Monday, July 1, 2019

Because I Needed a Wentworth Fix …

The Key, by “Patricia Wentworth,” aka Dora Amy Elles (Popular Library, 1950), the eighth novel to star schoolteacher-turned-sleuth Miss Maud Silver. Cover illustration by Rudolph Belarski.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Operation Delta, by Anthony McCall

After having composed a variety of posts for this page about American artist Harry Bennett (1919-2012), my eyes are now alert for examples of his work that I haven’t previously spotted. I was, therefore, thrilled to see the cover above, from Operation Delta (Pocket, 1968), appear yesterday on the Today’s Inspiration Group Facebook page. It sure looked like Bennett’s work to me!

So last evening I sent off an e-mail note to Bennett’s youngest son, Tom (who I interviewed just over a year ago), asking whether he could confirm that his father painted the front of Operation Delta. “I do not specifically recall this book or cover,” he responded, “but can confidently say I recognize this as my father’s work. Yes, this is his.”

Not familiar with the writer “Anthony McCall”? That was a pseudonym used by Henry Kane, creator of swingin’ New York City private eye Peter Chambers (A Halo for Nobody, Fistful of Death, etc.). Operation Delta was one among many standalone novels Kane produced during his career. Of its plot, Kirkus Reviews explained back in 1966:
Taking advantage of two timely topics, Civil Rights and Espionage, Mr. McCall integrates them successfully for some split second suspense. Maurice Lauriac, Negro Nobel Prize candidate, is undergoing the southern comforts of jail after a Civil Rights demonstration and the subsequent murder of an NAACP worker. Lauriac, an epileptic, is about to be cut off from medicine by Sheriff “Bull” Hauptner and Co. Meanwhile, up North, Lauriac’s co-workers are mysteriously dying off and the sophisticated anti-missile system they’ve been developing is about to be grounded. It’s up to “Golden Boy” Christopher Prescott Adams (public image-Playboy) to resolve the crisis. Shazam!
It’s hard to tell, judging solely by that reviewlet, whether I would enjoy reading Operation Delta. However, I sure do appreciate Bennett’s cover. I might track down a copy for that reason alone.

(Hat tip to Tim Hewitt.)

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Happy Father’s Day!

Come on Out, Daddy, by Bernard Wolfe (McFadden, 1964). Cover illustration by James Meese. Other novels by Wolfe have been recalled in The Rap Sheet.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Another Look: “Madball”

Warning: Artistic inspiration drawn from book titles may vary.

Left: Madball, by Fredric Brown (Dell, 1953); cover art by Griffith Foxley. Right: Madball, by Fredric Brown (Gold Medal, 1961); cover illustration by Mitchell Hooks. A new edition of this carnival crime novel will be released later this month by Black Gat/Stark House Press, fronted by Foxley’s painting.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Because I Needed a Bagby Fix ...

Dead Storage, by “George Bagby,” aka Aaron Marc Stein (Dell, 1957). According to Goodreads, this is the 27th entry in Stein’s series starring Inspector Schmidt of the New York City Police Department. Cover illustration by Al Brule.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Rising Cost of Dying

One for the Money, by Elliott Chaze (Berkley Medallion, 1962), originally titled Black Wings Has My Angel; cover art by Charles Copeland. Two for the Money, by Max Allan Collins (Hard Case Crime, 2004); cover illustration by Mark Texeira.

Three for the Money, by “Joe Barry,” aka Joe Barry Lake (Quinn Publishing/Handi-Book Mystery, 1950), the one and only novel featuring Chicago private eye Bill August; cover painting reportedly by Ernest Chiriacka. Four for the Money, by Dan J. Marlowe (Fawcett Gold Medal, 1966); cover artist unidentified.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Another Look: “Strip for Murder”

Warning: Artistic inspiration drawn from book titles may vary.

Left: Strip for Murder, by Richard S. Prather (Gold Medal, 1955); cover art by Frederic Varady. Right: Strip for Murder, by Richard S. Prather (Gold Medal, 1957); cover art by Barye Phillips.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Happy Easter, Everyone!

