Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Two-fer Tuesdays: Title Shots

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 week’s classic cover convergence hinges on two very different definitions of the word “shot.”

Looking to the left, above, you’ll find the front from the 1960 Avon softcover edition of All Shot Up, Chester Himes’ fourth novel featuring black Harlem police detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones (characters introduced in 1959’s A Rage in Harlem). The tale finds our badass heroes investigating a wild hit-and-run accident as well as a deadly shoot-out at a gay bar, the latter of which sends them off to question living drag queens and look into the colorful backgrounds of their deceased rivals. In a recent--and rather profane--critique of All Shot Up, the blog Alpha-60 Books (yes, that’s a new one to me too) says:
Chaotic stuff, fucking bloody mayhem racing relentlessly with a blinding pace. Hard to follow at times (especially at [the] start) but nevertheless immensely enjoyable to read. Story just sticks together and at times it seems that [the] glue that keeps everything from falling apart is violence. It’s [a] continuous thread throughout the novel but it’s far from some glorified and over-the-top cheap shit. Very realistic and believable.
The handsome artwork for the façade of this Avon paperback was done by George Ziel (né Jerzy Zielezinski), a Polish-born Holocaust survivor who relocated to the States after World War II and soon found employment as a commercial illustrator. But Ziel “came bursting out of the gate in the mid-1950s with a series of earthy, sensual covers that demanded our attention,” according to a piece by bookseller and vintage books historian Lynn Monroe. “Many of them featured a cover model who had an African American look about her.” Ziel wound up creating numerous fronts for Avon, not only decorating novels by Himes, but also showing up on yarns by Leslie Charteris, Day Keene, Rex Stout, Gypsy Rose Lee, and others.

Now on to that second image embedded above, on the right. It uses the word “shot” in the sense of “an opportunity”--in this case, the prospect of scoring big betting on racehorses. A Kirkus Reviews summation of the plot of David Mark’s Long Shot (published originally in 1955 as The Long Chance) says it
follows Evan Loeser backwards and forwards through the gambling passion that dominates him to the point of near madness. A boy of great promise determined on acting, his weaknesses are known to his mom--and are the cause of her death; malnutrition brings him to Ruth, whom he marries; an office party, in which he plays the fool introduces him to Carol; … his money and his love for horses, puts Katy in his life--and he cheats, robs, lies and playacts for all of them for the sake of the kill--that never comes, except in tantalizing dribbles. This opening day of a new season is his chance to redeem--debts, the windup of his marriage, his relation[ship] with Carol--and himself, and as his bets go wrong, right, and totally wrong he is on his way out to a night of more lies, crazed attempts to borrow, grandiose plans--and a return to the track the next morning on stolen money.
The illustration that introduces this 1959 Dell paperback release of Long Shot has often been miscredited as the work of Robert McGinnis; it was actually done by the talented Mitchell Hooks, about whom I have written several times on this page, including here.

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