Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Peerless Pairing

Anyone who has followed my crime-fiction reporting for a while knows what an enthusiastic fan I am of both detective-turned-author Dashiell Hammett and book cover artist Harry Bennett (1919-2012). So I was thrilled to discover that those two men had once worked together. Well, sort of. In 1961--the same year the creator of private eyes Sam Spade and the Continental Op went to his grave at age 66--Permabooks released new paperback editions of all five of Hammett’s novels, from Red Harvest (1929) to The Thin Man (1934), with Bennett-painted fronts. This represented a beautiful combination of talents, one that I thought worth sharing here.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Friday Finds: “Murder in the Wind”

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

Murder in the Wind, by John D. MacDonald (Dell, 1956).
Illustration by George Gross.

You should have no difficulty guessing what inspired this week’s “Find.” That’s right, it’s Hurricane Joaquin, the 10th named storm of the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season. As I compose this post, Joaquin has pretty much stalled over the Bahamas, battering those islands with gales and downpours, but it still threatens America’s East Coast with “heavy rain and potential flooding” in days to come.

John D. MacDonald’s Murder in the Wind (1956, also printed as Hurricane) is set in Florida, and it’s one of several novels he wrote about people thrown together by adversity--with dangerous results. Steve Scott, who writes the exceptional MacDonald blog, A Trap of Solid Gold, outlines the book’s plot this way:
Six carloads of people--two driving solo while the rest [come] in cars of twos, threes and fours--are driving north on Florida Route 19 above Tampa, all on business, personal or otherwise, that will take them out of the state. They are a random group who are still strangers to each other, and like MacDonald’s previous novels with a similar structure, all are moving by automobile. The “adversity” here is Hurricane Hilda, which is forming itself into a storm of historic strength far out in the Gulf of Mexico, a fact nearly unknown to all in the pre-weather satellite days of 1956. By the time they have reached the Waccasassa River the bridge there is out and they are directed down a remote bypass road that passes an old, rambling and now deserted house. With the storm increasing in strength and passing directly over them, they can go no further and all seek shelter in the abandoned house. …

In virtually all of MacDonald's multi-character novels there is a criminal element, and
Murder in the Wind is no exception. Among the author’s little group of cars heading north is a stolen panel truck containing three young bad guys, two males and a female.
All of the ingredients for reader engagement are here, including murder. But Scott says Macdonald set himself a bigger challenge with this tale than simply driving readers to the edges of their seats.
MacDonald is at pains to prove the plausibility of such a strong storm, years before names like Donna, Andrew and Katrina were written in history, providing a brief “Author’s Note” at the beginning of the book and interspersing the narrative with omniscient updates on the track and power of the storm. And while it is obvious to the reader that the hurricane and the characters will eventually “meet,” Murder in the Wind is primarily a suspense novel, with the tension provided by the deep characterization created by the author. I’ve written endlessly in this blog about how MacDonald’s apprenticeship as a short-story writer made him the perfect author for these kinds of multi-character tales, and nowhere is that more true than in this novel. All of the characters--roughly ten in all--are each given a history and background as interesting and as engaging as any in his best shorter works, and it is through this incredibly detailed characterization that MacDonald drives narrative, that attribute of fiction he held in the highest esteem.
Three years ago, Deep South Magazine, an online publication, posted a list of “books to read during a hurricane.” It included a better-remembered MacDonald work, Cape Fear (originally published in 1957 as The Executioners). The editors could just as well, though, have selected Murder in the Wind, which acclaimed author and critic Ed Gorman has named as one of his “10 Favorite John D. MacDonald Standalone Novels.” (Topping Gorman’s list is 1953’s Dead Low Tide; Murder in the Wind ranks fourth.) And had they been in possession of the 1956 original-edition paperback of Murder in the Wind, MacDonald’s 18th novel--shown at the top of this post--they might have been persuaded to do exactly that. It certainly boasts a striking cover, with an attractive brunette obviously at risk from escalating currents. Responsible for the illustration was George Gross (1909-2003), about whom I have written before on this page, and whose range of paperback artistry can be enjoyed here.

BONUS: Over the last several decades some other noteworthy illustrators have taken cracks at creating captivating covers for Murder in the Wind. The front on the left, for instance, was painted by Robert K. Abbett and appeared on the 1960 Dell edition, while the one shown on the right, from the 1965 Fawcett edition of MacDonald’s novel, features an illustration by Robert McGinnis.