The Easter Egg Hunt, by Hillyer “Speed” Lamkin (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1954). From The Neglected Books Page: “Although labeled a Hollywood novel, the book is, to be more precise, a novel of Beverly Hills. The distinction is subtle but important. A Hollywood novel is, in some way or another, about the business of movie-making and the people involved in it. Beverly Hills, on the other hand, while populated by many in the entertainment business, is first and foremost a town of the rich—or, as Lamkin describes it, [a] small ‘wealthy city, two thirds suburb, one third resort.’ The Easter Egg Hunt is more about lives lived around expensive homes, poolsides, and nightclubs than about directors, actors, and producers.” Jacket design by John Banting.

This, Lamkin’s second novel (after Tiger in the Garden, 1950), was reprinted in 1955 by Popular Library under a different title, Fast and Loose. The cover art below is by Rafael de Soto.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Curious Gems Amid the Jumble

Last November, I mentioned on this page that I was helping to clean out the phenomenally jam-packed residence formerly occupied by my wife’s mother and stepfather, both of whom have now passed away. Well, we’re now in the seventh month of that project—and probably halfway through, at best, though we’ve at least moved out of the garage and into the heated house. There’s just so much stuff to sort through and dispose of, and only a limited number of free hours that members of the family can devote to the cause. I can’t believe how many boxes we have already gone through of items—glassware, picture frames, stuffed toys, hard-to-recognize knick-knacks, etc.—that my mother-in-law purchased at garage or estate sales over the years, then stored away in corners of the house and never used. (The price tags are still on them!) And we haven’t yet touched the basement, which is stacked shoulder-high with boxes, containing 80 years of possessions from multiple households.

What makes this arduous experience bearable, is that I enjoy the other people who have volunteered to share the task. And every once in a while, I chance upon an item, usually squirreled away among well-thumbed magazines and other random clutter, that makes all of the lifting and hauling and dust-incited sneezing worthwhile.

Take, for instance, the copy I unearthed this last weekend of Ted Mark’s I Was a Teeny-Bopper for the CIA. I’d heard of this 1967 Berkley paperback novel, but never imagined that a copy (with its cover illustration by Stanley Borack) might someday fall into my hands.

“Ted Mark” was a pseudonym used by Theodore Mark Gottfried (1918-2004), a magazine editor and prolific author of non-fiction books for schoolchildren. Under the Mark moniker, though, he is most widely recognized for having penned a 15-book comedy spy-porn series starring sex researcher-cum-espionage agent Steve Victor, “The Man from O.R.G.Y.” (the Organization for the Rational Guidance of Youth). Teeny-Bopper was a standalone work, but no less steamy than its predecessors. In Black Gate, Sean McLachlan calls it “a fun bit of ’60s pulp with lots of cultural insights into a ‘square’s’ view of the anti-war movement and suburban spouse swapping.” Here he synopsizes the novel’s plot:
Vance Powers [is] a recently divorced corporate lawyer whose boring life gets turned upside down when a Congressman he knows hires him for a secret mission—infiltrate his local suburban amateur theatrical group in order to find some missing CIA money. Amateur theater, you see, is a front for the Commies, and the CIA operative who was investigating this group, Arch Fink, died recently. A bunch of CIA dough disappeared with him.

Powers joins the theater group and meets a menagerie of suburban types, most of whom are hopping into bed with one another. He soon hops into bed with Joy Boxx, a bored housewife and one of the many characters with joke names. The titular teeny-bopper is named Lolly Popstick! Anyway, Powers doesn’t get much joy from Boxx because his ex-wife has an almost psychic ability to call him long distance when he’s just about to have some fun. This happens all through the novel, meaning the sex scenes are all played for laughs. While this may have been a racy book for its day, it would barely get an R rating today and the sex is watered down even more with all the witty banter and slapstick acrobatics.
While Teeny-Bopper was definitely the weekend’s most unlikely discovery, it was not the only one worth mentioning.

