The beasts of the jungle are dangerous, savage, and human.
You'd never guess, but this cover for U.S. writer Jonathan Latimer's L'avventura nera is the 1956 Italian translation of his 1940 African safari novel Dark Memory. It was painted by Lu Kimmel, possibly borrowed from something he originally painted for a U.S. novel or magazine. We recently talked about this book in detail—a lot of detail—but long story short, it's about Yanks in Africa, and a difficult, dangerous safari that brings out the beast in its participants. It was great. Learn more? Click here.
Now that you've shot the continent's last white rhino can we do something I think is romantic?
Jonathan Latimer's African adventure novel Dark Memory needs a more grandiose title, because it's pure Hemingway, and you know how lyrical his titles were. Latimer's novel is about nature, and courage, and women. It reads as if he said to himself after finishing Green Hills of Africa, “I wonder if I could do something like what Papa did here?” Well, he could. Dark Memory is a totally absorbing safari tale, a slice of time long gone. Latimer is in what we call the “trusted” category. He's set-and-forget. He's a concierge who's never failed a customer. If he wants to take us on an African safari, all we can say is, “Where do we get our malaria shots?”
Today people who hunt big game are excoriated on social media, and we understand why. The animals they shoot are simply too rare and valuable to be killed for ego. The hunters of yesteryear also killed for ego, but did so under a more limited ecological understanding and more lax political circumstances. Some practices of the past shouldn't survive, and killing lions for their skins shouldn't survive any more than should gladiatorial combat with swords. Big game hunters of today know that these African animals will be slaughtered unto extinction, but they simply don't care. Some might not want to shoot the last one, or hundredth one, or thousandth, but they're offset by sociopaths who'd pay a fortune to usher a species to oblivion. It's basic economics. The rarer the animal the more someone will pay to kill it.
If you were to search Dark Memory for good explanations why people kill African wildlife you'd be disappointed. Killing to prove one's own courage, killing a silverback gorilla carrying an infant, all seems shallow and pointless even to the main character, Jay Nichols, part of a group slogging through the wilds of Belgian Congo. When he later refers to the shooting—actually his shooting—of that female gorilla as a murder, his feelings are made crystal clear. In one scene another hunter explains how, during his current duties guiding a party of Brits, they've killed two hippos. For no reason except vanity. Then he lists the other casualties: “Zebra, eland, antelope, kuku, oryx, wildebeest, hartebeest, topi, [impala], waterbuck, dik-dik, oribi, bushbuck, reedbuck. I can't remember them all. Yes, and a number of different gazelles. We've killed more than two-hundred animals.”
Latimer is a show-not-tell type of writer, but seems to suggest that, while shooting a charging animal may prove a type of courage, it's of the crudest kind. The same rough men don't have enough courage to be truthful. Nor do they have the guts to be evenhanded—they must always weight the scales. Fairness angers them, because then they lose their advantages. But the book is only partly about all this. There's a woman on the expedition, Eve Salles, and her role barely differs from that of the animals. She's to be conquered for vanity too. In the context of this difficult trek through the Congolese jungle, she will be left in peace only if she belongs to someone. If the cruel, intimidating asshole running the safari has his druthers, it'll be him. She resists this depressing reality, but how long can she last?
Latimer tackles his themes declaratively, methodically, repetitively, and close to flawlessly. The man could definitely weave a tale, but for modern readers it'll be uncomfortable because he occasionally takes the route of racism in his descriptive passages. That's often true of vintage literature. We write—for a living even—so we never cut ourselves off from good writing. There's always something to learn. But those who read for pleasure should focus on the pleasure first. You have no other obligation, because there's plenty of good writing out there that doesn't equate gorillas and black men. But if, like the hunters in this book, you can trek past the hazards, your patience and forbearance will be rewarded—with high tension, savage action, deep reflection, and extraordinary visual power.
In the end, Dark Memory turns out to be a safari adventure that deftly channels the mid-century classics—Hemingway, Blixen, and others. Like those books, there's a level of dismissal toward the inhabitants of the land the characters claim to love, yet also like those books, there's insight into that rarefied realm of rich white Americans in the African wild. Latimer, a highly regarded crime writer, added big outdoor adventure to his résumé with Dark Memory, and as far as we're concerned he pulled it off. Originally published in 1940, the cover at top is from the 1953 Perma-Doubleday edition, painted by Carl Bobertz. It's actually a Canadian cover. We know only because every edition we've seen online has the price of 35¢, and a small notation that says: in Canada 39¢. Ours being 39¢, it must be Canadian. Brilliantly deduced, eh?
So many choices, so little time.
We found this interesting photo on Reddit. It shows an actual pulp rack at the Detroit Metro Airport in 1959. It's amazingly full. We had no idea the racks offered this level of choice. Jonathan Latimer once famously described his books as being about, “booze, babes and bullets,” and the choices shown here certainly reflect the simple enticements of popular mid-century fiction. We were surprised and pleased to find that we own three of those shown. Carter Brown's The Dame and None but the Lethal Heart, and Edmond Hamilton's The Star of Life, are currently in our holdings. Seeing them on an actual spinning rack circa late-1950s is cool. It gives them new life for us.
Speaking of new, the international mails have been working flawlessly of late, and we've received some very choice items, including a stack of digest novels from Uni, Rainbow, and similar imprints, and some Dell and Signet crime paperbacks. We've already begun posting some of this stuff, for example The Nude Stranger and Dirt Farm. We also got our hands on the novelization of the blaxploitation film Coffy. Look forward to that. And on top of everything else, we also bought some fun French nudie mags, and a fresh lot of periodicals from Australia, including more issues of Adam, Man, and Man Jr. We'll get to scanning and you can expect those to start popping up pretty soon.
