Vintage Pulp Jan 28 2023
HOLLYWOOD ENDINGS
Some actresses consider it a role to die for—literally.


This is a beautiful Robert Maguire cover, somewhat different from his normal style, that he painted for Patrick Quentin's 1957 mystery Suspicious Circumstances. Quentin was a pseudonym used by various authors, but in this case Hugh Wheeler was behind the façade. The cover blurb describes murder breaking down the Hollywood star system, and that's basically what you get, as the book centers around nineteen-year-old Nick Rood, nervous son of globally adored actress Anny Rood, and follows his suspicions that his mother has killed in order to steal a plum movie role. The book is written in amusing and affected fashion, and is filled with characters speaking in ways no humans do, or likely ever did:

“It's positively Greek. Sophocles would purr. Aeschylus would run not walk to the nearest papyrus or whatever he wrote on.”

How very arch. Thanks to various crises, third party manipulations, and suspicious deaths, the coveted film role repeatedly falls into and out of Anny Rood's lap, while fragile Nick flips and flops from suspecting his mother of murder to not. Meanwhile a newcomer to the entourage, a young secretary named Delight Schmidt, turns Nick's head with her beauty and sweetness, but may be just ambitious enough to have a hand in everything that's occurring. Mid-century authors seem addicted to portraying Hollywood in comical or farcical fashion, but we can't argue with the results here. Suspicious Circumstances is well written, generally interesting, and occasionally funny as hell.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 25 2023
REVENGE IN THE FIRST DEGREE
No man who dumps her ever lives to regret it.

One day there will be no more Charles Williams for us to read, and that'll be sad, but his books, like good wine, are something you have to treat yourself to regularly even as the stock dwindles. His 1958 novel All the Way, which is the source material for the 1960 movie The 3rd Voice, is typically solid Williams work.

It has a fascinating plot at its center. A vengeful woman enlists a fugitive to help her steal her former lover's identity, then impersonate him for weeks afterward so nobody will suspect when he disappears that she's actually killed him. The reason people are supposed to assume a disappearance instead of murder has to do with paranoid schizophrenia in the ex-lover's family, and the fact that the fugitive impersonating him has been faking its rapid onset, publicly and loudly.

With the ground laid in this way, a disappearance will be the logical conclusion, and since the man is rich, the fact that a hundred seventy grand is missing from his bank accounts merely indicates he's never coming back—not that an imposter has withdrawn the cash. The scheme is convoluted, but the genius femmes who come up with them are a staple of pulp literature. Williams gets the job done again, as does Ernest Chiriacka, who painted the cover art. 

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Vintage Pulp Jan 17 2023
BAD AS IN GOOD
Fontaine returns for another deadly installment of the hunger dames.


It's official. William Ard, in all his incarnations, is a trusted author. In 1960's When She Was Bad, the follow-up to 1959's As Bad As I Am, Danny Fontaine is now a fledgeling detective on his first case. Many mid-century detectives are ladykillers, but Fontaine is on a level that silences rooms when he enters. He's what women these days might amusingly call a “dilf”—a detective I'd like to fuck. His job is to locate a missing minor royal, a thrillseeker who's caused a ruckus from Grand Bahama to New York City but now may be in trouble way over her head. Fontaine mixes with women ranging from a marquess related by marriage to the Queen of England to a trio of top rank call girls, and they all fall hard for him. His efforts to earn his wings as a private operator under these circumstances are often funny and always exciting. Simply put, Ard's got skills. The cover art on this Dell edition is by Robert McGinnis, and he's got skills too.
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Vintage Pulp Jan 4 2023
HELL OF A WOMAN
Intelligent, thoughtful, scalding hot—what's the catch?


H. Rider Haggard's novel She is one of those rare fantasy/sci-fi novels that has been widely read through three different centuries. A pre-pulp novel, it was originally published in 1887, retained popular interest through the pulp era when it was made into a 1935 movie starring Helen Gahagan, continued generating interest through the mid-century paperback era and into the 1960s, when it was adapted with Ursula Andress in the lead role, and remains available in bookstores and from digital booksellers in the 2020s. The book has enjoyed such longevity because it's a well-written and archetypal lost world adventure with all the elements that sub-genre requires: intrepid explorers in an exotic land, savage encounters with locals, a central quest for something thought to be priceless or unobtainable, and a temptress at the center of the narrative.

