Yeah, wow, nice. I've never seen one without hair. It's slick as a— Wait, did you say you tore it out with hot wax?
Above, the cover of Orgy Man by Dean Hudson, a Greenleaf Classics house pseudonym used in this case by veteran sleaze author Evan Hunter, writing for Greenleaf's Idle Hours imprint, with cover art by Robert Bonfils, copyright 1964. Hah. We did that all in one sentence.
Then you die. And she's happy about it.
To quote Queen Latifah: “Who you callin' a bitch?” In this 1958 thriller trusty old Gil Brewer concocts a tale in which violent events are unleashed when a detective is hired to shadow a cheating wife. He learns there's two-hundred grand in a safe and stages a robbery, which of course goes spectacularly wrong, and leads to him being identified as the thief. He's suddenly on the run and everyone he knows is chasing after his big bag of money. Treachery abounds. There are actually two wives in this story. Which one is the bitch of the title? Well, from the narrator's point of view, probably both. But his troubles are his own fault. The book is fun, but there's a curiously aimless quality to this particular effort from Brewer. He's done better. The cover art, on the other hand, is about the best you'll see, though it's uncredited. Now we'll let Queen have the last word:
One day I was walking down the block.
I had my cutoff shorts on, right, ’cause it was crazy hot.
I walked past these dudes.
When they passed me one of 'em felt my booty.
He was nasty.
I turned around red.
Somebody was catching the wrath.
Then the little one said, “Yeah me, bitch,” and laughed.
Since he was with his boys he tried to break fly.
I punched him dead in his eye,
and said, “Who you callin' a bitch?”
He's been eaten down to the bones. I don't know about you but this is by far the worst case of frostbite I've ever seen.
We imagine Boston born author James Holden sitting around one bitterly cold night, probably just a little tipsy from drinking warm brandy, staring out at a December snowstorm, thinking to himself that if anyone's out there in such terrible weather they're risking frostbite. And then his eyes grow wide and he says aloud, “What if the frost... takes more... than just a bite? Yes! Writer's block cured!” And some months later he finishes Snow Fury, in which the snow eats people entirely. Yep. How could snow eat people? Might have something to do with a scientific experiment run amok. And just to push the entire concept to full fruition Holden named the main character David Storm. Well, at least the cover is brilliant, and for that you can thank James Meese. This Perma edition is from 1956 and the book originally appeared in hardback in 1955.
L.A. stands for Lew Archer in John MacDonald's tinseltown thriller.
We love this cover art by Harvey Kidder for John MacDonald's, aka Ross MacDonald's first Lew Archer novel The Moving Target. The way the figures are placed at such a remove from the viewer and the text is stretched across the underside of the pier is strikingly different. The book was originally published in 1949 with this Pocket Books paperback coming in 1950, and it stars MacDonald's franchise detective trying to locate a philandering millionaire who's gone missing. The man's wife is more concerned about the possibility of her spouse being on a bender and sharing the family money than she is about foul play, but Archer soon decides that the situation is a kidnapping.
We'd been meaning to read MacDonald for a while. We'd heard that his prose has a Dashiell Hammett vibe and that certainly turned out to be true. Set in and around Los Angeles, it weaves summer heat, wacky mysticism, outsize ambition, and broken dreams together into a tale with great Southern California flavor. And Archer is appropriately road worn: “I believed that evil was a quality some people were born with, like a harelip. But it isn't that simple. Everybody has it in him, and whether it comes out in his actions depends on a number of things. Environment, opportunity, economic pressure, a piece of bad luck, a wrong friend.”
In this world that he's accepted as more complex than he'd like it to be, he navigates using a solid personal code and a very hard skull—both severely tested multiple times. We gather the story is considered unremarkable compared to later Archer novels, but for us it was entirely satisfactory. It satisfied Hollywood too, which made it into a star vehicle for Paul Newman called Harper. Why the name of the detective was changed we can't even begin to guess, but we saw the movie a couple of years ago and it was enjoyable. Below you see a 1959 Pocket Books edition of The Moving Target with Jerry Allison art. More from MacDonald later.
Then she smashed my head repeatedly into the turnbuckle until the ref stopped the match. So... how was your day?
Nice cover for Ben West's Loves of a Girl Wrestler, from Beacon Books, with art by Al Rossi. We won't bother to summarize this one because we've also uploaded the interesting rear cover, just below, and it has a full rundown. Originally 1952 copyright, with this edition appearing in 1960.
I told you to always stand on a hard 17, and never double down when they deal out death, but you don't listen.
Dealing Out Death is another paperback given to us by a friend. He bought it randomly years ago and passed it along to us when he visited from the States a while back. Of the books he gave us we'd have read this one first if we knew, one, that it had to do with the movie industry (where we once worked), and two, that it was so good. It was written by W.T. Ballard, published by Graphic Books in 1948, and deals with bigtime studio VP Bill Lennox, who tries to figure out who murdered star actress Renée Wilson's husband. Wilson is in Las Vegas to deal with a personal matter—her screw-up brother's desperate plea for money to get out from under a mob boss—but soon discovers that her brother's troubles and her husband's murder are connected to an impending turf war, one initiated by mobsters from the east who want to move in on the legitimate hotel owners. Lennox flies out from Hollywood to find the killer, save his star actress from both danger and bad publicity, and navigate the seething cauldron of Vegas without losing his cool or his life.