Bad news. Your husband refused to pay the ransom. He also wanted me to tell you it's not you, it's him.
A while back we moved Jonathan Latimer from the decent bin to the mandatory bin off the back of his crazy thriller Solomon's Vineyard. We're returning him to the decent bin. The Dead Don't Care is an okay book, but not top notch. Latimer wrote it in 1938, and it was the fourth entry in a detective franchise starring a boozy dick named Bill Crane, and an equally boozy sidekick named Thomas O'Malley. The two engage in such shenanigans as ordering double-triple bourbons and generally pickling their livers at every opportunity—which we totally respect‚ but the actual mystery, divorced from its comedic elements, is overly talky and populated by characters that tend to blend after a while.
Basically, Crane and O'Malley are called in when an upper crust woman is kidnapped, and someone is murdered. As usual in such books, the first murder isn't the last, and the second killing provides key clues to finally unmasking the eventual culprit. In all, it was meh. But it did well enough to spawn a film adaptation, 1938's The Last Warning, which we may watch at some point. We're in no way discouraged by The Dead Don't Care. We already know Latimer can write. But it isn't surprising he'd run into problems four entries into a series that would peter out after one more outing. We'll move on to his other books and do so eagerly. This MacFadden-Bartell paperback came in 1964, and the cover art is by Robert Schulz.
Our recommendation: Take the Fifth.
We read Jonathan Latimer's The Fifth Grave in its retitled incarnation Solomon's Vineyard and talked about the book a few years ago. That edition was from Great Pan and appeared in 1961. The Popular Library version you see above came in 1950 with art by the great Rudolph Belarski. We think back to this strange and dark novel often. At the time we thought it was very good but not a classic. Years later, considering how much it sticks in the head, maybe we'd better bump it up to the top tier, and once again recommend that you read this unusual tale. After digging around we finally got ahold of a couple of other Latimers and we're really looking forward to those. Can he possibly equal The Fifth Grave/Solomon's Vineyard? We'll report back.
Okay, I take it back—you don't hit like a girl.
Above you see a great Sam Peffer cover for Jonathan Latimer's Solomon's Vineyard, originally published in 1941, and banned in the U.S. until 1988. We could go into why it was blacklisted, but as always it doesn't really matter, because save for a brief mention of underage sex the book is not racy by today's standards. Its best quality is not sexual innuendo anyway, but toughness. To give you an example, we'll transcribe one of its many interesting scenes. The main character Karl Craven—a burly ex-football player-turned-private detective—becomes upset at the layered deceptions he's had to deal with and finally loses his temper:
I grabbed her by the arms and shook her. Her false teeth fell out and rolled across the carpet. [snip] I started into the parlour, but a thin man in shirtsleeves was in the way. I hit him and he went down. In the parlour the blonde who'd slugged me with the lamp began to scream. She thought I was coming for her. I went to the big radio in the corner. I picked it up, tearing out the plug, and tossed it across the room. It shattered against the wall. I kicked over a table with two lamps on it. I tore some of the fabric off a davenport. I threw a chair at a big oil painting over the fireplace. I took a metal stand lamp and bent it up like a pretzel. I pulled up the oriental rug and ripped it down the middle.
That's going berserk like you mean it. We won't bother with a long plot summary since you can find those all over the internet, but basically the protagonist is hired to spring a woman from a cult and finds himself neck deep in corpse worship, hidden treasure, police corruption, and sado-masochism. The book is reasonably well written, very hard boiled, and built around a set of unlikely characters—including a femme fatale known by all as “The Princess.” Great Pan published it in 1961, and it had an alternate cover which you also see here. It was re-issued several times after its debut—including by Popular Library as The Fifth Grave—which means it isn't hard to find. We recommend you give it a read.
It may be the second version but it’s first rate.
Above is French poster art for La Clé de verre, aka The Glass Key, the second Hollywood adaptation of Dashiell Hammet’s 1931 novel. We’ve shared other Glass Key materials, but never talked about the film. Suffice to say this Alan Ladd/Veronica Lake vehicle is excellent—much better than This Gun for Hire, which starred the same beautiful pair (Ladd and Lake appeared together in seven movies). Complicated, engrossing, and liberally spiced with excellent action and Hammett’s wit chanelled through Jonathan Latimer's screenplay—“My first wife was a second cook at a third rate joint on Fourth Street”—The Glass Key is mandatory viewing. It’s also interesting for its cynical look at American politics, portrayed as corrupt, built on lies, and fueled by legalized bribery. That much hasn’t changed. The first Glass Key was made in 1935 with George Raft in the lead, but this remake from 1942 is the one to watch. Its French premiere, delayed for years due to World War II and its aftermath, was today in 1948.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1936—Crystal Palace Gutted by Fire
In London, the landmark structure Crystal Palace, a 900,000 square foot glass and steel exhibition hall erected in 1851, is destroyed by fire. The Palace had been moved once and fallen into disrepair, and at the time of the fire was not in use. Two water towers survived the blaze, but these were later demolished, leaving no remnants of the original structure.
1963—Warren Commission Formed
U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson establishes the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. However the long report that is finally issued does little to settle questions
about the assassination, and today surveys show that only a small minority of Americans agree with the Commission's conclusions.
1942—Nightclub Fire Kills Hundreds
In Boston, Massachusetts, a fire
in the fashionable Cocoanut Grove nightclub kills 492 people. Patrons were unable to escape when the fire began because the exits immediately became blocked with panicked people, and other possible exits were welded shut or boarded up. The fire led to a reform of fire codes and safety standards across the country, and the club's owner, Barney Welansky, who had boasted of his ties to the Mafia and to Boston Mayor Maurice J. Tobin, was eventually found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
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