Have you ever noticed how often stairways are employed to create apprehension on vintage paperback book fronts? An unsuspecting women might find herself menaced at the base of an innocent-seeming cascade of steps by a man with a pistol. Or she might have been pushed down those steps to become a heap of laundry and bloodied limbs at the bottom. Or perhaps she is surprised at the top of a staircase by somebody who intends her significant harm. It is rarely men being menaced as they passed from one story to another; women bear the overwhelming brunt of these flights to fright.
Two examples appear at the top of this post. On the left, you’ll see the cover from the 1955 Bantam edition of Death’s Long Shadow, a novel originally published in hardcover two years before as Dear, Dead Days. It’s credited to “Jay Barbette,” which was a pseudonym used by Bart Spicer (1918-1978). Spicer is best known for penning half a dozen Chandleresque novels about Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, private eye Carney Wilde (introduced in 1949’s The Dark Light). But he and his wife, Betty Coe Spicer, also turned out four books starring newspaper reporter Harry Butten--of which Dear, Dead Days was the second (after Final Copy, 1950). I don’t own a copy of the book, but a short review on Amazon’s Goodreads site says it’s “the story of photographer Mike Chaney and his partner Dorothy Baird…
Essentially it’s a murder mystery. Mike and Dorothy become tangled in someone else’s murder and they enlist the help of Harry Bullen and his newspaper contacts to get to the bottom of things. The plot is intelligently laid out and takes place in Devon/New Devon USA.Credit for the artwork that fronts Death’s Long Shadow--and graphically supports its title--belongs to the highly talented Mitchell Hooks, about whom I’ve written before on this page.
It’s an easy read with twists and turns, which don’t break the logical plot line, that keeps your attention to the final climax in the office conference room with an unexpected ending.
To the right, above, you’ll see the cover from the 1958 Pyramid Books edition of House of Hate, by W. Craig Thomas (not to be confused with the late Welsh thriller writer, Craig Thomas). Again, this novel bore a different name in hardcover: The Gregory Hill (1957). A Kirkus Reviews write-up on the book supplies this plot summation:
Passions, loosely controlled, combat intelligence and love in the life of young Paul Gregory whose father’s death is judged to be an accident, but which he knows is murder at the hands of Aaron Layton. Aaron’s son, Roger, is willing to ally himself with Paul against his father, but Paul, heeding his dead father’s last wishes, tries to help and protect his mother, Lela, who, a very short time later, marries Aaron. Aaron’s humiliation when he learns that the Gregory Place is destined for Paul, not him, makes firm his efforts to thwart Paul’s dedication for carrying on his father’s ideas about the farm; Lela hardens when she is ostracized by the valley people; Roger furthers the discord by his desire for her and for discrediting his father. Aaron’s ruttish pursuit of Lela to get her to bear his child, [and] his try at killing Paul, have their climax in the truth about Lela's part in the murder and in Aaron’s permanent death-in-life from the horses who fear him, and chain Paul, Lela and Roger to a cripple whose loathing will always be a weapon. An unidentified locale, a narrow range of hatred, weakness and selfishness that almost spell defeat, limit this to morbid tastes.Hmm. Not exactly an unstinting recommendation, is it? Still, the cover of that paperback is quite captivating. Coincidentally, it’s a second work by Arthur Sussman, an illustrator I first mentioned last month in another “Two-fer Tuesdays” post.
And now, because you are such a fine audience, I’m going to violate my usual twinned-covers format for these posts and offer you a third front (right) that also fits this week’s theme: the façade of Berkley’s 1958 edition of The 31st of January, by Julian Symons. The painting in this case is by Robert Maguire.