Very Mixed Messages

This is an interesting article, from Flavorwire, in which a “kindergarten mom” wrestles with her fondness for the sexy cover of her new novel, knowing that someday soon she’ll have to explain to her daughter why that imagery is exploitative and inappropriate.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

More Eye Candy from Kane

Earlier this week I gave big play on this page to the 1958 Avon Books edition of Fistful of Death, Henry Kane’s ninth novel to star swinging Manhattan private eye Peter Chambers, with a cover illustration by Raymond Johnson. But there’s another paperback version of the same work that I actually prefer. Shown below, it was released in 1965 by Signet, and the painting on its front was done by Ron Lesser.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Duped: “A Fistful of Death”

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

Crime novelist Henry Kane (1908-1988) has always pissed me off. Just a wee bit. While the rest of the 20th-century fiction-writing world easily adopted terms such as “private eye” (inspired, presumably, by the Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency’s original logo, featuring an unblinking human eye above the slogan “We Never Sleep”), “private investigator” (aka P.I.), and “gumshoe” when referring to those myriad determined, frequently down-on-their luck, and sometimes intoxicated freelance sleuths assigned to solve imaginary mysteries and rescue comely dames in danger, Kane habitually referred to them as “private richards.” I assume this was intended as a witty twist on “private dick,” but it comes off as a silly affectation. Whether Kane was the sole detective-fictionist to employ this cognomen, I don’t know (he may simply have been the only one to not deliver it with a broad wink), but I’m always stopped cold when I stumble across the term in one of his stories, be it a Peter Chambers mystery or his 1960 TV tie-in novel, Peter Gunn. (It has been said--by no less than Lawrence Block--that Chambers was actually the inspiration for Blake Edwards’ jazz-loving shamus.)

The fashionable, swinging Mr. Chambers made his debut in 1947’s A Halo for Nobody, and managed to keep up his popular run (as well as his pursuit of curvaceous women) through dozens of short stories, a 1954 radio series titled Crime and Peter Chambers (starring Dane Clark), and at least 29 novels, including A Corpse for Christmas (1951), Too French and Too Deadly (1955), Death of a Flack (1961), and Nobody Loves a Loser (1963). “Chambers’ adventures are usually set in New York,” explains Prologue Books, which has re-released a number of them in print and e-book versions. “His secretary, Miranda Foxworth, is ‘built like an old-fashioned icebox but colder.’ Pete frequents Trennan’s Dark Morning Tavern, a local bar. Chambers characterizes himself as, ‘A wiseguy private eye. Talks hard with the tough guys, purrs with the ladies. All the girls fall for him. You know, like what you read about.’ Needless to say, one of Chambers’ distinguishing traits is his sense of humor and love for word play. … In 1969, with the sexual revolution beginning and censorship regulations loosening, Peter Chambers joined right in, and became one of the first X-rated private eyes. These novels were published by Lancer books, a softcore publishing house, and began with Don’t Call Me Madame (1969). Later titles include The Shack Job (1969), The Glow Job (1971), and The Tail Job (1971).”

Fistful of Death was the ninth entry in Kane’s Chambers series. I don’t own a copy, but Prologue offers this brief plot synopsis:
The proposition sounded like a pushover. All Peter Chambers had to do was find out where a teen-aged chorine had been for the past month and why. And for that information the girl's father, a prosperous banker, would pay Chambers a cool thousand dollars. It was a quick way to earn some easy money. So Chambers thought … until he found out that the fistful of cash carried a little something extra along with it--A FISTFUL OF DEATH.
The cover shown at the top of this post was taken from the apparently original, 1958 Avon Books version of Fistful of Death. It features an illustration by Raymond Johnson, whose artwork I have periodically showcased in Killer Covers, but about whom I can find little background information on the Web. (If anyone out there knows more about his life or career, please drop me a line).

That same Johnson painting was employed--only in reverse--a year later by UK publisher Panther Books on its paperback edition of The Deadly Miss Ashley, a novel that had first been brought out by Doubleday & Company in 1950. When it debuted, The Deadly Miss Ashley carried the byline of Frederick C. (1902-1977), a pulp writer who, being quite prolific, also wrote as “Murdo Coombs,” “Curtis Steele,” and “Stephen Ransome.” Panther’s version of the novel, displayed on the right, carries the Ransome pseudonym.

