Friday, May 15, 2015

Friday Finds: “Knocked for a Loop”

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

Knocked for a Loop (Pocket, 1958), by Craig Rice.
Illustration by Jerry Allison.

The woman who traveled under the byline “Craig Rice” was really Georgiana Ann Randolph Craig (1908-1957). Born in Chicago, she spent her early adult years in the Windy City laboring in the professional fields of radio and public relations. It wasn’t until 1939 that she began her career as a successful author of what Kevin Burton Smith, editor of The Thrilling Detective Web Site, calls “hard-boiled screwball comedy.” That was the year Eight Faces at Three first saw print, introducing readers to hard-drinking and unkempt Chicago lawyer-cum-private eye John J. Malone, who would go on to star in a dozen additional Rice books. As the Golden Age of Detection Wiki explains, the Malone tales usually found her protagonist “called in to a sticky situation to rescue either his friend Jake Justus or Jake’s great love, and later wife, Helene Brand. All three characters do a great deal of drinking and fast driving around Chicago, infuriating Captain Daniel Von Flanagan of the homicide squad.”

Knocked for a Loop (sometimes published as The Double Frame) was Rice’s 11th Malone yarn, and originally appeared as a Simon & Schuster “Inner Sanctum” hardcover in 1957. The Goodreads site offers the following plot synopsis:
Chicago lawyer John J. Malone finds himself framed for the murder of anti-crime crusader Leonard Estapoole and implicated in the kidnapping of Estapoole’s stepdaughter Alberta Commanday. While trying to find the real murderer, or at least clear his name, Malone is befriended by ex-chorus girl Tommie Storm and aided by crime boss Max Hook. Things get more complicated when Malone’s old friend Jake Justus reports that his wife, Helene, has gone missing after rushing to Chicago to visit the Estapooles, an affable but complex combined family full of suspects. Malone’s efforts to solve the case are further complicated by a kidnap victim who insists on staying kidnapped and a second murder. Along the way, he falls for a “thoroughly nice” girl and manages--barely--to keep himself and his friends out of jail.
In addition to her Malone investigations, Rice composed non-series novels (notably 1944’s Home Sweet Homicide), ghost-wrote books for actor George Sanders and burlesque entertainer Gypsy Rose Lee (including Mother Finds a Body), and “collaborated” with Ed McBain on 1959’s The April Robin Murders (in the sense that he finished it, after her demise). Despite Rice’s tendency toward alcoholism and attempts at suicide, she is said to have died of natural causes.

READ MORE:The 43 Percent (Alcohol) Solution: An Appreciation of Craig Rice,” by Patrick Ohl (At the Scene of the Crime).

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

“Glen Was a Shooting Star, a Miracle”

I was shocked to read this morning that Glen Orbik, an artist now best known for the exceptional, pulpish fronts he created for the Hard Case Crime line of paperback mysteries and thrillers, died yesterday from cancer. He was in his early 50s.

Although biographical information about Orbik runs rather thin on the Web, it seems he was born in 1963. He moved with his mother to western Nevada in the early 1970s, and graduated in 1981 from Douglas High School in the town of Minden. Orbik went on to study art at the California Art Institute (then located in the Los Angeles County community of Encino), receiving at least part of his instruction from Fred Fixler, an advertising illustrator, movie-poster painter, and book-cover artist who had founded the school. On his Web site, Orbik explained that his original intention had been to draw superheroes for a living, but his horizons were soon expanded. “After a few years,” he writes,” I took over many of Fred’s classes at the school … when he retired from teaching and have continued off and on for over 20 years.”

Orbik eventually did win the opportunity to paint superheroes, working for DC Comics on its Aquaman series in particular, but also contributing to its Detective Comics, Batman, Flash, and American Century lines. In addition, he took on assignments for Marvel Comics. Although Orbik listed among his influences Gil Elvgren and Norman Rockwell, he had a particular interest in vintage crime-fiction paperback covers of the 1950s and ‘60s, especially those created by Robert McGinnis, Robert Maguire, and Robert E. Schulz. Not long after the 20th century became the 21st, he got the chance to follow boldly in their footsteps by signing on to paint covers for Hard Case Crime. Founder-editor Charles Ardai sent me a note today, recalling his experience with Orbik:
I met Glen almost exactly when we started Hard Case Crime [in 2004], but I’d known his work before that--his gorgeous, lush, realistic paintings from the covers of comic books had made me salivate many times. I was thrilled when he agreed to paint the cover for Branded Woman, by Wade Miller [2005], which instantly became and still remains perhaps my single favorite cover we’ve ever published.

