Saturday, October 31, 2015

Occult Following

What could be a more fitting accompaniment to today’s spooks-and-sweets-filled festivities than Andrew Nette’s splendid selection, in Pulp Curry, of vintage paperback fronts featuring Satanism, witchcraft, and black magic? The cover shown above, from the 1952 Dell paperback edition of Catherine Turney’s The Other One--a story of humiliation, possession, and the supernatural--isn’t among those Nette showcases, but it certainly could have been. The artwork is by Bob Hilbert, more of whose illustrations can be seen here.

By the way, The Other One was adapted in 1957 as a big-screen horror flick titled Back from the Dead. Turney herself inked the screenplay. According to this Los Angeles Times obituary, she had previously been the “chief architect of the script for [1945’s] Mildred Pierce, which earned [star Joan] Crawford an Academy Award.” Turney subsequently wrote for TV series such as Maverick and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color.

Remains to Be Seen

Just in time for Halloween, the online marketplace AbeBooks has posted a collection of “101 books with corpse in the title.”

Friday, October 30, 2015

Get Carter

More than five years ago, in the early days of this blog, I wrote a post about the phenomenally productive Carter Brown (aka Alan Geoffrey Yates), who during his three-decades-long career penned hundreds of paperback crime and detective novels, most of which were fronted by paintings of women in various stages of undress. That has since become one of Killer Covers’ 10 most-visited posts.

When I originally assembled the piece, I stocked it with just 15 examples Carter Brown cover art, noting that those were “just a few of my favorites.” Well, since that time I have added numerous scans to my Carter Brown computer file, enough that I’ve decided to beef up my original online gallery of that author’s work. The revised post--which you will find by clicking here--boasts 71 paperback fronts, including the one embedded above from the 1961 Signet edition of The Tigress, with a cover illustration by Ron Lesser.

I hope you enjoy the revamped Carter Brown post. Please let me know if you find any of your own favorites among the bunch.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Convenient Bevy of Beauties

Yours truly, J. Kingston Pierce, with sometime co-authors Barbara and Max Allan Collins at Bouchercon in Raleigh.

(Editor’s note: One of the genuine delights of my attending this month’s Bouchercon convention in Raleigh, North Carolina, was seeing author Max Allan Collins and his wife, Barbara. I first interviewed Max, a resident of Muscatine, Iowa, way back in 1999, but have since had many more opportunities to quiz him about his fiction. And whenever we both find ourselves at Bouchercon, he and I manage to catch up a bit on what’s new in our respective lives. When I saw him in Raleigh, I also asked Max if he could write a short article for Killer Covers about how he had managed to secure Robert McGinnis-painted fronts--shown below--for all five of the Quarry novels Hard Case Crime plans to reissue between now and March of 2016. His not-so-short explanation follows.)

Like many baby-boomer males around my age, I looked in awe at the wonderfully lurid paperback covers riding the spinner racks at newsstands, bookshops, and drug stores. As an aspiring writer since age 13, I dreamed of one day having beautiful cover paintings like those of Robert McGinnis, James Avati, Barye Phillips, and Robert Maguire adorn my novels.

Alas (I’ll spare you the “alack”), by the time my first paperbacks began appearing in the early ’70s, those glorious paintings were replaced by cheaper (and cheap-looking) photography. This approach doomed Bait Money, Blood Money, The Broker, The Broker’s Wife, The Dealer, and The Slasher to covers that labeled the product within as mediocre. Later, when Pinnacle reprinted Bait and Blood and published more of my Nolan novels, they used men’s adventure-style paintings, which were much better if not quite what I’d dreamed of. And in the mid-’80s, when The Broker became Quarry (and the other three Quarry novels became Quarry’s List, Quarry’s Deal, and Quarry’s Cut) at Foul Play Press, the publisher utilized cool but very modern, almost abstract covers. Still better than cheap photography.

