Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Two-fer Tuesdays: Hard Times Ahead

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

What kind of a moniker is Ovid Demaris? Apparently, it’s better than Ovide E. Desmarais, which is the name this 20th-century newsman turned novelist was given at the time of his birth in 1919. A native of Biddeford, Maine, Demaris went on to become a newspaper reporter and a correspondent for the United Press (later United Press International) news agency. During his time (he lived to be 79 years old, finally passing away in 1998), Demaris also penned a number of books. Some of those were non-fiction, such as 1961’s The Dillinger Story (aka Dillinger), 1966’s The Boardwalk Jungle, and 1980’s The Last Mafioso. He even worked with Judith Exner--who claimed to have been a mistress, during the early 1960s, of both President John F. Kennedy and Mafia boss Sam Giancana--on her 1977 memoir, Judith Exner: My Story. In addition, however, Demaris concocted at least 17 novels, among them Ride the Gold Mare (1957), The Gold-Plated Sewer (1960), The Organization (1965), and what has been called an “anti-Mafia potboiler,” Ricochet (1988).

The Long Night was, as far as I can tell, Demaris’ fourth novel, a paperback-only Avon release from 1959. It marked the second appearance (after 1957’s The Hoods Take Over and before 1960’s The Gold-Plated Sewer) of fictional Los Angeles private eye Vince Slader, described by The Thrilling Detective Web Site as “an ex-cop with a weakness for booze and dames in trouble.” (In other words, he was very much like other for-hire gumshoes of the Eisenhower era.) In the blog Vintage Hardboiled Reads, August West noted that
The Long Night has a unique start. Slader is in front of a Senate Crime Committee hearing, sassing it up against two powerful senators. It seems that the private eyes in L.A. have been getting a bit out of control and Slader is the committee’s poster boy. He leaves the hearings with warnings that they will be watching him and he better keep his nose clean. Like that’s going to happen. Slader is hired by a scumbag casino owner to find a guy called Ben Russell. Russell has a $28,000 gambling debt and Slader gets a percentage if Russell pays up. Russell also has a young wife who has plans of her own, and those include a life insurance scam. Of course P.I. Vince Slader gets caught in it. He first gets set up to be murdered and burned to a crisp in Russell’s car; the idea is that the authorities will believe he was Russell. Slader gets banged up pretty bad, but survives. Next he walks in on Ben Russell’s actual murder, and here is where he gets pegged as the murderer. Along with Mrs. Russell’s motives to get her husband’s life insurance money, elements of the local crime organization have an interest in this case. So besides the Senate Committee, Slader has thugs and cops after him now.

As for a plot, there is really no new ground breaking in this one. It’s your typical P.I. being played for a patsy story. But that’s OK, it still was an enjoyable read. The Senate Committee angle in the story was different and refreshing. Slader has an ex-con as an assistant called Emilio Caruso, who he kiddingly refers to as his “little wop.” I liked the guy, unfortunately he doesn’t make it through to the end of the novel. There is a good dose of explosive (and descriptive) gunplay in
The Long Night. One of the best takes place in the desert outside of Las Vegas, with Slader having some fun with two hired killers. Slader plays the ladies throughout the story and even with his rough mug, they are attracted to him. He even gets serious with a redhead who helps him survive in the end.
Having not yet read The Long Night myself, I’m not sure of the identity of the dead woman decorating its façade (above); I presume the male figure is supposed to be Slader. What else I can tell you is that illustration was done by Ernest “Darcy” Chiriacka, one of my favorites among book cover artists of the last century. Nobody should be at all confused about what kind of story can be found inside. The front--with its wonderful hand-lettered title--positively screams “crime fiction.”

Less obvious about the nature of its contents is The Long Nightmare (Crest, 1958), displayed above and on the right. Credit for its cover painting goes to Charles Binger, but authorship of the tale inside belongs to John Roeburt (1909-1972), who has been described as “an American writer and criminologist.” Roeburt’s hard climb to recognition in the mystery- and detective-fiction field might have begun with the publication, in 1944, of Jigger Moran, which introduced J. Howard “Jigger” Moran, characterized (again by Thrilling Detective) as “a disbarred Illinois attorney and sometime-cabbie who now cruises the streets of Manhattan at night, keeping an eye open for the main chance, when he’s not shooting craps.” Moran starred in two more post-war novels, There Are Dead Men in Manhattan (1946) and Corpse on the Town (1950). During the same period, Roeburt took jobs as a scriptwriter for the radio mystery series Inner Sanctum and won an Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1949 for Best Radio Drama. He subsequently did some TV writing.

But it was novels into which John Roeburt seemed to invest most of his heart. His résumé soon ballooned to include Manhattan Underworld (1951), The Case of the Hypnotized Virgin (1956), Sing Out Sweet Homicide (1961), and The Mobster (1972). The Long Nightmare was originally published in hardcover as The Climate of Hell (Abelard-Schuman, 1958). It was a standalone yarn with a plot that Kirkus Reviews described this way:
Larry Stevens, a fisherman in Florida, is brainwashed into the identity of Kirk Reynolds, taken--by three men--to New York to live the life of a gilded bum, to renew his marriage with Laura, a lush, and to witness the murder of his presumed father--before his will is changed. Running away--to give himself up--he must finally face the revelation of his own responsibility in the situation to which his sick, truant conduct has led. Up from the pulps, loud and lewd and lurid.
The back cover of Crest’s The Long Nightmare (embedded above, on the right) features a quote from now-famous New York Times critic Anthony Boucher, praising Roeburt’s novel as “a memorable nightmare of menace.” Honestly, though, I think “loud and lewd and lurid” beats that judgment by a long shot.

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