In the course of digging through an upstairs bedroom, I found two small bookcases, the first of which revealed a 1947 Sun Dial Press reprint of Rogues’ Gallery, an Ellery Queen-edited anthology of stories built around crooks, rather than crime fighters—“the first of its kind,” according to the jacket copy. Among the authors represented in this thick volume: Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy L. Sayers, Leslie Charteris, Agatha Christie, and less-well-remembered writers on the order of Roy Vickers, H.B. Marriott Watson, and Arnold Bennett. Not far from the Queen release was a 1977 Doubleday hardcover copy (the book club edition) of Stephen King’s The Shining. I have to confess that, while I have watched the big-screen adaptation of King’s first best-seller, I have never read the original tale. So naturally, I scooped this one up for my own library.

Those same shelves offered a handful of entries from the early 20th-century Motor Boys series. I’d never heard of that Stratemeyer Syndicate line before. Wikipedia says it comprised 22 volumes (published between 1906 and 1924), all popular adventure yarns for boys, and all starring the trio of Bob Baker, “son of a rich banker”; Ned Slade, “son of the proprietor of a large department store”; and Jerry Hopkins, “son of a well–to–do widow.” The books were credited to “Clarence Young,” but that was apparently a Stratemeyer house name behind which labored several authors, principally (in the case of the Motor Boys) Howard R. Garis.

Because it was stuck away at the shadowy end of a bookcase’s bottom rack, I nearly missed spotting the pocket-size, red-covered 10th volume of The World’s Best One Hundred Detective Stories, edited by Eugene Thwing and published by Funk & Wagnalls in 1929. Sadly, I didn’t also locate the preceding nine volumes of that collection. However, the 10th includes short stories by the Baroness Orczy, Herbert Jenkins, and the “largely forgotten” Karl W. Detzer. It also boasts an author and title index to the whole collection, so I know what I’m missing. Among the other stories deemed the “best 100” are works by G.K. Chesterton, Octavus Roy Cohen, Anna Katharine Green, Freeman Wills Crofts, Marie Belloc Lowndes, and Vincent Starrett. There’s no Hammett here, but then the Black Mask bunch were often overlooked by literary critics in those days, and Hammett’s first novel, Red Harvest, had only just come out in 1929.

The balance of my latest surprise finds are all paperbacks: the 1969 release of Charlotte Armstrong’s The Balloon Man, with cover art by Harry Bennett; a distinctive 1970 Fawcett Crest edition of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, also with a Bennett illustration; a 1958 copy of Divine Mistress, by Frank G. Slaughter (cover artwork by Charles Binger); Cardinal’s 1959 version of Frank Yerby’s The Foxes of Harrow (again fronted by a Binger painting); Pocket Books’ 1961 release of Erle Stanley Gardner’s The Case of the Green-Eyed Sister; and a 1966 edition of John D. MacDonald’s Cry Hard, Cry Fast.*

As I said before, we still have a long way to go before my in-laws’ house is clean, so there may be plenty of odd treasures yet to excavate. I’ll let you know what else I come across.

* Several sources around the Web claim the cover art on this Fawcett Gold Medal edition of Cry Hard, Cry Fast was painted by Robert McGinnis. But McGinnis expert Art Scott says that identification is incorrect.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Giving Ross Macdonald His Due

This last week was a big one for me at CrimeReads, the Literary Hub-connected site to which I have been contributing for the last year.

First off, I celebrated the 70th anniversary of the release of Ross Macdonald’s first private-eye novel, The Moving Target, by collecting 25 of the best and worst covers that book has worn around the world. My gallery does not include all the Moving Target fronts, but it’s certainly a representative—and very diverse—sampling.

A day later, I posted my latest interview with Tom Nolan, the author of Ross Macdonald: A Biography. I had previously spoken with that Los Angeles-area writer on behalf of Kirkus Reviews and The Rap Sheet, and two decades ago as part of a project for January Magazine that celebrated the then-50th birthday of The Moving Target.

