Why am I on the beach this morning in lingerie and one shoe? Let's just say the ball didn't end at midnight.
This piece of art for Lee Roberts' If the Shoe Fits was painted by Robert McGinnis and it's one you see around often, probably because it's a top effort, at least in our view. In addition, the lettering is wonderful, with its two red dots over each “i.” The Crest Books paperback, we understand by looking around online, is usually copyright 1960, but our copy carries a date of 1959. The art relates to the novel only tangentially—missing high heels and whom they might fit are a key element, however they were worn by a fully dressed woman, not by a lingerie clad femme fatale. But as always the final result from McGinnis is amazing. It's possible he custom painted it for the story—with a bit of artistic license taken.
Between the covers, Roberts, aka Robert Martin, spins the tale of a smalltown murder. Young playboy Paul Anway has his head bashed in while sitting lakeside in his convertible, and certain people had reason to hate him—the gamblers to whom he owed four grand, the two women he was dating, the jilted boyfriend of one, a sleazy detective hired for strongarm work, and possibly others. As it happens, all of them had the opportunity to kill Anway, a feat achieved though the gimmick of having him tailed to the secluded site of his eventual murder by three cars at the same time, with two of the drivers unaware that they're involved in a coincidental caravan. It sounds strange, but it works, particularly because the existence of these tails is revealed only in flashback.
The one person who isn't tailing Anway is the protagonist Clinton Shannon—local doctor, county coroner, and all around nice guy. Conceiving Shannon as both a trusted doctor and a city official allows Roberts to provide the character access to almost every event that occurs, a useful trick in a murder mystery. Shannon makes a couple of decisions that might raise an eyebrow—rashly disclosing confidential evidence to the victim's father, for example—but for the most part Roberts writes him as exactly the sort of capable hero stories like this rely upon. With its likeable lead and involving plotline, we think If the Shoe Fits will fit your reading list.
I know these regional airports lack the usual amenities, but a shuttle to the terminal sure would be nice.
We've mentioned before that we like to read books about places we've been, but we had no idea the 1960 thriller Seven Lies South was set in Spain and Morocco. We impulse-bought this 1962 Crest edition after seeing William P. McGivern's name and taking in the striking Harry Bennett cover art featuring a woman, an aircraft, two bedouins, and their camels. McGivern wrote the excellent 1961 juvenile delinquent thriller Savage Streets, so that was all we needed to know. We found out in the first page that the setting, as the story opened, was Malaga, Spain, and went, “Oh, okay—even better.”
The book stars Mike Beecher, a former bomber pilot, now in his late thirties and doing a belated Lost Generation bit—idleness, parties, a rotating cast of acquaintances, and a lot of solitary reflection in a foreign land. His Sun Also Rises-style fatalism is a little tedious, in our view. After all, he was never wounded in the sex organs like Jake Barnes, and if one's naughty bits function, there's always reason to smile. In any case, one day he meets a beautiful young woman named Laura Meadows, who embodies his dissatisfaction:
She symbolized everything that was unobtainable, beyond his reach; the rosy and prosperous life of America, with the tides of success sweeping everyone on to fine, fat futures.
But not everyone, of course. Entire ethnicities were excluded from that sweeping tide of success. Things are unobtainable for Beecher, but only because he's made a choice to reject them. What a luxury, to reject something, then bemoan what one “can't” have, when many people really can't have it. It's not a flaw in the book, so much as a cultural blind spot—perhaps deliberately inserted by McGivern, who was generally insightful about such issues. You have to sort of smile at Beecher's inability to appreciate being reasonably young, healthy, and knocking around the south of Spain drinking wine. Not everyone gets to do that. That's exactly what we do, and we appreciate it every day.
Beecher is coerced into helping to steal a plane headed for Morocco, but the mission goes wildly sideways, which unexpectedly mutates the narrative into a desert survival adventure. In order to set up and progress through this section, McGivern has his characters sometimes undertake actions that don't exactly resound with logic, but even so the book is good. McGivern can really write, even when it verges on the preposterous. He was more at home in the suburbs of Savage Streets, but he navigates the Spain and Morocco of Seven Lies South deftly enough. We have no hesitation about trying him again.
It's the year 11,959 and everything is screwed worse than ever.
We thought we'd hit the sci-fi genre, since it's been a while, and chose Edmond Hamilton's Star of Life. It's one of the books visible in the photo of a 1959 airport paperback rack we showed you in August. The story concerns an astronaut named Kirk Hammond whose lunar capsule goes off course toward the far reaches of the solar system. Hammond decides to end his life rather than starve in the void, and when he vents the capsule the absolute cold of space freezes him. He awakens in the hot spacecraft hurtling back toward Earth. Turns out he was frozen so rapidly that his cells sustained no damage, and re-entry has thawed and revived him.
