Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Two-fer Tuesdays: Lush Life

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

I’ve long been a fan of paperback fronts created by Ron Lesser. The Web site for publisher Hard Case Crime offers the following brief biography of this artist: “In addition to painting covers for numerous paperback crime novels in the 1950s and ’60s, Ron Lesser is a successful and versatile historical artist and created Western movie art for High Plains Drifter, Paint Your Wagon, and The Way West, and the storyboards for the dream sequence in A Man Called Horse. The highly respected New York Art Directors Club, in existence since 1921, has twice honored Lesser for Best Movie Art of the Year and The Society of Illustrators, founded in 1901, has bestowed on him numerous Gold Medals for his paintings.” To date, his work for Hard Case has decorated Lester Dent’s Honey in His Mouth, Max Allan Collins’ Quarry in the Middle, and Jack Clark’s Nobody’s Angel. But over his career, he has created façades for paperback tales by Frank Kane, Erle Stanley Gardner, Jonathan Craig, Richard S. Prather, Harold Q. Masur, Thomas B. Dewey, John D. MacDonald, and others. You’ll find additional selections from his portfolio here.

And of course, the cover of The Love Lush (Pyramid, 1965)--shown above and on the left--was executed by Lesser, as well. It’s an eye-catching piece, featuring a shapely brunette whose deceptive languidness conceals a raw animal energy. (OK, I may be reading a bit much into that art, but I’ve been staring at it for quite a while now.) It’s easy to see why Lesser’s canvases are often mistaken for the work of Robert McGinnis: Both men paint their female subjects with a loving appreciation for intimate details.

The Love Lush first appeared in 1957 under the title Bachelors Anonymous. A 2011 review of the book in Pornokitsch calls it “a novel of two halves. Or, more accurately, it is two completely different novels wrapped in the same cover. The first half is the silly story of ‘Hearts Ahoy’--a group that’s less ‘therapy for sex addicts’ and more an underground guerrilla movement battling the feminist overlords. The second half, called ‘The Three Mr. Browns,’ is a thoroughly serious tale of international espionage. The two are connected by a minor character and the glue of the book’s spine.”

Although you would not recognize it immediately from the byline, author Vivian Connell was a male--“an Irish writer who wrote a number of novels and plays. The Chinese Room (1942) was his biggest popular success, selling over 3 million copies,” reports this page about the late 1960s film adaptation of that book. “It was reprinted a number of times in hardback and paperback. The New Republic (9 November 1942) review said, in part: ‘A curious novel about the private life of a British banker that functions on three levels: as a mystery, as a clinical study of the disintegration and reintegration of a marriage, and as a what-not shelf for the sexy and exotic.’” Kirkus Reviews called The Chinese Room “an uninhibited novel largely about sex, which wanders now and again into perversion, psychiatry, and Oriental eccentricities. The publishers claim affinity with D.H. Lawrence, which might be recognizable only in the very obviously exerted efforts of the characters to find physical passion.”

Connell had previously penned A Man of Parts (1950) and Monte Carlo Mission (1954), the latter of which won him plaudits here as a “master of the sophisticated suspense novel. … Meet Corinna Lang, a goddess of the movies, who was bored with mammoth swimming pools, small MG’s, fat directors, and slim leading men. Bored with the whole great golden illusion of Hollywood, this smart cookie decides a mere vacation in Monte Carlo would be just too tame. She’s looking for adventure, and has the right amount of moxie and courage to take advantage of it when she finds it! Take a journey with this enchanting heroine to the wicked, extravagant Riviera where the golden Corinna, undertaker of a top-secret mission, lives in the shadow of international intrigue, and matches her quick wit with the most dangerous men in Europe.” That sort of yarn sounds a lot more up my alley than The Love Lush, but I still adore Lesser’s cover for the former release.

So let’s move over this week’s second paperback cover, from The Lady Is a Lush, by novelist Orrie Hitt--“the shabby Shakespeare of Vintage Sleazecore.” That novel was published by Beacon in 1960, and this review calls it “a dark one, a very good one.” I’ll leave it to you to read the entire critique, but I do want to quote the last, summarizing paragraph: “Love does not exist in an Orrie Hitt universe. People pretend at love, through the haze of booze and fornication and poverty. ‘Poverty and sex went hand in hand on the South Side’ is one line, and that seems to sum it all up in this bleak but great little lost novel of a lost American literature.” If you’d like to read more, note that in 2012 The Lady Is a Lush was made available in e-book format by Prologue Books. Unfortunately, the “teen romance” cover of that edition pales by comparison to the original, the artwork for which was reportedly unsigned.

