Always get out while the getting is good.
Jim Thompson's thriller The Getaway was made into a movie twice, the first time in 1972 with Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw, and the second time in 1994 with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. Both versions opted to change the thrust of Thompson's tale, so if you've seen either movie reading the novel might provide an interesting experience. It's a crime novel with several deeper themes. For example, Thompson expresses social isolation in the starkest terms, such as here, when writing about a group of poor country folk:
Their existence was centered around existing. They had no hope of anything more, no comprehension that there might be anything more. In a sense they were an autonomous body, functioning within a society which was organized to grind them down. The law did not protect them; for them it was merely an instrument of harassment, a means of moving them on when it was against their interest to move, or detaining them when it was to their disadvantage to stay.
Against this hostile backdrop the two main characters, Doc and Carol, are—unlike in the movies—unambiguously amoral people, a couple who are certain only that the world is institutionally corrupt, and that their only hope for survival is each other. What starts as a standard heist-and-flight tale becomes an allegorical descent into hell, complete with images borrowed from various religious myths. This makes the latter third of the novel something far weirder than expected going in, but the ultimate idea of crime as a soul-killer comes across crystal clear.
You really can't go wrong with Thompson. While The Getaway is perhaps not as top flight as Pop. 1280 or some of his other books, it's still one to fit into your reading schedule at some point. It was originally published in 1958, and the above edition came from Signet in 1959 and features a nice orange cover from the incomparable Bob Abbett. If you're interested in seeing him at his best, check the small cover collection we put together here.
So she likes to have fun. Do we really need to put a label on it?
The lush of Orrie Hitt's The Lady Is a Lush is the character Amy Collins mentioned in the cover blurb, but her husband Chip really deserves the title. Like his wife he's screwing around, and like her he makes terrible decisions under the influence of booze, but lacks the sense to avoid getting one of his flings pregnant. At one point he finds condoms in Amy's purse and is relieved she's being careful about her extracurriculars, but does he follow her example? No. Things get pretty dark, but after some drama and soul searching he basically comes up roses. Not so for Amy, who does the full downward spiral. We'll say this much—this is a better-than-usual effort from Hitt. The characters are believable and the backdrop of a small-time trucking company works. If you're going to read him, this is one to try. The Beacon-Signal cover is iconic, yet uncredited.
But I feel absolutely miserable, nurse. And you know misery loves company.
Above we have an addition to our ongoing collection of nurse/doctor covers, 1953's Night Nurse by David Charlson for Venus Books, which was a branch of Star Guidance, Inc. If you seek to buy this, you'll find it priced at up to $100, which is enough to put you into shock, and then you can have a night nurse of your own. We don't know about you, but we'll content ourselves with this nice scan. The art is uncredited. See more guaranteed-to-amuse nurse and doctor covers here, here, here, here, here, and here.
For you this is just a light, but for me it's the beginning of a self-destructive sexual obsession and eventual restraining order.
We're going to do one more entry on France before we head to other countries. Once we have time to do some intensive scanning you'll see the bulk of our Paris treasures. Paris, by the way, is a city where strangers often ask you for a light, which is why we thought of the above subhead. If we actually smoked it would be a great way to meet people, but since we never have an actual light all interaction ends there. So while we learn how to smoke, above you see a cover for Elle ne perd pas son temps, by George Maxwell, aka Georges Esposito, for Presses Mondiales and its series Les grands romans dessinés, published in 1953. These were comic books adapted from the series La Môme Double-Shot, specifically 1952's La belle se joue à deux, which you can see here. Elle ne perd pas son temps translates to “She doesn't waste her time,” and neither did the artist Jacques Thibésart, aka Mik, when he painted this nice cover. If you're inclined you can see examples from him here, here, and here, and you can certainly expect more in the future.
They said she needed a hobby and look what happened.
Each vintage book brings interesting discoveries. For instance, we recently learned that there was once a drink made with sherry and an egg yolk. Seriously. Reading Beast in View we learned that another name once used for scissors—at least by author Margaret Milar—was “paper knife.” Always have a really big paper knife around the house. Small ones are fine for cutting paper, but the huge ones are better for going through arteries. A terrible fate, surely, though no worse than drinking sherry with an egg yolk in it. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
The villain in Beast in View begins as nothing more than a serial phone harasser who seems to know just enough about her victims to prey on their insecurities. The lies she tells her victims are terrible, and the language is ugly too. More direct forms of harassment soon commence, just about the time amateur sleuth Paul Blackshear steps in and is asked to find the caller. That seems easy enough at first, but he soon finds that identity is a more nebulous concept than he imagined.
Beast in View won the 1955 Edgar Award for best mystery of the year. Hmm... well we liked it. But is it really better than Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley, which it beat? We don't know about that. Later Beast in View was voted one of the best mysteries of all time by the Mystery Writers of America. That's a broader accolade, in a way, and we can't find any fault there. It's a good book, written in classical mystery style, with a great ending, and this line:
[no spoiler] felt no pain, only a little surprise at how pretty the blood looked, like bright and endless ribbons that would never again be tied.
Well, that's certainly a nice piece of writing. This was our second Millar, and we have another lined up for a bit later. But first we may re-read The Talented Mr. Ripley, just to see if our memories are betraying us and Highsmith really isn't the better writer. But it isn't a competition anyway, is it? That defeats the entire point of reading for pleasure. Copyright on Beast in View is originally 1955, and this Bantam paperback edition came in '56 with Mitchell Hooks cover art.
