Lee needs a bit more practice before playing with the first team.
We couldn't have a pulp website and not get to this book eventually. Gypsy Rose Lee's 1941 novel The G-String Murders, for which you see an uncredited 1947 Pocket Books edition above, combines two major ingredients of pulp literature—murder and burlesque. Lee is both the author and main character, as setting-wise, a group of dancers and comedians work the stage at an NYC burlesque house called the Old Opera. In the midst of their relationships, jealousies, and petty squabbles, a dancer named Lolita la Verne turns up dead, strangled with a g-string. Since nobody liked her the suspects are numerous. The police are less than effective, so Lee and her boyfriend Biff take on the task of solving the murder, and eventually, a second.
There are some problems with the book. It's messy, undisciplined, meandering, and the first murder doesn't happen until a quarter of the way through the story. An excellent writer could pull off deferring the plot driver, but not Lee. That long deferral involves plenty of backstage burlesque atmosphere, but even there Lee comes up a little short. Val Munroe's Carnival of Passion, for example, really delves into the nuts and bolts of burlesque and does it in an engaging way. Considering the fact that Lee actually lived the life she should have done better with that part. Still it's a first novel, and better than many. We read somewhere that her second was good, so we're looking around for it. If we find it, we'll be talking about her as an author again.
Okay, boomer, you may be young and tough, but this old guy's gonna give you a whipping you'll never forget.
William P. McGivern's 1961 novel Savage Streets was part of a wave of juvenile delinquent fiction characterized by the novels of Hal Elson and Harlan Ellison, and a nice example of a genre that rose in response to middle American fear and fascination with youth gangs. The narrative begins when some junior league thugs who call themselves the Chiefs begin extorting money from the pre-teen kids of a nearby suburb. The kids steal from their parents to satisfy these demands, but the thefts go unnoticed only for so long. The truth comes out, a suburban father intervenes with the gang on behalf of his son, and a fistfight results. Other parents in this conservative enclave are infuriated at the gang, and a group of them go to the police, but when the results aren't satisfactory they decide to deal with the Chiefs in a way the gang will understand—by hitting back twice as hard.
From this point, McGivern takes his tale in an interesting direction. The dads expect the police to be an extension of their anger. Any attempt to give the Chiefs equal treatment or due process is met with outrage. In other words, they expect to be protected by the law without being accountable to it, while they expect the Chiefs to be accountable to the law without being protected by it. This leads not to resolution, but to increasing distrust, violence, and finally disaster upon disaster. Later the dads realize that the genesis of the crisis may not have been the Chiefs' extortion after all, but something the dads were involved with even earlier—a law they helped push through the city council. They might have realized the law was unfair, but none of them cared enough to bother looking closely at it. McGivern really hit pay dirt with this book. It's well written, immersive, and relevant.
Theories anyone? I mean, the x-ray told us there was a clog in the intestine, but it isn't even chewed. It's just weird.
Above: a cover for Ellery Queen's The Dutch Shoe Mystery originally published in 1931, with this Pocket paperback appearing in 1952. This is one of those deals where the author and lead character were presented to audiences as the same person, but the secret got out pretty quickly that Ellery Queen was actually two guys named Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee, but those were pseudonyms too. Their real names were Daniel Nathan and Manford Lepofsky. Maybe they wrote mysteries because they loved to mindfuck people. And the title, as well, is a bit of a misdirection—the book has nothing to do with Dutch shoes at all.
That bucket of water weighs thirty pounds but she handles it like a basket of muffins. Marry that girl, son. Household drudgery will be a breeze for her.
Ernest Haycox was a leading western and historical author. Above you see a cover for his 1954's short story collection Pioneer Loves. He died in 1950, with this appearing posthumously. We don't read many westerns, but by most accounts he was top level. We're featuring it today because the cover art by George Erickson fits a collection we put together last year. The group depicts rural women working hard while their men mostly stand by doing nothing. The Pulp Intl. girlfriends' reaction: “Typical!” Typical, eh? Who makes the seared duck with Pedro Ximénez sauce and mashed parsnips? That would be us. Who dispenses back rubs upon (daily) demand? Us again. Who handles panicked calls for humane evictions of spiders? That's right—us. Never let them diminish your worth, guys.
