|Vintage Pulp||Feb 21 2020|
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.
|Vintage Pulp||Jan 21 2020|
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.
|Vintage Pulp||Jan 19 2019|
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.
|Vintage Pulp||Dec 4 2018|
|Vintage Pulp||Nov 13 2017|
|Vintage Pulp||Dec 19 2016|
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.
|Vintage Pulp||Jan 13 2016|
Harry Kurnitz’s Invasion of Privacy has one of the more ingenious set-ups—a movie mogul buys a script about a man who murders his wife, and well into production of the film is sued for copyright infringement. The person suing him? That happens to be the man who committed the murder. Not only is the story stolen, but true. But how did the screenwriter know about the crime? And how can the producer avoid losing the lawsuit? Maybe, possibly, by proving the murder actually happened. Complicated and fun, this edition is from 1957, with excellent art by James Meese.
|Vintage Pulp||Apr 30 2015|
Above, the cover of East Side General by Frank G. Slaughter, originally 1952, with this Perma Books paperback appearing in 1957. This is no typical New York City hospital. One doctor is an ex-Nazi, and the main plot contrivance involves the arrival of burn victims whose injuries turn out to be caused by radiation, which leads police to seek an atomic serial killer. The book was re-issued several times with different art, but this effort by Verne Tossey is by far the best.
|Vintage Pulp||Apr 29 2015|
Ian Fleming was not an author to be trifled with. We talked about how he shifted the rights for Casino Royale from Popular Library to Signet. Well, here we go again. The above 1957 Perma paperback of Diamonds Are Forever with excellent William Rose cover art is rare because Fleming shifted the publishing to Signet after Perma changed the title of Moonraker to Too Hot to Handle. Since this happened after the Casino Royale fiasco you’d think the editors would have known better.
|Vintage Pulp||Aug 17 2009|
We think we know who the lady’s little doctor is—he’s an older gent, about eight inches tall, with a charming Southern accent. He’s been practicing since the mid-1800s, which is reassuring experience-wise, but on the minus side, he always smells like a distillery. They say the U.S. doesn’t have universal healthcare—looks like it does to us, but maybe this also explains why the cure rates are so low.