While putting together these fortnightly pairings, I occasionally have to search for a while before I am completely satisfied with the cover images. Other times, the task is considerably simpler. The two paperback fronts featured above just leaped out at me earlier today, probably because last night I sat through the first episode of Forever, a new ABC-TV crime drama about a New York City medical examiner--played by Hornblower’s Ioan Gruffudd--who also happens to be immortal. (If you think that premise sounds familiar, you’re not alone.) While not a real grabber, that episode at least persuaded me to try Forever again, which is more than I can say about most of the shows on this season’s new U.S. TV schedule.
In any case, the image embedded above and on the left comes from the 1959 Pocket Books edition of Meet Me at the Morgue. It’s one of only six novels by Ross Macdonald that doesn’t feature his classic Los Angeles private eye, Lew Archer (although a tagline on the 1980 Bantam edition of this book claims that it does). Meet Me at the Morgue originally saw print in 1953, which means it appeared in stores and on newsstands between The Ivory Grin (1952) and Find a Victim (1954), two of the early Archer outings. A post in the excellent blog Crime Fiction Lover synopsizes Morgue’s story line:
… Howard Cross is a parole officer who becomes entangled in a child kidnapping. Fred Miner is on parole after causing the death of a stranger whilst driving drunk. To an extent he seems to have been rehabilitated, and has found some stability driving for local industrialist Abel Johnson. However Johnson’s young son goes missing and Fred was the last person seen with the boy, and now he can’t be contacted. So it seems Fred has graduated from an accidental killing to something far more serious.The particular cover I have selected of Meet Me at the Morgue boasts an illustration by the great Victor Kalin, whose daughter, Rebecca, developed this handsome Web site dedicated to his work.
Prevented from contacting the police by the young and glamorous Mrs. Johnson in case something should happen to her boy, Cross is forced to investigate on his own. It becomes clear there is more happening than first appears as bag men wind up dead, and sinister new faces arrive in town, including Miner’s disgraced navy buddies and a failed and embittered ex-starlet. What starts as a kidnapping ends with murder and blackmail.
To the right of Kalin’s cover is Robert K. Abbett’s artwork for publisher Pocket’s 1958 version of The Lady in the Morgue, Jonathan Latimer’s second “comic hard-boiled detective novel” featuring Bill Crane. As The Thrilling Detective Web Site explains, Crane--one of several operatives for Colonel Black’s New York-based detective agency--was “a booze-soaked, seemingly inept detective who somehow always managed, despite always being either drunk or hungover, to crack the case …” Crane debuted in 1935’s Headed for a Hearse and tackled his last of four literary assignments in Red Gardenias (1939); The Lady in the Morgue was No. 3 in Latimer’s series, released in 1936.
A blog entitled Mostly Crappy Books (hmm--does that name really make you want to read any further?) offers the following description of The Lady in the Morgue’s plot:
Crane, sent to Chicago on a case arrives on time for the body of “Alice Ross,” a suicide, to vanish. Both the cops and two local gangsters think that he is responsible for the disappearance, so through most the book he is almost as busy avoiding them as he is solving the case. Going from strange beds to alcohol to cheap dance halls to alcohol to weed-wasted bohemian ceremonies to alcohol to acts of grave robbing to alcohol to alcohol to alcohol and so forth, the hunt for both the missing body and murderer and various missing women is convoluted but logical. Crane’s detective abilities can’t be faulted, even if his character can be.Wikipedia adds that the novel “is remembered for its frank treatment of drug addiction among artists, for its frequent references to contemporary jazz and swing music, and for its bizarre setting (morgues, cemeteries).” A 1938 “B-movie” adaptation of The Lady in the Morgue starred Preston Foster as Crane. You can watch a clip from that film right here.