The Deadly Miss Ashley was the opening entry in Davis/Ransome’s series starring Luke Speare, the brains behind the New York City-based Cole Detective Agency, and his boss, Schyler Cole. In this one, notes the blog Pulp International, “Miss Ashley is actually a missing person who Cole and Speare need to locate.” The pair went on to lead five more novels, among them Another Morgue Heard From (1954). Not bad for a couple of fly-by-the-seat-of-their-britches private eyes. Or should I say, private richards?

Kinda Fonda This One

Klute, the crime thriller motion-picture starring Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda, was released on June 25, 1971--slightly over 45 years ago--but just recently, it has enjoyed quite a bit of notice in Andrew Nette’s Pulp Curry blog. Here he recalls the story line and characterizations. But equally importantly, at least for Killer Covers followers, are his other two posts: this one about the U.S. paperback tie-in to Klute and its prolific author, William Johnston; and this other one about UK versions of that same novelization.

READ MORE:Too Klute for Words” (Pulp International).

Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday Finds: “Bitter Ending”

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

Bitter Ending, by Alexander Irving (Dell, 1949).
Illustration by F. Kenwood Giles.

According to this post in the Mystery*File blog, “Alexander Irving” was a male nom de plume behind which labored two female writers, Anne Fahrenkopf (1921-2006) and Ruth Fox (1922-1980). Bitter Ending appears to have been their first collaborative work of fiction, published originally by Dodd, Mead & Company in 1946. It introduced readers to physician-cum-sleuth Dr. Anthony Post--“a not very likeable hero,” as one Amazon customer review puts it--who in this particular story investigates murder in a medical school. The same Amazon contributor explains that Bitter Ending “has all of the rules of the Golden Age and a surprise killer.”

Post went on to star in two other novels, Deadline (1947) and Symphony in Two Time (1948), the latter of which builds around the calculated poisonings of musicians.

A search through the wilds of the Web suggests that F. (for Frederick) Kenwood Giles, who created the altogether menacing artwork fronting this edition of Bitter Ending, was born in London, England, around 1901 and may have lived for a while in the Australian state of Victoria. During the late 1940s and early ’50s, he painted covers for an assortment of Dell paperbacks, some of which are seen here.

Click here to find the “mapback cover” of Bitter Ending.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Importance of Backing Ernest

Floating Bedroom, by Seymour Shubin (Beacon, 1963). Ernest Chiriacka’s original artwork can be enjoyed here.

Over the years that I’ve been collecting vintage paperbacks and writing about them in Killer Covers, I have become a big fan of artist Ernest Chiriacka, who commonly signed himself “Darcy” on his work (but was actually born Anastassios Kyriakakos). His illustrations are included in a variety of this blog’s galleries, and are featured in several posts, such as this one, this one, this one, and this one, too. When Chiriacka died in April 2010, at age 96, I assembled a tribute to his artistry that showcased 15 of his exceptional book fronts.

But in the years since, my file of Darcy covers has expanded greatly. So I decided today to beef up that 2010 post, expanding the number of images to 55. That still doesn’t exhaust the array of Chiriacka’s book illustrations, but it puts a pretty decent dent in it. And I feel happy to once more celebrate this great painter’s efforts.

You will find the revised post here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Two-fer Tuesdays: Well, Which One Is It?

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 don’t think I’d ever paid much attention to author Delano Ames (1906-1987) before this week, but as it turns out, he was quite popular in his time. According to this page produced by Ohio’s Knox County Historical Society, the prolific Ames was one of the central Buckeye State’s “truly famous fiction writers. … He wrote stories and articles for British magazines and had at least 25 books published. He is best known for his mystery fiction. Ames’ novels were set in England and France and usually starred detectives Jane and Dagobert Brown … His novels are considered sophisticated and well done, and they are now very collectible.”

She Shall Have Murder (1948) introduced amateur sleuth Dagobert Brown, described as something of a black sheep born into a titled English family, and his partner (later spouse) Jane Hamish, a secretary and writer. They went on to star in 11 more lightweight but reportedly pleasant mysteries, concluding with 1959’s Lucky Jane. Nobody Wore Black was the fourth installment in Ames’s series, first published in 1950 under the title Death of a Fellow Traveler. The edition shown above and on the left was released in 1952 by Dell Books, with cover art by Robert Stanley.

