You know what? Don't worry about it. The first time wasn't that great anyway.
Above, a Paul Rader cover for Twice with Julie by Jason Hytes, aka John Plunkett. The lesson here? Every man has his limitations. Copyright 1962.
You'll get nowhere fast with this book.
Popular Library made a habit of retitling novels if they thought the original was too esoteric. Many companies did it, but Popular Library had some notorious instances, including changing Ian Fleming's Casino Royale to You Asked for It. Speed Lamkin's The Easter Egg Hunt appeared in 1954 to reviews that ranged from cool to tepid, which was probably all the excuse Popular Library needed to rebrand and pulpify it for paperback release. Thus a year later Fast and Loose hit bookstores in a blaze of golden color from the exemplary brush of cover artist Rafael DeSoto, who was one of the top paperback illustrators going. This effort is typically flawless, and features the trademark textural background that makes his work so identifiable, such as here and here.
We gave Fast and Loose a read. You notice the cover quotes some reviewer or other saying the book is James M. Cainish. Lamkin is like Cain the way papier mache is like origami. They're both things you do with paper, but that's about it. Lamkin is more from the Capote or Fitzgerald schools of authoring. His book is also very similar to Ramona Stewart's forgotten novel The Surprise Party Complex, though Stewart's book came later. But both deal with the events of a summer in Hollywood. Where Stewart focuses on a trio of aimless teens, Lamkin writes about adults who, though they're producers, actors, and writers, are equally aimless, partying the days and nights away.
The main character Charley Thayer works for Life magazine, though never has work to do. He observes the celestial bodies in the orbit of wealthy Clarence Culvers, who has the best party house in Beverly Hills and is determined to make his young, volatile wife a star. The people in this crowd are shallow, selfish, and bigoted, and since Lamkin spent time in L.A. we can assume he's relating what he observed, or at least thought he observed. Frankly, these folks are all so tedious that when the expected tragedy finally occurs it's a relief to have one less horrible person in the world, even a fictional one. Speed needed a limit—to about two-thirds the number of pages. Then Fast and Loose might have worked.
Sleaze imprint offers illuminating cover art.
Several days ago we said we'd revisit whoever painted this cover with an eye toward determining if they were really any good. At a glance these fronts from sleaze imprint Gaslight Books don't compare to the many beautiful efforts from Midwood or Gold Medal, but only at a glance. There's a distinctive style here, a certain beauty of form and color, an ease of execution like sketches brought to life. All are uncredited, but all are by the same artist, who hasn't gotten their due, in our opinion, for taking cover art in this unusual direction. Alternatively, we could simply be high. But give these a close look, revisit last week's cover, check the example we shared several years ago, and see what you think.
Mirror mirror on the paperback, is whoever painted this really a hack?
This cover for Tom Haunt's Deadly Love is uncredited, and at a glance it looks like something splashed on canvas without much regard for the final result. But we'll be returning to this unknown artist for an extended look in a bit, and we may change your mind about him/her. It wouldn't be the first time a presumed hack got a reconsideration in the realm of paperback covers. Remember sleaze illustrator Gene Bilbrew, once ignored, now celebrated? If not, look here.
Some cover art isn't easy to stylistically appreciate at first glance, but it's useful to remember that it serves dual purposes. The artists and most art aficionados would say it must show proficiency. But a publisher would say it must catch the eye on a newsstand or bookstore shelf. Making those ingredients mix isn't easy, and the final result will sometimes have more of one flavor than the other. The above art is eye-catching but probably not proficient. Or is it? Stay tuned.
Moving on to the actual fiction, author Tom Haunt is a pseudonym, we're guessing, though for whom we don't know. Whoever he/she really was wrote numerous books. This one is the story of a young Coney Island hustler named Joe Brody who tries to turn a woman of thirty-one into his sugar mama. His plan is to use her money to ditch grimy New York for the white sands and endless sunshine of Florida.
