This is what can happen when you sit on a good idea for too long.
For months now, I’ve been slowly but surely collecting vintage paperback covers that show a person being either threatened or killed in a bathtub, or having already died in one. I figured this would be a logical accompaniment to an earlier “two-fer” post about people being found to have expired on their beds. In both cases--bed and bath--the usual notion is that there’s safety and comfort to be found in such spots. But that isn’t necessarily the case when you’re dealing with tales rooted in criminal misconduct.
So anyway, I had this plan. This great plan. You know, though, what they say about the best-laid plans ... And sure enough, yesterday I happened across this new post in Pulp International focusing on book fronts “featuring various unfortunates who chose the wrong time to be naked and defenseless” in tubs. Most of the paperback façades I had found over the last few months are included in Pulp International’s gallery. Two excellent examples of the breed, however, missed that blog’s notice, so let me highlight them here.
The first, shown above and on the left, comes from Murder Takes a Wife, by James A. Howard (Pocket, 1955). Here’s how Kirkus Reviews synopsized that novel’s plot:
The mark of Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice) may bar this from polite circles but the tricks here have news value. Jeff Allen, operating as a one-man murder incorporated, cleans up on unwanted wives and mothers, covers himself with respectability as a salesman for pharmaceutical companies, and, gambling on new business in Fort Worth, [Texas] runs into obstacles for perfect executions. Involved in killing two women, he is also given a straight big business chance and, diddled by fate, he loses out on everything--even living with himself. A sharp shocker.My efforts today to locate information on the Web about author Howard have been mostly frustrating. One source says he was born James Arch Howard in 1922, another that he also wrote some novels--such as 1959’s Fare Prey--under the pseudonym Laine Fisher. I have dug up listings of several more Howard works published during the mid-20th century, among them Murder in Mind (1960), Blow Out My Torch (1956), and I’ll Get You Yet (1954)--the latter two of which star a protagonist named Steve Ashe--and a 1962 work with the terrific title The Bullet-Proof Martyr, described as “a fine murder story and a blood-chilling portrait of a demagogue” (the “flag-waving head of a clan of ‘kinsmen’” named Paul Kenneth Kane).
Credit for the cover of Murder Takes a Wife belongs to Wayne Blickenstaff. Born in Pomona, California, in 1920, Blickenstaff went on to attend Woodbury Business College in Los Angeles and then join the U.S. Air Corps in 1942, not long after the United States entered World War II. “Although many artists who served in WWII went on to careers in the illustration field,” explains this Web site, “few can claim such colorful wartime adventures as Lt. Col. Wayne K. Blickenstaff, Ace pilot of the 353rd Fighter Group. What does it mean to be an ace? A pilot who successfully shoots down several enemy aircraft in combat is considered an ace. But Blickenstaff not only qualified as Ace, but also as ‘Ace in a day,’ a pilot who brought down more than five enemy craft in a single day!” After the war, Blickenstaff used his G.I. Bill benefits to study at L.A.’s Chouinard Art Institute, and then moved to New York City to work as an editorial and advertising artist. In addition to illustrating children’s books and creating artwork for magazines, Blickenstaff painted a number of fronts for crime and mystery novels--Murder Takes a Wife as well as others that can be relished here. His obituary says he died in Charlotte, North Carolina, in December 2011 at age 91.
Now let’s turn our avid attention to today’s other attraction, The Deadly Combo, by John Farr (Ace, 1958). “Farr” is a nom de plume used by Jack Webb (1916-2008), an L.A.-born author--not to be confused with Dragnet actor Jack Webb--whose mysteries often built around the sleuthing pair of Father Joseph Shanley and police homicide cop Sammy “Elijah” Golden (The Deadly Sex).
The Deadly Combo was released by Ace in a paperback double-book edition, on the flip side of which was found Murder Isn’t Funny, by J. Harvey Bond. Both covers, I understand, were painted by Bernard Barton, who was born in New York in 1920, attended Cooper Union in Manhattan, and after a stint with the U.S. military during World War II, moved into commercial illustration work. He also, though, contributed to what in the postwar years was a hungry market for paperback art. Other examples of Barton’s work can be found here. He apparently lived much of his life in Westport, Connecticut, finally perishing there in 1993.
Before we leaving the topic of “blood baths,” let me showcase--on the left--two extra specimens. The first is the cover from what I believe is a 1930s edition of Inside Detective magazine, with pleasingly racy artwork by Norman Saunders. (Had I known about this publication front six years ago, I would definitely have shuffled it into my gallery of peeping-tom covers.) Beside it you will find the 1967 Pocket edition of Dead, Upstairs in the Tub, by Michael Brett. This was the sixth novel starring Brett’s tough, Chevy-driving, Scotch-drinking Manhattan private eye, Pete McGrath, and though it offers a photographic cover, rather than a potentially more interesting illustrated one, Dead, Upstairs in the Tub definitely fits into our theme here.