Showing posts with label James Hill. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James Hill. Show all posts

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hill Climbing

I’ve written before on this page about the talents of artist James Hill. So I was pleased to see Leif Peng, of Today’s Inspiration, ring that same positive note. In a recent post collecting some of Hill’s early magazine and book illustration, Peng quotes Gary Taxali, “one of James Hill’s students when he taught at the Ontario College of Art & Design 25 years ago,” as saying:
The absolutely amazing thing about the man was watching him paint. Every stroke was made in the kingdom of Heaven. His brushwork was flawless and watching inspired me to “draw” with a paintbrush. I wonder how many people today can paint, I mean REALLY paint, even close to that level. He was simply the most underrated, and talented, illustrator in our country's history.
You’ll find the complete post here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Murder in Venice, by Thomas Sterling

The 1959 Dell edition of Murder in Venice

Thomas Sterling (sometimes credited as Thomas L. Sterling) appears to have made his initial impression on the crime-fiction world in 1951, when his book The House Without a Door (1950) received an Edgar Award nomination in the category of Best First Mystery Novel by an American Author. He didn’t wind up winning; the honor that year went instead to Thomas Walsh for Nightmare in Manhattan. However, Sterling enjoyed some prestigious company in the losers’ circle--Patricia Highsmith, whose psychological thriller, Strangers on a Train, was also passed over by the Mystery Writers of America judges in favor of short-story author Walsh’s debut novel.

Four years later, Sterling came back with The Evil of the Day, a character-rich murder mystery set in Venice, Italy, that was later retitled Murder in Venice for paperback publication. Brett Halliday--the creator of Miami gumshoe Mike Shayne--called Evil “a sterling tale with high suspense, biting satire, and sharp-edged humor in about equal quantities--and a sheer delight throughout!” The New York Times was no less glowing in its assessment, describing the work as “one of the few practically perfect murder novels of the decade.” Both of those sources were being a tad hyberbolic, I think, though this novel does hold many attractions.

Sterling’s story is evidently modeled on English Renaissance dramatist Ben Jonson’s 1606 play Volpone, “which concerns a Venetian nobleman (Volpone--Italian for ‘Fox’) who enlists the aid of his servant (Mosca, or ‘Fly’) to fake an illness and dupe three individuals seeking his fortune into thinking he has died and left them his inheritance.” In The Evil of the Day, Englishman Cecil Fox--supposedly on his death bed--summons a trio of people from his past to his Venetian estate. There they are greeted by William Fieramosca (his last name translated into English as “Proudfly”), an American actor who came to Italy to take part in a film, but wound up laboring as a stage manager, and eventually as Fox’s private secretary.

(Left) The 1955 Simon & Schuster edition of The Evil of the Day

As Fieramosca tells his employer’s guests, Fox “wishes to die--I think we must use the word as frankly as he does--with his closest friends around him.” Oddly, though, the two distinctly unimpressive males, Anson Sims and Henry Voltor, and the wealthy but perpetually complaining woman, Mrs. Sheridan, who have traveled such a great distance to see Fox off in the Veneto capital don’t appear to be his closest friends at all. In fact, they seem to care for little more than Fox’s money, which he’s promised to bequeath to each of them, setting up a three-way rivalry that can only lead to trouble. And trouble is certainly what ensues, as secrets are slowly revealed, a murder is committed, and the Venetian constabulary, in the form of middle-aged Maresciallo (or Marshal) Rizzi, plods in to question everybody concerned, especially Mrs. Sheridan’s young traveling companion, Celia Johns, who may know more about the crime than she realizes.

I’m not going to spoil the story by telling anything more. But I have to mention that in 1959 The Evil of the Day/Murder in Venice was adapted for the London stage by Frederick Knott as Mr. Fox in Venice. And in 1967, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz used Jonson’s Volpone and Sterling’s novel as source material for The Honey Pot, an “overcomplicated, talk-infested” crime-comedy film that starred Rex Harrison, Cliff Robertson, and Maggie Smith (who, understandably, looked much sprightlier than she does in her present dowager-countess role on the British TV series Downton Abbey).

Of course, what we’re principally interested in here at Killer Covers isn’t the plot of a novel, but its outer wrapper. The atmospherically eerie illustration for the front of Murder in Venice, embedded atop this post, is credited to James Hill, a Canadian artist about whom we’ve talked previously on this page. Over his many years in the business, Hill created covers for novels by Leslie Charteris, George Bagby, Vladimir Nabokov, and William Mole, whose Shadow of a Killer (1959; originally titled Small Venom)--carrying another example of Hill’s work--can be seen on the right.