Everything goes swimmingly for a while. Joe plies his benefactress for cash, gets her to buy him a car, and the two run off to the sunny south. But of course Joe is a heel and eventually his straying ways lead to serious troubles, and—as the cover blurb reveals—death! Actually several people die, including Joe, who we weren't sad to see go. There's nothing special in this story, but at least it was a quick read. Will we check out more from Tom Haunt? Doubtful.
So I gather *smooch* we're not going to make it *smack* to the movie?
Orrie Hitt's 1957 sleazer Untamed Lust is better-than-usual work from him about a strapping farmhand and trapper named Eddie who lands a job on a big spread peopled by a sadistic invalid, his highly sexed wife, and his highly sexed daughter. Eddie has a girlfriend, highly sexed, who wants to marry him, but Ed, who's highly sexed, wants to nail the wife and daughter, not lose his job as a result, and avoid a murder-for-inheritance plot. Complications ensue.
Is it just us, or is it way too exhausting to consider trying to bed three women who are part of the same household? Maybe we're not highly sexed enough. Eddie spends a lot of time snaring defenseless animals, and we think there's a metaphor in there, but for the life of us we can't puzzle it out. Hitt is just too subtle for us. The cover art here is obviously in no way farm related. It looks more like office or suburban sleaze.
Beacon assistant editor: “But this art has nothing to do with the story. Eddie's a trapper who never wore a suit in his life, and the chicks are all earthy farm girls.”
Beacon head honcho: “You're fired.”
The cover art is obviously something Beacon-Signal picked up, possibly from an earlier paperback, just because it was easier than commissioning a custom cover. They didn't even bother to credit the artist. But whatever. You like highly sexed farm girls and hunting? This book is for you. But keep in mind, though we said above it's better than the usual Orrie Hitt, it's still nothing approaching a masterpiece.
She's got this caper in the bag.
What does the Devil drive? People, apparently. Robert Ames' thriller The Devil Drives, for which you see a nice Barye Phillips cover above, has a labyrinthine plot at the center of which is one of the most duplicitous femmes fatales ever, a bad woman named Kim Bissel. In a small Florida town, numerous people are after bags of money from a deadly armored car robbery, loot that went missing after the getaway boat crashed and upended. Cold-blooded Kim wants the cash more than her male rivals can possibly comprehend, yet they continue to underestimate her—at their mortal peril. We've noted before that the only true respect women received in mid-century fiction and cinema was as deadly criminals. Pyrrhic, considering the possible punishments in store, but you'll find yourself on this feminist fatale's side as she tries to beat the odds. While the plot is improbable, the book works because of Ames' hallucinatory, irony filled, interior monologue driven prose. Recommended stuff, from 1952.
This is a Dior blouse you've managed to ruin, FYI, just in case you have anything resembling a human soul.
The lead character in Peter Rabe's Stop This Man is a jackass, but he isn't a rapist. This cover by Darcy, aka Ernest Chiriaka, does capture his essential nature, though, as he's bossy as hell and sees woman mainly as objects to be possessed or manipulated. When he intrudes into the back room of a club and encounters a female employee changing clothes he intimidates her into continuing so he can see her naked. As often happens in mid-century crime novels, she decides this makes him a real man and falls for him. It's not rape but it's definitely rapey. But of course us modern readers are aware of this going in, right? The sexism, the racism, all the rest, are features of 1950s crime literature. Each person needs to decide whether there's something to be gained in the fiction beyond its obvious affronts to societal values.
In Stop This Man lots of people are trying to stop Tony Catell, but not from harassing women. They want to thwart his criminal master plan. In mid-century crime fiction the main character is often in possession of an ill gotten item he expects to open the gateway to a better life. It may be money or bearer bonds or a rare diamond. Here the item is a thirty-six pound ingot of stolen gold. Catell hopes to fence it but the trick is to find an interested party who will give him a good price. Did we forget to mention that it's radioactive? There's always a catch, right? People who come into extended contact with this brick of gold die, but that doesn't stop Catell. He wraps it in an x-ray technician's lead lined apron and travels from Detroit to L.A. seeking a buyer for this lethal hunk of heavy metal.
