A thousand miles out to sea there's nobody to help you if you can't help yourself.
Above, a Bill Johnson cover for the Charles Williams thriller Dead Calm, originally published in hardback in 1963 with this Avon paperback coming in ’65. We love this cover. It gets more interesting the more you look at it. As for the story, it deviates from the 1989 Nicole Kidman movie in several important ways, including the number of characters, the approach the heroine Rae takes toward being stranded on a sailboat in the middle of the South Pacific with a madman, and the climax. The movie is excellent, of course, but it's interesting the choices screenwriters make. In the movie Rae uses sex as part of her arsenal but Williams has more imagination than that—or less, depending on your point of view. In any case, Dead Calm is a recommended read.
Any male hussy will tell you—quantity is quality.
1952 Avon cover for Donald Henderson Clarke's The Headstrong Young Man, with a banner explaining said headstrong young man is a male hussy. Which would lead to this conversation:
“You're a male hussy, you know that?”
“It's not a compliment.”
“It means I screw a lot of women, right?”
“Then thank you.”
“But you have no discernment. You don't care. You'll stick your cock in anything that moves.”
“You sure seemed to enjoy it.”
*Sigh* “You are also incredibly thick.”
Unbelievable. I put my trust in you. Give you my heart. And here I find you pawing some red-headed bimbo.
Above is a cover for 1955's The Passion Murders, written by the prolific Day Keene, aka Gunnar Hjerstedt, and originally published as Farewell to Passion in 1951. In this one a burned out big city lawyer leaves the danger and corruption of the metropolis behind for a simpler existence, only to find that small towns offer no protection against crime. The tangled web includes a dangerous mobster, a partner with no scruples, and the lawyer's own compromised wife. We really like the cover on this one, but unfortunately it's uncredited.
Long live the King—in Yellow, that is.
The interesting cover above for Five Sinister Characters was painted by Paul Stahr and fronts a Raymond Chandler short story collection composed of "Trouble is My Business,” “Pearls Are a Nuisance,” “I'll Be Waiting,” “The Red Wind,” and “The King in Yellow.” Lovecraft fans probably know that last title via its usage by Robert W. Chambers for his 1895 collection of weird stories, which you see at right, but Chandler's “King in Yellow” is unrelated. Chandler's tale involves a tough guy bandleader named King Leopardi who wears yellow suits, while Chambers' collection is, well, weird. But Chandler knew of Chambers and he also knew of Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, of which Chambers' fiction is considered a part. Midway through Chandler's tale a character says, “The King in Yellow. I read a book with that title once.” A clear reference to Chambers' macabre work. The influence of that work continues to grow over time—it even made an impact on the first season of True Detective. Originally published by Avon in 1944, this edition of Five Sinister Characters appeared as part of Avon's Murder Mystery Monthly series in 1945. Recommended stuff.
Hey, Sarge, I'm ready for those nocturnal maneuvers you mentioned.
Not long ago we put together a large collection of lesbian paperback covers from the mid-century period. This one—Harry Whittington's Rebel Woman, 1960, from Avon Publications—we held back. It was just too awesome to mix in with the fifty or so we posted earlier. As we mentioned before, since these were mainly written by men, they reflected male fantasies and assumptions, and this one is prototypical anti-lesbian sleaze. An American mercenary gets involved in a Latin American revolution and is captured by a squad of female rebels. When he realizes the leader of the group is an old flame he figures he has nothing to worry about. But when he “saw the way she looked at the girl Dolores [he knew] the twisted path she had taken.” He decides she'll need to be reconverted to the hetero team, but that may be harder than it seems at first glance. Whittington may have gone to hell for writing this one.
That's right, I'm back. I'll have that fuzzy navel now and anyone who laughs this time is gonna regret it.
Above, a nice cover for Return to Deadmans by Al Cody, who was in reality Archie Lynn Joscelyn, an author who wrote hundreds of westerns under pseudonyms such as Tex Holt, A.A. Archer, Evelyn McKenna, and Lynn Westland. This one involves a group of land thieves and the heroic cowboy who stands in their way. 1963 copyright, cover artist unknown.
Nothing a little dying won't fix.