But that one’s got a lot of competition, even just within the two dozen covers he painted for us. Look at the roster--
Joyland, by Stephen King [2013], Thieves Fall Out, by Gore Vidal [2015], Money Shot, by Christa Faust [2008], the cheeky Arthur Conan Doyle Valley of Fear we did [in 2009] … not to mention my own novels, Fifty-to-One [2008] and Songs of Innocence [2007]. I have the original painting for Fifty-to-One hanging in my home, and I look at it a hundred times every day. Never get tired of it. It’s just gorgeous. Everything Glen did was.

Glen had a unique ability to paint completely realistically--his people are living, breathing, fleshy figures with idiosyncratic features, like someone you might meet on the sidewalk or on a subway--while still bringing in a larger-than-life element through dramatic angles and shadows and colors and other tools of his trade. It was jaw-dropping. Every time I got a new painting from him, it was like Christmas morning.

Plus, he was a pleasure to work with. The ultimate nice guy, easy-going, thoughtful, funny, smart, collaborative, willing to go out on a limb and try something crazy to see if it would work. I loved, loved, loved working with him. And the prospect of not getting to do that anymore hurts maybe even more than the prospect of never seeing another new Glen Orbik painting.

I miss him. Just a couple of months ago, he raced to the rescue and painted a girl for us for the cover of Lawrence Block’s new novel,
The Girl with the Deep Blue Eyes, when we needed to replace the one we’d gotten earlier from another artist. He did it in record time, despite being in pain, despite having only one functioning eye. And it came out gorgeous.

Glen was a shooting star, a miracle. Losing him is like losing Jim Henson, like losing Robin Williams. Such talent. Such a cruel fate.
Facebook has been active all day long with Orbik’s former students and his other admirers expressing their regrets at his too-early passing. One of the best characterizations of this artist’s talents, though, comes from a blog called Noir Whale. Chad de Lisle wrote there a few years ago about having discovered Orbik’s artistry “while perusing books on Amazon. I noticed that his soft-edged style was perfectly suited to the foggy morality of noir and pulp capers. Since then, I’ve taken great interest in his work and consider myself a dedicated fan. His femme fatales hover on the dangerous brink of passion, the beautiful bait concealing the deadly hook. The difference between a good noir artist and a great noir artist is narrative. Those artists that can weave a story with acrylic are the masters; Glen Orbik is a master.”

So let’s take a precious moment or two to appreciate his work--his men with their tough-guy façades, his young women with their gravity-defying breasts, his general noirish style. Displayed below are not only some of Orbik’s finest Hard Case book fronts (two of which--Brainquake and Joyland--have been contenders in The Rap Sheet’s annual Best Crime Fiction Covers rivalry), but also an Aquaman cover and a handful of his efforts for American Century.

ADDITIONAL DELIGHTS: The Spanish-language Web site ImagEnArte offers an even more extensive collection of Glen Orbik’s artwork, featuring Batman, Superman, Spiderman, various science-fiction pieces, and so many of his curvilinear young women!

Monday, May 11, 2015

All Washed Up

Not long after I posted last week’s “Two-fer Tuesdays” entry, which combined a couple of vintage paperback fronts highlighting the unforeseen dangers to be found in bathtubs, I received an e-note from Art Scott, co-author of last year’s The Art of Robert E. McGinnis. It explained that “The late Ellen Nehr, collector, reviewer and bibliographer (The Doubleday Crime Club Compendium), decided many years ago to collect books with dead bodies in bathtubs on the cover (they had to be dead). With the help of lunatic collectors like myself she acquired dozens of them. I inherited the collection when she passed [in 1995] and did a short feature for Paperback Parade some years ago. Let me know if you want to see more well-hydrated corpses; I’ll be happy to supply same.”

Naturally, I wrote him back immediately. And soon after that my e-mailbox filled up with scans of book façades featuring lifeless human limbs draped over porcelain or, in two cases, fetching females frightened in the midst of their ablutions (Scott calls these “strategically placed soapsuds” covers). One of my favorites from among Scott’s assortment is shown at the top of this piece. It’s the 1948 Avon edition of Whose Body?, Dorothy L. Sayers’ first Lord Peter Wimsey whodunit (originally published in 1923). Its cover artistry is credited to Ann Cantor, who worked on a number of Avon fronts during the mid-20th century. (More examples of her work are to be enjoyed here and here.) The cover to the right, meanwhile, taken from the 1948 Avon edition of Fast One, by Paul Cain, is quite appealing as well, but unfortunately its jacket illustrator is unidentified.