Catell is kind of radioactive too, actually, in the sense that he's bad news through and through. He plans to sell his killer treasure, but has no idea the radiation is turning it into mercury. It's a cool set-up for a thriller by the experienced Rabe. You may be thinking 1952's Kiss Me, Deadly did it first, but Spillane's novel does not have the radioactive suitcase made famous by the movie adaptation, so this could be—could be, because we haven't read every book out there—the first time this nuclear gimmick appeared. It was originally published in 1955, which means it's also possible the nuclear angle was influenced by Kiss Me Deadly the film, which appeared in May the same year. But while Stop This Man is cleverly set up and is as hard-boiled as any crime novel we've come across, overall we felt it should have been executed at a higher level.
Chariot Books opts for alternate spelling of “tonight” when they learn graphic designer charges by the letter.
Actually, we have no idea why the book cover says “tonite.” We didn't buy a copy, so your guess is as good as ours. Here's what we do know. Tonite is sexual awakening sleaze about a smalltown girl who learns how to play men like fiddles in order to get what she wants. Nothing new there, but we do like the unusual art with its ragged white border at the bottom. It's very different for the time period. Chariot was not great about crediting artists and this one is no exception. Put it in the unknown bin, 1962.
Nick and Nora Charles—never shaken, never stirred, and almost never sober.
1934's The Thin Man is what we like to think of of a palate cleanser. After reading a few less accomplished authors you grab a Hammett because you know he's great. It's pure fun following functional alcoholic Nick Charles and his equally hard drinking young wife Nora as they navigate deception and murder. How much do Nick and Nora Charles drink? At one point Nick wakes up feeling terrible and realizes it's because he'd gone to bed sober. Several cocktail sessions a day is about average. Maybe that's why danger doesn't faze them. Even being shot at is reason for a libation and a quip.
This edition of The Thin Man is a rare one. It's the Pocket Books paperback from 1945, with the type of art that was prevalent on paperbacks during the heyday of pulp. We can't tell you much about the book that hasn't already been written, including the fact that it's less a mystery than a comedy of manners, but there is one aspect that's rarely commented upon. Nick Charles is of Greek descent. His full last name is Charalambides. This was the ’30s, when there was open racism in the U.S. against Greeks. James M. Cain delves into this in The Postman Always Rings Twice, in which the Greek character Nick Papadakis is insulted behind his back and set apart as a non-white inferior.
So in The Thin Man Hammett was portraying Nick Charles not as the upper crust dilettante William Powell made famous in the film version, but as a tough guy outsider. People are a bit afraid of him. Filmgoers were definitely not afraid of pencil mustached William Powell. Hammett wanted the written Charles to possess street cred, to be a person who had been places and seen things others had not. Hammett was going for a different type of detective in more ways than merely his drinking habits. Charles' maverick role is just a little extra flavor in an already entertaining novel. The actual mystery is difficult to follow, but even so we highly recommend this if you haven't read it.
Any of you hardened felons seen my beautiful virginal daughter lately?
Mitchell Hooks handles the cover work on this Gold Medal edition of the 1957 Tarn Scott thriller Don't Let Her Die. The book concerns a well connected prison inmate who uses his outside-the-walls contacts to kidnap the warden's daughter and maneuver for a pardon in exchange for her life. We say maneuver rather than demand because the convict keeps deniability throughout, claiming to know nothing even as the warden daily receives anonymous ultimatums, with a little extra motivation provided by photos of his terrified daughter nude. The warden caves pretty quickly, appeals to the governor for the pardon, is refused, and that's where things get interesting. There's more grit than usual here, but certain lines will not be crossed, and the reader is well aware of that, despite all the menace injected into the prose. Even so, Scott—a pseudonym used by Walter Szot and Peter G. Tarnor—certainly showed promise. Sadly, the pairing only produced a few books.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday
records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
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.
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