Vintage Pulp Jan 18 2024
DOWN FOR WHATEVER
I came to the bar to have a double—and look. They're about to come over here now.


1955's Sweet and Low-Down was originally published as 17 and Black in 1954. The copy we bought is very worn. We looked for a better scan online to use, as we'll sometimes do, but every example we saw was equally abraded until we found one on Amazon, which you see above. It's a pretty nice cover, though uncredited. Is all the wear and tear on copies of this book an indication that it's read and re-read often, and therefore is good? That's certainly what we hoped.

The story, written by Polish born author Alexander Warchiwker writing as Jack Waer, is about Jim Foster, who runs an illegal casino in Hollywood but flees south of the border after taking a rap for his partners. They later ask him to open another casino in Mexico City. He's willing to oblige—for a bigger percentage—but during the opening gala the murder of a local one percenter spoils the party. It's an intriguing set-up for a novel, although it starts slowly. Luckily Waer's writing style maintains interest. For example:

The first time I called, the bim with the sultry voice let on she didn't have any idea who I wanted—said I had the wrong number. When I dialed back her memory was better. His nibs came to the phone. I found out that the vicers were off on a fresh trail. They were out for a pair of Internal Revs who were suspected of collecting a split from the top wigs in the commie crowd. I was as stale as a warmed over soufflé.

Strong approach there. A book this slang heavy goes in for a lot of off-color language, unsurprisingly, and being set in Mexico means there's racist invective. We could not in any way blame you for deciding to take a pass. There are plenty of vintage crime novels that visit Mexico without donning a Klan hood. We're not put off by a smidgen of salty language, but there's a limit—we don't think Foster ever used a non-slur to refer to a Mexican character, even when speaking of his so-called friends.

In any case, he needs to solve the murder, and he does precisely that, and solves another couple of mysteries too. Much of the book takes place within the casino, which would be fine if Waer managed to keep the stew at a hard boil, but his narrative cools considerably toward the finale, and the story drags. The end makes clear that the book was supposed to be a launching point for more novels, and the fact that it wasn't says everything you need to know. But if you find it cheap and don't mind the language, sure, what the hell, give it a read.
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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
July 23
1984—Miss America Resigns
Vanessa Williams, who had been crowned Miss America and was the first African American woman to win the prize, resigns her title after Penthouse magazine purchases and slates for publication a series of lesbian-themed nudes Williams had posed for when she was younger. After resigning she files a $500 million lawsuit against Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione but later drops the suit.
July 22
1992—Cocaine Baron Escapes Prison
Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, imprisoned leader of the Medellin drug cartel, escapes from a posh Colombian jail known as La Catedral after he learns authorities intend to move him to a real prison. His taste of freedom doesn't last—he's killed in a shootout a year-and-a-half later.
July 21
1925—Jury Decides the Teaching of Evolution Is a Crime
In the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, American schoolteacher John Scopes is found guilty of violating the Butler Act, which forbids the teaching of evolution in schools. The sensational trial pits two great legal minds—William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow—against each other. Ultimately, Scopes and Darrow are destined to lose because the case rests on whether Scopes had violated the Act, not whether evolution is fact.
1969—First Humans Reach the Moon
Neil Armstrong and Eugene 'Buzz' Aldrin, Jr. become the first humans to walk on the moon. The third member of the mission, command module Pilot Michael Collins, remains in orbit in Apollo 11.
1972—Chaos in the Big Apple
In New York City, within a span of twenty-four hours, fifty-seven murders are committed.
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