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?
It was horrible! *sob* I don't know if I'll ever get over it. I'm so— Are you seriously grabbing my ass right now?
We can't actually see where the man's other hand is on this uncredited cover for Robert Sylvester's 1953 novel Indian Summer, but no matter what's happening around a man he's always thinking about sex. At least a little. It isn't so weird. We know from the Pulp Intl. girlfriends that they're always thinking about chocolate. A little. Fortunately for both of them, they're tiny, so their obsession has cost them nothing. Men thinking about sex all the time? It costs them plenty. Which is what mid-century fiction is mostly about.
Stop your damn whining! I always ask you nicely to help out around here but you never listen until I act like a bitch!
A bit of western art today, a cover for Hot Town, from Perma Books and Frank Malachy, aka Frank McAuliffe. This is from 1956, with art by veteran frontier painter Tom Ryan.
Hemingway's lament for the downtrodden working class is supposed to be his worst novel. But is it really?
Don't let the cover blurbs fool you. In general To Have and Have Not is considered by critics to be Ernest Hemingway's worst novel. Originally published in 1937, it was completely rewritten and became a great 1944 movie with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. If you've already seen the movie but never read the book, hold onto your hats, because this is extraordinarily rough stuff from Hemingway, a tale of desperation and murder in the depths of the Great Depression. Harry Morgan is a Key West boat captain who's stiffed for $825 after his three-week charter skips town. That would be about $15,000 in today's money, so it's no surprise that losing this bundle means Morgan, who's married, has three kids, the usual assortment of bills and responsibilities, and has spent his life fighting to get ahead, is now destitute.
If you opt to read the book, make sure not to gloss over exactly how far in the hole Morgan is. $825 dollars would bend the morals of most people in 1937, just as $15,000 would today. After being cheated out of this cash he makes a fateful decision to turn criminal himself by running illegals from Cuba to Florida. That's when things go from bad to worse. If you look closely at the cover art on this Perma Books edition from 1953 you'll see what the result of Morgan's criminal foray was. That's one reason cover art is so interesting. The scene the artist chooses to depict—in this case it's Tom Dunn—can sometimes be so specific as to give away an important plot point. If you can't tell what we're talking about by looking at the art we'll give you a hint. What happens to Morgan is the also title of an earlier Hemingway book.
But moving on, To Have and Have Not is—we'll just come out and say it—brutally racist. There are some who would like to gaslight you into thinking you're seeing something that isn't there, and others who would prefer you to ignore this, but you shouldn't, because racism is actually pivotal in the narrative. Morgan's initial foray into crime is against people he clearly feels are subhuman. They and other ethnic groups are referred to with slurs, and these come not just from Morgan's mouth, and from his thoughts, but from the writer's thoughts too. There are places where Morgan uses actual names to refer to characters that Hemingway still refers to by slurs. Think: “Hey Joe, give me a hand with these poles,” said Harry. The [slur] put down his coffee and helped Harry with the poles. So while it's always good to separate the author from their fiction so they have freedom to create any sort of characters they wish, it still raises an eyebrow when you read something like that.
Another aspect of To Have and Have Not that may jar is its lack of sympathetic characters. Morgan's ex-prostitute wife Marie is probably the nicest person in the book, and even she drops n-bombs all over place. But you have to root for someone, so it's her and Harry. You do it because they're at the economic mercy of terrible people. Most of these folks—who are generally of a better class—wouldn't use racial slurs, but they also wouldn't think twice about ruining someone for a few dollars. And while Harry employs a black man and gets along with him fine, you can be sure none of his rich charters would let a black man deign to speak to them. So in its way, To Have and Have Not is relevant in 2020 by starring a working class character who's uncouth, uneducated, and devoid of genuine empathy, but who constantly deals with people that think they're better than him and really aren't.
This is why losing the charter and those $825 bucks is such a clever way to open the novel. The charter, Johnson, flies away and doubtless never gives what he did much thought, but in shafting a working man creates wreckage that crushes not just the man he cheated, but those around him. We think this is the way to focus on the book if you read it—acknowledge the obvious deficiencies of Harry Morgan, but pay close attention to the secondary characters. This is what Hemingway wanted, which is why Morgan's narration lasts for only a while. Everything after his first crime caper is told from outside his point of view. As the book goes on, Hemingway drags you deeper into the lives of these ancillary characters, dispassionately leaving a struggling Morgan to recede into the distance.
So is To Have and Have Not Hemingway's worst book? We don't like it as much as his other works, but with its changes in point-of-view, mood, and even narrative tense, it's also more challenging than those books. Ultimately, the most serious indictment of To Have and Have Not comes from the author himself—he thought it was his worst book too. And who are we argue with Ernest Hemingway? But on the other hand, when you write The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls, and win a Pulitzer Prize for The Old Man and the Sea, and later win a Nobel Prize for your body of work, your worst book can still be pretty good.
