Thursday, January 14, 2021

Another Look: “The Dutch Shoe Mystery”

Warning: Artistic inspiration drawn from book titles may vary.

Left: The Dutch Shoe Mystery, by Ellery Queen (Pocket, 1952); cover illustration by George Mayers. Right: The Dutch Shoe Mystery, by Ellery Queen (Pocket, 1958); artwork by Jerry Allison. Published originally in 1931, this was the third whodunit starring author-sleuth Queen and his father, Inspector Richard Queen of the New York Police Department. It followed The Roman Hat Mystery (1929) and The French Powder Mystery (1930).

Although I often choose these cover pairings at random, that was not the case here. Today’s picks were inspired by news that “The American Mystery Classics Book Club”—linked to Otto Penzler’s publishing line of that same name, which last year released a fresh edition of The Dutch Shoe Mystery—“will be meeting on Zoom on February 1st at 6:30 p.m. EST to discuss [this] puzzling tale of murder in the hospital …” The event will be free to the public, and feature a special guest: Richard Dannay, the son of Ellery Queen co-creator Frederic Dannay. Simply drop an e-mail note to to RSVP.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Just the Right Touch?

The Golden Touch, by Al Dewlen (Popular Library, 1959).
Cover art by Stanley Zuckerberg.

So this is how Killer Covers themed posts occasionally germinate: I was listening the other day to a National Public Radio broadcast, and this commentator came on to discuss the many downsides of our world’s present COVID-19 pandemic. One of the things she said she has missed most over the last year is touch—just the innocent, reflexive ability to reach out and touch somebody she knows, to make that common tactile contact. The coronavirus scourge, she observed, has stopped us from shaking hands, stopped us from patting each other on the back, taught us not to move too close to our fellow human beings, lest we contract or pass along the virus. In our efforts to save one another, she lamented, we have lost this valuable connection with each other.

She had a point, of course, and one that I’d heard expressed previously, if not as avidly. And it got me to thinking—but not about the gentle fingering of mortal flesh; rather, it reminded me that I had recently noticed more than one book cover, in my computer’s files, featuring the word “touch” in its title.

As it transpired, I found many more than one example. In addition to Stanley Zuckerberg’s cover—above—you will find fronts here illustrated by the likes of Saul Tepper (A Touch of Death, 1954, below and left), Rafael de Soto (the gold cover from Don’t Touch Me, 1958), Paul Rader (1962’s Touch Me Gently and 1963’s The Cruel Touch), Robert Maguire (Touch Me Not, 1959), Rudy Nappi (A Touch of Depravity, 1960), Victor Kalin (Soft Touch, 1958), and Richard Cuffari (A Touch of Glory, 1964).

If you are aware of any other examples of vintage “touch” covers, I invite you to … well, get in touch.

FOLLOW-UP: Art Scott, the co-author of 2014’s The Art of Robert E. McGinnis, draws my attention to three additional “Touch” paperback covers, all of them carrying McGinnis artwork (and two of which have previously appeared on this page): A Touch of the Dragon, by Hamilton Basso (Popular Library, 1964); The Limbo Touch, by Jack Weeks (Fawcett Gold Medal, 1968); and an alternative front for MacDonald’s Soft Touch (Dell, 1962).

The Hite Stuff

Although I am late in doing so, I wish to direct your attention to this piece in The Stiletto Gumshoe, which recounts how famous American paperback artist Robert McGinnis employed, among his many models, one Shere Hite. That’s right, the very same Ms. Hite who composed such well-thumbed classics of sexology literature as Sexual Honesty, by Women, for Women (1974) and The Hite Report on Female Sexuality (1976). Hite died last September 9 at age 77.

Friday, December 25, 2020

A Merry Christmas to Us All!

A Holiday for Murder, by Agatha Christie (Avon, 1952).
Cover artist unidentified.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

My Kind of Book: “Dig a Dead Doll”

Dig a Dead Doll, by G.G. Fickling (Pyramid, 1960). This happens to be the seventh novel starring Honey West, “the nerviest, curviest P.I. in Los Angeles—or anywhere else for that matter,” who was created in the 1950s by the husband and wife writing team of Gloria and Forrest E. Fickling under their “G.G. Fickling” pseudonym. Cover art by Robert Maguire.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Because I Needed a Cox Fix …

Murder in Vegas, by William R. Cox (Signet, 1960). The cover illustration here, by Jerry Allison, had previously been employed on Adam Knight’s I’ll Kill You Next (Signet, 1954).

