That was a real interesting story. I bet the cops would've loved to hear it.
Louis Malley's 1953 cop thriller Stool Pigeon might better be called “Stool Pigeons,” because it's about how crime solving hinges on a network of informants, and how reliable snitches make average detectives great. All the detectives in the book have their own, and they're sometimes kept so secret that nobody else on the police force knows who they are. If an informant's identity ever gets out they usually go from stool pigeon to cooked goose, as shown in the cover scene painted by James Meese. As we read this book we kept expecting one of the multiple stool pigeons to emerge as pivotal, and that's exactly what happens. We won't tell you which one proves most important, but we will say Malley takes a fresh angle on the typical cop novel and does it reasonably well.
I'd prefer to eat her with a Château Latour Pauillac and some grilled vegetables, but a werewolf has to make do.
This lycanthrope painted by William Randolph for the cover of Avon's 1951 edition of Guy Endore's The Werewolf of Paris has been caught red-handed eating his entree without a side and a garnish, not to mention the lack of a fine red wine. Being a murderous werewolf is one thing. That can be forgiven. But eating this way could cost him his French citizenship. Endore's take on werewolfery was originally published in 1933, was almost forgotten as recently as a few years ago, but seems to be gaining stature of late. We're happy to do our part. It's a deliberate tale—its setting in late 1800s France first has to be framed by a 1930s snoop doing a retelling from a found court manuscript, then within the account the wolfman character of Bertrand must be conceived, born, and raised, before being set on his bloody path in Paris, a city that offers a perfect hiding place. Endore explains why with this lyrical passage:
Before the greater importance of thousands going to death, before a greater werewolf drinking the blood of regiments, of what importance was a little werewolf like Bertrand?
Which is to say Bertrand has disappeared into the labyrinth of Paris during the chaos of the Franco-Prussian War. His appetites soon grow to include not only the living, but the dead, which he digs from fresh graves in Père Lachaise and Cimetière de Montmartre. Pretty interesting stuff, this novel. Of course, werewolf stories always end tragically, but it's the journey that matters. Endore crafts an atmospheric tale—and one that's sexually frank too, for 1933. Well, vive la différence. The French public was not quite so puritanical as the Americans about sexual explorations in art. Nor about sacrilege, nor children being eaten, nor incest, it seems. But as horrific as all these atrocities are, ultimately Endore asks which is the greater werewolf—Bertrand or war? Since in reality one exists and the other doesn't, we know the answer. The Werewolf of Paris is a fascinating tale, not pulp style, but certainly worth a read for fans of any types of fiction.
Man critically injured after late night shoe-ing.
This cover got us to finally look up spats in a dictionary to find out what they were for. Apparently they weren't just fashion statements. They were designed to protect shoes and socks from mud and dirt. Blood and spittle too—at least on this vintage cover for Donald Henderson's Clark's debut novel Louis Beretti, which deals with the rise of a 1920s era New York City hoodlum. He's an immigrant kid who grows up on the East Side, serves in the army during World War I, and returns during Prohibition to be drawn into bootlegging, which he leverages into restaurant ownership and a position of respect and influence. But you know what they say—you can take the man out of the hood, but never the hood out of the man. The book was originally published in 1929, but this Avon Edition is copyright 1949, with cover art by an unknown.
Biggers isn't always better but he tried.
What's an agony column? Basically it's a newspaper feature in which readers writes messages to other readers. For example: “Regular at Main Street Cafe who takes her coffee every weekday morning just before 9:00. Would you be amenable to meeting a certain gentleman who has admired you from afar?” You get the idea. The “agony” in the terminology derives from the fact that people who write in generally are suffering from some sort of heartache or other.
The Agony Column is basically an epistolary mystery, in which a man writes letters to the crush he contacted through a London newspaper's agony column, and details his involvement in a puzzling murder case. It's a very esoteric set-up for a novel, and besides mystery there's a dose cute romance. Nearly the entire book takes the form of the main character's letters, though some sections are conventionally written.
The nature of the novel requires more suspension of disbelief than usual, simply because nobody really writes letters with detailed, multi-character dialogue, but once you get over that hurdle it works pretty well. There are other hurdles. About London's Chinatown the main character writes, “Not only the heathen Chinee so peculiar shuffle through its dim-lit alleys, but the scum of the earth of many colors and of many climes. The Arab and the Hindu, the Malayan and the Jap, black men from the Congo and fair men from Scandinavia.”