(Left) "Mapback cover" of Nobody Wore Black. Click for an enlargement.

Publisher Rue Morgue Press explains that, unlike some husband-and-wife detecting teams, “the Browns were pretty much intellectual equals and if Jane rushed into places no smart woman would go … well, she knew that, thank you, but someone had to do it. And, besides, why should Dagobert get to have all the fun?” In Nobody Wore Black, Dagobert (what a moniker!) encourages his ever-lovin’ to pen another new thriller novel to keep their financial house from collapsing. The project sends them off to “windswept Cornwall,” England, as critic Yvette Banek writes in this blog post. And what’s the crime to which this pair will inevitably turn their imaginations?
A rather unlikable fellow traveler has fallen off a cliff and remains unmourned by all and sundry. Was the fall an accident? A suicide? Murder most foul? What do you think?

Questions that plague: Why is the victim’s sister so oddly nervous? Why is her devoted hubby so calm? Come to think of it, explain this marriage please. And oh by the way, why is that beautiful young actress (travelling with her director and filming a few scenes for her latest movie along the way) so obviously unsettled? Why is the voluptuous proprietor of the pub so skittish? Why is her lout of a boyfriend (a local farmer) so jealous? Why is his frowzy mother so talkative? And what about those two obstreperous harlequin Great Danes?

This time out Dagobert faces a definite moral quandary and just when he thinks he’s found the way out, turns out, he hasn’t.
Banek, a onetime January Magazine contributor, has also reviewed four other Jane and Dagobert Brown mysteries here.

Now let’s turn our attention to this week’s other cover, from the 1951 Popular Library edition of My Love Wears Black, penned by South Carolina-born journalist-turned-laywer-turned-author Octavus Roy Cohen (1891-1959). It’s not one of Cohen’s better-known books starring corpulent, fish-eyed Jim Hanvey, who’s described by The Thrilling Detective Web Site as “an intriguing combination of Jed Clampett and Sam Spade, part-conman, and full-time good ol’ boy.” Instead, My Love Wears Black--which was originally published by Macmillan in 1948--gives us a police protagonist, Lieutenant Marty Walsh, in a yarn that Kirkus Reviews described as “a suave, sophisticated Hollywood murder with lots of drinking, love and sleuthing, as a real-estate agent and his actress girlfriend … get caught up in a homicide case that points straight at them.” Walsh went on to lead at least two more Cohen novels, More Beautiful Than Murder (1948) and A Bullet for My Love (1950).

Regrettably, the lovely, mysterious illustration decorating the façade of My Love Wears Black is uncredited.

Four Play

• I’ve periodically happened across Web mentions of the Trevor Anderson, Agent 0008, series of “spy-fi smut” paperbacks, which were published during the 1960s and illustrated primarily by Robert Bonfils. But only this last weekend did I discover that the Pulp Covers Web site showcases the majority of those books in all their ribald, sometimes comical glory. In case you don’t know about Anderson, he’s the 30-something top agent for SADISTO (Security and Administration Division of the Institute for Special Tactical Operations), a man “in exceptionally good physical condition, which not only gives him the ability to use his considerable sexual abilities to work miracles in the field but keeps him constantly desiring more escapades, both dangerous and erotic.” (Any resemblance to Ted Mark’s The Man from O.R.G.Y. tales is, of course, purely coincidental.) There were apparently 20 Agent 0008 novels, all credited to Clyde Allison, a pseudonym employed by one William Henley Knoles, who’s been called “the greatest unknown writer of our time, and that’s exactly how he wanted it.” The Agent 0008 book fronts--which you can begin scrolling through here--bear titles (such as Gamefinger, From Rapture with Love, Nautipuss, and For Your Sighs Only) that make clear their intention to capitalize on the popularity of Ian Fleming’s James Bond thrillers. But they also represent some of Bonfils’ best work, and most include hand-lettered titles by Harry Bremner.