The temptress, Ayesha, is an ancient but youthful countenanced woman of Arab descent who has discovered the secret to long life, but who's lost her true love along the way and awaits his reincarnation. She lives in a lost realm called Kôr amidst a host of Africans, who she hates, but rules while she pines for her dead lover to return. Two thousand years after his death, his direct descendant undertakes an expedition to the African interior, where he and Ayesha are destined to meet. This descendent, Leo Vincey, accompanied by his mentor and friend Horace Holly, has been handed down a story through the generations of an immortal woman who murdered his forebear. His quest is to find if such a fantastic story can be true, and possibly take revenge for his entire bloodline.

Haggard is good with descriptive passages, but what's equally interesting is that the book is partly procedural in nature, with long transcriptions of Latin, Arabic, and Greek, and an abundance of academic discussion. Eventually the tale centers around Ayesha's belief that Leo Vincey is her dead lover returned to her, which means her African vigil is mercifully at an end. Her plan? To go to England and rule it with Leo. She'll have to depose Queen Victoria to make that happen, but since she possesses advanced if not magical powers, she considers that no biggie. While we'd have loved to see the story head in that direction, obviously nothing written during the Victorian Age is going to involve a plot to destroy its eponymous figurehead. But what fun that would have been.

On a less fun note, and at risk of stating the obvious, books of this sort are culturally blinkered. The writers depict dark-skinned peoples as savage and deadly, though white-skinned peoples had by then ravaged the entire world, killing hundreds of millions upon hundreds of millions of people for no other reason than greed. This dismissal of non-white lives is exemplified when Horace Holly explains to Ayesha, who hates monarchs, that the nature of royalty has changed during the centuries of her self-imposed exile, and that Queen Victoria is, “venerated and beloved by all right-thinking people in her vast realms.” You have to smile at this, considering the British Empire was an industrial killing machine. Possibly Haggard wasn't aware of that back in 1887, but do any right-thinking people doubt he'd have ignored it even if he'd known?

It's a given that books such as She overlook or deliberately obscure these truths, therefore, if you crack one open, presumably you've made the decision to go along for the ride. While the book's cultural conceits will annoy some readers, it's worth noting that Ayesha's two thousand years of longevity provide Haggard the opportunity to espouse at least a few views unusual for the era, for example when she drops this nugget: “I have long seen that democracies, having no clear will of their own, in the end set up a tyrant and worship him.” Ayesha is Haggard's narrative savior, in our view. She's by far the most engaging character. Though he portrays her as ignorant due to her long sequestration, some of what she says is pretty damn insightful and ironic in 2023. It helps make She a little easier to swallow.

However, the flipside of Ayesha's sometimes intriguing opinions is that she's long-winded. You'd think two-thousand years of life would make her economical with words, but no—the woman can really beat a dead horse. Actually, so can Horace Holly, who narrates via a letter sent to a friend. These aren't dealbreaking flaws, merely ones to be forewarned about. They make the book many pages longer than it need be. And perhaps another small issue is that there aren't many surprises in the story—Holly's narration, being basically epistolary in nature, constantly hints at tragedy, and every plot turn makes a racket galloping at you from a great distance. But She is still good stuff from Haggard, and is a literary landmark for discernible reasons. This edition came from Dell Publications in 1949 with Lou Marchetti cover art.
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Vintage Pulp Jan 1 2023
A YACHT OF TROUBLE
Crime capers of the rich and infamous.


David Dodge's 1956 novel Angel's Ransom takes place in the principality of Monaco, a part of the world the author knew well, along with the rest of the French Riviera. Authentic local details distinguish this kidnapping and ransom thriller, as a group of crooks snatch a yacht called Angel and try to shake down its flamboyantly wealthy owner for 3.5 million francs. Unwillingly along for the ride are the boat's captain, a beautiful guest, a playboy and his distinguished wife, and a Paris showgirl dragged into the plot to assist the criminals. The crooks force the yacht owner to write a bank draft, send a man to Geneva with it, then take the boat out to sea to await word that the draft has been honored. If anything goes wrong, everyone gets to be fish food.

