Hello there, my dear. Guess what today is.
That look right there. That's the one you never want to see on someone's face, because even if they aren't actually going to kill you, they're for sure thinking about it. In Dana Chambers' Someday I'll Kill You, the heroine Lisa is targeted by a blackmailer who threatens to pin an accidental death on her as murder if she doesn't pony up a hundred grand. She summons help to her enclave in the Connecticut countryside in the form of a rugged pilot and former lover with the unlikely name Jim Steele. He's reluctant to get involved because Lisa jilted him after a Caribbean idyll and married a wealthy psychiatrist. But he can't resist—and really, how can he when asked by “a long-legged, slim-hipped Diana with—startlingly and unforgettably—the breasts of Venus.”? The story unfolds from his perspective—partly obscured by the aforementioned Venusian breasts—as blackmail leads to murder, first thought to be a case of mistaken identity, then understood to be part of the plan. Steele sets about trying to unravel the scheme and to somehow insert himself back into Lisa's bed. Chambers, aka Albert Leffingwell originally published this in hardback in 1939, with the Popular Library paperback edition you see above coming in ’53. There's considerable online debate about who painted the cover art, but for now it remains in the unknown bin.
Just stay over there a minute. I want you to get the full effect of this awesome pose.
In Evan Hunter's 1954 novel Don't Crowd Me an NYC advertising copywriter seeks tranquility in the lake region but instead finds himself encountering two sisters with very different temperaments who both seem to find him irresistible. Then, of course, there's a murder to spoil everything, and it looks like he's the only one who can solve it. The plot may sound improbable, but Hunter, born Salvatore Albert Lombino, was better known by his pseudonym Ed McBain, which means you would expect this to be decently written. And in fact you would be correct. The cover art, which is great, was painted by Walter Popp.
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.
Who, him? He'll be fine in a minute or two. Everyone who eats here reacts that way when they see their check.
Author Igor B. Maslowski was born in 1914 in Smolensk, Russia, which his parents left to settle in Poland, where Maslowski grew up. After studying French in Warsaw, he went to Paris to study law, and in 1935 he became a reporter for French radio. Later he became a film and theater critic, and from there he moved into writing fiction under his own name and the pseudonym Renée Gaudin. Above you see a very nice cover for his mystery Le jury avait soif, with unattributed art. The book was published by Éditions le Bruyère for its Collection la Cagoule in 1950, and the title in English means “the jury was thirsty.” However, the type of jury here is not a judicial one, but a literary one, convened to select the winner of a prize, a pursuit that's disrupted when one of the panel turns up dead. Pretty soon someone else is dead, and someone else, which in a way isn't a surprise, because the world of literature is actually pretty cutthroat. Aspiring novelists beware. Below, as a bonus, you see a cover of the same novel from Éditions du Chardon's Collection le Carillon, 1954.
Everybody knew—but was what they knew right?
It's amazing how many mid-century authors were compared to Erskine Caldwell, but such was his influence that any pass at southern smalltown loving, feuding, and corruption prompted reviewers to cite him as the king of the genre. Francis Irby Gwaltney's The Whole Town Knew, originally published as The Yeller-Headed Summer, was compared by many to Caldwell. It deals with the rape and murder of a woman, subsequent efforts to find her killer or killers, efforts to keep the details of her free-spirited ways out of court, local newspaper drama, a not-too-bright lawman in way over his head, and more.
This lawman is the center of the book, and his problems mount tremendously—starting with the fact that he's supposed to leave influential members of the community alone and stick to policing poor and powerless folk. Art imitates life, right? The town of Walnut Creek was close kin to the burgs from Caldwell's oeuvre, as were the antics of the townspeople, but the book was well reviewed, leading to Irby—actually a protégée of Norman Mailer, whose mentorship was instrumental—becoming very famous for a time. We love the cover art on this 1955 Popular Library edition. It was painted by Ray Johnson, who always does great work, as you can see here and here.
You may now return to the full upright position. Heh. I never get tired of saying that.
Mid-century sexploitation fiction left no profession untapped for tawdry thrills. You can put Naked Angels in the airline sleaze bin, along with the classic Bronson's 19 Year Old Stewardess and others. The story here actually follows a specific naked angel, and the twists and turns of her love life both in air and on the ground in various cities and countries. We may put together a small collection of covers from this genre sometime. 1959 on this one, with uncredited art.
Last one to leave turn out the lights.