Below are other top selections from Scott’s set:

Today’s final example of this breed “comes with a story,” writes Art Scott. “I came across this book while rooting around the late lamented Murder One shop in London. I snapped it up, of course, and when I got home carefully gift-wrapped it and posted it to Ellen Nehr in Ohio, with a note attached that said something like, ‘Here it is, the capstone to your bodies-in-bathtubs collection. You’ll never find another book to top it!’ A couple days later the phone rang; it was Ellen calling to thank me, but it took a minute or so to realize who it was or what she was saying, she was laughing so hard.”

READ MORE:Murder Leaves a Ring, by Fay Grissom Stanley,” by J. Kingston Pierce (Killer Covers).

For Once, a Headline About Heads

Hasn’t the time come to retire this well-used stock photograph?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Friday Finds: “The Gallows in My Garden”

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

The Gallows in My Garden (Dell, 1953), by Richard Deming.
Illustration by Bob Hilbert.

Kevin Burton Smith of The Thrilling Detective Web Site refers to Manville Moon as “one of the great unknown series [private] eyes that somehow slipped through the cracks.” This shamus is known to be “tough, honest, and handy with the wisecracks,” but he was also seriously wounded in combat during World War II. “He’s got a grim contraption of cork, steel, aluminum and leather, where his right leg used to be …,” notes Smith, “and a face a woman once referred to as [looking like that of] ‘a battered Saint Bernard.’” Although Manny Moon appeared in many short stories, during the 1940s, ’50, and ’60s, in such publications as Black Mask, Manhunt, and Dime Detective, there are only three Moon novels; The Gallows in My Garden was the first, originally published by Rinehart & Company in 1952. (Tweak the Devil’s Nose and Whistle Past the Graveyard followed it into bookstores within the next two years.)

Reviewing Gallows (way too briefly), Kirkus Reviews wrote:
Manville Moon, Confidential Investigator with a false leg, is hired by inheritance-loaded Grace Lawson, promptly attacked and immediately on hand for the death of her brother. Another killing, attempts on Grace’s life, [and] light on the previous death of her father, all add up to a devious bit of long-term plotting by a criminal who is saved by lack of evidence. Nimble--and breezy.”
A GoodReads contributor had this to add:
There is comedy and humor [in Gallows] that reminds me of Ken Bruen and Jason Starr, and Moon is always the wise guy. But there is gripping action and suspense. The novel is plot-driven, and the ending was a surprise to me, but the characters are also interesting. Recommended, particularly for readers looking for something different.
Surprisingly, I haven’t written about American artist Bob Hilbert until now. Not that I know much of his personal or career history. (If you do, please share!) I am aware, though, that during the mid-20th century he was very busy in commercial illustration and created some very memorable images for The Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, The American Weekly, and other periodicals. You can see some of Hilbert’s magazine work here and here. A handful of his paperback covers can be appreciated here.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Two-fer Tuesdays: Rub-a-Dub-Dead

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

This is what can happen when you sit on a good idea for too long.

For months now, I’ve been slowly but surely collecting vintage paperback covers that show a person being either threatened or killed in a bathtub, or having already died in one. I figured this would be a logical accompaniment to an earlier “two-fer” post about people being found to have expired on their beds. In both cases--bed and bath--the usual notion is that there’s safety and comfort to be found in such spots. But that isn’t necessarily the case when you’re dealing with tales rooted in criminal misconduct.

So anyway, I had this plan. This great plan. You know, though, what they say about the best-laid plans ... And sure enough, yesterday I happened across this new post in Pulp International focusing on book fronts “featuring various unfortunates who chose the wrong time to be naked and defenseless” in tubs. Most of the paperback façades I had found over the last few months are included in Pulp International’s gallery. Two excellent examples of the breed, however, missed that blog’s notice, so let me highlight them here.

The first, shown above and on the left, comes from Murder Takes a Wife, by James A. Howard (Pocket, 1955). Here’s how Kirkus Reviews synopsized that novel’s plot:
The mark of Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice) may bar this from polite circles but the tricks here have news value. Jeff Allen, operating as a one-man murder incorporated, cleans up on unwanted wives and mothers, covers himself with respectability as a salesman for pharmaceutical companies, and, gambling on new business in Fort Worth, [Texas] runs into obstacles for perfect executions. Involved in killing two women, he is also given a straight big business chance and, diddled by fate, he loses out on everything--even living with himself. A sharp shocker.
My efforts today to locate information on the Web about author Howard have been mostly frustrating. One source says he was born James Arch Howard in 1922, another that he also wrote some novels--such as 1959’s Fare Prey--under the pseudonym Laine Fisher. I have dug up listings of several more Howard works published during the mid-20th century, among them Murder in Mind (1960), Blow Out My Torch (1956), and I’ll Get You Yet (1954)--the latter two of which star a protagonist named Steve Ashe--and a 1962 work with the terrific title The Bullet-Proof Martyr, described as “a fine murder story and a blood-chilling portrait of a demagogue” (the “flag-waving head of a clan of ‘kinsmen’” named Paul Kenneth Kane).

