I could just eat you up. I thought I'd only ever say that to a sex partner.
Above: a 1962 edition from Berkley Books of One for the Money by Elliott Chaze, originally published as Black Wings Has My Angel in 1953. This was a good book, as we noted here.
A murder by any other name would kill as dead.
This is a rather pretty cover painted by Charles Copeland for E.M. Harper's 1960 novel The Assassin, the story of Alec Jordan, who's spared the guillotine in an Algerian prison but must repay the shadowy government operatives who freed him by murdering an Arab political figure. We've seen convicts turned into assassins a couple times in vintage literature. What sets this story apart is its many flashbacks to Jordan's youth, from the time he was witness to his moonshiner father's killing by cops, to being sprung from reform school to play high school football (seems someone always wants to put his skills to use), to his various war experiences.
The story begins in Paris, from which Jordan pursues his target to London and Vienna, world weary, haunted by the past, and hounded by the people who are operating him. There's, unsurprisingly, the requisite woman-from-his-past for whom he still has feelings—a beauty named Renée who married an Austrian count while Jordan was hors de combat. Conveniently, she's now a widow, but is reclaiming the past an option for Jordan? To survive but lose your soul, to resist corruption but be killed, to find redemption in love. You've read it before, and though Harper breaks no new ground plotwise, he wrote a contemplative iteration of the story that offers some enjoyment.
Thou shalt not covet thy partner's wife. But on the other hand rules were made to be broken.
Eager to read another novel by Dan J. Marlowe after enjoying Death Deep Down, we selected 1961's Backfire, for which you see an uncredited cover above. This time Marlowe is in police mode, with the tale of cop named Marty Donovan whose bad practices end with his partner shot dead. In order to save his job he re-stages the crime elsewhere, but he's immediately assigned by his superiors to solve the murder. That puts him in the no-win position of searching for a killer who is—of course—the only witness to the fact that the shooting happened somewhere different than everyone thinks. You know what that means. The only way Marty can carry off his scam is to kill the killer. That's a bad spot to be in, but there's an additional complication to this tangled mess—Marty was secretly sleeping with his partner's wife Lenore. A sticky wicket indeed.
Those of an untrusting mindset might think Marty arranged the murder to leave Lenore an available widow. Those of an even less trusting mindset might think Lenore arranged the set-up. We know for sure Marty didn't do it—he's the narrator. In turn, he's pretty sure Lenore didn't do it. So investigating he goes, chasing the very person who could cost him the only career he's ever known. While the search has its twists and turns, we can't say we were as enthralled by this book as we were with Death Deep Down. That book had a more interesting concept and main character. It came four years after Backfire, and the additional writing experience shows. Still, nothing Marlowe did here shook our confidence in him. We may read him again, but if we do we'll try to pick something outside the police milieu.
Honey! Oh no! There goes your undefeated record! And in your very first fight!
This 1959 Berkley Books edition of the 1958 W.C. Heinz boxing novel The Professional has excellent Robert Maguire cover art of a boxer on the deck and a distressed woman looking on in horror. You'll also notice Ernest Hemingway's endorsement. Papa's fame led to his stamp of approval being highly coveted. We'd guess we've seen his name used this way on ten covers, but we bet there are more.
If you go by the reviews on this book, Heinz deserved all the praise he received for his tale of a middle-weight boxer trying to climb to the top. As an award winning sports writer he knew his stuff, and he collected other accolades to go with his anointment by Hemingway, winning the E. P. Dutton Award for best magazine story of the year five times, and earning the A. J. Liebling Award for boxing writing.
Over the decades Heinz had his work reprinted in dozens of anthologies and textbooks, so if you're into sports journalism he's one of the main dudes. We have a fair number of boxing covers in our website, and they tend to be amusing if you look at them just the right way. We won't link to them all, but if you want to see some good examples try here, here, here, here, here, and here.
A femme fatale's deadliest weapon is never a gun.
We've discussed a few Gil Brewer books without talking much about the man himself. Eventual author of thirty-three novels under his own name and a dozen more under pseudonyms, he started as a literary writer but after selling Satan Is a Woman to Gold Medal Books in 1950 decided that genre fiction was a faster and easier way to earn money. It was also after Satan Is a Woman that drinking began to take a heavy toll on him, to the point of hospitalizations, a near-fatal auto accident, and eventual death. 1961's A Taste for Sin was written during his heavy consumption period, and it's spotty, to say the least, a messily written book, but so crazy it's impossible not to read in a state of wonder.
