“If you ever run across a copy of A Night for Screaming, don’t pass it up,” Texas novelist Bill Crider wrote in his blog several years back. “You’ll be sorry if you do. It’s a dandy story, and it has a great cover, besides.” Having not yet read this book by the prolific Harry Whittington, the oft-heralded “King of the Paperbacks,” I can’t attest to its exceptionalness as a work of fiction, but I certainly agree that the 1960 Ace Books edition boasts an exquisite front. It shows a blonde in red, fleeing across an open field at night with a gun in one hand, pursued by a speeding car, its headlights separating her from the darkness. Any moment, it seems likely that the vehicle will overtake her--with predictably messy results.
The blog Battered, Tattered, Yellowed & Creased describes the plot of this book (which can be purchased in a newer edition from Stark House Press) as follows:
Mitch Walker is on the run for a crime he didn’t commit. As a rookie cop, the last thing he wants is for his partner to beat a confession out of him, so he’s fled to the farmlands of Kansas in hopes of escape. Broke, down on his luck, and with the local police after him for panhandling, Mitch takes a chance and signs on to a local farm as a laborer--a sprawling farmstead that’s half volunteer, half county prison. The farm owner is a rather intense nutjob, his wife is a loose woman, the foreman is oblivious to the racketeering run by the abusive straw-bosses. And stuck right in the middle is Mitch, with his old partner still on his trail …Responsibility for the Ace cover art has been left ambiguous by online sources, most of which say it is simply “uncredited.” I dropped an e-mail note to Crider, asking him whether the illustrator is identified on the outside or inside of the copy in his possession, and he sent this reply: “I’ve looked at the cover with a magnifying glass, and unless the artist’s name is well-concealed in the grass, it’s just not there. There’s no credit given anywhere in the book, either.”
However, a subsequent bit of detective work by Crider turned up this Web page naming Robert Maguire as the person behind A Night for Screaming’s façade. Furthermore, the official R.A. Maguire Cover Art gallery maintained online by his daughter, Lynn, includes that paperback front among its offerings. It’s odd that this cover doesn’t also appear in Jim Silke’s fine 2009 work, Dames, Dolls, and Gun Molls: The Art of Robert A. Maguire. But at least until further evidence is brought forward, we can defend our presumption that Maguire was the painter. It does seem to display his talent.
Significantly less in question is Harry Bennett’s credit for having created the front for the 1963 Gold Medal paperback edition of Alone at Night, by Vin Packer (aka Marijane Meaker). Again, I’ve not read this book, but U.S. publisher Prologue--which reissued the novel in paperback last year--characterizes its storyline this way:
On their first night Carrie had been nervous, and Slater had tried to think of some way to make it easier for her, to show her how fine and free it could be. But the moment they'd stepped into the cabin, she had undressed, matter-of-factly, a cigarette dangling from her lips. Her body was white and incredibly lovely, and Slater had felt desire engulf him. He had held her, hungrily, and hardly listed to the one thing she’d said. “I don't think I’ll be much good at this.” She had been so cruelly right. And that, in a way, was what had killed her. That, and a beautiful woman named Jenny.From that description, there’s no telling how the scene of a dark-haired lovely fleeing anxiously into the night, only steps ahead of two more automobile headlights--the episode depicted so powerfully on this novel’s front--fits in. But maybe there’s a clue in Alone’s cover teaser line: “Slate and Jenny, who broke all the commandments, learned the last one the hard way: Thou shalt not look behind thee.” Certainly when running for your life, you do not want to waste time glancing back to see how closely death follows on your heels. Just thinking about the imminent violence suggested by both of these book fronts is enough to give one nightmares.