Macdonald has long numbered among my favorite crime novelists, and it was a real joy to again celebrate his 30-year career and, I hope, incite a new generation of readers to pick up his novels.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Mister Deadly Makes a Comeback

Do you remember newhound-turned-private investigator Larry Kent? Probably not. He began life on I Hate Crime, a 1950s Australian radio drama series (created by Ron Ingleby), then became a phenomenon in print—initially in a succession of novelettes, but ultimately in hundreds of novels. Most of those tales were set in New York City, and all of them boasted prodigious body counts. Kent was allegedly created to capture the same male reading market that was already thrilling to the Carter Brown novels; he didn’t disappoint.

“Ingleby may have written the radio shows, but he never wrote any of the books,” explains Kevin Burton Smith in The Thrilling Detective Web Site. “Among those who did write under the Larry Kent name were Don Haring, an American like Larry who settled in Australia after WWII, and died in the 1980s, and Des R. Dunn from Queensland. But it’s hard to tell who wrote what, really. They were squirted out so quickly that accurate copyright info and author attribution would have only slowed them down.” Smith counts more than 400 Larry Kent novels and novelettes in existence, produced mostly from the mid-1960s to mid-‘70s, though “as late as the 1990s, the series was [supposedly] still being produced in Scandinavia. The covers usually featured paintings of leggy, full-figured babes and sported such snappy (and often exclamation mark-endowed) titles as Kill Me a Little!, This Way, Sucker!, Cute Heat!, Dig Me a Dame! and Stand Up and Die! Add on the 150 or so radio shows, and our Larry turns out to be one of the hardest working eyes around.”

Procuring print copies of those not-quite-classic tales isn’t at all easy these days. But Britain’s Piccadilly Publishing, which usually specializes in Westerns and men’s adventure yarns, is now making at least some of them available in e-book format—with their original “good girl” artwork. Four can be had right away: Curves Can Kill, Witch Rhymes With …, and Hello Dolly … Goodbye, all by Don Haring; plus One More for the Road, by Des R. Dunn.

David Whitehead (aka Ben Bridges)—who, with writer and Shots editor Mike Stotter, founded Piccadilly Publishing—tells me they hope, initially, to produce e-book versions of 25 Larry Kent titles, “and depending on how they sell, yes, our plan is to bring out more.” Among the other works still to come: Honey-Blonde Blues, The Heavenly Bodies, Mourning Glory, Stripped to Kill, and Mona Lethal.

Curious about the undeniably eye-catching cover art on these e-books, I asked Whitehead if he could identify the illustrators. He says the fronts were “painted by the Australian artist Stan Pitt, with occasional input by Wally Stackpool. Between them, these two artists crafted the distinctive ‘look’ for the entire Cleveland Publishing line. Many of their western paintings are equally impressive.”

Incidentally, if you’re interested also in listening to a few of Larry Kent’s radio adventures in I Hate Crime, tune in here.

READ MORE:Australian Western Publisher Cleveland Set to Sell Off Its Original Cover Art Library,” by John Freeman (

Books with a Beat

Simply for your amusement, from Flavorwire: “Classic Songs Reimagined as Vintage Pulp Book Covers.”

Friday, March 22, 2019

Because I Needed a Homes Fix …

The Case of the Mexican Knife, by “Geoffrey Homes,” aka Daniel Mainwaring (Bantam, 1948). Originally titled The Street of the Crying Woman (1942), this novel stars a particularly dapper Mexican detective named José Manuel Madero. Although blogger Brittany Hague strangely misidentifies Homes as being, in actuality, Cornell Woolrich, her 2008 post in BrixPicks offers the only substantive information I’ve been able to track down online about the plot of The Case of the Mexican Knife. Hague writes that it’s about “Mitchell Drake, a teacher living in the U.S., who goes back to his home country of Mexico to find his missing brother. Once there he finds one body after another and many shady and unknown enemies with plans to kill him. He’s being followed and following, he’s being beaten and shot at but the whole time all he can think of is the student he’s in love with, who is also in Mexico, but is herself in love with a no-good double-crossing revolutionary.” Kirkus Reviews adds that the novel features “hidden treasure, a revolutionary underground movement, impersonation and revenge.” Under his Homes pseudonym, author Mainwaring also wrote the 1946 private-eye novel Build My Gallows High. Cover illustration by Bob Doares.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Another Look: “Playback”

Warning: Artistic inspiration drawn from book titles may vary.