He's thrilled to be alive, but when he lands he's stunned to learn he's made a long elliptical orbit through the solar system and returned to Earth 10,000 years after he left. He's immediately caught in the middle of a millennia-old conflict between two races—the Vramen, immortal humanoids who control all galactic space, and the Hoomen, descended from ancient humans, and imprisoned on Earth. At least that's how it all sets up at first. Revelations are in the offing. Hammond is rescued by the Hoomen, but the Vramen have seen the capsule arrive, and their search for this strange object sends Hoomen-Vramen tensions into overdrive, while Hammond himself, as a being 10,000 years old, has the potential to permanently alter the balance of power.
Star of Life has some big concepts and it's spread over a galactic backdrop, but like a lot of science fiction, it's written at basically a junior high level. We had to laugh when one of the characters dropped the nugget: “We made an hypothetical reconstruction.” Here's an helpful hint for Hamilton and his editors. Don't teach your impressionable young readers to talk like knobs. It's not good for them. Still, the book is entertaining—utterly weightless, mind you, but fun in an awkward, haven't-gotten-laid yet sort of way. This Crest edition is from 1959 and the psychedelic cover art is by Richard Powers. Now back to our regularly scheduled grown people fiction.
The Devil went down to Southeast Asia looking for fortunes to steal.
1969's I, Lucifer is Peter O'Donnell's third Modesty Blaise novel, and it's a series we're going through mainly to highlight the great cover art by Robert McGinnis. He didn't illustrate all the books. In fact, this might be the last, which means we'll probably move on to other authors. But that won't be because the Blaise books aren't good. In fact, for the sexy spy genre they're top notch—exotically located, compellingly plotted, and peopled by wacky Bond-style supervillains. Case in point: the titular character in I, Lucifer is a man suffering from a psychotic delusion that he's Satan. The funny part is he isn't evil. The real evil guy is Seff, the opportunist who launches a global extortion scheme that hinges on faux-Lucifer's participation even though his delusion prevents him having a clue what he's really doing. Lucifer might be the only villain we've encountered in a novel who's a victim.
When Seff's murderous extortion hits too close to home for Modesty, she and sidekick Willie Garvin gear up and eventually end up in the Philippines, where they right some wrongs, explosively. As usual Modesty uses sex to get over on the bad guys, and it's a major part of what readers enjoyed about the series. At one point she ponders whether a colleague thinks she's promiscuous. Well, no, she isn't by 1969 standards. But the joy of literature is she can be unpromiscuous, yet we can be there in the room for every one of her widely spaced encounters. This book is particularly amusing along those lines, as it brings two of Modesty's lovers together to be uncomfortable and/or jealous as they're displaced by a third. But sleaze fans will need to look elsewhere. O'Donnell is subtle—if not poetic—with his sex scenes.
Though the sexual aspects of Modesty Blaise were a major attraction of the novels, we enjoy even more the tactical nature of O'Donnell's action, which is probably an influence from his military service in Iran, Syria, Egypt, Greece and other places. It's also probably why so much of the Blaise series is connected to that region. While the tales are always exotic, this entry is even wilder than usual. How wild? It involves precognition, trained dolphins, Moro mercenaries, and body implants that kill remotely, yet it all works. That's because as always, in the center of the chaos, you have Blaise and Garvin, perfect friends, platonic soulmates, and two armed and extremely deadly halves of a razor sharp fighting machine. Abandon all hope ye who cross them.
Hi, I'm lost and alone and if I disappeared off the face of the Earth nobody would question it or care.
Above, very nice Mitchell Hooks art for Gil Meynier's Stranger at the Door, originally 1948, with this Crest Books edition coming in 1955. We gave it a read and you should think of it as an early Psycho. The main character Joe runs a Tucson boarding house, and we learn via his vivid internal dialogues that he hates all people, particularly those who possess authority through education or social position. His disorder soon focuses on Dorry, an attractive new boarder who has no idea how disturbed Joe really is. He schemes, sneaks around, spies, and steals, and his first attempt at serious harm involves running someone over with his car. That person isn't the last. An unusual book for the time period, which we enjoyed because it's so different.
Some people need a mental health day every day.
We were going to post an assortment of covers we thought were scary, but when we came across these Psycho fronts we realized they were all we needed. The creation of veteran horror author Robert Bloch and originally published in 1959, one of literature's early homicidal psychopaths remains frightening even today. When Bloch wrote Psycho the concept of psychopathy was little known in American culture, but after Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 movie adaptation, as well as the real-world Dahmers and Specks and Bundys, that naïveté evaporated. Now everyone knows psychopaths are real and live among us.
Bloch's man-child Norman Bates, a sadist and misanthrope with lust/hate feelings toward women, was able despite his dysfunctions to operate in society with a veneer of civility, and was capable of love, but only a stunted and twisted variety instilled by an emotionally violent forebear from whose shadow he could never fully escape. Sound like anybody you know? We have mostly front covers below, along with a rear cover and a nice piece of foldout art we found on the blog toomuchhorrorfiction. These are all English editions. We'll show you one or two interesting non-English covers later.