In mid-century crime fiction you find tough guys in unlikely places. The various authors, casting about for signature characters, made ass kickers out of insurance adjusters, chemists, charter fishermen, and more. Having known a few movie producers we can tell you they run the gamut. Being a producer generally means you merely have access to money or the ability to raise it, or you have access to a script or treatment and the mandate to shop it. You can get into such a position by working your way up the ladder, but if you come to the party with money already in pocket that buys your entrance. Thus producers in both the old days and today might be former organized crime guys, former drug dealers, and such. Think Chili Palmer in Get Shorty. So the fact that the studio exec hero in Dealing Out Death is so tough is unusual but not unrealistic. Ballard uses the character of Lennox to construct an engrossing plot, imbue it with a strong sense of place, and populate it with numerous interesting characters. He's a very confident writer and he gets the job done in Dealing Out Death briskly and skillfully. The ending is not perfect, but they rarely are. Recommended stuff.
Step away from the controls, men. You've had your shot at running the world and the results speak for themselves.
The James Bond book and movie franchises spawned an army of literary and cinematic spies with numerical and acronymic designations. The film we talked about yesterday is a good example, and 1964's television show The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is another. Author Bob Tralins joined in the fun in 1966 with his creation The Miss from S.I.S. The letters stood for the Society for International Security, and the group consisted of women—particularly lead spy Lee Crosley—cleaning up the mess men had made of the globe. Above you see the three entries in the series with their great cover art that is, amazingly, uncredited. We'll keep digging for info. In the meantime, more Bob Tralins here.
French publisher borrows a face for L'assassin anonyme that isn't anonyme after all.
We did a double-take before reaching an inescapable conclusion—this is Jack Palance on the cover of the thriller L'assassin anonyme, published by the French group Éditions du Champ de Mars for its Collection Moulin Noir. After recognizing the face it was easy to find the photo you see below, a promo shot made for the 1950 movie Panic in the Streets. We thought the book might be a novelization of the film, but nope—it's straight up unlicensed usage of Palance's mug. The book was written by J. Scotland, which is of course a pseudonym, in this case for the prolific Viviane Cambon, who also wrote as Liane Méry, Cesar Valentino, and—our definite favorites—Harry Mitchum and Mickey Spolane. Rumor has it she created or shared up to forty pen names. This effort is copyright 1959, and the art is uncredited.
Rural heist goes way south.
The Big Caper by Lionel White is a bank robbery thriller written in multi-p.o.v. style, with more than a dozen characters ranging from compassionate to psychopathic all getting to describe the action. It's a good book. The crux of it is that a career bank robber sends his girlfriend and an associate to act as the advance team for the robbery. They go to the Florida town where the bank is located, set up as husband and wife, and spend six months gathering intelligence for the operation—from pacing out bank dimensions and vault location, to befriending local cops, uncovering data on important people and town operations, to renting a big house and hosting other members of the crew as they trickle into town. The boss has told his vanguard that their husband and wife act is just that—an act. Do they pay attention? No. And it's from there that complications begin to arise. The plot is carefully structured and the writing is a cut above the usual genre fare, but the ending is a bit pat. Still, it's basically a winner. Gold Medal published this edition in 1955 with cover art by Barye Phillips, and the book became a 1957 film noir of the same name starring Rory Calhoun and Mary Costa. We may check that out later.
I always get confused about this. So, like, if you're my mother's husband does that mean you can or can't spank me?
Above, a cover for My Mother's Husband, written by M. Anderson for Newsstand Library, a company based in Chicago. M. Anderson is obviously a pseudonym whose real identity seems lost to time, and believe it or not, this is actually a detective story. It's copyright 1960, with Robert Bonfils art.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1935—Downtown Athletic Club Awards First Trophy
The Downtown Athletic Club in New York City awards its first trophy for athletic achievement to University of Chicago halfback Jay Berwanger. The prize is later renamed the Heisman Trophy, and becomes the most prestigious award in college athletics.
1968—Japan's Biggest Heist Occurs
300 million yen is stolen from four employees of the Nihon Shintaku Ginko bank in Tokyo when a man dressed as a police officer blocks traffic due to a bomb threat, makes them exit their bank car while he checks it for a bomb, and then drives away in it. Under Japanese statute of limitations laws, the thief could come forward today with no repercussions, but nobody has ever taken credit for the crime.
1965—UFO Reported by Thousands of Witnesses
A large, brilliant fireball is seen by thousands in at least six U.S. states and Ontario, Canada as it streaks across the sky, reportedly dropping hot metal debris, starting grass fires, and causing sonic booms. It is generally assumed and reported by the press to be a meteor, however some witnesses claim to have approached the fallen object and seen an alien craft.
1980—John Lennon Killed
Ex-Beatle John Lennon is shot four times in the back and killed by Mark David Chapman in front of The Dakota apartment building in New York City. Chapman had been stalking Lennon since October, and earlier that evening Lennon had autographed a copy of his album Double Fantasy for him.
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