Bond is born in Ian Fleming's 1953 Cold War thriller.
We've read a few Bond novels, but not his debut in 1953's Casino Royale. When it comes to secondhand bookstores and yard sales you read what you find. But we decided to finally made a deliberate effort to go back to the beginning with an edition from Signet, which appeared in 1960 with Barye Phillips cover art. The debuts of franchise characters leave room for continuing adventures by design but we've never read a book that was so deliberately a prequel as Casino Royale. It's the essential novel for understanding Bond. You know the basics already: Cold War intrigue, opposing teams taking the field for a long struggle, a Soviet spy named La Chiffre who's dipped into funds not his and who hatches a desperate plan to restore them via the baccarat tables of a famous French casino, Bond dispatched to outplay him, break him, and ensure his downfall for stealing the money.
The book is fantastic from its opening, through its tremendously tense middle sections, and on to its brutal punchline of an ending. Bond is imperfect as both a spy and a man. He's sometimes kind, prone to sentiment, and philosophical about his work; he's also sexist, racist, and generally regressive. Casino Royale is designed to explain how the first three qualities were destroyed, making him a perfect spy. The latter three qualities remain. While in serious fiction many authors of the period were writing about racial equality and the essential sameness of people, Ian Fleming was declaring that Asians are terrible gamblers because as a race they lack resolve. None of this is a surprise because much is known about Fleming's personal views. Bond is an icon, but of a less enlightened era. We're readers, of ours. Yet we can meet on the page, and—with a tolerance Fleming never showed others—still manage to have a little fun.
Hiding behind her won't help you. She's my wife, and this morning she demanded a divorce.
Here's another cover to add to our collection of women being used as human shields, Faut pas me la faire by Robert Chirze, aka Georges Claveyre-Peyre, for Éditions le Trotteur's collection Les Grandes Roman Noirs, 1953. The art is a particularly nice example of the work of Alex Pinon, and you can see another piece here.
That was interesting. Next time can we just do it the normal way?
There's no festish sex or podophilia in With Naked Foot. This is actually a serious novel about whites coming to ruin in Africa, which is a crowded literary niche, but one in which Emily Hahn carved out an important place for herself. In fact, maybe the adjective “Hahnesque” should be used alongside “Hemingwayesque.” This is a person who wrote fifty-four books and more than two hundred articles and short stories, whose works were significant in romanticizing Africa and Asia for western readers, who lived in Florence and London in the mid-1920s, traveled to the Belgian Congo where she worked for the Red Cross, lived with a pygmy tribe for two years, crossed Central Africa alone on foot, and journeyed to Shanghai where she taught English for three years while becoming acquaintances with political powerhouses the Soong Sisters and the Chinese poet Zau Sinmay. With Naked Foot is, therefore, unusually well informed. It revolves around a beautiful Congolese girl named Mawa whose relationships with various lustful white men bring disaster. The reviews were rapturous, though some critics protested that it was too focused on sex. That's never a complaint you'll hear from us, though some of the usual flaws of mid-century racial fiction are evident. The cover art on this Bantam paperback was painted by an unknown, and the copyright is 1951.
The only friend I need is Jack and he comes in a bottle. Um—I mean he comes from a bottle.
Mary McCarthy's The Company She Keeps was reviewed positively in The Guardian—in 2011. No small feat for a book dating from 1942. It's a semi-autobiographical novel dealing with love, sex, New York City society, and the search for happiness. It's divided into six episodes starring the same woman, and each section features a different central male figure, usually a love interest, but other times a person who stands in contrast to a love interest, such as the therapist to whom the protagonist vents about her marriage. Needless to say, the book fails the Bechdel test at every turn. It made a controversial splash in the ’40s because of its frank style, and is seen today as a minor classic, the first effort from an author who would go on to greater recognition. The edition you see here appeared in 1955 and the cover art of a woman and her little friend in a bottle—perhaps not Jack Daniel's but something sure to hit the spot anyway—is by Robert McGuire.
She purrs but only when she's thinking about destroying you.
This edition of Wade Miller's iconic sleazer teaser Kitten with a Whip is a rarity and it came from Gold Medal in 1963. There's a moment early in the narrative when the hapless protagonist David turns on a news report about the seventeen-year-old sexpot invader occupying his home. Up until then the girl, whose name is Jody, has been in David's house tormenting him only a few hours, but is threatening to ruin his life with lies that they've been shacked up having a grand old time, or that he tried to rape her. David is paralyzed with fear that his wife, neighbors, and employer will believe her. But in that moment when the entire city is told the girl is a violent psycho who escaped her confinement a mere twelve hours earlier by stabbing a matron, David doesn't realize nobody will believe anything she says—not his employers, not his neighbors, and certainly not his wife—as long as he turns her in then and there. “I woke up, found her in my house, bought her some clothes because she had none, gave her money for a bus out of town—and instead of leaving she decided to stay and blackmail me.” He'd be believed, beyond a doubt. But he never makes the call. So he really deserves everything that happens afterward. But the book is a classic for a reason. It's a fun, crazy read.
Fatal confrontation leaves world a sadder place.
Here's a colorful little something from our house hunting raid last week, a pocket paperback entitled Diablo Rubio, or “blonde devil,” written by Jim Bravo for Madrid based Publicaciones Crucero. The narrative is set in Arizona and concerns a famed gunman and the rivals that dog his heels. We haven't actually read it yet. We can read Spanish but we're too lazy to do it right now, even though we're dying to know why the clown got shot. Ever been to a rodeo? Cowboys and clowns are natural allies, so there must be a complex story behind this tragedy. The art is uncredited, of course, but seems to be signed “M Leal” or “N Leal.” We get no hits on either name. Nor do we get hits on writer Jim Bravo, an obvious pseudonym. But we'll dig, and if we find anything we'll report back.
