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.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

A Worthy Coupling of Talents

If it seems I’ve spent a lot of time here recently writing about the works of Ross Macdonald … well, there’s a good reason, as will become clear soon enough. Meanwhile, I want to draw your attention to the cover above, from Bantam Books’ 1968 edition of The Three Roads, by Ross Macdonald. This standalone novel was originally published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1948 under Macdonald’s real name, Kenneth Millar. It was his fourth book, after 1947’s Blue City.

Would you be surprised to learn that the cover painting on this edition of The Three Roads was done by Robert McGinnis? I certainly was, when informed of that fact by McGinnis biographer Art Scott. He records this as the only book front McGinnis created specifically for a Macdonald work (though other McGinnis paintings, especially those he did for M.E. Chaber’s Milo March series in the early 1970s, found their way onto European editions of Macdonald’s work). Scott tells me that The Three Roads was “one of my early triumphs as a McGinnis spotter. No signature, no credit, and certainly not a typical McGinnis design or look, but I felt a McGinnis vibe nevertheless.”

The rear cover of this paperback can be enjoyed here. Click here and here to see earlier editions of The Three Roads.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Because I Needed a Highsmith Fix …

Deep Water, by Patricia Highsmith (Great Pan, 1961).
Cover illustration by Sam “Peff” Peffer.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Another Look: “The Big Cage”

Warning: Artistic inspiration drawn from book titles may vary.

Left: The Big Cage, by Robert Lowry (Popular Giant, 1952), with cover art by Rafael de Soto. Right: The Big Cage, by Robert Lowry (Popular Special, 1959); cover painting by Robert Maguire.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

That’s What I Call a Body of Work

While doing some research recently on American private-eye novelist Ross Macdonald (aka Kenneth Millar), I realized that among the scans housed in my computer was a profusion of semi-provocative covers produced during the 1970s by British publisher Fontana, the paperback imprint of William Collins, Sons.

The ’70s was not necessarily a great period of UK book-cover design. Photographs—many of them featuring carefully arranged props such as guns, opened file folders, knives, skulls, and apparent corpses—were rapidly replacing more classic but expensive painted illustrations on crime, mystery and thriller novels, giving the lot a largely disappointing homogeneity. Because those books were then still marketed primarily to male readers, negligibly clothed women were also a recurring feature.

Fontana’s Macdonald line—all of the books starring his series protagonist, Los Angeles gumshoe Lew Archer—employed lovely young females, too, though its focus was tighter than usual. As Nick Jones explained several years ago in his blog, Existential Ennui, most of those Archer books boasted “variations on the same titillating theme of a close-up of part of a woman’s body in conjunction with a target or a gun or a badge or somesuch.” The props were clearly identifiable; occasionally, the anatomical backdrop was less so.

I own a good-sized collection of Bantam Books’ Ross Macdonald paperbacks from the 1970s, but none of the Fontana editions shown above and below are in my possession. At least not yet.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Another Look: Happy Valentine’s Day!

Warning: Artistic inspiration drawn from book titles may vary.

Left: The Case of the Lazy Lover, by Erle Stanley Gardner (Pocket, 1952), with cover art by Clyde Ross. Right: The Case of the Lazy Lover, by Erle Stanley Gardner (Pocket Cardinal, 1958); cover illustration by Mitchell Hooks.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Because I Needed a MacDonald Fix …

The Lethal Sex, edited by John D. MacDonald (Dell, 1959).
Cover illustration by Robert McGinnis.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Another Look: “The Deadly Pick-up”

Warning: Artistic inspiration drawn from book titles may vary.

Left: The Deadly Pick-up, by Milton K. Ozaki (Graphic, 1954); cover illustrator unknown. Right: The Deadly Pick-up, by Milton K. Ozaki (Berkley Diamond, 1960); cover art by Rudy Nappi.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Happy Birthday, Robert McGinnis!

Above: Revenge, by Jack Ehrlich (Dell, 1958). Below right: The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper, by John D. MacDonald (Fawcett Gold Medal, 1981), the 10th Travis McGee novel.

Not everybody lives to be 93 years old. But that’s the age renowned Ohio-born artist-illustrator Robert McGinnis will turn this coming Sunday, February 3. To celebrate this occasion, I’ve composed a small tribute to McGinnis for CrimeReads. You will find that here.

The piece is enhanced with almost 40 scans of covers McGinnis has painted over the last 60 years for crime, mystery, thriller, and suspense novels. Believe it or not, that’s a paltry selection, compared with this artist’s full output. As I explain in the article,
[McGinnis] has produced more than 1,000 unique paintings employed on American paperback book covers. His works are distinguished by their precise use of color, the artist’s preference for portraiture over depicting story scenes, and especially the lithe and luscious women who are so often the focal point of his canvases. Women whom Vanity Fair once described as “a mix of Greek goddess and man-eating Ursula Andress.”
I own several stacks of McGinnis-illustrated paperbacks, and my computer files contain scans of hundreds more. Choosing just over three dozen prime examples to help readers understand the range and distinction of McGinnis’ artistry was no elementary task, and I kept adding and subtracting until I decided I’d found the right combination.

Some of the book fronts I dropped (with regret) in my concluding round of cutting have been used to illustrate this post.

A handful of the scans I’ve employed in CrimeReads came from Art Scott, an erstwhile California chemist turned author, who co-wrote—with the painter himself—2014’s The Art of Robert E. McGinnis (Titan). As Scott told me during an interview I conducted with him at the time that gorgeous hardcover publication saw print, he’s a “compulsive collector” of McGinnis’ book covers. When I spoke with him five years ago, he estimated the number of those works in his collection at 1,088. More recently, he updated that count:
The number is now 1,101. Last entry is So Many Doors, the [Hard Case Crime release] by Oakley Hall—the [Robert] Maguire-McGinnis “collaboration.” I think I’m current with all books issued since the 1,088 number, but there’s always a chance I missed a book somewhere. There are four paperbacks—two Avon Gothics and two Dells—that are on my Desperately Needing Upgrade shortlist. Were there time and funds enough, I could chase foreign paperback editions forever, but I have to be content with occasionally getting on Google Images and similar sites to download interesting foreign covers—[which] reprint, and sometimes mangle, Bob’s original paintings.
I have done my best to not mangle any of the images used in today’s CrimeReads salute to one of the foremost American paperback illustrators. Click here to read it.

Left: Flush Times, by Warren Miller (Fawcett Crest, 1963); click here to see the original painting. Right: The Case of the Duplicate Daughter, by Erle Stanley Gardner (Pocket, 1962).

Left: Daily Bread, by Ralph Moloney (Fawcett Crest, 1961). Right: No More Dying Then, by Ruth Rendell (Bantam, 1974). I, for one, did not remember that McGinnis had created any covers for Rendell’s novels; this is apparently the only one.

Left: No Place to Hide, by Charles Runyon (Fawcett Gold Medal, 1970). Right: The Left Leg, by “Alice Tilton,” aka Phoebe Atwood Taylor (Popular Library, 1968).

Left: Take a Murder, Darling, by Richard S. Prather (Fawcett Gold Medal, 1965). Right: Never Kill a Client, by “Brett Halliday,” aka Davis Dresser (Dell, 1963).

Left: Death Comes Early, by William R. Cox (Dell, 1961).
Right: W.H.O.R.E., by “Carter Brown,” aka Alan Geoffrey Yates (Signet, 1971).