Dashed hopes and bad dreams fuel classic pulp collection.
Above, a cover for Nightmare Town, which is a collection of four short stories Dashiell Hammett wrote for pulp magazines between 1927 and 1933. You get 1924's, “Nightmare Town,” best of the four tales in our opinion, which deals with a tough guy who fetches up in a lawless desert way station and soon finds himself in the middle of violence and murder. It's similar to Red Harvest, Hammett's novel of another town lashed by a bloody hellstorm, except this novella length tale ends almost apocalyptically. The other tales here are 1925's “The Scorched Face,” 1933's “Albert Pastor at Home,” and 1925's “Corkscrew.” All are good, though we think Hammett is better in longer formats. You get illustrations too. Those are not very good, objectively speaking, but you're buying this purely for the fiction anyway. Also, the 1950 Dell edition you see here is a collectible mapback edition, which is a bonus. But no matter what, Hammett always hits the spot—usually a major organ or artery.
You're soaked. Good thing I was here to lend you my jacket. Now let's go somewhere and get you out of those wet clothes.
Bad luck. It's laid many a pulp protagonist low. In the 1938 thriller You Play the Black and Red Comes Up, written by Richard Hallas, aka Eric Knight, luck never seems to run the way the main character wants. The cover art on this 1951 Dell edition is by Victor Kalin, and depicts a scene in which the narrator Dick Dempsey gives his coat to a woman who has emerged naked from the sea. The fact that Dempsey is on the dock at that moment seems like the best possible luck, but luck can start good then turn bad, start bad then turn worse, and in all cases end up mockingly ironic. At one point Dempsey is trying his best to lose at roulette and the wheel hits black eleven times in a row, as he disbelievingly keeps letting his pile of cash ride. Then when he finally shifts it to red he's stunned when the wheel hits that color too.
The money that's causing Dempsey trouble isn't the fortune he won gambling—it's the fortune he stole during a robbery. In classic Damoclean style this loot hangs over him the entire book. He can't give it back, can't confess, and can't leave it behind. He just knows, like in roulette, whatever he does will turn out to be the wrong bet. You Play the Black and Red Comes Up is one of those books that was out of print for a while, but we can see why it was revived. Besides having the best title of possibly any crime novel ever written, its late-Depression, southern California setting makes a nice backdrop for weird events, bizarre characters, and outlandish existential musings. Critics of the day were divided on it. Was it homage to hard-boiled fiction, or a parody of it? To us it seems clearly the former. In either case, Hallas's tale has its flaws, but it's tough, spare, and very noir, all good qualities in vintage crime fiction.
Sun, sand, and an unusually high homicide rate.
Of all the covers we've posted on Pulp Intl., these two—the first from U.S. publisher Dell, and the second from British publisher Consul—are among the most interesting. Both illustrate books called Murder in Majorca, both feature a female figure partly obscured by foreground blinds, and both have in the background the lower legs of a man walking into the room. But Michael Bryan and Paul Tabori are different authors, and these are different tales. Is that not weird as hell? We've always wanted to read these books because Majorca, aka Mallorca, is one of the great garden spots on Earth. We've been several times and it always recalibrates us perfectly. Also, there isn't much murder there, despite the titles of these books, which is a nice add-on to the sun, sand, food, bars, architecture and beautiful people.
Michael Bryan was in reality Brian Moore, and also wrote as Bernard Mara. His Murder in Majorca appeared in 1957. Paul Tabori was in reality Hungarian author Pál Tábori, and his Murder in Majorca came in 1961. How did these two uncredited covers get to be virtually identical? No idea. Sometimes when a book was reprinted overseas a second artist was commissioned to do a riff on the original cover, such as here. So maybe the second piece was for a re-issue, but it fell through, and the art was lying around when Tabori wrote his book. That's a wild-ass guess that has very little chance of being correct, but we just know these two fronts can't be similar by coincidence, so that's all we've got by way of explanation. Maybe you have a better deduction, or even the facts. If so, we'd love to know.
No, it's not a Halloween costume, gringo. We don't have that here. We have Day of the Dead. Wanna find out how it works?
The Long Escape was originally published 1948, and was the first of a trio of books written by David Dodge starring his investigator character Al Colby. The cover art by Robert Stanley depicts a scene that actually occurs in the narrative, but the book is not a western style adventure. It's a missing person mystery that starts in California, passes through Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, and finally settles in Chile. The man under the poncho is a sort of Chilean vaquero who loves horses and guns, and is a generally hostile guy. But Colby is not one to be easily bested. He may be a gringo, but he's fluent in Spanish, as well as the ways and means of Latin America. The Long Escape is a good book. Everything we've read by Dodge so far is good. In our opinion the second Colby outing, Plunder of the Sun, is even a bit better, but you can't go wrong with this particular author. We'll continue making our way through his catalog and report back.