Cut to decades later, when editor-writer Charles Ardai began publishing the Hard Case Crime line, with covers that evoked the grand old style. Unfortunately, when Charles published a reprint of Bait and Blood under the joint title Two for the Money, the cover was one of the weakest in the Hard Case lineup (and it still is). Charles, who was publishing some of his own novels with Hard Case, had meanwhile enlisted the legendary Robert McGinnis for his covers.

So when Charles called me in 2006 (or it may have been 2005) and asked if I might write a new Quarry novel for him--the previous one (Primary Target, aka Quarry’s Vote) having appeared in the mid-’80s--I said I’d write the book on one condition.

That Robert McGinnis did the cover painting.

Charles, bless him, made that happen. Since then there have been another half-dozen Quarry novels, the most current of which (Quarry’s Choice) also sports a McGinnis cover, as does my Spillane collaboration, The Consummata. There’s also been a feature film, and now a Quarry TV series is poised to begin airing in early 2016.

To tie-in with the TV show, Charles thought that Hard Case Crime republishing the first five Quarry novels--at the time only available as print-on-demand titles (and e-book)--might be a good idea. I thought it was a great idea. I’d never had a chance to review the text of the novels (I’d never seen galley proofs of the first four) and create definitive editions.

The only problem was that the books would have to be published quickly, to take full advantage of the Cinemax series. And of course Hard Case Crime is famous for its magnificently pulpy covers, which don’t happen overnight. In addition, there were no promo photos from the TV show available yet--it was still filming.

So I suggested we approach Robert McGinnis and see if he had any appropriate paintings (i.e., of beautiful girls) in his inventory. After many decades of work, he surely had a few put away.

Charles approached the great man, and indeed he did have several such paintings in inventory.


I studied the paintings and arranged them to match up to the novels (mostly the hair color of the beauties dictated that).

Which is how I managed to gain five more McGinnis covers in one fell swoop. And no other writer of my generation can boast as many--counting the as-yet-unwritten Quarry on Target, that will make nine.

I only wish I could whisper in that 13-year-old’s ear, as he spun the paperback rack at Cohn’s Newsland in Muscatine, that his wishes were going to come true.

(Top photo © 2015 by Ali Karim)

READ MORE:The Early Quarry Novels of Max Allan Collins,”
by Tom Callahan (Graphic Novel Reporter).

River of No Return

Since I recently highlighted a post in Noah Stewart’s blog, focusing on what he thinks have been the worst Agatha Christie paperback covers ever produced, it seems only fair to also mention this post, in which Stewart showcases a collection of his favorite Christie fronts. My personal preference from among this new bunch is the cover of Death on the Nile, though I wish Stewart had provided a larger image of that front. This scan is bigger, but still not very clear.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Bare Wench Project

While writing here a few weeks ago about the colorful “spy-fi smut” novels of Clyde Allison, I dug up some other works by that same author, whose real name was William Henley Knoles. He was quite productive during his time (you’ll find a bibliography here), and while many of the books he turned out were the sort you might think twice about displaying in public--among them his Man from SADISTO thrillers, The Lustful Ones (1960), Sexperiment (1966), and Bang the Doll Slowly (1969, published under another pseudonym, Clyde Ames)--I, for one, would like to get my hands on a copy of his 1962 novel Have Nude, Will Travel (Berkley Medallion).