To a true hunter everyone is prey.
Richard Stark's, aka Donald E. Westlake's The Hunter, which was also published as Point Blank, is a landmark in crime literature, a precursor to characters like Jack Reacher. The standout qualities of this novel are its brutality and its smash cuts from set-piece to set-piece. As an example of the former, the main character, named Parker, basically scares a woman into committing suicide, dumps her body in a park, and slashes her face post-mortem as a way of foiling police attempts at identification. The latter quality, the narrative's disorienting transitions, is exemplified by a chapter that ends with Parker's hands mid-murder around an enemy's throat, and the next opening with him sitting in another enemy's house, holding a gun on him as he walks through the door. Westlake stripped away every bit of transitional prose he could in order to create breakneck pacing and heightened menace. Parker is not only dangerous, but is also emotionally barren. He feels nothing beyond the need to best his rivals. Permanently. Westlake's publisher knew The Hunter was something special, and convinced him to turn what was supposed to be a stand-alone novel into a series. Twenty-four entries in that series speak to its success. This first of the lot is highly recommendable. It came from Perma Books in 1962, and the excellent cover art featuring Parker's lethally large hands is by Harry Bennett.
Famed author Ian Fleming arrested after strangulation rampage at his publishing company.
We talked about how Ian Fleming feuded with his publisher Perma Books over name changes to his James Bond novels. This is another one of the offending paperbacks, 1957's Too Hot To Handle. Not only had this book already been successfully published as Moonraker by the British hardback imprint Jonathan Cape, but the Lou Marchetti cover art Perma used doesn't fit the Bond brand at all. Signet Books did infinitely better when it got the rights in 1960. As far as Fleming trying to strangle everyone at Perma, we can't confirm that as fact. But we bet he thought about it.
Ah hah! There you are, Stabsgefreiter Schultz, out of uniform and with Unterfeldwebel Dietrich's wife, no less.
Nazis ruin everything—even romantic seaside trysts. As it happens though, the scene depicted on this cover of J. Bigelow Clark's The Dreamers never occurs, and in fact these characters must have come from the imagination of artist Stanley Borack, because in terms of their physical characteristics, they don't exist in the narrative at all. The book was originally published in 1945, with this Perma paperback edition appearing in 1955. The story involves four idealistic expatriates living on the small fictional Italian island of Campagna during World War II. Their only intention is escapism in a place of beauty and peace. Then the Nazis show up. And ruin everything.
This book is brilliant, but it will be problematic for some readers because the villain Captain Muller—and he's a very, very bad guy—is gay. His sexuality is a metaphor. As a German officer his incredibly high opinion of himself has primarily to do with his control over and manipulation of men. While some artists use paint or words, he feels he's a Picasso or Titian using humans—the most difficult medium of all—to produce more concrete effects upon civilization than mere visual art does. And his ultimate expression of oneness with his medium is sexual congress with them. Clark's final postulation is that for many men of war, and particularly fascists, violence is a form of eroticism.
Other elements here are also metaphorical, even the island itself. Though the expats, among them an elderly British professor and a German baron, are of different ages and cultures, they become fast friends. Their island is not perfect. There is want and conflict. But without being indoctrinated into the ways of hate people generally help, or at least tolerate, each other. The island represents the possibility of smooth human coexistence. But Captain Muller's purpose is to exert control through violence and fear. He's immediately interested in and drawn to the four expats, and shrewdly understands that the group's relationship with two locals—a legless veteran of the North Africa front and a beautiful young mother—may be the key to achieving his goals.
While all this is going on an American spy arrives on the island and sets into motion a plot to steal diagrams of the submarine bases the Germans are building. The narrative focuses on the professor's and baron's efforts to remain uninvolved, but also follows how a promisethey've made to get the young mother and her child off the island draws them all, bit by terrible bit, into the war against their will. Transitioning from apathy to activism is a standard theme in literature and film, but Clark manages to navigate this course with rare skill. As it develops, The Dreamers generates squirm inducing intensity, almost akin to psychological horror.
But the book's value is in more than just its bold narrative. As time goes by people's knowledge of history comes not from those who lived through it, but from interpreters of it. When conducted under rigorous standards, re-examinations of history are useful and even necessary, but many of this group are not rigorous, and have shady political motives. In the U.S. this manifests as fanciful spins on slavery, the Civil War, and other periods. Many American schoolchildren are now being taught that fascism is the exact opposite of what it was in reality. The Dreamers, written during the fascist era, is clear about what fascism is, how it works, what it seeks to accomplish, and what end of the political spectrum it comes from. Every novel we've read from this period is consistent on these points.
