The thing about us cowboys, pardner, is we're tough, stoic, unflappa— Shiiiiit! Run!
Vintage cowboys, as we said above, are usually tough and stoic, so we're going to guess the one on the cover of E.E. Halleran's Double Cross Trail isn't the main character. We've haven't read the book, so it's just a guess. But even when confronted with Cheyenne raiding parties, and even when fighting alongside the doomed George Armstrong Custer—which happens here—we bet the protagonist keeps his cool. We're firmly in the real history camp (as opposed to the patriotic mythology camp), however we've had good luck with westerns. None that we've read have had historical blinders on. A friend sent us an enjoyable one, Warren Kiefer's Outlaw, but as it's a 1989 book without pulpworthy cover art we won't highlight it. We're tempted to try Double Cross Trail but the stack of books is high, and the demands on our time are many. The amusing cover art here is by Stanley Borack, and this Pocket edition followed the novel's 1946 original publication in 1952.
You knew those Reese's Cups were mine but you ate them anyway! Was it worth it? Well? Was it worth it?
This is a rarity on mid-century paperbacks—the strangler on Edward Vebell's cover for the 1951 thriller The Candy Kid is the protagonist. We almost never see one like this where the aggressive male isn't the villain, but it happens. In this case, he thinks the femme fatale has murdered his cousin. But he gets ahold of himself after a few seconds and gives her a chance to convince him that he's wrong. Telling you that isn't a spoiler, because the rear cover text reveals the murder anyway, and the hero's reaction isn't a turning point within the plot. He's pissed. But he gets over it.
The Candy Kid was written by the respected Dorothy B. Hughes, and she sticks close to the American southwest she explored in books such as 1946's Ride the Pink Horse. Here her main character, José “the Strangler” Aragon, is randomly selected on the streets of El Paso by upper class beauty Dulcinda “Sore Neck” Farrar to do a shady favor—take an envelope to across the border to Ciudad Juarez and exchange it for a package to be returned to her. She's chosen him because he looks like an itinerant laborer, like someone who needs, “un poco dinero.”
Actually, though, Aragon is a well-to-do rancher. He'd just gotten back from cowpunching when Dulcinda saw him, and he was sweaty and covered in grime. The whole thing was a joke to him. Based on her assumption, he'd pretended to be an immigrant day laborer, planning to reveal himself as a man of means to the pretty gringa later. But he takes more and more interest in this package business, and ends up performing the errand. Then the package is stolen from him.
What follows is a mystery involving a Greek crime kingpin, murder and revenge, twists and surprises, and unsolved crimes across the border. The odd title of the book comes from Dulcinda's name. Everyone calls her Dulcy, which in Spanish sounds like “dulce,” which means “sweet,” which causes one of the Mexican characters trying to remember her name to say, “that candy kid.” It's an involved journey. But then so is the tale.
We'll just come out and say it isn't Hughes' best, but she's always a fascinating author, particularly here, where she deftly captures the border atmosphere and attempts to portray a Mexican-American character who speaks Spanish and is comfortable on either side of the Rio Grande, yet is culturally distinct from his cousins down south. Some of those interactions have subtle class tensions that make them among the most interesting in the book. Other areas of the story are less successful. The biggest flaw is character motivation—Aragon has no compelling reason to get involved in Dulcy's troubles until his cousin dies, at the halfway mark. Following through on a prank just isn't enough.
But you can't fault the level of technical skill on display, although Hughes writes in an unusual style filled with comma splices: It would have been funny, he was always the one who delayed the crowd, he knew everyone from Chihuahua to Mesa Verde. It works fine, which proves that if done just right an author can break any rule they want. Well, almost any rule. A crucial one for genre fiction is: make sure your protagonist really wants something. Even Hughes wasn't able to break that one and get away with it.
Let me go! I can save her! I just need a good nurse, a set of woodworking tools, and a shoehorn!
We already shared a 1952 Pocket Books cover for Ellery Queen's The Dutch Shoe Mystery, but this 1959 Pocket Books art by Jerry Allison goes a different direction, so we have a different, equally silly take on it. The Pulp Intl. girlfriends didn't get the joke last time, we suppose because they aren't old enough to know the same useless things we do, so we'll offer the reminder that a traditional Dutch shoe is made of wood and known as a clog. The Dutch Shoe Mystery features no clog that needs removal, just a ruptured gall bladder. Before the doctor can perform the operation, the patient, a millionairess who founded the hospital, is strangled with a piece of wire. Suspects: a few family members and the immediate medical staff. The “Dutch” in the title comes from the name of the hospital: Dutch Memorial. The “shoe” comes from the standard footwear of surgeons: white canvas moccasins which are the sole (oops) clue. Third in the Ellery Queen series, the authors Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee (aka Daniel Nathan and Manford Lepofsky) basically update the classic locked room mystery by staging it in a medical facility. Good? Well, they published more than thirty subsequent Queen capers, so take that for what it's worth.
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 function as tools 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.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1918—Wilson Goes to Europe
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sails to Europe for the World War I peace talks in Versailles, France, becoming the first U.S. president to travel to Europe while in office.
1921—Arbuckle Manslaughter Trial Ends
In the U.S., a manslaughter trial against actor/director Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle ends with the jury deadlocked as to whether he had killed aspiring actress Virginia Rappe during rape and sodomy. Arbuckle was finally cleared of all wrongdoing after two more trials, but the scandal ruined his career and personal life.
1964—Mass Student Arrests in U.S.
In California, Police arrest over 800 students at the University of California, Berkeley, following their takeover and sit-in at the administration building in protest at the UC Regents' decision to forbid protests on university property.
1968—U.S. Unemployment Hits Low
Unemployment figures are released revealing that the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to 3.3 percent, the lowest rate for almost fifteen years. Going forward all the way to the current day, the figure never reaches this low level again.
1954—Joseph McCarthy Disciplined by Senate
In the United States, after standing idly by during years of communist witch hunts in Hollywood and beyond, the U.S. Senate votes 65 to 22 to condemn Joseph McCarthy for conduct bringing the Senate into dishonor and disrepute. The vote ruined McCarthy's career.
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