Left: Playback, by Raymond Chandler (Cardinal, 1960); cover art by William Rose. Right: Playback, by Raymond Chandler (Pyramid, 1968), with a cover illustration by J. (Joseph) Lombardero.

That’s Gross!

The Nick Carter & Carter Brown Blog is currently celebrating the artistry of Brooklyn-born painter George Gross (1909-2003), posting one new example of his work—either from a paperback book or a magazine front—each day. That site’s manager, the Denver, Colorado, blogger identified only as “Scott,” doesn’t give any indication as to how long he intends to keep his series going. But it began on Saturday, and at last check, he’d put up four.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Establishing the Look of Lew

In the 1970s, when he painted brand-new covers for Bantam paperback editions of Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer detective series, Mitchell Hooks imagined the protagonist as a rather youthful man, boasting wavy dark hair, a calm but serious bearing, and sometimes a cleft chin. That wasn’t always how he had imagined Macdonald’s Los Angeles private investigator, though. His portrayals of the same character for the two 1955 Bantam releases shown here—The Name Is Archer and Find a Victim—present Archer as a more hard-boiled figure, appropriate for those times.

READ MORE:Secret Dead Blog Interview: Jeff Wong,” by Duane Swierczynski (Secret Dead Blog).

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Getting Hooks into Archer

During the 1970s, American artist Mitchell Hooks painted fresh covers for Bantam paperback editions of Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer detective novels. This rubbed some readers—including me—the wrong way, as we had come to love that same publisher’s previous, near-iconic versions of the Archer yarns. It would be many years before I, for one, would learn to accept, appreciate, and even grow to love Hooks’ vision for the series—his usually central portraits of a youngish Archer packing a pistol, surrounded by smaller images of secondary characters and events from the stories. Regrettably, that early resistance meant I missed purchasing new copies of the Hooks editions when they first hit bookstores; I have since had to resort to tracking down used copies at higher prices.

Since I recently showcased, in Killer Covers, UK publisher Fontana’s rather sexually exploitative, 1970s fronts for the Archer series, I thought it would be a good idea to also assemble a gallery of Hooks’ handsome books. Leading off with the detail image above, from Bantam’s 1978 version of The Wycherly Woman, you can see below all 14 of the Macdonald paperbacks definitely painted by Hooks.

Notice I made a point of saying those paperback fronts were “definitely painted by Hooks.” I did that to separate them from half a dozen other Bantam editions of Archer novels, released during that same era and with the identical cover format, but boasting illustrations I believe were painted by someone else.

All 14 of the books shown above clearly feature the artist’s signature—either “Mitchell Hooks” or “M. Hooks.” However, that’s not true of these final four covers. I can’t find a signature anywhere on the artwork, and at least to my eye, the illustrations appear stylistically different and somewhat less polished than those clearly credited to Hooks, though I can’t tell whether the same artist was responsible for all four. Perhaps there are additional clues to be found in the two Archer works from this same line that I don’t yet own—The Barbarous Coast and The Name Is Archer—and that I am also convinced were created by a hand other than Hooks’. But I won’t bet on it.

If anyone reading this post can help me to identify the artist or artists who were responsible for the paperback fronts displayed below, I would greatly appreciate hearing from you.

By the way, the front shown here of Meet Me at the Morgue indicates it’s “A Lew Archer Novel.” Anyone who’s read the book knows that’s incorrect; the first-person protagonist in this standalone yarn is instead a probation officer named Howard Cross.