READ MORE:TMF Review: William R. Cox—Death on Location,”
by Steve Lewis (Mystery*File).

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Another Look: “Headed for a Hearse”

Warning: Artistic inspiration drawn from book titles may vary.

Left: Headed for a Hearse, by Jonathan Latimer (Century Book, 1950); cover artist identified only as “Duur.” Right: Headed for a Hearse, by Jonathan Latimer (Great Pan, 1960); cover illustration by Henry Fox. Published originally in 1935, this was one of Latimer’s five novels to star “decidedly hedonistic, booze-soaked and possibly inept [Chicago] detective” Bill Crane.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Did Someone Call for Spooks?

Spy Ghost, by Norman Daniels (Pyramid, 1965). This is the third book in Daniels’ series starring John Keith, a James Bond-like agent of A.P.E. (the American Policy Executive), “an ultrasecret organization, known only to a handful, that doesn’t officially exist but which nevertheless employs agents around the world to take care of any job too beyond the traditional agencies.”

Cover illustration by Frank Kalan.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Just in Time for All Hallows’ Eve

The Paperback Palette has posted a terrific assortment of book covers featuring frightening beasts, some more unlikely than others. The only one of these works I own is Night’s Yawning Peal, edited by August Derleth, with art by Don Ivan Punchatz.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

An Abundance of Bennetts

So here’s how it happened: A couple of weeks ago I was strolling past the bookshelves in my wife’s home office, when I spied a 1971 Berkley Highland paperback reprint of The Girl Inside (1968), Jeannette Eyerly’s short tale about “a teenage girl’s painful trek to emotional stability and maturity after her parents’ deaths and her attempted suicide.” I wouldn’t have thought twice about that book, except its cover illustration looked familiar. Sure enough, upon closer inspection I found the signature “Bennett”—as in Harry Bennett (1919-2012)—in the lower left-hand corner of the novel’s front.

Ever since late 2017, when I wrote the first in what would become a lengthy series of Killer Covers posts about Bennett and his artistry, I have been on the lookout for further examples of his work. Quite by accident, I’d came across a trove of additional Bennett-painted paperbacks while I was helping to clear out my wife’s late parents’ home (see here, here, and here). And now I had encountered one more, just resting casually among my wife’s books, a holdover from her childhood that I had not previously noticed.

Then two days later, another Bennett composition crossed my vision, this time buried in a post on the Facebook page Vintage Paperback & Book Covers. Titled Last Hope House, that 1968 Fawcett Gold Medal edition was penned by one Williams Forrest, who apparently contributed to a variety of fiction genres, from sexy suspense (Seeds of Violence, 1957) to westerns (White Apache, 1966).

Possessing a generous inclination, I wanted to share both of these recent finds with Killer Covers readers.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Many Styles of “Styles”

Published by Avon Books, 1951. Art by Barye Phillips.

October marks 100 years since the original publication of Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the intricate whodunit that introduced the famous, fastidious fictional Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. It wasn’t the first novel Christie wrote—that was, instead, a comedy of manners tale set in Egypt and titled Snow Upon the Desert—but it was her first book to actually see print.

To commemorate this month’s anniversary, I put together, for CrimeReads, a diverse collection of 25 covers from Styles, published over the last century. Many of those come from English-language editions, but others originated in Sweden, France, Israel, and elsewhere. I couldn’t have reasonably remarked on all of the options available (there were simply too many), but I believe this sampling represents some of the best and worst examples of Styles fronts.

Of the novel’s plot, I explain in CrimeReads:
Styles was an early and influential contribution to what’s now called the Golden Age of detective fiction, a period that stretched arguably from the 1920s through the 1940s. The book tosses us into the company of Captain Arthur Hastings, a soldier who’s been invalided home from World War I’s Western Front and has accepted an invitation to spend part of his sick leave at Styles Court, the Essex country estate of his boyhood acquaintance John Cavendish. However, his peace there is soon upset by the slaying of Cavendish’s elderly, widowed, and wealthy stepmother, Emily Inglethorp—an incident that awakened the household near the close of a summer night. Afterward, Hastings seeks help with the investigation from Hercule Poirot, a retired but once illustrious Belgian police detective Hastings had met before the war, and who has recently been living as a refugee in a cottage near Styles.

