Jazz provides the backdrop. Craig provides the thrills.
Above: an unattributed front cover plus the backside for Frenzy by Jonathan Craig, originally titled Junkie and published in 1952 by Falcon Books. This edition from Lancer Books came in 1962. We read it a few years ago and can't remember what the “one thing she wouldn't do” was, as teased on the cover, but we're not curious enough to look back. Craig is generally a decent writer and this, while not his best, is still entertaining.
Just because she's nude doesn't mean she's easy.
Do you have a friend who always complains, maybe even to the extent that it seems like nobody can please them? We don't mean complaints that need to be aired, like about the environment or racism, but little things. Basically insignificant things. Like it's cruel to throw lobsters in boiling water. And you're like, “Yeah, probably, but who the fuck cares? They're lobsters. They eat their own kind.” Anyway, we had a friend who complained in this way often, and one evening our group had gotten together and had done something he thought needed to be complained about, and he proceeded to do that, but another one of our friends turned to him and went, “Shhh... let people have fun.”
Ted Mark's farcical novel The Nude Who Never made us feel like that complaining friend. The book is moronic from start to finish, the tale of a virgin runaway named Llona Mayper who becomes a high priced call girl, but has her first liaison interrupted in comedic fashion, then finds herself stuck in a fancy hotel without her clothes. Pursued throughout the night by the hotel detective, she sneaks from room to room, through halls and up stairwells, getting stuck in a bass drum, having a new—though always abortive—sexual adventure at each stop. We could complain about the book's sheer ridiculousness, but it's probably better to just let people have fun. Copyright 1967, with Stanley Borack on the cover chores.
She's okay when she's good but she's better when she's bad.
How could we not buy a book called Gilda? Rea Michaels' 1964 novel, with its uncredited art of a woman who looks like a burlesque dancer, is obviously not related to the classic film noir, but we figured anyone who'd appropriate the title probably wrote something interesting. Well, it's that, alright. Basically, a film director named Marc Sanders who drank away his career locates a good script and attempts a comeback, but there are several problems: the only financial backing he can garner comes from a gangster, he can't get a distribution deal, and he has creative differences with the screenwriter.
Then there's Gilda Moore, who has also fallen on hard times and convinces him to let her star in the movie. She's a sex addict and is almost guaranteed to sink Sanders' chance for professional redemption, but she's also inexpensive and talented. Can he actually make a good movie with a star who consumes male crewmembers like oatmeal cookies? Though Michaels is no literary wiz, everything she does here works, particularly the way she writes the film's mounting problems. Those reach absurd proportions, even to the extent of a location shoot causing a riot. On the negative side, Gilda is tame for a book that bills itself as sleaze, but that's okay—we've read far worse.
Is this a subsidiary of the love cult I was in back in '53? If it is, then I've already had my whipping.
Above: a cover for Harry Whittington's Love Cult, published in 1962 by Lancer Books. This is an unusual case in mid-century fiction. The book is a reprint of the 1953 novel of the same name by William Vaneer, which was written under a pseudonym by James W. Lampp. Somehow the folks at Lancer got mixed up about that and attributed the book to Whittington. Embarrassing. We wonder if Lancer had to compensate Whittington in any way. You might assume the compensation would be to remove his name from this piece of low rent sleaze, but Whittington wrote plenty of books of this type this himself, so Love Cult definitely didn't hurt his reputation. Interested in what it's about? We tell you here.
Coffy gets scalding hot in explicit novelization.
A novelization of the blaxploitation classic Coffy? We had to buy it. Paul Fairman was tapped to bring the iconic character of Coffy to literary life, and we were surprised to discover that the result is x-rated. We assume Fairman's marching orders came from Lancer Books or/and American International Pictures, and in a way it's a clever gambit—readers had no choice but to imagine Pam Grier dispensing the blowjobs and sizzling bed sessions described. Unfortunately, the other edge of that sword is Fairman has Coffy raped, which didn't happen in the movie (though she was seriously threatened with such). Except for the kicked up explicitness, the tale hews close to the motion picture, with Coffy seeking bloody revenge against the degenerates who addicted her eleven-year-old sister to heroin.
Fairman writes with as much soul as he can muster, but it's quickly discernible that he doesn't exactly have his finger on the pulse of the black community. Some of his attempts at African American vernacular are cringeworthy, especially the constant interjections of, “Sheeee-it!” We really don't think many black authors would have made that choice, and Fairman, who's not black and is no Toni Morrison, should have rethought it. The book has this and numerous other flaws, and isn't well written overall. We're particularly let down that Fairman never solved the mystery of Coffy's real name. Her last name is Coffin, but we don't learn a first name in the movie, and we don't here either. Her sister calls her Flower Child, but we feel like that's understood to be a nickname.
We managed to get Fairman's Coffy for seven dollars plus shipping. We've seen sellers ask for a lot more, even as much as eighty dollars, but we'd caution against extravagant expenditure. You get less than you expect. The book has extra large type to help pad it into a normal sized paperback. With regular type, leading, and kerning we think it would run maybe 100 pages. Instead of typographic tricks, a more detailed portrayal of No-First-Name Coffin would have been better, but no such luck. Even so, we're glad we bought Fairman's novelizationsploitation. If we hadn't, we would have wondered about its contents forever. The cover art on this is uncredited, but it comes directly from the film poster. That art, in turn, is rarely attributed, but it's by George Akimoto. Excellent work.
Judge, jury, executioner. Rinse out the blood and repeat.