Allison/Knoles’ plot doesn’t boast many literary merits. Here’s a synopsis from the AbeBooks Web site, which sounds as though it originated on this novel’s back cover:
Jake O’Day, otherwise known as Jake of Arabia (because of an unfortunate experience with an Arabian harem), was a private eye by choice--and he only liked very “choice” women: First there was voluptuous Mrs. Tamerlane, the 14th. In his wildest dreams even Jake couldn’t have imagined anyone as wild as Mrs. T. But then there was Suger, a sumptuous young thing who never wore clothes, never said a word, but who made all her desires quite clear. And still there were the insatiable Chinese Twins, those two action-stacked girls who initiated Jake into the Oriental subtleties of love--only the Twins weren’t subtle.
The greater attraction, of course, is this paperback’s cover. Painted by the brilliant Victor Kalin (more of whose artistry can be enjoyed here), Have Nude, Will Travel shows a beautiful young blonde woman--presumably bare of attire--wrapped bodily around a dark-haired guy dressed in a trenchcoat, with a burning cigarette in his mouth, a suitcase dangling from his left hand and an automatic pistol clutched in his right one (perhaps hinting at the 1957-1963 TV Western series that inspired the novel’s title). It’s hard to tell whether this situation presents the gent (O’Day himself?) with delights or a dilemma, but the cover line--“One private eye and too many girls …”--suggests the latter is true.

READ MORE:0008 Is Enough” (Pulp International).

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Full Frontal Exposure

I’m sorry this page has been left unattended for the last fortnight, but I was away in Raleigh, North Carolina, attending Bouchercon 2015, and then I had to deal with a death in my family after I returned home. With any luck, I shall resume a normal posting schedule next week. Meanwhile, here are few links to explore.

• Pulp International offers up the distinctive paperback fronts from four of Chester Himes’ detective novels, all illustrated in the mid-1960s by Harry Bennett for Berkley Medallion. You’ll find those here. “In contrast to [Bennett’s] lushly rendered romance covers, or more conventional crime novel art, these have an almost spontaneous quality,” the blog observes. “Publisher input usually has quite a bit to do with it, but we suspect Bennett was also influenced by Himes’ writing and the Harlem setting, and as a result produced this jazzy art for a jazzy novelist. Excellent stuff.”

• Blogger Noah Stewart showcases a few of what he considers the worst paperback editions of Agatha Christie novels. And yes, he has certainly found a few barkers. But I kind of like the front he’s embedded from So Many Steps to Death (despite its “sullen redhead”), and would be equally happy to have those editions of There Is a Tide and The Mystery of Blue Train (again illustrated by Harry Bennett) on my bookshelves.

• I would also be most pleased to have among my collection this 1964 edition of Richard S. Prather’s The Cockeyed Corpse.

Classic Esquire covers from the 1960s.

• Boing Boing has put together a gallery of “swamp smut” paperbacks that includes illustrations by Barye Phillips, James Meese, Mitchell Hooks, and others.

• Designer Joe Montgomery, who was hired by Vintage/Black Lizard to create the latest paperback reissues of half a dozen Ross Macdonald novels (and what a wonderful job he did, if I may proffer an opinion), comments on the task and shows some of his rejected concepts at the Web site FaceOut Books.

• Something for me to keep in mind as a possible Christmas present: Dorling Kindersley’s Bond by Design: The Art of the James Bond Films. (Hat tip to Illustrated 007).

• And though they are drawn from works of science fiction, rather than crime and mystery fiction, Joaquim Boaz’s examples of underwater expeditions cover artwork--see here and here--are certainly terrific. It’s also rather thrilling to know I own one of his highlighted books: The Godwhale (1974), with a cover painting by Paul Lehr, more of whose artistry can be appreciated here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Peerless Pairing

Anyone who has followed my crime-fiction reporting for a while knows what an enthusiastic fan I am of both detective-turned-author Dashiell Hammett and book cover artist Harry Bennett (1919-2012). So I was thrilled to discover that those two men had once worked together. Well, sort of. In 1961--the same year the creator of private eyes Sam Spade and the Continental Op went to his grave at age 66--Permabooks released new paperback editions of all five of Hammett’s novels, from Red Harvest (1929) to The Thin Man (1934), with Bennett-painted fronts. This represented a beautiful combination of talents, one that I thought worth sharing here.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Friday Finds: “Murder in the Wind”

Another in our growing line of vintage book covers we love.

Murder in the Wind, by John D. MacDonald (Dell, 1956).
Illustration by George Gross.