That second round of drinks is always murder.
This Pocket edition of Roy Huggins' detective mystery The Double Take is from 1959 and the art is by Harry Bennett. Huggins tells the story of a man who wants to dig into his wife's history and hires private dick Stu Bailey for the job. Bailey learns that the wife has been hiding for a long time. She's overweight now, but gained the pounds as a disguise. She'd also gotten married as a disguise, attended college and joined a sorority as a disguise, dyed her hair as disguise, changed her name as a disguise, and of course changed her city as a disguise. Somewhere way back before she was a plump wife with a suspicious husband she was a showgirl who called herself Gloria Gay. Bailey discovers all that, but the elusive question is why she's hiding in the first place.
Huggins probably should have done a bit better here. The concept is rich—a woman who essentially goes into hiding inside her own body by eating herself into a disguise. But he doesn't take advantage of the idea. Also, the second third of the book feels padded. That could have been shortened and the multi-twist final act would have been better for it. We did like those twists, though, and the L.A. setting was well rendered. It brought back memories from some wild years we spent running around Tinseltown. But in the end The Double Take was a middling time eater, and with time so precious, it isn't one we'd recommend dashing out to buy—or download, or whatever. Huggins has a Stu Bailey anthology called 77 Sunset Strip, and for the title alone we'll read that, and be hoping for something a bit better.
Cain is guaranteed to deliver.
Above you see a Pocket Books cover for James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, the 1953 edition. It has art from James Avanti, and is very different from Pocket's 1947 edition, which we showed you here. Avati is an illustrator we don't run across that often, but his work is easily recognizable, and always very good. See a few more examples here, here, and here. Needless to say (but we'll say it anyway), The Postman Always Rings Twice is a book you should read.
No matter how hard you try you can't outrun destiny.
Richard Deming's 1960 novel Hit and Run, which came as the above Pocket edition with uncredited cover art, is a fast and easy read about three people who attempt to evade blame for a hit and run accident. How's that for a literal title? It doesn't happen often. Anyway, an unlucky pedestrian was left with a broken hip, which would be a simple insurance company problem if the trio weren't so keen to cover up an extramarital affair. So they embark on their clever scheme, but when the hospitalized victim unexpectedly dies they're suddenly on the hook for manslaughter instead of reckless driving. It gets worse—as it always does in crime fiction—when one of trio turns out to be not exactly on the same page as the other two. We enjoyed this tale. It has classic bad-to-worse momentum, and got from A to Z with a minimum of fuss. Simplicity wins sometimes.
Can I not die? No? Then I'll take: in bed, very elderly, after earth shattering sex with my 25-year-old boytoy.
This Pocket Books edition of John Ross MacDonald's The Way Some People Die features the first cover we've acquired by British illustrator Charles Binger, and quite a nice one it is. It reminds us of Ernest Chiriaka's work, this one for instance. This is a Lew Archer thriller, third of eighteen, and as we mentioned before, this series is said to improve as it goes. We'll see about that. This one is a standard caper that starts when a mother hires Archer to find her missing daughter, who's gotten mixed up with the proverbial bad crowd. We're talking the worst of the worst—hustlers, gangsters, heroin addicts, and, most terrifying of all, failed actors. Archer beats down a few tough guys, gets hit over the head in classic detective novel fashion, has beautiful women express their romantic interest, and in the end is shotgunned in the face, dismembered, and incinerated in an industrial kiln. Oh, wait—that's not correct. Actually, he comes out on top again, bruised but triumphant. Not bad, but not great yet. Onward to book four.
The Pocket Books marketing team messes up a near perfect thriller.