In short order, Poirot confirms his suspicions that the deceased was done in by strychnine, “one of the most deadly poisons known to mankind,” though precisely how she was dosed with that bitter neurotoxin is unknown. As is the identity of her killer. The suspects, however, are plentiful, among them John Cavendish and his younger brother, Lawrence, whose claim on their stepmother’s fortune is in doubt; Emily’s most recent and significantly more junior husband, Alfred Inglethorp, described as “a rotten little bounder”; Evelyn Howard, the late grandame’s hired companion, who exhibits singular animus toward Alfred; Mary Cavendish, whose love for husband John has suffered severely amid his dalliances and her own drab flirtations; and Cynthia Murdoch, Emily’s protégée, who happens to work in a dispensary. It’s up to Poirot, with aid from Hastings and Scotland Yard Inspector James Japp, to weigh motives and opportunities and finally suss out who among the Styles Court habitués was responsible for Mrs. Inglethorp’s premature dispatching.
The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ popularity is now so great, and the book’s prominence in Christie’s oeuvre so significant, that it’s hard to believe that as many as half a dozen publishers rejected that yarn before it finally reached the public in October 1920.

When you get a chance, enjoy that CrimeReads piece here.

READ MORE: “Strychnine at the Savoy: Was Agatha Christie’s Mysterious Affair at Styles Inspired by an Indian Murder?” by Arup K. Chatterjee (The Conversation); “True Crime Parallels to the Mysteries of Agatha Christie (2020) by Anne Powers,” by Kate Jackson (Cross-Examining Crime).

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Another Look: “The Lady Is Transparent”

Warning: Artistic inspiration drawn from book titles may vary.

The Lady Is Transparent, by “Carter Brown,” aka Alan Geoffrey Yates. Being offered this week are not just two paperback versions of this slender ghostbusting yarn, but four. On the left above is the 1962 Horowitz edition from Australia; on the right is the 1962 Signet edition with a cover illustration by Robert McGinnis.

On the left below is the 1967 Horowitz edition, while on the right is Signet’s 1968 version, again with McGinnis cover art.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Color Me Surprised

Six years ago, I posted on this page a selection of Robert McGinnis’ “One Shoe Off” covers. That is, McGinnis paperback illustrations showing an attractive woman sporting only a single article of footwear. According to Art Scott, co-author of The Art of Robert E. McGinnis, this is a surprisingly frequent motif for the artist. “There are at least 24 One Shoe paperback covers,” he says, “and it turns up in his magazine pieces, posters, and gallery nudes as well.”

At the time, I figured all of McGinnis’ half-shod lovelies had already been found. But, recently, while searching through Chris Ogle’s John D. MacDonald Covers blog, I stumbled across yet one more use of that gimmick on a 1974-1975 Fawcett Gold Medal edition of The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper, MacDonald’s 10th Travis McGee novel. Because I couldn’t find McGinnis’ signature anywhere on the painting, I double-checked the credit with Scott. “Yes indeed, it’s McGinnis,” he wrote in answer to my query. “Never tumbled to it as a one-shoe cover, though. Sharp eye.”

What’s distinguishes this One Shoe front from others in McGinnis’ line, of course, is that the woman we see in a lone high heel appears unconscious or dead, and is mostly hidden beneath a cloth of some sort. Aside from her tootsies, only her red hair is showing.

McGinnis contributed a very different painting to a 1981 edition of The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper, which you will find here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

My Kind of Book: “Alias James Bond”

Alias James Bond—The Life of Ian Fleming, by James Pearson (Bantam, 1967). Only the 1967 American version of this book bore that title; the original, 1966 edition was called just The Life of Ian Fleming. According to Wikipedia, author Pearson was Fleming’s assistant at the London Sunday Times when he penned this biography. It adds: “Pearson later wrote the official, fictional-biography James Bond: The Authorized Biography of 007 in 1973. The Life of Ian Fleming was one of the first biographies of Ian Fleming and is considered a collectible book by many James Bond fans, since Pearson would become the third, official James Bond author. … In 1989 the biography was turned into a movie, Goldeneye.” Cover art by James Bama.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Chance Encounters

(Above) The DADA Caper, by Ross H. Spencer (Avon, 1978)

