Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Two-fer Tuesdays: Undressed for Distress

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

Yes, I know it wasn’t long ago that I highlighted toplessness in this series; and even more recently that I promoted some sandy salaciousness on this same page. But so numerous are vintage crime novels fronted by bared lovelies, that it would be a disservice to the intent of this blog not to focus on such art now and then.

Don’t you agree?

So, let us begin on the left, above, with Murder in the Nude, a 1968 Greenleaf/Companion Books soft-porn release credited to “John Dexter.” Dexter, however, was a house name employed by now-renowned authors on the order of Robert Silverberg, Lawrence Block, Harry Whittington, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Donald E. Westlake, and several others. The Dexter paperbacks tended to boast unabashedly suggestive titles such as Miami Call Girl, The Bra Peddlers, Sharing Sharon, and Sin Cycle--not exactly the sort of material one wanted to be seen reading aboard subways or in doctors’ waiting rooms. Most of those works were poorly illustrated, with fronts that one could imagine a first-year art student concocting. By comparison, the cover of Murder in the Nude is fit for hanging in the Louvre. It was apparently the work of artist Robert Bonfils, who--according to this Web site--“started his illustration career in Chicago in the mid-fifties, doing various commercial art assignments such as advertisements, lunch box decorations, catalog illustrations, magazine covers, interior story illustrations, record jacket covers, and book covers.” Bonfils’ efforts in that last category are as lustful as they are plentiful, and have been amply collected on the Web, including here, here, and here.

To the right of Bonfils’ cover, you will find Murder in the Raw, William Campbell Gault’s first novel featuring Los Angeles athlete-turned-gumshoe Brock Callahan. That tale was originally marketed in 1955 as Ring Around the Rosa. E-book publisher Prologue Books, which in 2012 made Murder in the Raw available in electronic formats, offers this teaser about the novel’s plot:
Stripped for Murder

She was a night club stripper, a black-haired, white skinned beauty, an all-out performer few men could resist. When she came on, wolf whistles drowned out the music.

And she was the kind of gal who loved her work. Something had to be wrong when she didn’t show one night. In fact, she didn’t show her face--or anything else--for quite a while.

She had good reason to hide. Because she’d beat it from a shady, hot-pillow motel, where the other occupant of her bedroom was a dead man!
Admittedly, that’s not much information to help one decide whether to purchase a new book. But in this post, blogger Peter Rozovsky of Detectives Beyond Borders adds that “The protagonist, Brock Callahan, is a former football player just starting out as a private investigator. He’s boiled, but not too hard. He waxes bitter toward a police officer friend, but he never lapses into moodiness, isolation, or self-destruction. The self-deprecating wit never goes over the top; I haven’t laughed out loud yet, but I’ve enjoyed every joke. None has been off-target.

“Callahan and his creator walk firmly in the middle of the hard-boiled road, and the book has me considering, for the first time in my career as a crime reader, the delights of competence and professionalism.”

Then, of course, there’s the cover of Murder in the Raw. It’s another one credited to the great Victor Kalin, who I’ve noted before was one of “the mainstays of mystery cover art for [publishers] Dell and Berkley in the 1960s.” Although this one is nowhere near as captivating as some of his other fronts, including those of A Real Gone Guy, Nightmare, and Suddenly a Corpse, Kalin’s use of the dead woman’s reflection on Murder in the Raw is really rather haunting.

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