Asian Archetypes to Amorous Attractions

Yes, yes, I know: I frequently draw attention to book jackets I’ve spotted in Pulp International. But that’s only because the people who keep that blog up and running (whoever they are--they don’t seem to identify themselves on the site) have such terrific taste. Which means, of course, that their taste is similar to mine.

The latest three posts of note in Pulp International are this one, showcasing “Asian-styled mid-century paperback fronts”; this other one, which focuses on “yet another subset of post-pulp literature”--the hot-rod or racing novel; and a third, looking back at 1970s soft-cover works that boast photographs of British actress-model Gillian Duxbury.

You can thank me later.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Illustrating the “Ultimate Reckoning”

Above is the latest book jacket credited to British artist Matt Taylor, whose illustration for the 2011 Penguin paperback reprint of John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy won that edition top honors in The Rap Sheet’s 2012 Best Crime Novel Cover contest. Haunting, moody, with lovely color contrasts and nice fade-away details at the bottom of the image, this front for the UK version of David Bezmozgis’ The Betrayers (Viking) is even more captivating in relation to Little, Brown’s considerably less inspired U.S. release of Bezmozgis’ novel.

Here’s what Amazon says about the book’s plot:
These incandescent pages give us one fraught, momentous day in the life of Baruch Kotler, a Soviet Jewish dissident who now finds himself a disgraced Israeli politician. When he refuses to back down from a contrary but principled stand regarding the settlements in the West Bank, his political opponents expose his affair with a mistress decades his junior, and the besieged couple escapes to Yalta, the faded Crimean resort of Kotler's youth. There, shockingly, Kotler comes face-to-face with the former friend whose denunciation sent him to the Gulag almost forty years earlier.

In a whirling twenty-four hours, Kotler must face the ultimate reckoning, both with those who have betrayed him and with those whom he has betrayed, including a teenage daughter, a son facing his own moral dilemma in the Israeli army, and the wife who once campaigned to secure his freedom and stood by him through so much.

Stubborn, wry, and self-knowing, Baruch Kotler is one of the great creations of contemporary fiction. An aging man grasping for a final passion, he is drawn inexorably into a crucible that is both personal and biblical in scope.
I haven’t read Bezmozgis’ The Betrayers (which should not be confused with Donald Hamilton’s 1966 thriller of the same name), but Amazon’s write-up doesn’t make it sound like a crime or mystery novel. Which is too bad, because Taylor’s cover (with type design and art direction by Richard Bravery) might otherwise earn this work a place among the rivals for the 2014 Best Crime Novel Cover competition. Perhaps further investigation is needed.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Two-fer Tuesdays: Counterculture Combo

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

I seem to have read a great deal about the 1960s lately, between novels such as John Lawton’s Sweet Sunday and Walter Mosley’s Rose Gold, and Frank Rich’s essay in New York magazine about the troubled year, 1964. So it’s no surprise that my eyes were caught recently by a couple of cover images in my collection that remind me of that era of pot smoking and love-ins and anti-war protests.

First up is The Hippy Cult Murders (MacFadden-Bartell, 1970), by Ray Stanley. Evidently inspired by the twisted tale of Charles Manson, this is more a horror novel than anything else. A blog called The Mighty Blowhole (no, I didn’t make that up) describes its plot this way:
Pure Manson-sploitation in which a charismatic hippie named Waco gets a vision that fear is the greatest power, and the god of fear is Zember. Along with his friend Whitey he plans to gather a family of hippies and impregnate a “pure” girl with the son of Zember. They head off to L.A. where Waco brains a couple of girls with a meat-tenderizing hammer that Zember compelled him to buy, then he carves Z’s on their bodies … Waco slowly starts gathering a group together, targeting homeless teens (mostly girls, who all become group sex objects) and it gets too large to keep living in his bus and tent, so he decides he needs to rent some land. He finances this by murdering some wealthy couples during a wife-swapping orgy, raping and terrorizing them before stabbing them all to death. It all gets to be too much for Whitey, who also resents playing second fiddle to Waco all the time and thinks the “Zember” business is bullshit, so he starts causing trouble. Whitey’s disposition only gets worse when Waco cuts one of his fingers off and gangrene sets in. As cops follow the really sloppy trail Waco’s leaving (he’s too crazy to have much sense about covering his tracks and even does his crimes in a VW bus with flowers painted all over it), Waco’s planning an orgy where he’ll marry a young girl who’s “pure” enough … but Whitey’s fed up and planning to spoil things. There’s plenty of sex, violence, drugs, and weirdness, and it’s lurid enough not to be disappointing even though it’s still pretty restrained and not nearly as graphic as it could have been. The writing is solid, matter-of-fact stuff without a lot of flash to the style but plenty of detail, and it keeps the story compelling. It’s a very hard-to-find book I wouldn’t say it’s worth the crazy prices people are asking for it now (nothing is), but if you find an affordable copy then it’s well-worth the read.
Hmm. I don’t know. I’m still not sold on Stanley’s mass-market paperback, especially after reading this other review that says “The Hippy Cult Murders is not a particularly remarkable or memorable piece of work. It has enough cheap visceral thrills peppered throughout to at least keep you turning the pages, but you also get the feeling that the author (about whom nothing is known) is afraid to get his hands really dirty and take full advantage of all the potential he had at his fingertips.” The same critique notes, though, that the cover art--executed by somebody identified as “O’Brien”--“is a great piece of psychedelic sexual violence.” No question there.