Ouch. That brought the cuteness to a screeching halt. But readers should note that Biggers evolved, and would later create the Chinese American detective Charlie Chan partly as a counter to racist portrayals of Asians. The books were popular, but as the decades progressed people soured on them because Chan too is a racial stereotype. It's difficult for authors to write characters—especially outside their own ethnic group—that stand up over time as social mores change. But they keep trying, and should, in our opinion. What would fiction be like if they didn't?
The Agony Column has plenty of positives. Being set on the eve of World War I in a London gripped by tension over the looming global hostilities lends it atmosphere, and the mystery itself contains a few surprises we doubt most readers will foresee. It's also a short tale, which keeps the epistolary gimmick from wearing thin. We think it's worth a read. The Agony Column originally appeared in 1916, with this Avon edition, illegibly signed by the cover artist and unattributed inside, coming in 1943.
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?”
Ladies, trust me, there's enough to go around.
We tend to get books in lots, without knowing much about them, and with Gladiator we were thinking bodybuilding titillation, sort of like this book. But no. It's the life story of a superman. The main character, Hugo Danner, can lift a horse, jump forty feet straight up, crush bones, is bulletproof, and a genius. Originally published in 1930, the Danner character preceded the comic book Superman by eight years. Some say Superman was even a deliberate copy, though that remains in dispute.
But unlike Superman, Hugo Danner is earthly, with earthly worries about family, women, and morality, which makes for an affecting tale. His doubts come to the fore in the trenches of World War I, where he crushes enemies' heads to jelly, rampages German strongholds with such ferocity that even after bullets and bayonets rip his clothes from his impervious body he still kills hundreds while naked and drenched in gore. And he comes to realize the utter pointlessness of it all:
His heart ached as he thought of the toil, the effort, the energy and hope and courage that had been spilled over those mucky fields to satisfy the lusts and foolish hates of the demagogues. [snip] The war was only another war that future generations would find romantic to contemplate and dull to study. He was only a species of genius who had missed his mark by a cosmic margin.
Recommended stuff. These paperback editions from Avon appeared in 1949 and 1957, with nice cover art by unknowns. We should mention, though, that the art is deceptive. Hugo is no fuckboy. In fact, the book barely focuses on sex apart from his earliest encounters. Gladiator is an attempt at serious, speculative sci-fi. Know that going in and you'll probably enjoy it.
Help... dying... last wish... to see dripping wet naked woman.
The cover art for this 1948 Avon edition of Paul Cain's Fast One kind of looks like a guy's about to drop dead in front of a bathing woman, but actually he's merely been shoved into the bathroom by the story's anti-hero protagonist. It's always interesting which moment an artist (or a publisher directing an artist) will choose for a cover. This is not an important event in the narrative, but the chance to show a woman in the bath was apparently too enticing to pass up.
The backdrop here is prohibition era Los Angeles and the main character Gerry Kells and the femme fatale S (we never learn her first name) are pulled into a maelstrom of trouble when Kells refuses to work for his old crime buddies and in retaliation they frame him for murder. The novel was put together from five stories that appeared in Black Mask magazine, and when it was published Cain—aka Peter Ruric, aka George Sims—was hailed as a giant of hard-boiled fiction on par with Hammett and Chandler. We don't know about that, but Fast One is a good read—bare bones and quick paced and filled with random brutality.
The bio page for Fast One says Cain “has lived as he writes—at high speed and with violence.” It's a phrase that makes you want details but none are provided. We imagine the description is accurate, though, because Cain published this single novel, as well as some screenplays (including for The Black Cat), then vanished into obscurity and eventually died of alcoholism.
What does the cover have to do with the story? Virtually nothing.
We showed you a 1955 Avon Publications cover for Charlotte Jay's award winning thriller Beat Not the Bones, and above you see an alternate cover from Avon that came in 1966. We don't remember the main character ever being tied to a tree, and we're sure she certainly never wore the sexy rag you see here, but those are the vagaries of good girl art. Both the 1955 cover and this one depict scenes that didn't happen in the story, but the earlier version is a but more true to the spirit of Jay's tale, where the above goes for pure titillation. We love them both. This one is by the always excellent Ron Lesser, and his original painting appears below.