Dodge is a great writer, and this one is good too, though slightly less perfect coming from the master of international intrigue, due to the simple reason that setting most of the action on a boat confines his normally free ranging fiction. But the book is still well written and masterfully paced, with an array of diverse characters to sustain reader interest. If you're going to read any Dodge novel set in this diamonds and champagne milieu we recommend To Catch a Thief—of course—over Angel's Ransom, but you could do far worse than to read any of his international thrillers, including this one. We'll be returning to Monaco with Dodge. He wrote an entire travel book about the French Riviera, ironically titled (because he was a budget traveller), The Rich Man's Guide to the Riviera. We have it and will report back later.
 
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Vintage Pulp Dec 20 2022
ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE
Hello? Is anybody there? Santa? Is that you?


Our sprint through movies this December continues today with the Italian Christmas favorite—Estratto dagli archivi segreti della polizia di una capitale europea, for which you see a festive yule themed poster above. It was painted by Mario Piovano and just oozes holiday spirit. Right. Well, obviously not. This couldn't be a Christmas movie unless Christmas makes you want to kill everyone around you. But it qualifies as a gift from us to you, because we're going to save you the time you might have spent watching it.

The title translates as, “extract from the secret police archives of a European capital,” but was shortened to Tragic Ceremony for its English language release. The Italian title would seem to indicate that this is a giallo flick, but it's actually more in the realm of gothic horror. Basically, a quartet of carefree hippies stumble upon and must survive assorted evils, including a black mass, a phantom gas station, and spurts of megaviolence, all loosely related somehow to a string of possibly cursed pearls.

The movie stars Camille Keaton, who's not well known today, but headlined perhaps the most infamous grindhouse offering of the 1970s—Day of the Woman, better known in some quarters as I Spit on Your Grave. Keaton appears here six years earlier, and is stranded with her hippie-hedonist friends in a creepy old manse where she's seized upon by the loony, aristocratic occupants as a potential sacrifice. She escapes, but the aftereffects of her close call are numerous and gory.

Critics hindered by their own knowledge of niche cinema to the extent that they can't see the forest for the trees tend to describe this movie as underrated, but it really isn't, even if you accept it as a sly commentary on the generational clash between the counterculture and the gentry. At one point a distressed Máximo Valverde asks, “What's happening? What's going on?” Well, you've ended up in a below average horror movie, Max. It happens. Revisionist critics can't help you. Estratto dagli archivi segreti della polizia di una capitale europea premiered in Italy today in 1972.
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Vintage Pulp Dec 7 2022
FINAL NAIL IN THE COFFIN
I believe you that it's life or death, honey. But believe me it's also life or death that I finish my toes.


The Devil's Spawn was a random acquisition, a cheap throw-in within a six-book lot. It's a 1956 Dell original with cover art by Mitchell Hooks, was written by Robert Carse, and is a very interesting and unusually graphic tale about an escapee from Cayenne Prison in French Guiana (now Guyana) who lives under a new identity in New York City, but learns that one of the four men he fled with has been targeted by a blackmailer. That means, as the protagonist Jean Prevot puts it, “the trail might be followed down to the next, and the next.” That's exactly what happens, and the blackmailer is from Cayenne Prison, the one person everyone there feared—its sadistic executioner, known as le Bouc.

That's a compelling set-up for a novel, and Carse is an able writer. Especially interesting are his shifts from third-person narrative into second-person deliberations and reveries, without the expected italics to offset the latter from the former. The flow between these passages gives the story an occasional trancelike quality. Also interesting is that Prevot takes intelligent countermeasures. For example, in order to neutralize the blackmail threat, he immediately confesses his past to everyone in his inner circle, most importantly his wife. That's real-world smart, but isn't what most authors would choose. Most would use secrecy as a wedge between Prevot and his loved ones, giving even more initiative to the men who threaten to expose the truth. Carse goes a different way.

But the core of the threat remains even after Prevot brings his inner circle up to speed. Either he does what le Bouc says, or le Bouc informs French authorities that a notorious fugitive—who, by the way, killed a guard during his escape—is alive and well in New York City. If Prevot is caught he'll lose his wife, the lucrative career he's built, and anything resembling a future. That's as far as we'll go in describing the book, except to say that it's a good, gritty ride. Carse will be another one we watch for during our digging for dusty old paperbacks.
 
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Vintage Pulp Dec 3 2022
BODY COPY
I'll cover his face with the sports section. I think he would have liked that.


