Ruth Belew, identified by Mystery Scene magazine as a “Chicago graphic artist.” You’ll find more of Strohmer’s covers here.

Katherine Burt (1882-1977), the author of Lady in the Tower, had--with her husband, fellow fictionist Maxwell Struthers Burt--homesteaded the Bar B C Ranch (a dude ranch) near a town in northwest Wyoming called Moose. She later lived in Jackson Hole, before retiring in Southern Pines, North Carolina. The Wyoming Authors Wiki says Lady in the Tower was Burt’s ninth novel, and Kirkus Reviews provides the following mini-review of that work:
Melodramatic to martyred touches for the tragi-romance of the house, Castania, where young Philip Grise was found murdered, and suspicion was centered on the governess, Enid Ambrose, his latest flirtation. Spending a lifetime in hiding, Enid never knows security, and her daughter, Jenny, returns to Castania determined to clear her mother. There many engage her affections--and her doubts: Felicity Grise, Philip’s wife, saintly and invalided; Adam, her son, who suspects his mother; Roger Dean, a doctor, faithful to Felicity; Old Mrs. Grise, reviving hatreds and suspicions. Finally, it is Jenny who clears the mystery of the past and prepares peace for the future of Felicity and Roger, Adam and herself. A renter, which if more generous is considerably more agitated than the average.
Although I promised only a “two-fer” of covers this week, I’m going to violate that limit by giving you a couple more paperback fronts showing women behind curtains. Click here to enjoy those. And never let it be said I’m not a generous guy.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday Finds: “Weak and Wicked”

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

Weak and Wicked, by Al James (Midwood, 1961).
Illustration by Ernest “Darcy” Chiriacka.

Here’s something I didn’t know until recently: Day Keene (1904-1969), the prolific author who penned such memorable works as Too Hot to Hold (1950), To Kiss or Kill (1951), Home Is the Sailor (1952), Dead Dolls Don’t Talk (1959), and Dead in Bed (1959)--had a son who also wrote fiction. Sometimes rather bad fiction. Keene’s real name was Gunard Hjertstedt, and he’s said to have been half-Swedish, half-Irish. His son, Albert James Hjertstedt, usually used the byline Al James, though he also wrote under such “house names” as “John Dexter” and “Al Jenkins.” His oeuvre included soft-porn “gems” on the order of Born to Sin (1960), Captive Wanton (1962--yet another candidate for my recent gallery), Miami Call Girl (1973), Not for Free (1973), and The Shameful Breed (1973).

Oh, and in 1961 Hjertstedt/James saw the release of his mass-market paperback original, Weak and Wicked.

I might never have known about James were it not for the outstanding artwork fronting Weak and Wicked. That painting was created by Ernest Chiriaka (1913-2010), an American artist of Greek descent who, signing himself “Darcy,” produced some of the most captivating and collectible paperback covers of the mid-20th century. The façade of Weak and Wicked is certainly no exception, with its seductive image of a seemingly in-control redhead who looks just on the verge of breaking free from one or more of her delicate undergarments. “Men Wanted What She Gave--and Deserved What They Got,” warns the main cover line, while the text on the back jacket (shown at right) offers clues to this novel’s salacious storyline:
Mike stood in the doorway of the hut. It was twilight, and behind him was the raucous night sound of the swamp coming alive. Mike stared at the girl who lay on the rumpled cot. A fade cotton wrapper hung loosely upon her supple contours. She smiled in the maddening insolent way of a woman sure of herself.

He had run from the passions that nearly destroyed him … But now he knew Myra … And she was everything he feared.
I searched the Web over the last several days, hoping to find out more about Al James. Information was incredibly sparse; he’s overshadowed tremendously by his father. I did, however, stumble across a note at the end of a profile of Day Keene on the Mystery*File site that says Hjertstedt/James had once lived in Franklin, North Carolina, where he was “involved in publications for recreational vehicles,” but that he “died in 2001.” If anyone reading this post can provide additional facts about the author, please share them in the Comments section below.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

This Is a Temperate Climate?

Yes, I know, I know: I was just complaining back in early February about how dreary and damp conditions were here in Seattle. But it’s now mid-July. And with the city experiencing what one local TV weatherman says is the “third straight summer that’s had way more warm days than average” (“So far this year … Seattle has had 25 days at 80 degrees or warmer, 15 days at 85 degrees or warmer, and a whopping 6 days at 90 or hotter.”), I am ready for rain again. What’s often said about Seattleites is really true: we are never happy with the weather, no matter what’s happening outside.

These hot days put me in mind of the following vintage novel, a different edition of which (illustrated by Ron Lesser) appears in my recently expanded gallery of summertime book covers.

Dead Heat, by Richard S. Prather. Illustration by Barye Phillips.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Vive la France!

As any fortunate resident of Paris or any Francophile living elsewhere in the world could tell you, this is Bastille Day (aka French National Day), commemorating the July 14, 1879, public storming of the Bastille Saint-Antoine, a fortress-prison in the French capital that was seen as symbolizing King Louis XVI’s increasingly oppressive and oblivious monarchy. The attack marked the beginning of the French Revolution, a decade-long period of political and social upheaval that would feature the execution of Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, and lead to the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte.

By way of contributing to this celebration, I’ve put together what I think is a very handsome gallery of more than 50 book fronts that owe their inspiration to France or, specifically, Paris. Artists represented here include: Robert Bonfils (French Fever), Paul Rader (Girl Running), Raymond Johnson (Dark Streets of Paris), James Avati (King of Paris), Robert Maguire (Inspector Maigret and the Strangled Stripper, Dateline: Paris), Victor Livoti (Maid in Paris), George Ziel (Night Boat to Paris), Rudy Nappi (French Alley), Mitchell Hooks (Murder on the Left Bank), Verne Tossey (Left Bank of Desire), Rudolph Belarski (Streets of Paris), Barye Phillips (Lili of Paris), Stanley Zuckerberg (Angelique and the King), James Meese (The Long Sword), and of course Robert McGinnis, who painted the cover--seen above--for A Certain French Girl (Gold Medal, 1964), by author, screenwriter, and TV producer Nathaniel “Nat” Tanchuck.

Click on any of these images to open an enlargement.