Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Two-fer Tuesdays: Costs and (Death) Benefits

A twice-monthly pairing of book covers that just seem to go together. Click on either of these images to open up an enlargement.

So let’s take a short break from Killer Covers’ month-long tribute to artist Robert McGinnis, and instead ooh and ahh over a couple of other paperback book fronts I’ve had tucked away in my files for some while. The façade on the left comes from the 1968 Fawcett Gold Medal edition of The Price of Murder, by John D. MacDonald (a work originally published in 1957). As Steve Scott recalls in his excellent blog, The Trap of Solid Gold--recently reinvigorated after a much-too-long hiatus--The Price of Murder was Macdonald’s 20th novel, a standalone paperback original. He explains that
The basic plot of the novel is centered around a MacGuffin: nearly half a million dollars in hot cash that originated as ransom for two young children who were kidnapped, never returned and who were later found murdered. The offspring of a Houston millionaire, the young boys’ kidnapping became a newspaper sensation once their bodies were found and it was revealed that all of the ransom cash--small-denomination bills--had been recorded and was traceable, making it virtually un-spendable. This fact was unknown to the kidnappers before the boys’ bodies were found, and they were quickly located in a small farmhouse near Orangeville, Pennsylvania (where JDM’s parents owned a summer home when John was a young boy). After a gun battle that left the three kidnappers dead, a portion of the ransom loot--one-hundred and sixty-five thousand dollars--was recovered, leaving the location of the remaining $327,000 a mystery. In the chaos of the gun battle a county cop grabbed one of two suitcases containing the money and hid it, afraid to try and spend or move it for over a year. Eventually he sold it to an underworld contact for $10,000, who then sold it to a Cleveland speculator who eventually became uncomfortable with it and unloaded it to a Detroit mobster for $15,000. But like all of the previous owners, the Detroit man is too scared to try and pass what has now become viewed as cursed money, and a widespread superstition among the underworld about the cash is making it difficult for him to get rid of it.
I wish I knew even half as much about the artist responsible for the cover of this 46-year-old paperback as I know, from Scott, about the book’s story line. In his John D. MacDonald Covers blog, Chris Ogle writes that the illustrator is officially unknown. Ogle offers a few compliments about that artist’s work, though: “What a superb cover! The girl is looking directly at the viewer as if she expects help from you. The man’s face is hidden, which makes him even more insidious. The lighting is coming from the upper left which puts her shadowed face in the foreground, a reversal of normal composition. And the hand! Ah, the hand!” Indeed, this front is wonderfully haunting, especially thanks to its teaser: “She was so alive and he needed her so badly, there was nothing to do but kill her …” I hope someday to find a copy of this edition for my own library.

Now let’s consider the image above and to the right. It demonstrates the talent of Sam Cherry, who painted covers for many of the 20th-century pulp mags as well as paperback book covers. In this case, Cherry was introducing the 1952 Popular Library edition of What Price Murder, by Cleve F. Adams. During his career, Adams produced a succession of novels featuring Los Angeles private eye Rex McBride--“one of the most repugnant characters in detective fiction history,” according to a Rara-Avis critic--but What Price Murder, first published by Dutton in 1942, was a non-series yarn. Blogger-author Evan Lewis, who declares himself “a big fan of the Rex McBride series,” briefly describes the plot of this book thusly:
[In-house insurance investigator Stephen] McCloud is racing to recover two million dollars in stolen diamonds-by whatever means necessary--before his boss is forced to pay out on the insurance claim. And it’s tough going. When he’s not getting drunk or chasing women, he’s getting conked on the head, robbed, and running from the cops on suspicion of murder. For an Adams hero, of course, that’s all in a day’s work. And it makes for a fine read.
For all of the violence Steve McCloud might have to endure in this tale, Cherry’s art suggests there’s at least some blond, deep-cleavaged compensation for his trouble.

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