The story deals with Jim Phalen, a small time crook, an an unlucky one. He meets Felice Anderson, seventeen years old, married at fifteen, recklessly unfaithful from the day she took her vows, and so purely nuts that for sexual thrills she demands to be raped. Explorations of women's alleged rape fantasies were common back then, and at first we thought A Taste for Sin was just another, but Phalen assaults her enthusiastically more than once, making clear that he's had fantasies about this too. Thus, as a shortcut to getting to the essential core of his personality, it's an interesting choice by Brewer. It's clear that Phalen is a throughly bad guy, one who never had much of a chance in life. He won't get much of a chance in this novel either, and doesn't deserve one.
Felice's husband works at a bank and she comes up with a plot to rob it for a million dollars. The only way to succeed is to commit murder. Phalen is horrified at first, but those bedroom games short-circuit his thinking and pretty soon he thinks he sees a way it might work. There are dozens of obstacles, including the police dogging his heels about a robbery he committed early in the story, but it's Felice's wild nature that threatens to become insurmountable. In trying to reflect the confusion in Phalen's mind about her, the pressure he feels from all quarters, and the hasty logistics of the heist, Brewer's narrative becomes like a rock skipping across a pond, hitting and bouncing onward, hitting again, bouncing onward. Phalen even flies to Lucerne, Switzerland, and Brewer expends only a few pages on the entire trip.
We don't feel as if his writing is top notch through any of this, and in our view the narrative is especially loose during its latter third. The story is also rushed during that section—though we do understand that its acceleration may be intended to reflect the lead character's barely maintained control. It just didn't work properly. But we'll give the story credit for its unflinching nature. Did Brewer build it around an underaged femme fatale so nuts as to be unbelievable because he was ambitious, or did she end up on the page due to a booze-fueled lapse in judgment? We'll never know, but Felice, and whether you buy her characterization, is the key to whether you'll like the book. She's a rare creature in the annals of mid-century crime fiction.
I could stop drinking any time. But I'm no quitter.
Above: a pretty cool Charles Copeland cover for Martha Crane by Charles Gorham, originally 1953, with this Berkley Books edition copyright 1957. This could have fit into our cocktail tease collection, but as with Les affriolantes, which we talked about recently, we thought this needed its own spotlight because of how unusual the art is. As for the story, it's a look at the hard life of the titular Martha Crane, who deals with unwed motherhood, a descent into prostitution, a sociopathic pimp, and murder. It's a book meant to shock. We have a lot of Copeland art in the site, but for a quick glimpse at just a couple of pieces, check here and here.
Entry-level position available for hard worker. Dictation, shorthand, longhand, and other duties as required.
Yes, that's right, we've done it again. After going through the longform cockteasing that is Ted Mark's sex(less) romp The Nude Who Never, we're back with the second non-entry in the Llona Mayper series This Nude for Hire. What can we say? We acquired them together, so we had to read both, right? Like the earlier book, this one has Stanley Borack cover art, and also like the first book, the story is derptacular from start to finish. Mark's franchise nymph Llona is now unhappily married, and accepts a job as a receptionist at a Playboy-like magazine, only to find that she's supposed to do the job naked. Her co-workers create an office pool to see who can lay her first, but each attempt at seduction fails in silly, slapsticky ways—for example she accidentally snatches off her boss's toupée. It continues in this mode, a Buster Keaton serial with blue balls, with all potential cummers failing (though one guy gets a blowjob before his mom interrupts). Mark takes this tale all kinds of idiotic places, and as with the earlier book, you just have to give in. It's not legitimately erotic, but it's funny in a few parts. Overall we think it's better than This Nude for Hire—but that's not an endorsement. Repeat: not an endorsement.
It's both appropriate *grunt* and ironic *gasp* that ballroom dancing *argh* is going to give me a hernia!
This 1955 Berkley Books cover for Horace McCoy's They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is one of the most striking art pieces of the paperback era. It's uncredited, incredibly. Still, the image succinctly gets to the core of McCoy's story—exhaustion in a dance contest, but metaphorically, exhaustion in the contest of capitalism. It revolves around a set of young people who enter a dance marathon in an attempt to win a $1,000 prize. The entire story, more or less, takes place during this dance-a-thon, which goes on for weeks. Those who quit early get nothing. Those who suffer long enough may profit a few measly dollars. Only a vanishingly small percentage desperate enough to exhaust themselves to the point of physical disintegration—in this case one couple—have a chance to come away with the prize.
Some reviewers say the book is a metaphor for life rather than capitalism. Well, that too, but what makes it an obvious capitalism critique are the celebrity guests intermittently paraded before the dancers. They show that wealth is real, function as suggestions to the dancers that the obstacle is not the rules for victory, but the will to succeed, though the odds are staggeringly, cruelly against them. Oh yes, it's a metaphor for capitalism, alright. The American Dream—generally defined as a decent salary, home ownership, sufficient family and leisure time, and retirement—increasingly really is just a dream. This fact makes mid-century capitalism critiques prescient by definition, but They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is more on target than most. And purely as a piece of fiction it's a total winner.