Whole decades have passed since I last read one of Ross H. Spencer’s novels. But I thought those paperback-only private-eye spoofs were a heap of fun back when I was looking for that kind of fun. His best-known protagonist was Chance Purdue, a “tough, tight-lipped, incompetent” Chicago gumshoe who undertook five “beer-soaked adventures and screwball cases” during the 1970s and ’80s, beginning with The DADA Caper (1978). Those books comprised brief chapters, all written in a one-sentence-per-paragraph style. Example:
Chance Purdue.
That is my name.
Private Detective.
That was my occupation.
I handle anything.
That was my slogan.
Room 506 Braddock Building.
That was my address.
One-year lease.
Three hundred a month.
That was my mistake.
Punctuation was pretty much non-existent, save for periods and question marks. The books abounded with outrageous male characters and callipygous female ones (not the least of whom was Betsy, Purdue’s call-girl girlfriend (sorry, she prefers the term “whore“). And, as The Complete Review observed, in its review of The DADA Caper, each chapter “comes with an epigraph, all ascribed to (the fictitious) Monroe D. Underwood—pithy, humorous (or would-be, anyway ...), worldly-wise but down to earth (as evidenced by the loose grammar and spelling) observations such as: ‘ … you show me a man what strikes while the iron is hot and I’ll show you a man with a whole mess of third degree burns ...”

As Kevin Burton Smith remarks in his Thrilling Detective Blog,
Some people think they’re a real hoot.

Some don’t.
According to Wikipedia, Ross H. Spencer was born in Hughart, West Virginia, in 1921 and reared in Youngstown, Ohio. He served with an army infantry division during World War II, fighting in the Pacific campaign, settled in Chicago after his combat responsibilities ended, but subsequently enlisted in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. His friend and fellow author Jim Fisher recalled last year in his blog that “After working in Chicago as a railroader, landscape contractor and chain-link fence salesman and installer for forty-two years, the cigar-smoking, beer-drinking writer returned to Youngstown with his wife, Shirley.”

(Right) Author Ross H. Spencer

He was a late-blooming fictionist. “Spence read a lot, a couple of books a week or more,” writes another pal, former newspaper reporter and mystery writer Dick Stodghill, “so one day Shirley came home with a mystery for him, a book about a character named Spenser. Spelled differently, pronounced the same. Spence read it and decided he could write one just as good as Robert Parker’s. Over the years a lot of people came to agree with him.”

“As a self-taught writer without a high school degree (he was kicked out of eleventh grade for smoking), Spence started writing at age 58,” Fisher explains. “During his relatively short but intense writing career, he published thirteen novels.” In addition to the Purdue yarns, Spencer penned three books starring Lacey Lockington, “a hard-drinkin’, two-fisted, no-nonsense straight-shootin’” Windy City shamus, the first of those being 1989’s The Fifth Script. He also produced one-off tales about “low-rent, hard-drinking stumblebum Chicago private eyes” Buzz Deckard, Birch Kirby, and Luke Lassiter.

Spencer died in 1998.

Someone must know the cause of his demise.

I don’t.

I’ve embedded the fronts from all five of his Chance Purdue “capers” in this post. I was probably drawn to these books, initially, by their quirky, sexy, type-prominent covers, and only later came to appreciate the stories inside. It is only too bad that no credit is given to the series illustrator anywhere in these paperbacks.

(Left to right) The Reggis Arms Caper (Avon, 1979); The Abu Wahab Caper (Avon, 1980)

(Left to right) The Stranger City Caper (Avon, 1980); The Radish River Caper (Avon, 1981)

Sixteen years after the publication of Spencer’s final Purdue story, all five novels in that series were gathered into a single volume by a publisher called Alexander Books. Like the other Purdue editions, 1997’s The Compleat Chance Purdue is out of print, but can still be acquired via online sources.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Another Look: “Stain of Suspicion”

Warning: Artistic inspiration drawn from book titles may vary.

Left: Stain of Suspicion, by Charles Williams (Pan, 1961). Right: Stain of Suspicion, by Charles Williams (Pocket, 1973). As Paperback Warrior explains, “Before Cosmopolitan was a women’s magazine dedicated to unlocking the mysteries of the female orgasm, it was a publication for the whole family featuring short fiction across several genres. In April 1958, Cosmopolitan ran a short story by crime-noir author Charles Williams titled ‘Stain of Suspicion.’ The story was later expanded into a full novel as Talk of the Town. Subsequent editions of the paperback reverted back to the original title.” Sadly, I don’t know who illustrated either of these beautiful covers.