Is it pure coincidence that “O’Brien” is also the last name of the author responsible for our next book? Tom O’Brien, that is. And the novel is Hippie Harlot (Cougar, 1967). I haven’t found much information about this “adults only” yarn, but this page says the story involves a guy named Jim, who has “just been released from the army and returns to his hometown of Patterson, New Jersey, to loaf around while he sets out on his (rather poorly realized) dream of being a writer.
Jim gets to make [passionate love with] a lot of broads before a couple of his friends die, in what passes for a plot in this pretty aimless tale. … There’s no real hippie theme in this book, other than the general desire of the central characters to write bad poetry rather than have to go to work. In fact it’s more of a beat-exploitation novel with its numerous references to hard drinking and hints of socialism. The novel ends with Jim declaring true love for his English-schoolteacher squeeze. Could we get a squarer ending? Bah, give me druggie housewives over this rubbish.
The story may be rubbish, but the cover--featuring a shapely guitar-strumming flower child--is a classic, having been reproduced on posters and refrigerator magnets. This book’s clever and altogether cute backside is no less remarkable. Unfortunately, I don’t see the artist’s name available online. For all I know, it’s “O’Brien,” too.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Month of McGinnis: Happy Halloween!

So we have finally come to the end of Killer Covers’ month-long tribute to American artist-illustrator Robert McGinnis.

When I was planning this project, I imagined posting occasional McGinnis paperback fronts in this blog, beginning on October 1 and continuing just past what was supposed to have been the October 28 release of the handsome new work, The Art of Robert E. McGinnis, by Robert E. McGinnis and Art Scott (Titan). However, it quickly became obvious that there were far too many exceptional choices, and that only daily installments in the series would suffice. Had I known a month ago that publisher Titan would, at the last minute, delay the debut of McGinnis and Scott’s book until November, if not December (due to printing and shipping problems), I would have waited to roll out this series. But I didn’t know, and it’s OK. I believe we have all enjoyed the last 31 days worth of McGinnis illustrations--63 paperback façades in total. And this week’s two-part posting of my interview with co-author Scott--Part I here, Part II here--was a challenge, but most satisfying. Even if I never get the opportunity to meet or talk with the now 88-year-old McGinnis, I have at least recognized the value of his life’s artistic endeavors through this effort.

To close out the series, I’ve been holding onto two Halloween-appropriate covers, both taken from Erle Stanley Gardner and starring his best-known protagonist, defense attorney Perry Mason. Enjoy!

Above: The Case of the Glamorous Ghost, by Erle Stanley Gardner (Pocket, 1962). Below: The Case of the Haunted Husband, by Erle Stanley Gardner (Pocket, 1962).

Incidentally, if you have favorite Robert McGinnis paperback fronts that I haven’t already written about over the last 31 days, please mention them in the Comments section at the end of this post. And if you can provide links to where scans of those covers might found on the Web, that would be great. Thanks so much.

READ MORE:Scaring Up a Finale,” by J. Kingston Pierce
(The Rap Sheet).

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Month of McGinnis: “24 Hours to Kill”

Part of a month-long celebration of Robert McGinnis’ book covers.

24 Hours to Kill, by James McKimmey (Dell, 1961).

McKimmey (1923-2011) was fortunate in having at least two of his paperbacks illustrated by Robert McGinnis. The other one I’m thinking of is The Wrong Ones, which I showcased earlier in this series. Art Scott, the co-author--with McGinnis--of the forthcoming book The Art of Robert E. McGinnis (Titan), remarked to me recently that “24 Hours to Kill gives off a manifest post-coital vibe! I'm surprised Dell let it go. Among the hundreds of sexy women on McGinnis covers this one ratchets up the sex a notch, or two.”