Credit for the cover of Murder Takes a Wife belongs to Wayne Blickenstaff. Born in Pomona, California, in 1920, Blickenstaff went on to attend Woodbury Business College in Los Angeles and then join the U.S. Air Corps in 1942, not long after the United States entered World War II. “Although many artists who served in WWII went on to careers in the illustration field,” explains this Web site, “few can claim such colorful wartime adventures as Lt. Col. Wayne K. Blickenstaff, Ace pilot of the 353rd Fighter Group. What does it mean to be an ace? A pilot who successfully shoots down several enemy aircraft in combat is considered an ace. But Blickenstaff not only qualified as Ace, but also as ‘Ace in a day,’ a pilot who brought down more than five enemy craft in a single day!” After the war, Blickenstaff used his G.I. Bill benefits to study at L.A.’s Chouinard Art Institute, and then moved to New York City to work as an editorial and advertising artist. In addition to illustrating children’s books and creating artwork for magazines, Blickenstaff painted a number of fronts for crime and mystery novels--Murder Takes a Wife as well as others that can be relished here. His obituary says he died in Charlotte, North Carolina, in December 2011 at age 91.

Now let’s turn our avid attention to today’s other attraction, The Deadly Combo, by John Farr (Ace, 1958). “Farr” is a nom de plume used by Jack Webb (1916-2008), an L.A.-born author--not to be confused with Dragnet actor Jack Webb--whose mysteries often built around the sleuthing pair of Father Joseph Shanley and police homicide cop Sammy “Elijah” Golden (The Deadly Sex).

The Deadly Combo was released by Ace in a paperback double-book edition, on the flip side of which was found Murder Isn’t Funny, by J. Harvey Bond. Both covers, I understand, were painted by Bernard Barton, who was born in New York in 1920, attended Cooper Union in Manhattan, and after a stint with the U.S. military during World War II, moved into commercial illustration work. He also, though, contributed to what in the postwar years was a hungry market for paperback art. Other examples of Barton’s work can be found here. He apparently lived much of his life in Westport, Connecticut, finally perishing there in 1993.

Before we leaving the topic of “blood baths,” let me showcase--on the left--two extra specimens. The first is the cover from what I believe is a 1930s edition of Inside Detective magazine, with pleasingly racy artwork by Norman Saunders. (Had I known about this publication front six years ago, I would definitely have shuffled it into my gallery of peeping-tom covers.) Beside it you will find the 1967 Pocket edition of Dead, Upstairs in the Tub, by Michael Brett. This was the sixth novel starring Brett’s tough, Chevy-driving, Scotch-drinking Manhattan private eye, Pete McGrath, and though it offers a photographic cover, rather than a potentially more interesting illustrated one, Dead, Upstairs in the Tub definitely fits into our theme here.

“I Care About the Appearance of My Books”

“She was the queen of crime fiction, but Agatha Christie should also be recognized as one of the most formidable businesswomen of her era,” writes Britain’s Telegraph newspaper in a piece explaining how the creator of Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot fought to change the UK cover of her 1940 novel, Sad Cypress. She called the dust jackets proposed by her publisher, Collins Crime Club, “AWFUL--so COMMON!!” Nonetheless, the hardcover façade she found so offensive is the one with which Sad Cypress is now closely associated. The Telegraph piece doesn’t say whether Christie preferred the jacket given to that same book by her U.S. publisher.

READ MORE:Agatha Christie’s Original French Editions” (International Crime Fiction Research Group).

Friday, May 1, 2015

Friday Finds: “The Saint Maker”

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

The Saint Maker (Dell, 1961), by Leonard Holton.
Illustration by Robert K. Abbett.