For the last time! I gave all my spare change to the guy who pretends he's a statue!
Drum circles always end up sounding exactly the same. And we say that with respect, since both of us here at Pulp Intl. are what you'd call professional drummers. No joke. It's sort of how we met. During that auspicious encounter BB said to me, “Other drummers hate me.” Me: “Why is that?” BB: “Because I'm better than them.” True story. Charlotte Jay's thriller Beat Not the Bones marches to the beat of a different drummer. The novel, which first appeared in 1952 and in the above Avon paperback edition in 1955, involves a sheltered Australian woman who ventures to the fictional New Guinean town of Marapai to prove her husband, who worked there as a government anthropologist, was a murder victim rather than a suicide. The book was well received and won Jay, aka Geraldine Halls, the inaugural Edgar Award for best mystery novel of the year.
Our expectations, in that case, were high. But were they perhaps a bit too high? Jay's prose is evocative and the setting is fascinating, but the heroine of Beat Not the Bones, tender young Emma Warwick, tries the patience just a little as she sort of gasps, swoons, and palpitates her way toward the answer she seeks. Was her husband murdered because he refused to approve the application for a gold claim? Is there a more sinister plot afoot? She can only know by embarking on a journey to the country's steamy interior. This trip into the heart of darkness, the dramatic crux of the book, doesn't begin until more than three quarters of the way through. But we knew it was imminent, and that made us impatient. Just get to the jungle journey! Beat not the bones! Get to trekkin' already! Well, Emma gets there eventually.
As she draws closer to the center of the mystery she grows emotionally stronger, hindered by some and helped by others, particularly a local acquaintance named Hitolo who works for the state but still has jungle roots. This is the type of novel where grown Papuan men like Hitolo are all “boy,” rampaging predatory colonialism is “opening up the country,” and colonials are under the delusion that their presence is helpful to the locals. But Jay, the omniscient voice of the narrator, makes clear that none of these beliefs are true. While the question among the characters is whether the very environment corrupts white men, the suggestion made by the author is that the corruption is not found there, but brought there, stowed away in the colonials' own souls.
To put a finer point on it, what truly corrupts colonials is the blatantly evil act of stealing native people's past by destroying their traditions and beliefs, and also stealing their future by taking possession of everything that holds value in the modern world that awaits them. In the face of such a robbery that leaves its victims doubly impoverished all justifications are hollow; they're a farce, winkingly acted out as cover for a greedy rampage. But we anthropologize. The jungle journey is the key to this book, and whether you like it depends on whether you consider that section worth the wait. Like your average drum circle Beat Not the Bones could have been more varied, more streamlined, more nimble, but when the end comes it's with a thunderous crescendo and a sense of waking from a dream.
Yep, this is a robbery. Faked you out, right? Now pretend I'm asking for a back rub and empty the cash drawer.
Above, a great cover for W.R. Burnett's High Sierra from Avon Publications' series Murder Mystery Monthly, 1946, featuring a very slick robber painted by Paul Stahr. We shared another cover for this book you can see here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1954—First Church of Scientology Established
The first Scientology church, based on the writings of science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, is established in Los Angeles, California. Since then, the city has become home to the largest concentration of Scientologists in the world, and its ranks include high-profile adherents such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
1933—Blaine Act Passes
The Blaine Act, a congressional bill sponsored by Wisconsin senator John J. Blaine, is passed by the U.S. Senate and officially repeals the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution, aka the Volstead Act, aka Prohibition. The repeal is formally adopted as the 21st Amendment to the Constitution on December 5, 1933.
1947—Voice of America Begins Broadcasting into U.S.S.R.
The state radio channel known as Voice of America and controlled by the U.S. State Department, begins broadcasting into the Soviet Union in Russian with the intent of countering Soviet radio programming directed against American leaders and policies. The Soviet Union responds by initiating electronic jamming of VOA broadcasts.
1937—Carothers Patents Nylon
Wallace H. Carothers, an American chemist, inventor and the leader of organic chemistry at DuPont Corporation, receives a patent for a silk substitute fabric called nylon. Carothers was a depressive who for years carried a cyanide capsule on a watch chain in case he wanted to commit suicide, but his genius helped produce other polymers such as neoprene and polyester. He eventually did take cyanide—not in pill form, but dissolved in lemon juice—resulting in his death in late 1937.
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