Too bad life doesn't have a rewind button—you could go back to when you wouldn't let me seduce the information out of you.
This is a fantastic piece of art for The Big Bite by Charles Williams. We'd be tempted to say frequent Pan Books illustrator Sam Peffer painted it, but he almost always signed his work in a place where it was not easily cropped or covered, the clever boy. Therefore we've seen only a few confirmed fronts by him where his signature was not present. Well, whoever was responsible for the art, we love this scene. You have a man recieving a severe beatdown as the femme fatale stands in the foreground barely interested. They do bore easily. In addition to the excellent art, this was an entertaining tale. We talked about it last year, and you can see what we thought at this link. It was originaly published in 1956, with this edition coming in 1960.
Think your marriage is difficult? Think again.
Patricia Highsmith is here to tell you that no matter your perceived problems with your spouse, they're actually a traipse down a flowered path, because Vic and Melinda Van Allen, the two main characters of her 1957 drama Deep Water—they have marital problems. Melinda is a serial cheater, and Vic has become so numb over the years that he can't even be bothered to care. Melinda is so brazen she brings her lovers to the house to stay overnight and shows up with them at neighborhood parties. She even neglects and ignores her young daughter. In a fit of pique one night Vic claims to an acquaintance that he killed one of Melinda's ex-lovers—who in reality had simply drifted away—and the reaction he gets makes him feel excellent. When he murders Melinda's next lover for real, and gets away with it, he feels still better. So he murders her next lover...
Patricia Highsmith was the high mistress of sociopathic characters, and Vic Van Allen, coming a couple of years after her famed psycho Tom Ripley, is an amazing creation. He's kind, urbane, low key, and horribly mistreated—all of which makes him a pressure cooker ready to explode. Deep Water is told entirely from his point of view, and its highly interiorized narrative makes you really feel for the guy—even after he starts killing people. The key to dragging forth the reader's sympathy is Highsmith's portrayal of Melinda, who tortures Vic day in and day out, destroying his peace of mind, his reputation, and his masculinity. This is a highly recommendable book, and if you can get the 1961 Pan edition you see here with Sam Peffer cover art, you'll be that much the happier for it.
Looks like neither of us values tidiness or organization, so that's cool.
Ben Ostrick, who signed his work J. Oval, painted this 1963 Pan Books cover for Sloan Wilson's 1960 novel A Sense of Values. Ostrick was an amazing artist, with a colorful and harmonious style that Pan used to good effect on scores of covers. We wrote way back that he was British, but a few online sources say he was actually Australian. We'll dig into that at some point and see if we can figure it out. In the meantime, we have two small collections of his work, here and here. You should have a look.
Upfield's franchise character is never quite fleshed out.
Bony and the White Savage, for which you see a Pan Books cover above, has as its central character a half aborigine detective named Napoleon Bonaparte—Bony for short. The idea of this person made us think immediately of Ed Lacy's creation Toussaint Marcus Moore, considered to be the first African American detective in literature. But Upfield may have been first to create a black detective of any nationality—that is if we accept being half black ethnically as being fully black culturally. It's certainly that way in the U.S., as we've talked about before. Upfield created his Bony character and first published him way back in 1929, almost thirty years before Lacy, and the above installment of what was a long running series of Bony novels is from 1964 and sees the hero on the trail of a rapist and overall hellion who's holed up somewhere in the wild crags of the southwestern Australian coast.
Good premise, but in short, our hopes that this book would be something akin to Ed Lacy were misplaced. The way it's written, Bony being half aborigine is wasted—which is to say it impacts nothing and nobody mentions it. That approach might be commendable from a purely fictional perspective, but is it realistic? We've lived outside the U.S. for a long time, so we understand—trust us, we understand—that compared to the rest of the world Americans tend to overdo things. Like, everything. So Upfield would definitely be more subtle than Ed Lacy, who made the color of his Toussaint character central, but Upfield veers pretty far in the other direction, presenting a colorblind outback we know for a fact doesn't exist today. Was it colorblind back then? We doubt it, but Australian aborigines have recessive genes for blonde hair and blue eyes, so Bony might have fit in physically a lot better than we imagine.
But let's set that aside, because this is fiction, and a writer can do anything he or she wants. At least that's what we think. They're required to pull it off, though. Purely in terms of the plot, we had pretty high expectations here and they went unmet. Despite the exotic setting, interesting set-up, the unusual hero, and the fearsome antagonist, Bony and the White Savage isn't special. And we were really looking forward to reading an entire series of Down Under adventures, with all its local quirks and idiosyncrasies. But you know us by now. We're tenacious. This particular book, which was the only one available to us, is number twenty-six in the Bonaparte series. We're going to try again. We suspect that the qualities we anticipated are in the first book, The Barrakee Mystery, in which this Bony person must be more fully fleshed out. So we'll read that. If we can find it.
The deeper you go into this casino the wilder it gets.