The Frightened Stiff, which was first published in 1944, with this Dell edition coming in 1953, was written by Kelley Roos, and centers on his franchise detective Jeff Troy, who along with wife Haila starred in a run of popular mysteries with a comedic bent. This is the third in the set. We have one of them—1956's The Blonde Died Dancing—so we'll try to report back on it eventually. The above cover art is by Len Oehmen. 

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Vintage Pulp Nov 14 2022
OBJECT OF DESIRE
Do you ever put the gun away? I'm just wondering because you'll probably need two hands for what I have planned.


We recently called Barye Phillips a ubiquitous illustrator, but we keep running into Robert McGinnis too. Which mid-century artist do you suppose painted the most paperback covers? Surely both Phillips and McGinnis have to be in the running. Here's the latter's masterful work on the cover of William Ard's Wanted: Danny Fontaine, a 1960 re-issue of 1959's As Bad As I Am. In this novel the title character has just been paroled after his third prison stint. Because his crimes always involve helping damsels in distress, a provision of his parole is that he must stay away from women for eighteen months. That's not easy. He has movie star looks on a six-four frame, and an overt but non-aggressive masculinity wrapped inside a genuine charm that verges on innocence. All of that makes him irresistible to women. But the fact that his probabtion officer can't wait to send him back to prison offers all the motivation he needs to keep his life unentangled.

Unfortunately, Fontaine gets entangled anyway. He gets involved in a cop killing, at which point a beautiful actress named Gloria Allen risks everything to come to his aid. We thought it was a clever thematic reversal by Ard after taking such lengths to portray Fontaine as a habitual white knight. The man who's gone to prison three times rescuing women is doomed unless a woman helps him—and at great risk to herself, since the police have gone full vigilante in an attempt to avenge one of their own. While the plot Ard spins is unlikely in parts, and there are some of the issues regarding race that are endemic to vintage fiction, Danny Fontaine and Gloria Allen are both winning creations, the supporting cast is good, and the story is propulsive. With this one on his ledger, plus the excellent Club 17 and Deadly Beloved, we may have to elevate Ard to our top rank of vintage crime authors, that lofty designation we like to call “trusted."

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Vintage Pulp Nov 6 2022
THE CRYING GAME
Just my luck. I go to the trouble of hiring a bodyguard and end up with one who doesn't even notice my body.


Hillary Waugh wrote more than forty novels and eventually earned a Grand Master designation from the Mystery Writers of America. His 1958 thriller The Girl Who Cried Wolf shows why, as he takes a standard detective novel premise and adds a touch of girl-crush cuteness to it. A rich co-ed named Patty Merchant has fallen hard for gumshoe Phil Macadam. She's never met him. He gave a lecture to her class and she went starry eyed over him. She hatches a phony stalking story in order to hire him and be close to him, which works fine until she's grabbed by actual kidnappers.

The Robert McGinnis cover art on this 1960 Dell edition—and the alternate version below—vibes femme fatale, but Patty Merchant is no man eater. She's shy, sweet, smart in school but a bit clueless in romance. You can't help but like her, and neither can Macadam. Which is good because he goes through the entire wringer and then some trying to locate and rescue her. The Girl Who Cried Wolf is a good, fast paced read, more soft-boiled than hard, but very entertaining. This being our first Waugh, we're already planning to pick up more of his work.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
January 31
1928—Soviets Exile Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky, a Bolshevik revolutionary, Marxist theorist, and co-leader of the Russian October Revolution, is exiled to Alma Ata, at the time part of the Soviet Union but now located in Kazakhstan. He is later expelled entirely from the Soviet Union to Turkey, accompanied by his wife Natalia Sedova and his son Lev Sedov.
January 30
1933—Hitler Becomes Chancellor
Adolf Hitler is sworn in as Chancellor of Germany in President Paul Von Hindenburg's office, in what observers describe as a brief and simple ceremony. Hitler's first speech as Chancellor takes place on 10 February. The Nazis' seizure of power subsequently becomes known as the Machtergreifung.
January 29
1916—Paris Is Bombed by German Zeppelins
During World War I, German zeppelins conduct a bombing raid on Paris. Such raids were rare, because the ships had to fly hundreds of miles over French territory to reach their target, making them vulnerable to attack. Reaching London, conversely, was much easier, because the approach was over German territory and water. The results of these raids were generally not good, but the use of zeppelins as bombers would continue until the end of the war.
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