She meant to cause them sorrow, she meant to cause them pain.
We just explored Mike Ludlow's pin-up work recently and here he is in paperback mode with a cover for L. Sprague de Camp's Rogue Queen, the third book in the Interplanetarias series, with this one coming in 1951 originally, followed in ’53 by the Dell paperback edition. The text on the cover is misleading. “She learned about sex from an Earth man”? Well, not really. What actually happens is humans land on a distant planet where the humanoid inhabitants have hive-like social structures, with queens, drones, and workers. One of the workers who's a sort of liaison assigned to the humans does learn about sex, but only in conversation as she seeks to compare human sexuality with that of her own species. There's no interspecies freakiness, and it's barely even hinted at. There was really no need for Dell to try to trick readers—the book is decent all on its own as de Camp explores the geopolitical relationships between different hives, and their efforts to trick the humans into supporting one side or another in an ongoing war. Many of these books from the golden age of science fiction are high concept, dramatic but not overbearingly serious, and about at the right emotional level for a high school freshman. Rogue Queen fits the bill in all respects.
Wow, he sees me naked and drops dead. I guess all those guys were right—I do have a killer body.
Above you see a Victor Kalin cover for Girl Meets Body, written by Jack Iams for Dell Publications, and published in 1947. In the story a woman having a nude walkabout on a secluded New Jersey beach encounters a corpse. The discovery unleashes problems with police, mobsters, tabloids, and particularly her husband, who she married in England during World War II, before being kept away from him by the conflict for two years. The husband soon suspects this wife he barely knows and has spent only a few weeks with total has a secret connection to the murdered man.
It sounds sinister, but Iams is not trying to be too serious with this book. Major characters are named Whittlebait, Barrelforth, and Squareless, if that gives you an indication of the feel. The writing style is a bit Thin Man, with numerous quips and asides, and the spouses, named Sybil and Tim, cast as dueling lovebirds. Throughout the arguments there's never a doubt they'll work it out. They also work out the mystery, unconvincingly, but overall, we have to say the book was enjoyable. We were betting Sybil and Tim would be recurring characters, but it doesn't seem like that happened. Girl Meets Body is the first and last of them.
If I'd known being evil was this much fun I'd have started doing it years ago.
For a novel of terror and obsession Henry Kane's 1963 thriller Frenzy of Evil has a pretty cheery cover. Apparently being evil is unmitigated joy. Obviously, this is another one of those paintings that was made independently of the book, then grabbed because it was available. It's jarringly out of sync with the title, as well as the story. What you get here is a rather elegantly written tale about a rich old guy and his hot young wife, and the dark road his jealousy and sadism carry him down. Basically, he's convinced she's cheating and decides to murder her bedmate—as soon as he figures out who it is. The funny part is she isn't cheating at all. But the main character is so amoral that the possibility of her fidelity never occurs to him. His mistaken assumption foreshadows several other errors, including a crucial one concerning the identity of his wife's not-really-lover. The story is filled out by numerous other characters, some of whom have their own demons and problems that might push them to consider murder too. Enjoyable stuff from Kane. Our first book from him, but probably not our last.
Sam Spade chases danger in Dashiell Hammett story collection.
Run don't walk to find any Dashiell Hammett book. He's mandatory reading. In A Man Called Spade you get a tale about a boxer and the fight racket, three stories starring Sam Spade, and, “The Assistant Murderer,” in which Hammett introduces readers to detective Alec Rush, whose physical ugliness is surpassed only by his mental acuity. Hammett really liked the idea of crime solvers who came in unlikely packages. His Continental Op character was short and fat, while Rush had a face only a mother could love. Hammett, a former detective himself, was thin, dapper, and handsome, but he clearly identified with these characters and wanted to de-glamorize detectives. In so doing he became one of most popular authors of detective fiction who ever lived. Besides several nice stories, as a bonus this Dell paperback from 1950 with Robert Stanley cover art is also a mapback edition, as you see below. You have to appreciate how Dell included these maps even when the narrative dictated that they be minimal at best. A Man Called Spade is a good example. All the action in the title story takes place in a single house, and largely in a single room. But Dell gave readers a map anyway. Consistency counts. See alternate art for this book here.