Today we're circling back to James Bond—as we do every so often—to highlight these movie tie-in editions of Ian Fleming's Casino Royale. The movie these are tied into is not the 1963 original with Sean Connery, but the 1967 screwball version with David Niven as Bond and Woody Allen as Bond's nephew Jimmy Bond. If you haven't seen it, just know that it was terribly reviewed, with Time magazine calling it an “an incoherent and vulgar vaudeville.” These covers are derived from the Robert McGinnis Casino Royale movie poster, which is an all-time classic. McGinnis created two versions of the poster—one with text and one without, with the painted patterns on the female figure varying slightly. You see both of those below.
The paperback was published by both Great Pan and Signet, and the cover art was different for the two versions. The Great Pan version at top is McGinnis's unaltered work, but the Signet version just above was painted by an imitator, we're almost certain. We'd hoped to answer this for sure by visiting one of the numerous Bond blogs out there, but none of them have really discussed the difference between the 1967 paperback covers. That leaves it up to us, so we're going to say definitively that the Great Pan version was not painted by McGinnis. Whoever the artist was, they did a nice job channeling the original piece, even if the execution is at a much simpler level.
Moving back to the posters, if you scroll down you'll see that we decided to focus on the details of the textless version to give you a close look at McGinnis's detailed work. The deeper you go the more you see—dice, poker chips, glittery earrings, actor portraits, and more. If you had a huge lithograph of this on your wall and a tab of acid on your tongue, an entire weekend would slip past before you moved again. This is possibly the best work from a paperback and movie artist considered to be a grandmaster, one the greatest ever to put brush to canvas. If anyone out there can tell us for sure who painted the Signet paperback—or whether it is indeed McGinnis—feel free to contact us.
He'll make you love him even if it kills you.
Patricia Highsmith's reputation demands that you read any book of hers you find, so when we ran across This Sweet Sickness we knew it would be good. Originally published in 1960 with this paperback coming from British publisher Great Pan in 1963, she tells the story of another troubled man à la her famous Tom Ripley novels. Here we have David Kelsey, in love with a woman who, inconveniently, is married. No problem, though, because obstacles mean nothing. He's determined to win his prospective love's affections, ignoring the fact that she's both unavailable and uninterested.
The book is told from the perspective of this dangerously deluded man, and his mental dissonance, deftly written by Highsmith, is cringe inducing. In Kelsey's head, everything is proof his love is returned. When the woman he desires is kind, it encourages him. When she's resistant, he assumes she isn't acting of her own accord, but instead is being pressured by her husband. There's nothing she can do—literally nothing—to dissuade Kelsey from the idea that his love for a woman obligates her to love him back. It all leads pretty much where you expect—to conflict, terror, death, and the high, lonely ledge of insanity.
It's fascinating to us that the U.S. born Highsmith was unappreciated in her own country, despite her breakthrough at age twenty-nine with Strangers on a Train. Well, considering she spent her life writing novels while residing mainly in France and Switzerland, we doubt she suffered much from the neglect. She's well remembered as an author now, though less so as a person, since she had views that were eyebrow raising even in the context of her era. But This Sweet Sickness is an interesting and relevant book, and we highly recommend it.
A stranger in strange lands comes to know pure evil.
Because Eric Ambler's 1939 thriller The Mask of Dimitrios is the source of the 1944 film noir of the same name starring Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, we should have read it long ago, but better late than never. The book tells the story of a writer in Istanbul who becomes interested in a killer, smuggler, slaver, and political agitator known as Dimitrios Makropoulos. In hopes of finding inspiration the writer begins to piece together the life of this mystery man.
The investigation carries him from Istanbul to Sofia to Geneva and beyond. That sounds exotic, but the story is almost entirely driven by external and internal dialogues, with little effort spent bringing alive its far flung locales. While we see that as a missed opportunity, and the book could be shorter considering so much of the aforementioned dialogue fails to further illuminate matters, it's fascinating how Dimitrios is slowly pieced together. Here's a line to remember, as the main character Latimer reflects upon the modern age and what the world is becoming:
“The logic of Michelangelo's David and Beethoven's quartets and Einstein's physics had been replaced by that of The Stock Exchange Yearbook and Hitler's Mein Kampf.”
That isn't one you'd soon forget. Ambler sees casino capitalism and Nazism as twin signposts on a road to perdition built by people like Dimitrios. We can't even imagine that being written by a popular author today without controversy, but Ambler, writing in England during the late 1930s, had zero trouble identifying exactly what he was looking at. This Great Pan edition of The Mask of Dimitrios appeared many years later in 1961, and it has unusual but effective cover art from S. R. Boldero.
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.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
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.
1934—Baby Face Nelson Killed
In the U.S., killer and bank robber Baby Face Nelson, aka Lester Joseph Gillis, dies in a shoot-out with the FBI in Barrington, Illinois. Nelson is shot nine times, but by walking directly into a barrage of gunfire manages to kill both of his FBI pursuers before dying himself.
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