Red-Headed Sinners was originally published in 1953, with the above edition coming from Lancer Books in 1963 fronted by uncredited art. Jonathan Craig, aka Frank E. Smith, writes simply, without much in the way of flourishes, but his stories hit hard. Sinners features a detective drummed off the King City police force for beating a female witness. The cop hopes he can redeem himself and be reinstated, but he has a drinking problem which under certain circumstances unlocks a childhood trauma that sends him into a red haze of violence. This trauma thing is handled by Craig in a hamfisted way, but the book is a gripping thriller starring a cop on the edge of self destruction—and the destruction of others. It's definitely one for pulp fans to read.
He's Keene on murder and mayhem.
We don't generally like photo covers on paperbacks but this double from Lancer Books of the Day Keene novels Who Has Wilma Lathrop? and Murder on the Side is rather nice, with pretty colors and eye catching fonts. Murder on the Side deals with an ordinary guy who, when he tries to help his hot young secretary out of a sticky situation, gets involved in troubles more serious than he planned on. He goes from being bored with his life to risking it at every turn. As for the other book Wilma Lathrop, we already talked about it. You can read our bit on that here.
Tough time on the front, and unwelcome back at home.
You'd never guess from the art, but The Big Kiss-Off deals with an Air Force pilot named Cade Cain who, after twelve years in Korea, returns to a life of boating around the Louisiana bayou and comes across the bodies of six Chinese men on an isolated mud flat. And on his first day back, too, which is pretty bad luck, even for a guy who got shot down and spent two years in a prison camp. He wants nothing to do with the bodies or whoever was responsible for putting them there, but somehow his old local nemesis learns of the find and before he knows it he's beaten, threatened, and told to leave town again—this time for good. Two fisted loners in mid-century fiction rarely take that sort of treatment laying down. When Cain learns that his wife has sold off his family's land, divorced him in absentia, and found comfort in his enemy's bed, something simply has to be done.
Before he gets his vengeful ducks in a row, a near-naked fugitive swims aboard his boat and the mystery deepens. Her name is Mimi Moran, because the alliteration is strong with this book. She's looking for her husband, who it happens is a pilot who flies illegal aliens into the U.S. for the bad guys. Cade Cain decides to help Mimi Moran and that's when the real trouble starts. The Big Kiss-Off is a solid yarn from Day Keene. It has the usual issues common to fiction of the 1950s, for example the hero having to constantly resist forcing himself on his beautiful passenger because he's “only human, after all.” Fortunately, even though “her flesh constantly attracted his hands like a magnet,” he contains himself—mostly. Not someone you'd want near your sister. Or any woman, really. But as a fictional hero he serves his purpose just fine.
With a setting in the endlessly fertile (for genre fiction) Louisiana bayou, and a narrative that wastes no time putting Cain in hot water, The Big Kiss-Off keeps the pages turning. It originally appeared in 1954 but the above edition was published in 1972 by Triphammer Books in Britain, with nice art by Ron Lesser borrowed from Robert Dietrich's (E. Howard Hunt's) 1962 Lancer Books thriller Curtains for a Lover. Notice how Triphammer erased part of Lesser's distinctive signature. That was obviously to keep the figure on their cropped art from looking crowded by the lettering, but we imagine it still annoyed Lesser. You can see a U.S. cover for The Big Kiss-Off in this collection of Day Keene novels we put together back in 2009.
Woman in critical condition after accidentally swallowing ice pick.
Eunice Sudak was a prolific author, but one whose bibliography is padded by numerous film novelizations, including X—The Man with the X-Ray Eyes and The Raven, after Roger Corman's tongue-in-cheek version of the Poe tale. One of her original pieces of fiction was 1966's The Ice Pick in Ollie Birk, a comedic romp about a widow forced to become a prostitute to survive. That concept is just ripe for humor, right? Almost writes itself. Anyway, the widow discovers the eponymous Ollie Birk dead on her living room sofa with her ice pick in his ear, and of course must extricate herself from this sticky situation. Who did it? Perhaps the rowdy Russians down the hall. The novel is notable for its beat slang, if not its technical merit, and the Lancer Books paperback is notable for its unusual cover art of the lead character Leona Trafalgar dancing with an ice pick in her mouth. We love this image, but it's uncredited, sadly.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1989—Anti-Feminist Gunman Kills 14
In Montreal, Canada, at the École Polytechnique, a gunman shoots twenty-eight young women with a semi-automatic rifle, killing fourteen. The gunman claimed to be fighting feminism, which he believed had ruined his life. After the killings he turns the gun on himself and commits suicide.
1933—Prohibition Ends in United States
Utah becomes the 36th U.S. state to ratify the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution, thus establishing the required 75% of states needed to overturn the 18th Amendment which had made the sale of alcohol illegal. But the criminal gangs that had gained power during Prohibition are now firmly established, and maintain an influence that continues unabated for decades.
1945—Flight 19 Vanishes without a Trace
During an overwater navigation training flight from Fort Lauderdale, five U.S. Navy TBM Avenger torpedo-bombers lose radio contact with their base and vanish. The disappearance takes place in what is popularly known as the Bermuda Triangle.
1918—Wilson Goes to Europe
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sails to Europe for the World War I peace talks in Versailles, France, becoming the first U.S. president to travel to Europe while in office.
1921—Arbuckle Manslaughter Trial Ends
In the U.S., a manslaughter trial against actor/director Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle ends with the jury deadlocked as to whether he had killed aspiring actress Virginia Rappe during rape and sodomy. Arbuckle was finally cleared of all wrongdoing after two more trials, but the scandal ruined his career and personal life.
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