This was the premiere entry in an 11-book series featuring Father Joseph Bredder, a “Los Angeles Franciscan priest detective, who had been a professional boxer then seen service as a decorated sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps.” “Leonard Holton” was actually prolific Irish-born author Leonard Wibberley (1915-1983) perhaps best remembered for having written that satirical 1955 novel, The Mouse that Roared. In a 1992 study titled Mysterium and Mystery: The Clerical Crime Novel, Massachusetts theology professor William David Spencer wrote that “In the Father Bredder mystery tales, [Wibberley attempted to lift] the meek Father Brownish cleric up from the supposedly slumbering irrelevancy of a local parish convent chaplaincy to astound the police with his uncanny ability to track elusive murderers across the complex spiritual landscape of fraud, dissemblance, and self-deception to the lair of the guilty soul.” He adds that the short-lived, 1971-1972 NBC-TV program Sarge, starring George Kennedy as a San Diego police detective sergeant turned priest, was inspired by the Father Bredder books.

Here’s a synopsis of The Saint Maker (originally published in 1959), quoted from Philip Grosset’s Clerical Detectives Web site:
The Father Bredder novels are short, fast-moving and full of action. The first book, The Saint Maker, begins promisingly with Father Bredder trying to make peace with the rather cold, disapproving Reverend Mother of the convent (to which he is chaplain) by sending her a present of a melon. Unfortunately, though, she discovers that what the bag actually contains is a woman's head. “An older priest of gentler upbringing than (40-year-old) Father Bredder, Reverend Mother thought, would never have become mixed up with a murder.” But, for Father Bredder, “Murder is a crime that cries, not merely for vengeance, but far more important, it cries for repentance. And I must do what I can to find the murderer and bring him or her to repentance for the salvation of his soul.” There's plenty of humor too, as when the police start making enquiries about Father Bredder with the result that an assortment of small-time crooks whom he has helped in one way or another, all come sidling up to him to offer to help him flee the country.
The last Father Bredder novel was A Corner of Paradise (1977).

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Duped: “The Lash”

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

I knew I’d spotted the byline “John Burton Thompson” before, and sure enough, that same moniker appears on the cover of Nude in the Sand, a 1959 Beacon Books release that I showcased a couple of years ago. There isn’t much information on the Web about Thompson, beyond the fact that his name appears on other such “literary gems” as Lakeside Love Nest, The Couch Cure, and The Ravished. However, the professional responsible for the seductive front of The Lash (Softcover Library), a “lesbian pulp” novel from 1965, is extremely familiar: Charles Copeland (1924-1979), a prolific Missouri-born artist of the mid-20th century who, in addition to churning out pin-up-style illustrations for men’s magazines, did a great deal of work for paperback book publishers such as Ace, Popular Library, and of course Softcover (an imprint of Beacon, one of the last century’s most successful soft-core paperback publishers)

So prized were Copeland’s paintings, that Beacon editors decided the one employed on The Lash--displaying a slender, half-dressed brunette curled up a couch, with expectation in her eyes (presumably focused on the bare-midriffed woman whose reflection can be seen in the mirror behind her)--would be wasted were it used just once. In fact, the same artwork had already graced a 1963 Beacon novel titled The Sexecutives, by Lee Richards. (Shown on the right--click for an enlargement.) There’s a difference, though: Rather than a woman in the mirror, The Sexecutives shows the reflection of a power-suited blond manager type lighting a cigarette. As that book’s cover lines attest, Richards’ yarn was about “high-powered executives who tried everything for kicks. Now they went on a new one--wife-trading.” It seems “the mark of their success was the key to the right apartment.” Should anyone miss the suggestion in all of this that The Sexecutives was not the sort of story to be left lying around on a coffee table when company calls, the novel’s concluding come-on line reads, “A novel of big business that makes The Carpetbaggers look simon-pure.”

Apparently Beacon knew its primarily male readership well, for The Sexecutives satisfied not only its audience in America, but also book-buyers in Australia, where--under the title “See Me Tonight!”--this novel was one of many about “high-flying corporate execs behaving badly.”

Himes Catch-up

The blog Fragments of Noir now offers two fine galleries of Chester Himes book covers. The first is here, the second here.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Friday Finds: “Cruise to the Sun”

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

Cruise to the Sun (Dell, 1962), by Robert Carroll.
Illustration by Howard Terpning.

“Robert Carroll” was a pseudonym used by American film reviewer Hollis Alpert (1916-2007). In addition to penning biographies of show-business figures, books of movie criticism, and even a golf-humor work (How to Play Double Bogey Golf: The Art of Being Bad at a Great Game, 1975), Alpert published several novels. Some, such as The Summer Lovers (1958) and The People Eaters (1971), were brought out under his real byline, but others, including Champagne at Dawn (1961) and A Disappearance (1975), were--like Cruise to the Sun--released under the Carroll nom de plume.

READ MORE:The World of Hollis Alpert,” by Philip K. Jason (Phil Jason’s Web Site).