Ugh. The last thing I remember is running out of Jell-O shots then washing down Jell-O powder with straight vodka. Sometimes I'm too smart for my own good.
Elmore Leonard once advised fledgeling authors to not write things readers tend to skip. He meant long descriptive passages and lengthy interior musings. Benjamin Appel's 1934 crime novel Brain Guy has a lot of both. The narrative is packed with paragraph after paragraph of description and rumination, many of them as long as a page. They're all stylishly written, though, so maybe Elmore should have added: “Unless you're really good at that sort of thing.”
His body was host to many disputing beings, walking drunken as if he were striding down some nebulous stairway of dream on queer missions, inevitable, sadistic. His head whirled and it wasn't from fresh morning but late night, his brain sick from wildness, now, suddenly lucid, or regretful, by turns melancholy, exalted, mournful, stolid. And all these moods knew one union, the walking forward of the body containing them.
That's stylish writing. It's also writing that doesn't tell you as much as it should. If this confident prose moved the story or helped us to understand the character better, we'd like it more. But too often neither happens, which means, even as well written as the book's long passages sometimes are, they try the patience.
Still, some of Appel's turns of phrase are epic. In one scene a character is stabbed to death and drops a bottle he's holding. Appel writes that it fell from the man's slack fingers and, “the ginger ale ran out from the narrow neck as if it too had been murdered.” All of this clever prose encompasses a nobody-to-somebody crime story that, at its core, could be more compelling, but we may try Appel again. He's fun to read.
Instead of fighting about this, let's compromise. My soul will go to church with you while my body stays in bed.
Julian Paul does top work on this cover for Richard Matheson's 1953 thriller Fury on Sunday. Paul painted some nice covers for men's adventure magazines as well, two of which we showed you here and here. We read this novel, and from a complex intro that hurries to introduce five main characters, it settles into a streamlined narrative of people stalked and held hostage by a madman. Of the captives—the coward, the tart, the everyman, and the good girl—we knew right away who would be killed, which dampened some of the suspense. Another problem is that the characters do not make the smartest decisions, sometimes to the point of straining credulity. If Fury on Sunday were a horror movie they'd all be murder bait, pretty much. For those reasons the book, Matheson's second, resides in the same not-fully-realized territory as his first, Someone Is Bleeding, also published in 1953. But in 1954 he would strike gold. That year he published I Am Legend, which is a sci-fi classic and became a movie four different times. We have that book lined up for later.
Some wounds are too serious to ever heal.
Sometimes authors stumble upon themes that are ahead of their time. Richard Matheson's debut novel, 1953's Someone Is Bleeding, is highly improbable in its details, but his central character, Peggy Lister, is an interesting creation from the pre-#MeToo age. Perceived by men as beautiful while still a child, raped at age ten, molested by her father, as an adult she reacts in unpredictable ways to constant, unwanted male advances. Basically, she's a PTSD sufferer before that term existed, and before there were many, or any, aid mechanisms or understanding about the issue. It's clear Matheson has sympathy for her, but his narrative pre-supposes that her reactions aren't normal. It's a fine line. Matheson understands that Peggy is traumatized, but there's a bubbling undercurrent of suggestion that she should be able to somehow just get over it. This one is a pass, we think, because of a few too many cringes. Luckily for Matheson, he quickly improved and soon became an important writer.
Strangely calm on the eastern front too. Let me try the western front one more time.
Even the most serious and important books of all time can be given the genre treatment. German author Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front is a towering literary achievement, a masterpiece of war fiction with deep pacifist themes, but it could still be sexed up a little, thanks to Lion Books. This edition is from 1950, and the artist is uncredited.
Eew. Please tell me you washed that hand after you were out there in that nasty gutter.
Above, an awesome cover for Gutter Star, Intimate Novel #52, written by Dorine B. Clark and published in 1954. The painting is by Frank Uppwall, and it was reused in 1957 by Beacon for Carol Emery's lesbian novel Queer Affair.
You're damned picky all of a sudden for a dame I found dumpster diving behind White Castle.
Alley Girl has some of the harder boiled characters we've come across in mid-century fiction. We're reminded a bit of James Ellroy, whom we suspect must have read and been influenced by this book. The style of author Jonathan Craig, aka Frank E. Smith, is not similar to Ellroy's, but the feel is a match. The lead male Steven Lambert is a crooked cop, a sexual predator, and a serial swindler. His girlfriend is a hardcore drunk, a nymphomaniac, and a self-destructive thrill seeker. Most everyone else is a victim or a dupe, particularly the innocent man Lambert is framing for murder, and the man's beautiful wife who Lambert coerces into sex by promising not to go through with the frame-up. We throughly enjoyed this book. It's anchored by just the sort of irredeemable heel that makes crime fiction so entertaining. The only problem is a 1954 edition from Lion like you see here could cost you a fortune. The 2013 re-issue, which comes from Black Curtain Press—but without the excellent cover art from Robert Maguire—is much more economical. We recommend reading it in any case.