When an unknown neighbor commits murder peace of mind is the next casualty.
It's always nice to come across a book with a fresh approach. This book for example, The Woman on the Roof by Helen Nielsen, deals with a disturbed woman who has the key clues to a murder mystery due to being able to see directly into a neighbor's apartment. But she's considered a kook by family, friends, and the police, who've interacted with her before on the occasion of her being committed to a mental institution. Upon her release she wanted nothing more than peace and tranquility, but now she's a murder witness. Socially awkward, afraid of people, obsessive compulsive, and psychically tethered to the garage-top apartment that is her sole safe zone, this killing thing really turns her life upside down.
There's a great sequence where the character gets lost on the streets of L.A., and seeing the city from her point of view, experiencing all its nocturnal strangeness and indecipherable cacophony and perceived danger through her eyes, is tremendously affecting. We can't remember feeling that level of sympathy for a character in a jam in a long time. Not sure many male authors could have pulled it off quite as deftly. Nielsen's good ideas, written well with a unique angle on murder—figuratively and literally—made for a very worthwhile read. It was originally published in 1954, and the Dell paperback you see above appeared in 1956 with excellent cover art by William George.
It's always darkest just before the dawn.
Celia Fremlin's 1958 novel The Hours Before Dawn was lauded by the Mystery Writers of America. You can see that for yourself by looking at the cover of its 1961 Dell paperback edition. You would assume, then, that the book is a murder mystery or thriller. Yes and no—it's really more of a domestic drama about a British woman named Louise who's overwhelmed by her three kids and husband. She's tired, stressed, unhappy, unlaid, and unlikely to find space for a breather or a recharge. Into this mix comes a woman who rents the family's vacant upstairs room and adds to Louise's problems by proving to be one weird bird. Who is this woman, where did she come from, and why does it seem as though her presence is not a random event? Yes, there's a mystery, but the vast bulk of the narrative is about Louise's daily life, her struggles with child rearing, her nosy and obtuse neighbors, and the problems caused by her accumulating lack of sleep.
Even without the mysterious renter angle this would be a good book. We thought we understood, basically, what it meant to be a mid-century housewife, but we were wrong. Fremlin brings Louise to life by dissecting her challenging existence, baring every bit of it for the reader's increasingly sympathetic inspection. Love is not the issue. Nor is desire. The issue is simply time. And rest. And peace. No wonder then that her boarder is able to embark upon an insidious plot without very much worry of close observation, and of course when Louise begins to understand something is truly amiss—and is not just the imaginings of her weary brain—she finds it devilishly difficult to find an ally, within her household or without. A mystery novel? Well, yes, but not of the type that can be puzzled out by readers. A highly effective depiction of all the ways in which a woman can work so hard and so thanklessly? One of the better ones you'll read.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1941—DiMaggio Hit Streak Reaches 56
New York Yankees outfielder Joe DiMaggio gets a hit in his fifty-sixth consecutive game. The streak would end the next game, against the Cleveland Indians, but the mark DiMaggio set still stands, and in fact has never been seriously threatened. It is generally thought to be one of the few truly unbreakable baseball records.
1939—Adams Completes Around-the-World Air Journey
American Clara Adams becomes the first woman passenger to complete an around-the-world air journey. Her voyage began and ended in New York City, with stops in Lisbon, Marseilles, Leipzig, Athens, Basra, Jodhpur, Rangoon, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Wake Island, Honolulu, and San Francisco.
1955—Nobel Prize Winners Unite Against Nukes
Eighteen Nobel laureates sign the Mainau Declaration against nuclear weapons, which reads in part: We think it is a delusion if governments believe that they can avoid war for a long time through the fear of [nuclear] weapons. Fear and tension have often engendered wars. Similarly it seems to us a delusion to believe that small conflicts could in the future always be decided by traditional weapons. In extreme danger no nation will deny itself the use of any weapon that scientific technology can produce.
1997—Versace Murdered in Miami
Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace is shot dead on the steps of his Miami mansion as he returns from breakfast at a cafe. His killer is Andrew Cunanan, a man who had already murdered four other people across the country and was the focus of an FBI manhunt. The FBI never caught Cunanan—instead he committed suicide on the houseboat where he was living.
1921—Sacco & Vanzetti Convicted
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are convicted in Dedham, Massachusetts of killing their shoe company's paymaster. Even at the time there are serious questions about their guilt, and whether they are being railroaded because of their Italian ethnicity and anarchist political beliefs.
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