Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Duped: “The Deadly Reasons”

The latest installment in Killer Covers’ “haven’t we seen this front someplace before?” series. Previous entries are here.

I’ve been holding onto the cover above for months now, trying to recall why that image of a rather well-endowed young brunette looked so darn familiar. I just couldn’t put my finger on the answer.

I knew that the man responsible for the painting that fronts this 1958 Popular Giant paperback edition of The Deadly Reasons was Owen Kampen (1922-1982), a Madison, Wisconsin-born artist and illustrator who once worked as an instructor with the Famous Artists School. I also knew that The Deadly Reasons was written by Edward D. Radin (1909-1966), an American criminologist and journalist whose best-known work is probably Lizzie Borden: The Untold Story (1961). The Deadly Reasons was the book he published just prior to that Borden history. Nominated for the 1959 Edgar Award in the Best Fact Crime category, it’s a collection of 10 true-crime tales about homicides and the people who commit them. As Radin explains in an Author’s Note, “in each of the cases in this book, a different motive was the cause that led to murder. While there are many motives in the broad range of human emotions, the ten deadly reasons in this book--Love, Fear, Revenge, Pride, Passion, Hate, Lust, Greed, Profit, Jealousy--are the most frequent causes of homicide I have found in a study of more than two thousand different murders.”

Of course, knowing all of that helped me not one iota when it came to pinning down why I recognized the Deadly Reasons cover illustration. But then one day last week, during a mostly frustrating Web search for an entirely unrelated book, I suddenly came across what was described as a “prostitution novel,” Martha Crane, by Charles Gorham (Popular Library, 1954). Imagine my delight at seeing that its cover--displayed on the left--used the original, larger Kampen painting from which the image on The Deadly Reasons was taken.

A short biographical note found on the backside of the 1949 Signet paperback edition of Gorham’s second novel, The Future Mister Dolan (released originally in 1948, following his publication of The Gilded Hearse), says the author “was born in Philadelphia, attended Columbia, [and] saw war service as navigator with the RAF and 8th Air Force. He has worked on newspapers and in publishing houses.” Kirkus Reviews offers this synopsis of Martha Crane’s plot:
An autopsy on Martha Crane omits flowers and provides a case history of a girl whose heart and conscience had been numbed--to refrigerated--by her father. Enlisting at eighteen in the WACS to escape him, Martha now at 24 is still embattled in her emancipation but a chance night on the town finds her pregnant. The attempt made by a home for unwed mothers in St. Louis to contact the father of the child she will bear drives her on to New York and the chance encounter with Farkas, a pimp, who arranges for the care, delivery and disposal of the child. Back in shape again, she goes to work for Farkas as a high-class call girl; her attraction to him has an unhealthy aura which is also a reminder of the father she hates; she submits to every degradation and contributes to the suicide of a client; and finally, with the knowledge that Farkas is using her child as a means of expensive extortion from the family who has adopted it, she kills him. … An anatomy of a driven as well as fallen woman, this is for those who stimulate rather than shock easily and is thoroughly demoralized.
Not exactly the most glowing review, eh? Fortunately for the author, it wasn’t the only one. The Boston Herald was kinder to Martha Crane, saying that “Mr. Gorham has created here a frightening character, one who will repel you and at the same time hit you so hard that her agony will remain with you a long time after you have put the book down.” Gorham went on to pen such works as Trial by Darkness (1952), The Gold in Their Bodies: A Novel About Gaughin (1955), McCaffery (1961), and a biography of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie titled The Lion of Judah (1966).


michael said...

So about the cover...were both credited to the same artist and did Popular Library the publisher reuse other cover art this way?

J. Kingston Pierce said...

Sadly, it was not uncommon during the mid-20th century for paperback publishers such as Popular Library (or Beacon, or Ace, or Crest) to reuse artwork they had commissioned. In the case of Martha Crane, there is no illustrator credit on the back, but you can see the last name "Kampen" written in the lower right-hand corner of the painting as it appears on the book's front. That part of the painting was eliminated when only a small section of it was used on The Deadly Reasons, and I don't own a copy of the latter book to see whether Owen Kampen is credited elsewhere. But I doubt it. All too often, artists did not receive their proper due during the heyday of paperback publishing.