Fine. Explain. But don't turn around. I hate your face so much right now I might shoot it on general principle.
Above, a cover for Erle Stanley Gardner's The Case of the Haunted Husband, eighteenth in the acclaimed Perry Mason series, from Pocket Books. Generally considered one of the best Mason mysteries, this one tells the story of a female hitchhiker who accepts a ride from a guy who gets a little too handsy, leading to a multi-car crack-up. The woman awakens behind the wheel, with the driver nowhere to be seen, and a fatality in one of the other cars. The cops don't believe she wasn't the driver, so they arrest her and charge her with negligent homicide. Things get worse when the car turns out to be stolen, and suddenly she's on the hook for that too. Enter Perry Mason. Nothing is haunted in this book, but the mystery is a winner. We also were reminded how effective short chapters can be in drawing a reader into a story. The hardback of The Case of the Haunted Husband appeared in 1941, and the above paperback with Bernard Safran art followed in 1949.
Once you open the package there's no returning the contents.
There are numerous vintage editions of James M. Cain's classic thriller The Postman Always Rings Twice out there, including one from the Spanish publisher Bruguera that we showed you years ago, but we recently got our hands on this 1947 Pocket Books edition, with a cover by Tom Dunn. We read the book, and there are several interesting aspects to the novel, including frightening violence, a generally amoral view of the world, and this:
I took her in my arms and mashed my mouth up against hers...
“Bite me! Bite me!”
I bit her. I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs.
Obsessive lust. We get it. Still, it's bizarre. Then there's this:
"Well, get this. I'm just as white as you are, see? I may have dark hair and look a little [Mexican], but I'm just as white as you are."
It was being married to that Greek that made her feel she wasn't white.
Caustic racism. Later the femme fatale, Cora, explains that she simply cannot tolerate having a child with the aforementioned husband, who she married for security. “I can't have no greasy Greek child, Frank. I can't, that's all.” Cain establishes with this style of banter that his two main characters are bad people. But The Postman Always Rings Twice is great, and nobody ever said literature is supposed to be easy to read. This is fast-paced pulp fiction that's about as good as you'll ever find. Highly recommended.
God, I love these pants. Fashion may be transitory, but these will never go out of style.
Here's an interesting cover for Romana Stewart's Desert Town showing that confidence is the key to fashion. You gotta wear it like you mean it. Even if it's jodhpurs. The story here is a coming of age tale about a seventeen-year-old girl pursuing an older man, with the pursuit complicated by her eerie resemblance to the man's dead wife, the fact that her mother is basically the queenpin of the town, and the fact that the man is a hustler and the story behind his wife's death may not be as simple as it seems. There's even more to it—a fierce rival for the man's attention, crooked cops, a dangerous gangster, an alcoholic wife, and other curious smalltown characters. The story was adapted for cinema in 1947 as Desert Fury, starring Burt Lancaster, John Hodiak, Lizabeth Scott, and Mary Astor. The cover artist on this 1948 Pocket Books edition is Roswell Keller, whose work was last seen on the front of Slay the Loose Ladies, a paperback we included in our alpha males collection.
Caught between the dark and a hard place.
This 1949 Pocket Books paperback of In a Lonely Place by Dorothy Hughes is a rarity. The novel is abundantly available today, but the first edition paperback you see above is hard to find. The story was made into a 1950 movie starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame, but the final product bears little resemblance to the novel. Actually, the movie is a lesson in how source material can be completely cannibalized yet still made into a superior product. In a Lonely Place the movie, after all, is considered one of the best of the mid-century noirs. We said the same about it last year. But unlike the film, Hughes' novel leaves no doubt that main character Dixon Steele is a murderer. In fact, it's the central plot device—he kills a wealthy man and assumes his identity. The novel is said to be an inspiration for Patricia Highsmith's famed murderous grifter Tom Ripley. The nice art on In a Lonely Place was painted by Frank McCarthy, a prolific illustrator of paperbacks and magazine covers who toward the end of his career moved into fine art with frontier and western themes. We haven't featured him before but he'll doubtless pop up again.
In the end I have to admit this minimalist look is kind of depressing. Maybe I should buy an ottoman.
Robert McGinnis does his usual flawless work on this cover for Erle Stanley Gardner's The Case of the Bigamous Spouse. Many summaries of this online, but briefly, it's about a door-to-door saleswoman who is implicated in the murder of her best friend's new husband, who was married to two women. Rest assured, Perry Mason sorts it all out as perfectly as McGinnis sorted out this cover.
This is my disappointed face. You know why I'm making this face? Because I'm fucking disappointed is why.
Originally written by the mysterious B. Traven and published in 1927, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre appeared in the above Pocket Books version in 1948 with Barye Phillips on the cover chores. We have to say, he did a bang-up job capturing Bogart's world weary mug. You already know the story in this book: lust for riches lays a greedy man low. But it's a particularly good riff on that theme. A highly recommended read.
It looks like she tried to write her killer's name. Quick—check the passenger manifest for anyone named Arrrghh...
Frank Bunce's So Young a Body has a great premise—an everyman named Peabody Humble who's tired of being normal decides while on a cruise to tell people he's a hard-boiled detective rather than a boring old accountant. But when a passenger is murdered the captain turns to Humble to solve the crime. Luckily, instant sidekick Dorit Bly is on hand to help him over the rough patches with her outgoing nature and photographic memory. Fully as fun as it sounds, but the series you'd expect to have been launched from this novel never materialized, sadly. Originally published by Simon and Schuster in 1950, this Pocket Books edition adorned with Cass Norwalsh cover art appeared in 1951. The 1952 British edition from Pocket was completely different. See below. We have to thank Monty Python for the subhead, by the way. You've all obviously seen Holy Grail like five or six times, right?
McGinnis makes waves with his art.
It's always a good idea to regularly revisit the work of Robert McGinnis. Above you see his cover for Erle Stanley Gardner's The Case of the Demure Defendant, originally published in 1954 with this Pocket Books paperback appearing in 1964. We love the psychedelic direction McGinnis goes with the ripples in the pond, alternating rings of turquoise and violet. This is fantastic work.
I hear the falcon is nice and all, but darlin’, these ankle strap pumps of yours are to die for.
Of the many covers for Dashiell Hammett’s classic The Maltese Falcon, this version painted by Stanley Meltzoff is one of our favorites. It’s from 1945 and is a dust sleeve for a paperback, a rarity that explains why it goes for $100 and up, generally. We’ve even seen it listed for $250. Beneath the Meltzoff sleeve is a cover by Leo Manso, the famed collagist and abstract artist, which he first painted for the 1944 paperback edition. You can see an example of that here. The Meltzoff sleeve was supposedly controversial at the time due to the Brigid O’Shaughnessy character removing her bra. We didn’t notice that at first, to tell you the truth—our eyes moved right to that triangle of darkness where we see Sam Spade’s hands as he assesses a pair of red pumps. Lovingly, we think. Almost like he wants to keep them. Or are we reading too much into this one?
Your honor, defense concedes the victim died of suffocation by pillow, but we contend it had no human cause.
The Deadly Climate is a 1955 mystery by Ursula Curtiss, the story of a woman who thinks she’s seen a murder in the woods, but since she can’t identify the killer, and the body has vanished, nobody believes her. But of course meantime the murderer is lurking with plans to eliminate her as a witness. There are many good reviews around the internet on this one. Art is by James Meese.
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