Narrated from the deck of a boat floating on the crystalline Caribbean, The Root of His Evil is the tale of a money-hungry femme fatale who rises from greasy spoon waitress to NYC union organizer to wealthy woman, all by age twenty-four. James M. Cain originally wrote this tale way back in 1938 as “The Modern Cinderella,” and immediately sold it to Hollywood, where it spawned the 1939 movie When Tomorrow Comes. He ended up suing for copyright infringement when the filmmakers borrowed a scene from another of his novels without paying for it. You can read details of that incident here if you're inclined. Some Cain fans love The Root of His Evil; the more prevalent opinion is that it isn't among his best. We'll say this much—there's no focus on crime here, just on questionable deeds. But we like the cover of this Avon paperback. It's less sophisticated than some good girl art, but strikes the right tone. It appeared in 1952 and is uncredited.
Don’t think too hard, my sweet. You might hurt that pretty head. Now off with the pants.
From Chicago born author Edmund Schiddel comes The Other Side of Night, a chronicle of the troubles and trials of a group of diverse New Yorkers on a particular New Year’s Eve. The menagerie includes an heiress, an aging beauty, a morbidly obese woman, a facially disfigured vet, a nymphomaniac, and a piece of Ivy League man candy. Schiddel was gay, and while he does feature a gay character here, his participation is minimal. We gather this was the norm for Schiddel, inserting gay secondary characters, but never focusing on them in the narratives. He was more interested in peeling back the tawdry layers of accepted society with occasionally controversial results. The Other Side of Night appeared in 1954, and the cover art, which we love for the expression on the male figure’s face, is uncredited.
Mom, why do all these strange men keep coming out of your bedroom buttoning their trousers?
Guy de Maupassant gets updated with this 1949 cover for his 1884 novel Yvette. Unlike other repackagings of classic novels, the art here is actually appropriate for the subject matter, as the story involves a young woman who discovers the lush lifestyle she has led her entire life is due to the fact that her mother is high class courtesan—i.e. an expensive prostitute. How did she not know this before? Chalk it up to innocence. Needless to say, her naïveté soon goes out the window. The artist on this is Barry Stephens.
Ma’am, we're highly trained professionals who can spot guilt a mile away… Okay, you’re clean. Have a nice day!
Night Cry is a thriller about a cop who accidentally kills a murder suspect and covers it up. Seems pretty straightforward until the suspect turns out to be innocent, which will fray the nerves of even the meanest cop a bit. The body, which the cop had dumped in a river, turns up and he’s assigned to investigate the crime, which is even more nerve-racking. But there’s more—the beautiful girlfriend of the deceased soon becomes everyone’s prime suspect. Night Cry is a well-regarded book that inspired the movie Where The Sidewalk Ends, directed by Otto Preminger. The 1954 paperback front above followed earlier versions from 1948 and 1949, and the art is uncredited.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1942—Battle of Stalingrad Begins
The Battle of Stalingrad, perhaps the most pivotal event of World War II, begins. It lasts for more than six months, spread across the brutal Russian winter, and ends with two million casualties. The Russian sacrifice reduces the powerful German army to a shell of its former self, and as a result Nazi defeat in the war becomes a simple matter of time.
1979—Alexander Gudonov Defects
Russian ballet dancer and actor Alexander Borisovich Godunov defects to the U.S. The event causes an international diplomatic crisis, but Gudonov manages to win asylum. He joins the famous American Ballet Theater, where he becomes a colleague of fellow-defector Mikhail Baryshnikov, and later earns roles in such Hollywood films as Witness and Die Hard.
1950—Althea Gibson Breaks the Color Barrier
Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American woman to compete on the World Tennis Tour, and the first to earn a Grand Slam title when she wins the French Open in 1956. Later she becomes the first African-American woman to compete in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
1952—Devil's Island Closed
Devil's Island, the penal colony located off the coast of French Guiana, is permanently closed. The prison is later made world famous by Henri Charrière's bestselling novel Papillon, and the subsequent film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.
1962—De Gaulle Survives Assassination Attempt
Jean Bastien-Thiry, a French air weaponry engineer, attempts to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle to prevent Algerian independence. Bastien-Thiry and others attack de Gaulle's armored limousine with machine guns, but after expending hundreds of rounds, they succeed only in puncturing two tires.
1911—Mona Lisa Disappears
Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, aka La Gioconda, is stolen from the Louvre. After many wild theories and false leads, it turns out the painting was snatched by museum employee Vincenzo Peruggia.
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