OK, I admit it: I had to look up where the Sulu Sea is to be found. Wikipedia says it’s “a body of water in the southwestern area of the Philippines, separated from the South China Sea in the northwest by Palawan and from the Celebes Sea in the southeast by the Sulu Archipelago. Borneo is found to the southwest and Visayas to the northeast.” Got a fix on that? If not, refer to this map.
It was just the other day that I realized I had in my collection covers from not one, but two different paperback novels set in that tropical locale (which reportedly gave its name to helmsman Hikaru Sulu of Star Trek fame). The first, shown above and on the left, comes from the 1958 Pocket Books edition of The Sulu Sea Murders, by F. Van Wyck Mason. Originally published in 1933, this short tale of intrigue stars Mason’s once-popular series protagonist, Captain (later Colonel) Hugh North, an agent of G-2, U.S. Army Intelligence, introduced in 1930’s Seeds of Murder. I haven’t read the book myself, but the cover teasers lead me to understand that its plot focuses around “a top-secret microfilm, a fortune in pearls, and a killer who would do anything to get both!” A reviewer named Robert, at GoodReads, calls The Sulu Sea Murders “a fun little read.” He notes, however, that because the yarn was written 80 years ago, it contains “a lot of jingoism, racism, and a little homophobia thrown in for good measure. If you are hyper-politically correct, this probably isn’t the story for you; read it as an indication of the times in which it was written. It follows the classic ‘who-dunnit’ [style], but the setting is a military base in the Southern seas. The heat and the booze have everyone acting crazy, and North has his work cut out for him.”
Considerably less controversial is the cover painting on this paperback, which was done by James Meese, whose work I have applauded frequently on this page.
Now refer to the cover on the right, above. It’s off the 1964 Gold Medal edition of Assignment Sulu Sea, the 20th entry in prolific author Edward S. Aarons’ “Assignment” series, featuring tall, Cajun-blooded CIA agent Sam Durell (who debuted in 1955’s Assignment to Disaster). This book is also one I have not read, but I found the following reviewlet in the blog Mighty Blowhole:
Federal troubleshooter Sam Durell meets a girl from his childhood on a tropic [sic] island as he’s called in to discover the whereabouts of a hijacked submarine full of nuclear missiles and stop it from falling into the hands of the Red Chinese. The romantic entanglements between Sam and the girl are just a distraction from the espionage as he uncovers traitorous plots and the crazy plan of a local crime lord. The writing is tight and very descriptive and the story never stops moving, either with realistic action scenes or with intrigue.Sadly, I was less successful in learning which artist was responsible for the book’s front. I did, though, discover that the same illustration--with somewhat better framing--was featured on this circa 1970 Fawcett reprint of Assignment Sulu Sea.