This cover for Cornell Woolrich's 1949 thriller Rendezvous in Black was painted by William Wirts, a new name for us, but a guy who deserves credit for a job well done. The editors at Pocket Books, though, did a terrible job, because their cover blurb gives everything away. The plot deals with a man who is driven mad by the death of a loved one and transforms into a vengeance killer. Most of his victims are carefully humanized by Woolrich so that a sense of tragedy is progressively inflicted upon you. You hope the next target will be the one who escapes the killer's clutches or turns the tables. But nope, the blurb tells you none of them survive. How? Because it tells you a police woman is made up a certain way in order to trap the killer. Ergo nobody survives up to the point that the police woman is introduced. And she doesn't show up until the last twenty pages. This is a particularly bad spoiler because the story is constructed around the killer's cat and mouse games with his victims, who as we said before are written in such a way that you really root for them. That's a couple hundred pages of potential suspense tossed in the bin by that indiscreet cover blurb.
Rendezvous in Black is a classic from Woolrich, one of the most left field concepts from a highly creative writer, but the moment you started reading this post any surprises contained in the book were rendered ineffective. We debated using an alternate cover from somewhere online and not mentioning the spoiler, but among the many things we like to discuss here are the decisions made by publishing companies in promoting their books. These decisions include which art to use, or re-use, or use in altered form, whether to over-emphasize violence, and often, whether to promise something far more salcious than the text actually delivers. As the paperback revolution got into full swing during the 1950s publishers often slapped action art on serious works such as 1984, or sex covers on classical literature like Aristarchus of Samos's L'Antiragione. Those are brazen moves, but we don't mind. On the other hand, whoever made this decision for Pocket Books should have been fired. But as it happens, Rendezvous in Black is so interesting and different that it can't be ruined. So we recommend that you read it anyway.
Old West justice is delivered hard and fast—and selectively too.
We don't read a lot of westerns, though they're a major part of the pulp tradition. But when we saw this copy of William MacLeod Raine's The Fighting Edge we took the plunge. This Pocket Books edition with Frank McCarthy cover art is from 1950, but the tale was originally published in 1922, so it's pretty retro in its attitudes. In the story fifteen year-old June Tolliver is coveted by a forty-something cowboy named Jake Houck. He means to marry her. Whether she wants him is immaterial. It just so happens he has serious dirt on June's father, which means papa Tolliver isn't likely to be much help in keeping his virginal daughter from pervy Jake's clutches. But she has one ally—young Bob Dillon, who doesn't know much, but knows he can't let someone else get on his girl.
All in all, The Fighting Edge is an entertaining piece of historical fiction, with digressions into ranching and range wars, but readers who understand that the taming the West was part of a larger genocide against Native Americans might not be fans of Raine's mythologizing. The book unambiguously sees justice as subordinate to supremacy. As events unfold, the local Utes become furious that the killing of one of their braves by the aforementioned Jake Houck goes unpunished, but their decision to go on the warpath is bad for the grand design, thus they must be violently suppressed. Sound familiar? The more things change, and all that. Raine never imagined his work would be relevant a hundred years after he wrote it, we're sure, but there you go.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1934—Bonnie and Clyde Are Shot To Death
Outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who traveled the central United States during the Great Depression robbing banks, stores and gas stations, are ambushed and shot to death in Louisiana by a posse of six law officers. Officially, the autopsy report lists seventeen separate entrance wounds on Barrow and twenty-six on Parker, including several head shots on each. So numerous are the bullet holes that an undertaker claims to have difficulty embalming the bodies because they won't hold the embalming fluid.
1942—Ted Williams Enlists
Baseball player Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox enlists in the United States Marine Corps, where he undergoes flight training and eventually serves as a flight instructor in Pensacola, Florida. The years he lost to World War II (and later another year to the Korean War) considerably diminished his career baseball statistics, but even so, he is indisputably one of greatest players in the history of the sport.
1924—Leopold and Loeb Murder Bobby Franks
Two wealthy University of Chicago students named Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, Jr. murder 14-year-old Bobby Franks, motivated by no other reason than to prove their intellectual superiority by committing a perfect crime. But the duo are caught and sentenced to life in prison. Their crime becomes known as a "thrill killing", and their story later inspires various works of art, including the 1929 play Rope by Patrick Hamilton, and Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 film of the same name.
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