Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Two-fer Tuesdays: Curtains for Cuties

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

Philadelphia-born and notably prolific reporter-turned-author Robert Leslie Bellem (1902-1968) is best known for having created hard-boiled Hollywood private eye Dan Turner. But as author-blogger James Reasoner explains in this post, The Window with the Sleeping Nude (Handi-Book, 1950) “isn’t a Dan Turner yarn.
The hero is store detective Barney Cunard, who’s in charge of security at the biggest department store in an unnamed town. Barney arrives at work one rainy, hung-over morning to find a nude blond female mannequin on his desk. He’s barely started trying to figure out how and why it got there when something else happens that has to be connected to this mystery. The body of one of the store’s window dressers is discovered in a bed in one of the store’s window displays, dressed only in lingerie and stabbed in the heart. Obviously, the killer replaced the mannequin with the corpse and left the mannequin on Cunard’s desk for some unfathomable reason.

But this is one of those novels where very little that seems obvious turns out to be true. The plot twists and turns with dizzying speed as all the action takes place in just a few hours. In that short period of time, there are several more murders and a kidnapping. Cunard gets hit on the head and knocked out, guzzles rye, runs around in the rain, and finally figures everything out from clues that Bellem cleverly plants along the way. Of course, as a veteran of the Spicy pulps, Bellem manages to find excuses for several of his female characters to wind up in various stages of undress. This novel reads very much like it could be an expansion of one of Bellem’s hundreds of pulp stories, but I don’t know if that’s the case or not.
The cover illustration on The Window with the Sleeping Nude is credited to Victor Olson (1927-2007), a graduate of New York City’s Art Career School, whose work I mentioned last fall on this page. Fortunately, when Pulpville Press--a reprint publisher of some note--brought this novel back into print in 2009, it did so with Olson’s original artwork intact.

I wish I had as much information to share about The Corpse in the Picture Window (Ace, 1961). But I don’t. I can tell you that the author, Bruce Cassiday (1920-2005), was born in Southern California and penned fiction in a variety of genres, ranging from spy and mystery to action-adventure. The Corpse in the Picture Window was issued as a “double novel,” the flipside of that volume being If Wishes Were Hearses, by J. Harvey Bond (né Russell R. Winterbotham). Who did the cover artwork is a mystery; one source suggests it might have been Ernest Chiriacka (aka Darcy), but I’m skeptical of that. If anyone knows the actual illustrator’s identity, please share it in the Comments section below.

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