She's dangerous, untrustworthy, and cruel—but hey, what beautiful woman doesn't come with a little baggage?
We'd been meaning to get around to reading Milton K. Ozaki, aka Robert O. Saber for a while, and when we came across Murder Doll we took the plunge. Plotwise, Chicago private eye Carl Good finds himself in the middle of an out-of-town gangland takeover. This is no ordinary invasion—the head honcho is rumored to be the beautiful ex-mistress of an eastern mobster. The problem is nobody knows exactly who she is. Good is hired to find this bombshell criminal, as he coincidentally acquires both a hot new secretary and a hot new girlfriend. Hmm... Maybe one of them is not what she seems. This is a mostly unremarkable mystery that even a trip to a nudist colony can't elevate, but it started well, with a clever nightclub murder, and it's very readable in general, so we'll give Ozaki a pass for this lusterless effort and hope he dazzles us next time. It came from Berkley Books in 1952 and the cover artist unknown.
If it bends, it's pulp. But if it breaks, it's parody.
Does the line in our subhead ring a bell? It's from Crimes and Misdemeanors, the 1989 Woody Allen film, spoken by Alan Alda, but applied to comedy. The quote is: “If it bends it's funny, but if it breaks it isn't.” That jumped into our heads when reading James Gunn's Deadlier than the Male. Gunn is described by New Yorker reviewer Clifton Fadiman as bloodier, nastier, and tougher than James M. Cain. Well, okay, but Gunn and Cain come at crime fiction from slightly different angles. Gunn is a good writer, though. No doubt about it. He plays with subtle alliterations, symmetries, and anastrophes that mark him as a skilled practitioner of his art. But can he write a murder book? Was he even trying? Was his primary goal to bend the genre, or to break it?
Deadlier than the Male has been described as a pulp parody but we aren't sure about that. Gunn comes up with some off-the-wall similes, but we don't see them as satirical. We think he simply wanted to push the established tropes of the crime novel a bit farther than usual. He wanted to write a femme fatale that was more of a femme fatale, and write deadpan cynicism that was even more so, to be more Cain than Cain perhaps, which we think Clifton Fadiman was correct to point out in his review. So then, returning to the question of whether Gunn's goal was to write a murder book, we think it was. It bends, but we don't think it breaks.
In terms of plot, what you have here is a woman who vows to unmask the murderer of her friend, while another woman decides to dig into the shady history of the man who's married her younger sister. Murderer and husband are the same man, and his plan is to get his mitts on his new bride's fortune, while of course avoiding any connection to the previous murder. Both women are metaphorically deadlier than the male, since both could be the ruin of the main male character, but their deadliness derives from loyalty, persistence, wiliness, and a lack of scruples. It's not's quite good versus evil, so much as scalpels versus hammer, which we thought was a cool approach.
But you know how you read something, know it's artful, yet fail to be fully engaged? For us this was one of those books. Is it a failure of the writer or the reader? We'll take the blame. We have certain tastes. By now, if you've visited Pulp Intl. often, you know what types of books get our juices flowing. If you tackle Deadlier than the Male you'll probably have the sense of reading something notable. And if you like to get under the hood you'll find a lot of stylish work inside. But will it get your pulse racing? Umm.. *looking over our shoulders to see if any literary critics are near* ...we doubt it.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1964—Mass Student Arrests in U.S.
In California, Police arrest over 800 students at the University of California, Berkeley, following their takeover and sit-in at the administration building in protest at the UC Regents' decision to forbid protests on university property.
1968—U.S. Unemployment Hits Low
Unemployment figures are released revealing that the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to 3.3 percent, the lowest rate for almost fifteen years. Going forward all the way to the current day, the figure never reaches this low level again.
1954—Joseph McCarthy Disciplined by Senate
In the United States, after standing idly by during years of communist witch hunts in Hollywood and beyond, the U.S. Senate votes 65 to 22 to condemn Joseph McCarthy for conduct bringing the Senate into dishonor and disrepute. The vote ruined McCarthy's career.
1955—Rosa Parks Sparks Bus Boycott
In the U.S., in Montgomery, Alabama, seamstress Rosa Parks refuses to give her bus seat to a white man and is arrested for violating the city's racial segregation laws, an incident which leads to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott resulted in a crippling financial deficit for the Montgomery public transit system, because the city's African-American population were the bulk of the system's ridership.
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