You should have no difficulty guessing what inspired this week’s “Find.” That’s right, it’s Hurricane Joaquin, the 10th named storm of the 2015 Atlantic hurricane season. As I compose this post, Joaquin has pretty much stalled over the Bahamas, battering those islands with gales and downpours, but it still threatens America’s East Coast with “heavy rain and potential flooding” in days to come.

John D. MacDonald’s Murder in the Wind (1956, also printed as Hurricane) is set in Florida, and it’s one of several novels he wrote about people thrown together by adversity--with dangerous results. Steve Scott, who writes the exceptional MacDonald blog, A Trap of Solid Gold, outlines the book’s plot this way:
Six carloads of people--two driving solo while the rest [come] in cars of twos, threes and fours--are driving north on Florida Route 19 above Tampa, all on business, personal or otherwise, that will take them out of the state. They are a random group who are still strangers to each other, and like MacDonald’s previous novels with a similar structure, all are moving by automobile. The “adversity” here is Hurricane Hilda, which is forming itself into a storm of historic strength far out in the Gulf of Mexico, a fact nearly unknown to all in the pre-weather satellite days of 1956. By the time they have reached the Waccasassa River the bridge there is out and they are directed down a remote bypass road that passes an old, rambling and now deserted house. With the storm increasing in strength and passing directly over them, they can go no further and all seek shelter in the abandoned house. …

In virtually all of MacDonald's multi-character novels there is a criminal element, and
Murder in the Wind is no exception. Among the author’s little group of cars heading north is a stolen panel truck containing three young bad guys, two males and a female.
All of the ingredients for reader engagement are here, including murder. But Scott says Macdonald set himself a bigger challenge with this tale than simply driving readers to the edges of their seats.
MacDonald is at pains to prove the plausibility of such a strong storm, years before names like Donna, Andrew and Katrina were written in history, providing a brief “Author’s Note” at the beginning of the book and interspersing the narrative with omniscient updates on the track and power of the storm. And while it is obvious to the reader that the hurricane and the characters will eventually “meet,” Murder in the Wind is primarily a suspense novel, with the tension provided by the deep characterization created by the author. I’ve written endlessly in this blog about how MacDonald’s apprenticeship as a short-story writer made him the perfect author for these kinds of multi-character tales, and nowhere is that more true than in this novel. All of the characters--roughly ten in all--are each given a history and background as interesting and as engaging as any in his best shorter works, and it is through this incredibly detailed characterization that MacDonald drives narrative, that attribute of fiction he held in the highest esteem.
Three years ago, Deep South Magazine, an online publication, posted a list of “books to read during a hurricane.” It included a better-remembered MacDonald work, Cape Fear (originally published in 1957 as The Executioners). The editors could just as well, though, have selected Murder in the Wind, which acclaimed author and critic Ed Gorman has named as one of his “10 Favorite John D. MacDonald Standalone Novels.” (Topping Gorman’s list is 1953’s Dead Low Tide; Murder in the Wind ranks fourth.) And had they been in possession of the 1956 original-edition paperback of Murder in the Wind, MacDonald’s 18th novel--shown at the top of this post--they might have been persuaded to do exactly that. It certainly boasts a striking cover, with an attractive brunette obviously at risk from escalating currents. Responsible for the illustration was George Gross (1909-2003), about whom I have written before on this page, and whose range of paperback artistry can be enjoyed here.

BONUS: Over the last several decades some other noteworthy illustrators have taken cracks at creating captivating covers for Murder in the Wind. The front on the left, for instance, was painted by Robert K. Abbett and appeared on the 1960 Dell edition, while the one shown on the right, from the 1965 Fawcett edition of MacDonald’s novel, features an illustration by Robert McGinnis.

Very Mixed Messages

This is an interesting article, from Flavorwire, in which a “kindergarten mom” wrestles with her fondness for the sexy cover of her new novel, knowing that someday soon she’ll have to explain to her daughter why that imagery is exploitative and inappropriate.