Month of McGinnis: “Leave Cancelled”

Part of a month-long celebration of Robert McGinnis’ book covers.

Leave Cancelled, by Nicholas Monsarrat (Dell, 1962).

Month of McGinnis: “Trouble—Texas Style”

Part of a month-long celebration of Robert McGinnis’ book covers.

Trouble—Texas Style, by John Bramlett, aka John Pierce
(Gold Medal, 1964).

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Month of McGinnis: “Dead Wrong”

Part of a month-long celebration of Robert McGinnis’ book covers.

Dead Wrong, by George Bagby, aka Aaron Marc Stein (Dell, 1960).

Month of McGinnis: “The Dreadful Lemon Sky”

Part of a month-long celebration of Robert McGinnis’ book covers.

The Dreadful Lemon Sky, by John D. MacDonald (Fawcett, 1975).

As Chris Ogle explains in his blog, John D. MacDonald Covers: “This was the Big One. John D MacDonald’s first best seller. This one put him on the map. The book was so popular that Fawcett redesigned every other JDM book in print to promote Lemon, each with the same Seventies-looking font for his name. Robert McGinnis again. Not his best effort ever, but probably one [of] his best known.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Month of McGinnis: “Pop. 1280”

Part of a month-long celebration of Robert McGinnis’ book covers.

Pop. 1280, by Jim Thompson (Gold Medal, 1964).

Cover Affairs

Later today, in The Rap Sheet, I shall post the larger part of an e-mail interview I did recently with Art Scott, who wrote the text for the beautiful new book, The Art of Robert E. McGinnis (Titan). During the course of our exchange, I asked him to identify his 10 favorite paperback covers by artist-illustrator McGinnis. He sent me 12, instead, beginning with one he says “has to be on everybody’s list!”

Brooks Wilson Ltd., by J.M. Ryan (Gold Medal, 1966). McGinnis’ full, fabulous wrap-around artwork is featured here.

Slab Happy, by Richard S. Prather (Fawcett Gold Medal, 1973); Bats Fly at Dusk, by Erle Stanley Gardner (1960).

Judith, by Brian Cleeve (Berkley, 1979); Oh Careless Love, by Maurice Zolotow (Avon, 1959).

The Savage Salome, by Carter Brown (Signet, 1961); Letters from Philippa, by Anne Graham Estern (Bantam Skylark, 1991).

On the Run, by John D. MacDonald (Fawcett, 1963); The Case of the Reluctant Model, by Erle Stanley Gardner (Pocket 1963).

Don’t Speak to Strange Girls, by Harry Whittington (Gold Medal, 1963); Blood on Biscayne Bay, by Brett Halliday (Dell, 1960); below -- Backwoods Teaser, by Gil Brewer (Fawcett, 1960).

Doing Double Duty

If you think the illustration fronting the new book The Art of Robert E. McGinnis (Titan), by Robert E. McGinnis and Art Scott, looks familiar … well, it ought to. That painting of a long-legged blonde seated, with her cigarette and an empty champagne glass, in front of an armed, confident-looking man with a drink was originally used on the 1960 Dell paperback Kill Now, Pay Later, by Robert Kyle (né Robert Terrall)--the third of his five novels featuring New York City private eye Ben Gates. Below, you’ll find that Eisenhower-era cover as well as a scan of McGinnis’ original artwork.

The two images below come from Hard Case Crime’s 2007 edition of Kill Now, Pay Later (this time featuring Terrall’s real name on the front). As in 1960, McGinnis created the artwork. A scan of his original painting for Hard Case is at the bottom of this post.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Month of McGinnis: “Nymph to the Slaughter”

Part of a month-long celebration of Robert McGinnis’ book covers.

Nymph to the Slaughter, by Carter Brown, né Alan G. Yates (Signet, 1963).

Art Scott notes in The Art of Robert E. McGinnis (Titan) that the Brown crime novels represented “a high point in McGinnis’ paperback career. He painted an even one hundred covers, from 1961 to 1972.” You can see other covers from the Carter Brown oeuvre--many featuring McGinnis’ artwork--by clicking here.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Month of McGinnis: Catch As Catch Can

Part of a month-long celebration of Robert McGinnis’ book covers.

Above: Catch a Spy, edited by Marin Allen Karp (Popular Library, 1965). Below: Catch Me a Spy, by George Marton and Tibor Méray (Popular Library, 1969).