• Speaking of Pulp Covers, I had cause to visit that site again yesterday. I’d recently found this piece by Joe Kenney in his blog, Glorious Trash, about the 1957 novel Meet Morocco Jones in the Case of the Syndicate Hoods, written by Jack Baynes (aka Bertram B. Fowler). There were only four entries in Baynes’ series starring Chicago private eye Morocco Jones, described by The Thrilling Detective Web Site as a man “whose mind is as sharp as the edge of lightning--whose fists are as deadly as a forty-five--and whose morals---well, the less said the better.” However, their Crest Book editions were all illustrated by Barye Phillips. Glorious Trash offers the front from Meet Morocco Jones in the Case of the Syndicate Hoods, while Pulp Covers highlights the other three titles.

You just have to love these Anthony Rome paperbacks!

• Artist Charles McVicar’s name came up in a Killer Covers post I wrote back in June having to do with his painting for the front of The Search for Tabatha Carr (1964). I’m reminded of him once more, thanks to the excellent TV history Web site Television Obscurities, which this week is rolling out write-ups about small-screen publicity posters from 1978. “To promote its Fall 1978 line-up,” the site explains, “ABC commissioned a series of seven posters--one for each night of the week--depicting characters from its new and returning shows.” So far, both of the posters presented--for Sunday and Monday--have featured McVicar’s signature. Check back later this week with Television Obscurities to see the whole set.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Class and No Class

With American youths heading back to school this month after an extraordinarily hot summer break, it’s no wonder that my thoughts have turned recently to education-related novel fronts. I hadn’t realized before just how numerous are the books containing stories about lecherous teachers, randy parents, and even more promiscuous students. The majority of these, of course, are wild fantasies; few of us, I’m sure, ever faced in high school or college the sorts of dangers and cavalier concupiscence portrayed in the paperback works showcased below (or those I’ve mentioned in a couple of previous posts--here and here). Yet the fact that such tales of illicit behavior have seen print might explain why some parents--especially those of the more conservative, fearful sort--worry their young’uns could be susceptible to iniquitous blandishments if let loose within our institutions of higher learning.

The façade atop this post comes from Teacher’s Pet, a 1963 Midwood release credited to Mark Clements, who was also the author of such male-directed non-classics as Love or Lust (1964), Wayward Wife (1965), and Winner Take All (1965). It’s obvious by reading the come-on line on Teacher’s Pet (“Judy stayed after class for special tutoring … and earned her diploma the easy way!”) that this is a novel one would’ve found stored away in gloomy back rooms of bookshops or under the counter at newsstands. Yet its cover art (which you can see here in its totality) is at once magnetic and intended to make heterosexual men like me squirm, as we recognize that we’re probably old enough to have fathered that busty seductress. The artist responsible for this image was Paul Rader (1906-1986), whose cover illustrations for publishers such as Midwood, All Star, and Bee-Line deserve not only to be honored, but immortalized, at least in my humble opinion. (Why isn’t there a book handsomely showcasing Rader’s art, the way there are collections of art by Robert McGinnis, Robert Maguire, James Avati, and others?) Rader also created several of the other book fronts featured below: Campus Kittens, The Yes Girl, The Time and Place, After Class, Girls Dormitory, Private Party, High School Rebel/Coolest Girl, and Faculty Wife.

Among the other artists represented here are Clark Hulings (The Blackboard Jungle), Tom Miller (Campus Lovers and Campus Doll, both of which were written pseudonymously by Donald E. Westlake), Earle Bergey (Campus Town), Ernest Chiriacka, aka Darcy (The Strange Co-Ed), Robert Bonfils (Diploma of Passion, Campus Chippies, Sex Scholar, Campus Cheat, School of Desire, and The Wild Ones), Robert Maguire (Harrison High, Dormitory Women, and After Innocence), Len Goldberg (Coeds Three), Clement Micarelli (Girls’ Dormitory), Robert McGinnis (Night School), Rafael de Soto (The Sorority Girls), Harry Schaare (Mystery Walks the Campus), Victor Olson (Campus Call Girl), Bernard Safran (Co-Ed Sinners), Stanley Zuckerberg (The Disguises of Love), James Meese (The Mean Streets), Fred Fixler (The Athletic Coach), and James Avati (Tea and Sympathy). Unfortunately, one of my favorite covers among this bunch, from Amy Harris’ Prize Pupil (1966) isn’t credited, though its original painting can be appreciated here. Some of these façades lack much sophistication (College for Sinners, for instance, or Campus Sin Kitten), but the vast majority give new meaning to the term “learning curves.”

Click on any of these images to open an enlargement.