Jack Finney's alien invasion novel is filled with close encounters of the worst kind.
This paperback cover was painted by John McDermott, and it's iconic, as is Jack Finney's novel The Body Snatchers. You know the story. Aliens come from space in the form of pods that grow into exact duplicates of humans, who are replaced and dissolved into dust. Finney deftly blends sci-fi and horror, and the result is great—simply put. As with many macabre tales, the fear factor subsides somewhat once the monsters move from the shadows to center stage, but it's still very good even after that point.
The Body Snatchers became a movie in 1956, 1978, 1993, and 2007. The ’56 Don Siegel version is famously considered by many to be a direct Cold War allegory, and is the best of the quartet of adaptations, but the ’78 iteration is damned good too. In terms of metaphor, the book is less about the Cold War and more clearly about the overall loss of freedom in American society. Finney would probably be a bit dismayed about how—other than the freedom to buy things—that process continues to accelerate.
The novel originally appeared in 1955 as a serial in Colliers Magazine, with this Dell edition coming the same year. The cover artist McDermott is someone we've featured before, and if you're curious you can see more of his nice work here and here. Some book dealers actually try to sell this edition for $100, if you can believe that. Money snatchers is more like it. Buy a cheap new edition, read it, and enjoy it.
So when you sang “You're So Vain,” the song really was about me, wasn't it?
This is top work from artist C.C. Beale on this cover for Van Wyck Mason's Saigon Singer, especially the small elements of the background writing on the wall and the Siamese cat in the foreground. The singer of the title—who never performs “You're So Vain,” sadly—is Pamela Saunders, a former prisoner in a Japanese internment camp who survives filth and near starvation to resurrect herself as singer in Saigon. Along the way she becomes known as Black Chrysanthemum before adopting the stage name Xenia Morel. Her transformation is interesting, but the star of the story is Major Hugh North, who turns up in Saigon looking for a dossier containing the names of British and American traitors who during the war sold secrets to a Japanese general. Saunders-Chrysanthemum-Morel survived the prison camp by becoming the mistress of the general, and it's due to this close association that she possesses the dossier. She'll give it to North, but only if he pays her enough money to get to Paris, where she wants to continue her singing career.
Mason knew this part of the world and uses his knowledge well in writing of Saigon social life, oppressive heat, scented baths, tiger hunts, French legionnaires, and other you-had-to-be-there aspects of post-World War II Vietnam. As number thirteen in a series of exotic Hugh North mysteries (others were set in Singapore, Burma, Manila, Bangkok, et al) we sense a formula here, but in the end we liked it despite the usual flaws of colonialist fiction, and we were envious of Mason for having travelled in that part of the world during that time, and having been lucky enough to make a career of writing about it. Well, maybe we can't complain too much—we've hit some good spots too. And we write, though we get fuck-all for it. In any case, this particular discovery makes us curious about earlier Mason books, so maybe we'll check out some of his Hugh North adventures. Saigon Singer was originally published in 1946, and the above edition is from 1948.
And long story short, that's why my senior class voted me most likely to be kidnapped. So really, this comes as no surprise.
Above is an uncredited 1961 cover from Corgi Books for Lucille Fletcher's Blindfold. If her name sounds familiar it may because she also wrote the classic Sorry, Wrong Number. Her main character here isn't kidnapped. He's a psychiatrist who's flown top secret to treat a patient whose identity and location he's not allowed to learn. It's actually the patient who may be the kidnapping victim, though the doc is in danger too, from mere association. When events force him to try locating his mystery patient again, despite having been blindfolded each time he was taken to see him, the doc's keen senses come into play—everything from his internal clock to the feel of the ground beneath his shoes to his sense of smell.
Is he able to locate a distant place he's never seen with his own eyes? Well, it wouldn't much of a thriller if he couldn't. We don't know if this is the first time this gimmick was used in a novel, but it's a pretty cool plot contrivance. Interestingly, despite the Cold War seriousness of the novel and the intense menace of the paperback's cover art, the story was transformed into one of those insouciant little thrillers peculiar to the 1960s, along the lines of Charade or Arabesque. It was also called Blindfold and it starred Rock Hudson and Claudia Cardinale. In fact, see below...
I want to rob the Egyptian Museum as bad as anyone, but I don't think a mummy disguise is the answer!
Above, an alternate cover for Donald Hamilton's Night Walker, from Dell Publications. We already showed you a 1964 edition from Fawcett Publications. This is the 1954 first edition paperback, with a cover painted by Carl Bobertz. The male character, by the way, is in disguise, but not as a mummy. Just want to make sure you don't go stampeding to get the book expecting anthropological intrigue. You can read what we wrote about it here. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1967—Muhammad Ali Sentenced for Draft Evasion
Heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, who was known as Cassius Clay before his conversion to Islam, is sentenced to five years in prison for refusing to serve in the military during the Vietnam War. In elucidating his opposition to serving, he uttered the now-famous phrase, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong.”
1953—The Rosenbergs Are Executed
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted for conspiracy to commit espionage related to passing information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet spies, are executed at Sing Sing prison, in New York.
1928—Earhart Crosses Atlantic Ocean
American aviator Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to fly in an aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean, riding as a passenger in a plane piloted by Wilmer Stutz and maintained by Lou Gordon. Earhart would four years later go on to complete a trans-Atlantic flight as a pilot, leaving from Newfoundland and landing in Ireland, accomplishing the feat solo without a co-pilot or mechanic.
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