I have to admit, you're pretty good in the sack for a capitalist running dog lackey.
Heat, guns, passion, and politics. What more do you need for an adventure novel? Paul Edmondson's 1959 potboiler The Little Revolution is set on the fictional island of Caimanera, which is of course modeled after Cuba, where American wife Fidessa Broughton gets tangled up in a rebellion via her choice of a bedroom partner, even as her husband goes astray with a local woman, and a military captain's daughter rebels as well, in that way all teenagers do. The excellent art on this is by the eclectic Mitchell Hooks. We discussed his singular genius in detail a while back.
So, I'm off to that crucial business meeting with— Wow, that thing's transparent, isn't it? Well, money can wait.
Above, a beautiful Bob Abbett cover for William Campbell Gault's Sweet Wild Wench, published by Crest Books in 1959. Abbett used a still of Brigitte Bardot from the 1958 film En cas de malheur as his inspiration. It certainly worked on us—we wanted to read this entirely because of the cover art. The story deals with a promiscuous private eye named Joe Puma who's hired to look into the activities of a Los Angeles cult, but soon finds himself tangled up in two murders, multiple lovers, and various pulp fiction tropes, which his main character actually refers to in his interior monologues as being like “something out of the pulps.” We appreciated the meta touch, the narrative has a nice L.A. feel, and there's a pretty good fight scene about three quarters of the way through, but the long and winding mystery resolves with a fizzle. Two Gaults down, two meh results. We'll dutifully try another.
I see dead people. Not next week's lottery numbers. Not future stock fluctuations. Just useless, creepy dead people.
Richard Matheson was a well known writer who published many novels and short stories, penned teleplays for The Twilight Zone, and wrote the novel Psycho—which later became Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller—but his 1962 supernatural novel A Stir of Echoes is a bit obscure. It's probably better known as a 1999 movie starring the ubiquitous Kevin Bacon. The story here deals with a man whose talent as a medium is accidentally unleashed when he's hypnotized at a party. The book isn't elegantly written. A typical sentence: He walked weavingly toward the door. But you don't have to be a master stylist to tell a good story and that's what Matheson did over the course of his long career, churning out great concept after great concept, here unspooling the tale of a man who can't control his unbidden psychic talent. With the power to see the future, the protagonist gains unwanted knowledge of kidnapping, adultery, a shooting, and other violent and nightmarish occurrences. It defies belief that all this happens in a week or two on a formerly quiet suburban street, but A Stir of Echoes is an entertaining story with a nice twist ending. We haven't seen the movie but we're curious now.
The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a worse girl with a gun.
Steve Brackeen's, aka John Farris's, Baby Moll tells the tale of a former mob tough guy who's dragged away from the normal life he's built for himself to help his former boss survive the attentions of an assassin. It seems that years ago the bossman torched a building and a young girl survived with burns. The girl has grown up and is presumably behind the murder attempts. But the book isn't really focused on her, which makes Barye Phillips' excellent cover art and the accompanying tagline a bit misleading. The various women spend little time on the page. Baby Moll is really about how the protagonist goes about his investigation. There's a good amount of action and an assortment of interesting characters, but we wouldn't go so far as to call the book either exceptional or well written. It's okay. It goes in the South Florida crime bin, so the setting might be enough to put it over for many readers.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1945—Hollywood Black Friday
A six month strike by Hollywood set decorators becomes a riot at the gates of Warner Brothers Studios when strikers and replacement workers clash. The event helps bring about the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, which, among other things, prohibits unions from contributing to political campaigns and requires union leaders to affirm they are not supporters of the Communist Party.
1957—Sputnik Circles Earth
The Soviet Union launches the satellite Sputnik I, which becomes the first artificial object to orbit the Earth. It orbits for two months and provides valuable information about the density of the upper atmosphere. It also panics the United States into a space race that eventually culminates in the U.S. moon landing.
1970—Janis Joplin Overdoses
American blues singer Janis Joplin is found dead on the floor of her motel room in Los Angeles. The cause of death is determined to be an overdose of heroin, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol.
The newspaper Pravda is founded by Leon Trotsky, Adolph Joffe, Matvey Skobelev and other Russian exiles living in Vienna. The name means "truth" and the paper serves as an official organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party between 1912 and 1991.
1957—Ferlinghetti Wins Obscenity Case
An obscenity trial brought against Lawrence Ferlinghetti, owner of the counterculture City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, reaches its conclusion when Judge Clayton Horn rules that Allen Ginsberg's poetry collection Howl is not obscene.
After a long trial watched by millions of people worldwide, former football star O.J. Simpson is acquitted of the murders of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. Simpson subsequently loses a civil suit and is ordered to pay millions in damages.
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