Above, a beautiful black dust jacket for James Hadley Chase's thriller Believed Violent, 1968, from British publisher Robert Hale Limited. Chase gets right into this one with an adulterous sex scene on the opening page, and serious repercussions resulting from the subsequent murder. The book evolves to become an espionage caper, with Russians willing to pay a fortune for the secret formula behind the manufacture of a revolutionary new metal. Against that backdrop you get the broken man behind the formula, a sadistic professional killer, a one-eyed henchman, a sex slave heroin addict whose eventual rebellion has pivotal consequences, and Chase's franchise character Frank Terrell. The art here, which is what we really wanted to show you, is from Barbara Walton. We've mentioned her only briefly but as you can see she was a top talent. We're going to get back to her a little later.
You win! *choke* *gurgle* I'll have mine medium well! Side of hash browns!
The title of Eat Dog or Die! refers not to the literal consumption of dogs, but to the will to fight and survive. The book is basically a revenge thriller along the lines of Hang 'Em High. The hero is strung up by baddies arrayed against him in a land squabble, but when he's cut down by rescuers, he quickly goes about ventilating everybody that crossed him. The author, C. William Harrison, aka Chester William Harrison was mainly a western author, but wrote a few youth books, and two technical manuals, as well as the environmentalist book Conservation: The Challenge of Reclaiming Our Plundered Land, which is funny, because that's exactly what the hero of Eat Dog or Die! aims to do. The violent cover art is by Rafael DeSoto, for Lion Books, 1952.
You're right. They do look like ladybugs. I guess that means you're gonna get lucky.
Above you see the cover of Illicit Desires from Quarter Books, 1949, by H.M. Appel, aka Archibald Bittner, with art by the famed George Gross. Some sources say this book was originally published as The Farmer's Daughter, but others say that was the original title of Appel's Brutal Kisses. Were both novels alternatively titled The Farmer's Daughter? Could be. There were plenty of precocious farmer's daughters in mid-century fiction.
Here's your bourbon. You can add your own water.
You can consider this cover for The High Cost of Loving, which is unattributed, an addendum to our April showers collection from last year. Written by Bonnie Golightly, it's a novelization of the 1958 MGM film starring José Ferrer and Gena Rowlands, in the latter's cinematic debut. The story deals with a devoted corporate drone whose company is sold. Clues indicate he's going to be fired, and his name is even scraped off his office door, but the twist is he's really going to be promoted but hasn't been informed because of an oversight. He decides to confront the company president over his unfair treatment. Will his anger cost him the opportunity he's been looking for? What do you think—it's a Sidney Lumet movie or something? Everything ends up just fine.
Interesting side note on author Bonnie Golightly: that's her real name and she even sued Truman Capote for $800,000 over Breakfast at Tiffany's, which you'll remember starred a Holly Golightly. She claimed the similarities between Holly and she were obvious—both lived in Upper East Side brownstones with bars around the corner, both were amateur singers, and both were crazy about cats. The suit eventually died, and Capote always claimed his character was actually based on a German immigrant he knew in NYC at the beginning of World War II who later conveniently disappeared in East Africa—a place from which lawsuits rarely spring. You can see that April showers collection here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1927—First Prints Are Left at Grauman's
Hollywood power couple Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, who co-founded the movie studio United Artists with Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith, become the first celebrities to leave their impressions in concrete at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, located along the stretch where the historic Hollywood Walk of Fame would later be established.
1945—Hitler Marries Braun
During the last days of the Third Reich, as Russia's Red Army closes in from the east, Adolf Hitler marries his long-time partner Eva Braun in a Berlin bunker during a brief civil ceremony witnessed by Joseph Goebbels and Martin Bormann. Both Hitler and Braun commit suicide the next day, and their corpses are burned in the Reich Chancellery garden.
1967—Ali Is Stripped of His Title
After refusing induction into the United States Army the day before due to religious reasons, Muhammad Ali is stripped of his heavyweight boxing title. He is found guilty of a felony in refusing to be drafted for service in Vietnam, but he does not serve prison time, and on June 28, 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court reverses his conviction. His stand against the war had made him a hated figure in mainstream America, but in the black community and the rest of the world he had become an icon.
1947—Heyerdahl Embarks on Kon-Tiki
Norwegian ethnographer and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl and his five man crew set out from Peru on a giant balsa wood raft called the Kon-Tiki in order to prove that Peruvian natives could have settled Polynesia. After a 101 day, 4,300 mile (8,000 km) journey, Kon-Tiki smashes into the reef at Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands on August 7, 1947, thus demonstrating that it is possible for a primitive craft to survive a Pacific crossing.
1989—Soviets Acknowledge Chernobyl Accident
After two days of rumors and denials the Soviet Union admits there was an accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Reactor number four had suffered a meltdown, sending a plume of radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical area. Today the abandoned radioactive area surrounding Chernobyl is rife with local wildlife and has been converted into a wildlife sanctuary, one of the largest in Europe.
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