I haven’t been able to find out much about author Thomas Sterling, despite the resources available on the Web and my many shelves of books about crime fiction and its perpetrators. (Was he or was he not born, for instance, in 1921, as this site contends?) Yet I can tell you that after The Evil of the Day, Sterling composed at least one more mystery: The Silent Siren (1958), which also featured Italian police inspector Rizzi, and which Anthony Boucher of The New York Times declared “faintly disappointing.” Boucher’s November 9, 1958, review of Siren continues:
As the last book was modeled upon “Volpone,” so this takes its theme from “Camille” (or “La Traviata”). Mr. Sterling creates, in Maggie Lefevre, a wholly captivating, exasperating and unforgettable courtesan, whose sisterhood Marguerite Gautier (or Violetta Valery) would smilingly acknowledge. He’s created her so well, indeed, that she refuses to fit the puzzle-plot, whose solution I plain do not believe--but that is a small fault in so charming and glittering a novel of resort life near Naples.
If anybody reading this has more information about Sterling and his work as an author, I hope you will share what you know in the Comments section below.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Señor Saint, by Leslie Charteris

This isn’t the book cover I had planned to feature today. I was going to focus on something darker, more suggestive of danger, something crisp with fright. But the weather has been so incredibly beautiful here in the Pacific Northwest for the last couple of weeks, that I was moved instead to look for something more tropical in nature.

Señor Saint is a collection of four short stories by Leslie Charteris (born Leslie Charles Bowyer-Yin), the half-Chinese, half-English author who, in 1928, introduced the character of Simon Templar in Meet--The Tiger! Templar, who is also known as The Saint (a cognomen derived from the initials of his name), was a thief, adventurer, amateur sleuth, and “Robin Hood of modern crime.” Charteris wrote and saw published almost three dozen Saint books--novels and short-story collections--and witnessed his protagonist portrayed in both movies and on the radio (with Vincent Price giving his voice to the character for four years, on three networks), before television finally took an interest. In 1962, Roger Moore began starring in The Saint, a British mystery/spy series that made handsome Simon Templar almost as famous on the small screen as James Bond was in movie theaters. That role as Templar is now considered to have been valuable training for Moore’s subsequent portrayal of Agent 007 in seven big-action films.

According to Wikipedia, “Charteris wrote 14 novels between 1928 and 1971 (the last two co-written), 34 novellas, and 95 short stories featuring Simon Templar.” Señor Saint falls approximately in the middle of the author’s production. This collection was first published in hardcover by The Crime Club in 1958; a year later, Hodder and Stoughton finally made it available to UK readers. The book contains four yarns--“The Pearls of Peace,” “The Revolution Racket,” “The Romantic Matron,” and “The Golden Frog”--all of which are set in Latin America (Baja California, Mexico City, Havana, and Panama) and have in one way or another to do with swindles. An online review describes the stories as “typical, charming and amusing little thrillers, if nothing very special.” Nonetheless, all four were eventually adapted as episodes of The Saint. (Synopses of those TV installments, and more, can be found here.) The Saintly Bible, an expansive and authoritative Web site devoted to Charteris and Templar, recalls that the author was on record as saying that “The Pearls of Peace” “was his favorite Saint story.” (Yet, “he chose to include ‘The Arrow of God’ when asked for his ‘best’ work for the 1955 book, My Best Murder Story, edited by David Cooke.”)

The Señor Saint cover featured at the top of this post comes from the 1960 Pocket Books edition. Its artwork suggests leisure, languidness, and lust--all in colors familiar from places where one has to think twice before putting on a jacket to go to work. The illustration is credited to James Hill. A Canadian artist born in 1930, Hill grew up in Hamilton, Ontario, later taught at the Ontario College of Art, and reportedly created covers “for more than 200 paperback novels”; yet he is probably best remembered for artwork he did on assignment for Maclean’s, The Saturday Evening Post, and other magazines. Described as “a versatile stylist,” Hill was apparently a two-time recipient of gold medals from the New York Society of Illustrators, and executed a number of noteworthy portraits, including those of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and Pope John Paul II. Hill is often described as “the dean of Canadian illustrators.” (Click here to see a selection of his magazine imagery.)

Beyond Señor Saint, Hill’s other book illustrations included the cover for the 1959 Dell paperback edition of Cop Killer (see above), one of 51 novels written by George Bagby (né Aaron Marc Stein) and featuring Inspector Schmidt, the New York City police department’s “sore-footed” chief of homicide.

James Hill is said to have died on February 3, 2004, “at his Toronto studio of heart problems at age 73.” If so, he outlived Leslie Charteris by 11 years.