It can be easy sometimes to understand why literary reductionists dismiss crime and mystery fiction as being merely about murder and mayhem. Certainly that’s the impression a person might be given, if the covers posted above were his or her only references.
On the left we have Yesterday’s Man, a 1965 release from Leisure Books, which by then had a history of publishing soft porn penned (pseudonymously) by the likes of Robert Silverberg, Lawrence Block, and others. This paperback novel, too, was by an author with a far better future: Ed McBain (aka Evan Hunter), who by ’65 had established himself as the man behind the 87th Precinct series of police procedurals. According to blogger Jerry House, during the 1960s and ’70s McBain delivered to Leisure “a book a month for a flat fee of $1,000.00 cash,” which he used “to finance some of his baser habits.” These works appeared under the byline “Dean Hudson.” As House observes, such soft-core fiction was “pretty mild; most of today’s women's romance books are more graphic. The formula was simple: any type of plot (logical or not) with sex scenes every so-many pages. Metaphors for sex and body parts were preferred, and no really bad words.” House suggests there were at least 74 “Dean Hudson” titles (Wikipedia puts the count at 93), some of which might actually have been composed by McBain’s writing students.
The front of Yesterday’s Man shows a young woman stripped down to her dainties, being strangled by a man at the edge of a lake--or maybe it’s a creek; or could it be an iceberg? (It’s damnably hard to tell!) The artwork was by Robert Bonfils, who began his illustration career in Chicago during the 1950s, and went on to create some of the most provocative and over-the-top paperback covers of the late 20th century. You can enjoy more of his artistry here.
A remarkably similar pose, equally violent, is struck by the couple on Night Extra, by William McGivern. That novel was originally published by Dodd, Mead in 1957, but the cover shown above is from the 1960 paperback edition of Night Extra, released by Fontana Books, an imprint of William Collins, Sons (now part of HarperCollins). The blog Mystery*File offers this plot synopsis of the tale:
A big city reporter (which McGivern was at one time) investigates the murder of a woman whose body was found in the house of a reform mayoral candidate. It soon becomes clear that the entrenched political machine has engineered a frame-up and appears likely to succeed in destroying a feared political opponent.Credit for the illustration on this Fontana title goes to John L. Baker, a native of Birmingham, England, who was born in 1922 and went on to create fronts for a variety of Agatha Christie novels as well as other crime and thriller novels.
The novel is set in an unnamed East Coast city that suffers from pervasive corruption. Anyone who fights against the corruption places their job, if not their life, in jeopardy. Crusading reporter Sam Terrell spends much of the story trying to convince witnesses to come forward and tell what they know. He also must navigate through the city’s numerous layers of civic, political and bureaucratic corruption in order to find allies who might advance his investigation.