Who you gonna call when 007 can't get the job done?
We said we'd get to Clyde Allison's, aka William Knoles' Agent 0008 and here we are, sooner than you thought. Above and below are covers for all twenty entries in the series. The idea here, of course, is a sleaze riff on James Bond, or possibly even a riff on the many imitators of Bond. The dominant literary motif is satire, but as a wise man once said, just because it's satirical doesn't mean it's smart or good. The cover art on most of these is by Robert Bonfils, doing some of his better work, with Darrel Milsap handling the chores on Platypussy, and an unknown tapped for The Sin Funnel.
So we read a couple of these and they involve the spy agency SADISTO (Security and Administration Division of the Institute for Special Tactical Operations), which is located in a sprawling bunker beneath the Maryland countryside. There the agents, about sixty of them, male and female, attend briefings in a pillow covered den while lounging mostly nude, and take on assignments too difficult for MI5, the FBI, SPECTRE, the CIA, etc. Their main weapon is sex, and their main advantage is that they're utterly ruthless. They even use kidnapped college co-eds for live fire training sessions. Because they're sadistic like that.
In The Desdamona Affair SADISTO's budget has been cut, their fleet of Jaguars exchanged for Volkswagens, and their banks of IBM computers swapped out for calculators and an abacus. 0008 goes after a villainess named Desdamona Eva de Struxion (D. Eva de Struxion) in order to steal a secret formula that could eliminate world hunger. Along the way he fights trained panthers, is captured by Indian maidens, and imprisoned in an oil tanker, but ends up with all the money de Struxion has accumulated selling the formula, which means SADISTO can once again afford fancy cars and big computers. The whole narrative is absurd the same way Sharknado is absurd.
In Gamefinger 0008 is sent by SADISTO to the island of a madman named Cantwell Undershaft, aka Gamefinger, who wants to end war by broadcasting to the world via satellite lethal gladiatorial spectacles. The unwilling deaths of hundreds of kidnapped naked men and women, he reasons, will prevent the deaths of billions in World War III by slaking humanity's bloodlust. This book differs from the previous one due to the extreme violence, but the formula is the same. In a text with so many jokes, a few will hit the target, but the percentage is depressingly low and the glib approach generally wears thin.
At this point you must be wondering how we got through these. All we can say is they're curiostities—stupid, poorly written curiosities. We can't imagine anyone reading more than two—one to get the general dumb idea, and the second to confirm that the idea remains dumb. Most of the content is sex, but written entirely without making a single explicit reference to penises, vaginas, oral sex, or bodily fluids. Doesn't that sound stimulating? If you should happen to want your own copies of these they usually go for around $100, which we consider wishful thinking on the part of the vendors, but with online buying, if you bide your time, someone will always sell at a more reasonable price.
A good kitchen always comes fully equipped.
We said last week we would not find any pulp on vacation. We were wrong. Our girlfriends wanted to go house shopping because that's their thing, even though none of us can afford to buy a house. On this occasion we were curious so we tagged along to check out this little hovel in the town center. It was in need of a total refit, but had good bones, as they say, as well as a roof terrace that killed. It had a kitchen from around, we'd wager, 1960, and as we stood there pondering how to shoehorn an oven and refrigerator into the place we looked down and noticed several boxes of Spanish language magazines and books. You can see them at right in the above photo. We bided our time until the real estate agent took our girlfriends upstairs, then we filled our pockets with as many books as we could realistically carry without looking like we'd actually stolen anything. You see three of the collection below, which we photographed in the house where we were staying. Don't let the floor scare you. It was a pretty nice place. Anyway, it just goes to show that pulp is everywhere, waiting to be ripped off by enterprising aficionados. We'll take a closer look at our finds and post something soon.
Hey, lady! Yo, I need this space! You gonna be here all freakin' day or what?
What's happening here? In George Harmon Coxe's mystery Murder for Two a character named Rosalind Taylor has been shot in the back of the head. We're not giving anything away. It's an early moment and you know it's going to happen because it's on the book cover. At least on this 1952 Pocket Books edition. Murder for Two stars Coxe's intrepid photo-journalist Flash Casey, who starts out dealing with industrial intrigue and soon gets mixed up with mobsters and more. Coxe's Casey novels were very popular and two of them became movies, which would make you think he'd ride Flash until he broke down, but he wrote only five of these novels out of more than sixty books published, which just shows how many ideas he had. The cover for this one is uncredited, amazingly.
Yep, this is a robbery. Faked you out, right? Now pretend I'm asking for a back rub and empty the cash drawer.
Above, a great cover for W.R. Burnett's High Sierra from Avon Publications' series Murder Mystery Monthly, 1946, featuring a very slick robber painted by Paul Stahr. We shared another cover for this book you can see here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
1923—Yankee Stadium Opens
In New York City, Yankee Stadium, home of Major League Baseball's New York Yankees, opens with the Yankees beating their eternal rivals the Boston Red Sox 4 to 1. The stadium, which is nicknamed The House that Ruth Built, sees the Yankees become the most successful franchise in baseball history. It is eventually replaced by a new Yankee Stadium and closes in September 2008.
1961—Bay of Pigs Invasion Is Launched
A group of CIA financed and trained Cuban refugees lands at the Bay of Pigs in southern Cuba with the aim of ousting Fidel Castro. However, the invasion fails badly and the result is embarrassment for U.S. president John F. Kennedy and a major boost in popularity for Fidel Castro, and also has the effect of pushing him toward the Soviet Union for protection.
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