Thus in addition to being a very good book, The Dreamers is yet another reminder that: Mussolini was well liked for years in the U.S. because he was perceived to have saved Italy from communists. Regardless of whether Adolf Hitler had any religious beliefs in private life, the German people knew him as a Catholic, he constantly invoked God in his speeches, and the Holocaust was abetted by people who were overwhelmingly religious. Fascism was vehemently sexist, racist, patriotic, and anti-liberal. Fascism distrusted diplomacy, independent knowledge, and a questioning press, replacing them with aggression, indoctrination, and propaganda. And like all governing systems, fascism was ultimately opportunistic, borrowing any political idea that helped consolidate power.
One benefit of maintaining Pulp Intl. is constantly reading books written contemporaneously with historical events and learning how they were perceived by people who lived through them. The Dreamers has extra value because of this. It's homophobic, though Clark's use of a gay villain is intended to coalesce into metaphor. His scathing attitude toward Germans, on the other hand, never does. It seems as if he hates them en masse. His protagonists often muse about German moral shortcomings. These condemnations of an entire people are an obvious case of turnabout is fair play, and one can hardly be surprised considering what the world was learning about Hitler's atrocities. The Dreamers remains an illuminating reading experience.
He's been eaten down to the bones. I don't know about you but this is by far the worst case of frostbite I've ever seen.
We imagine Boston born author James Holden sitting around one bitterly cold night, probably just a little tipsy from drinking warm brandy, staring out at a December snowstorm, thinking to himself that if anyone's out there in such terrible weather they're risking frostbite. And then his eyes grow wide and he says aloud, “What if the frost... takes more... than just a bite? Yes! Writer's block cured!” And some months later he finishes Snow Fury, in which the snow eats people entirely. Yep. How could snow eat people? Might have something to do with a scientific experiment run amok. And just to push the entire concept to full fruition Holden named the main character David Storm. Well, at least the cover is brilliant, and for that you can thank James Meese. This Perma edition is from 1956 and the book originally appeared in hardback in 1955.
You're lovely in that, but for pure sexiness nothing beats a woman in an assless hospital gown.
Above is an alternate cover for a book we featured a couple of years ago—Frank G. Slaughter's Eastside General. The previous art was from 1957, but this edition is from 1952 with cover work by Owen Kampen. It struck us for a couple of reasons. First, the patient is wearing a negligée, and second, she's smoking. Possibly the doctor would tell her smoking is bad for her, but in 1952 the link between cigarette smoking and cancer was suspected but not established. Sometimes it takes a while but science always reaches a consensus. So do we, and our consensus on this cover is that it's great. You can see our original write-up on Eastside General at this link.
Alrightee nurse, I guess that's enough warm-ups with Donnie the Delivery Doll. Let's try the real thing now.
That None Should Die was Frank G. Slaughter's first book, published in hardback in 1941 and in this Perma paperback edition in 1955. Slaughter was a doctor and wrote mostly—but not always—about his own field. This particular book focuses strongly on treatments, ethics, and the pro forma central love story between young doctor and young nurse, but it's most curious for its firm opposition to government involvement in health care. Of course, government run health care works like a charm in so many places, but the key to its success is the understanding that citizens aren't just profit sources, therefore they shouldn't die for being poor, shouldn't sacrifice their life savings for cures, and shouldn't pay through the nose for insurance. Since those foundational concepts weren't widely accepted in the U.S. in 1941 (or now, for that matter), it's no surprise how Slaughter feels about the issue. The book was well reviewed, and helped him establish a literary career that quickly supplanted medicine for him and lasted for decades. No surprise—there's no government bureaucracy in literature.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1919—Pollard Breaks the Color Barrier
Fritz Pollard becomes the first African-American to play professional football for a major team, the Akron Pros. Though Pollard is forgotten today, famed sportswriter Walter Camp ranked him as "one of the greatest runners these eyes have ever seen." In another barrier-breaking historical achievement, Pollard later became the co-head coach of the Pros, while still maintaining his roster position as running back.
1932—Entwistle Leaps from Hollywood Sign
Actress Peg Entwistle
commits suicide by jumping from the letter "H" in the Hollywood sign. Her body lay in the ravine below for two days, until it was found by a detective and two radio car officers. She remained unidentified until her uncle connected the description and the initials "P.E." on the suicide note in the newspapers with his niece's two-day absence.
1908—First Airplane Fatality Occurs
The plane built by Wilbur and Orville Wright, The Wright Flyer, crashes with Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge aboard as a passenger. The accident kills Selfridge, and he becomes the first airplane fatality in history.
1983—First Black Miss America Crowned
Vanessa Williams becomes the first African American Miss America. She later loses her crown when lesbian-themed nude photographs of her are published by Penthouse magazine.
1920—Terrorists Bomb Wall Street
At 12:01 p.m. a bomb loaded into a horse-drawn wagon explodes in front of the J.P.Morgan building in New York City. 38 people are killed and 400 injured. Italian anarchists are thought to be the perpetrators, but after years of investigation no one is ever brought to justice.
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