Let's trade. You give me what's in your hand and I'll give you what's in my pants.
The cover for this Lion Books edition of Jim Thompson's The Golden Gizmo is as quirky as Thompson's prose. The title of the book has a double meaning. A gizmo is a special ability, a gift. If you had a sense for knowing when someone was bluffing at poker, you'd say, “My gizmo told me he had nothing.” Or if you had a knack for meeting beautiful women, you'd say, “My gizmo kicked in as soon as I walked into the party.” The main character's gizmo is the ability to sniff out scenarios that lead to profit, which comes in handy in his work as a freelance gold buyer. But there's a literal gizmo here as well—a priceless gold watch that he steals by accident. In the end both gizmos cause him no end of trouble, and the question is whether he can get out with his hide intact. The story is enlivened by the main character's fiery alcoholic femme fatale wife Elaine. Strange, but pretty good. The strikingly pretty cover art is uncredited, sadly.
You win! *choke* *gurgle* I'll have mine medium well! Side of hash browns!
The title of Eat Dog or Die! refers not to the literal consumption of dogs, but to the will to fight and survive. The book is basically a revenge thriller along the lines of Hang 'Em High. The hero is strung up by baddies arrayed against him in a land squabble, but when he's cut down by rescuers, he quickly goes about ventilating everybody that crossed him. C. William Harrison, aka Chester William Harrison, was mainly a western author, but wrote a few youth books, and two technical manuals, as well as the environmentalist book Conservation: The Challenge of Reclaiming Our Plundered Land, which is funny, because that's exactly what the hero of Eat Dog or Die! aims to do. The violent cover art is by Rafael DeSoto, for Lion Books, 1952.
What's in the box? Uh, you know, lipstick, gum, cigarettes, the souls of men I consume. The usual.
Above, really nice front and rear cover art for The Blonde on the Street Corner by David Goodis, which was published by Lion Books as a paperback original in 1954. Set in Philadelphia during 1936, the book examines a bunch of guys who have big dreams but no money, no motivation, and no ideas how to escape dead-end Philly. The narrative is basically plotless, like the characters' lives. Talk about a great depression. The cover art, by Robert Maguire, is beautiful but the blonde depicted is nothing like the blonde Goodis writes about. Goodis's blonde is overweight, married, and in her mid-thirties. She does have a sexual aura, though, and certainly fits the mold of a femme fatale. This is considered lesser Goodis, but it's still good enough.
For a lonely boy he sure has plenty of company.
Awesome cover art here for Alan Kapelner’s proto-beat novel Lonely Boy Blues, originally published in 1944 and dealing with a cast of NYC oddballs during the 1930s and leading into World War II. By proto-beat we mean it was a precursor to Kerouac and the like—verbally experimental, trying to capture with its prose the rhythm of jazz and bop. It was panned in its day but seems to be enjoying a bit of a revival. The person responsible for this masterpiece of a cover for Lion Books' 1956 re-issue is Arthur Sussman.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1912—U.S. Invades Nicaragua
United States Marines invade Nicaragua to support the U.S.-backed government installed there after José Santos Zelaya had resigned three years earlier. American troops remain for eleven years.
1936—Last Public Execution in U.S.
Rainey Bethea, who had been convicted of rape and murder, is hanged in Owensboro, Kentucky in what is the last public execution performed in the United States.
1995—Mickey Mantle Dies
New York Yankees outfielder Mickey Mantle dies of complications from cancer, after receiving a liver transplant. He was one of the greatest baseball players ever, but he was also an alcoholic and played drunk, hungover, and unprepared. He once said about himself, "Sometimes I think if I had the same body and the same natural ability and someone else's brain, who knows how good a player I might have been."
1943—Philadelphia Experiment Allegedly Takes Place
The U.S. government is believed by some to have attempted to create a cloak of invisibility around the Navy ship USS Eldridge. The top secret event is known as the Philadelphia Experiment and, according to believers, ultimately leads to the accidental teleportation of an entire vessel.
1953—Soviets Detonate Deliverable Nuke
The Soviet Union detonates
a nuclear weapon codenamed Reaktivnyi Dvigatel Stalina, aka Stalin's Jet Engine. In the U.S. the bomb is codenamed Joe 4. It is a small yield fission bomb rather than a multi-stage fusion weapon, but it makes up for its relative weakness by being fully deployable, meaning it can be dropped from a bomber.
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