One esoteric murder method begets another. Possibly.
Concepts for thrillers can be hard to come by, so sometimes authors borrow from one another. Not long ago we read John D. MacDonald's The Drowner and shared the cover from the Gold Medal edition. Here you see British author John Creasey's, aka Gordon Ashe's, Death from Below. If you quickly click this link you'll notice the two books have identical art, thematically—a woman being pulled down into the water by an unidentified killer.
We figured Creasy borrowed from MacDonald, but interestingly, both books were originally published in 1963. Assuming months were spent actually writing them, it seems as if both authors simply had the same idea (we don't know if there was an earlier thriller with the same concept, but we wouldn't be surprised). The main difference between the tales is that MacDonald's killer drowns one person, where Creasy's goes full serial and drowns dozens, including children. His story also takes place in France, rather than the U.S., and has a deep—if unlikely—political element.
We know this scenario didn't happen, but we like to imagine both MacDonald and Creasy/Ashe walking into bookstores on opposite sides of the Atlantic sometime soon after both paperback editions had been released, seeing each other's on a shelf, and being mightily perturbed. At that point we like to imagine Creasy, in time-honored British fashion, saying, “MacDonald! That cheeky bugger!” MacDonald on the other hand, being American, probably went, “Creasy! That sneaky motherfucker!” Advantage: yanks.
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I remind you that guilty verdicts are for the poor and powerless—and my client is neither.
Surely it's a bad sign that we can kid about the two-tiered justice system of the U.S. and none of you thought, even for a second, “Hey, that's not true!” But alas, we aren't here to deal with systemic injustice. P.I. is the name, and vintage goodies is our game. Alan Hynd's Defenders of the Damned has evocative and effective cover art, with its stern judge, beseeching attorney, and disinterested defendant, but it's uncredited, amazingly. The book consists of short biographies of three famous lawyers—Earl Rogers, Clarence Darrow, and William Joseph Fallon—focusing on the pulp style twists and turns of some of their most interesting cases, with all three attorneys portrayed as the type who weren't above a little trickery and rule bending. Hynd was the author of other non-fiction books, wrote for crime magazines like True Police Cases, and also had a nice run as a crime and mystery novelist with titles like Passport to Treason and Betrayal from the East. Defenders of the Damned was originally published in 1952, and the above Popular Library paperback edition came in 1962.
They also do crap in the garden, do shed on my dresses, and do tongue-lash their own buttholes then lick my face. What was I thinking?
Some folks are dog people, while others are not. We love dogs. But we'd never own one, for some of the reasons noted above. Add to those dubious qualities the fact that they do find corpses. At least in this case. Written by the duo of Richard Wilson Webb and Hugh Callingham Wheeler under the pseudonym Jonathan Stagge, The Dogs Do Bark is an English style mystery set in the U.S., and deals with events set into motion when a decapitated and disarmed body is discovered down a hole by a bunch of one percenters and their hounds out hunting foxes. This found trunk is later identified by a man whose daughter is missing, and the mystery that follows is as gruesome as its intro. It was immediately obvious that the father—an overbearingly pious type who spews Bible verses and declares that his Jezebel of a daughter has come to her inevitable end—might be wrong in his identification, and that's a narrative problem, but whatever, even if the central conundrum wasn't interesting, the story's gory aspects were (add to the list of doggie behaviors that they do eat severed arms). We gather that Stagge's tales were often shocking, so for that reason alone they may be worth another glance. We're always interested in a bit of gore. Originally published in 1936 as Murder Gone to Earth, this Popular Library edition appeared in 1951.
That totally slipped out. I don't know what happened. I meant to say I hate you. Dammit! It happened again.
The cover of Darling, I Hate You by T.S. Matthews tells you it was originally titled To the Gallows I Must Go. We consider that too much information, but yeah, this book is about a man whose latest sexual partner wants him to kill her husband. Matthews didn't write many novels, but he built a significant career as an editor, working at The New Republic and Time before jettisoning the U.S. to live in England, where he wrote books and moonlighted as a reviewer for New York Times. However, the above debuted in 1931. He wouldn't publish a second book for more than twenty-five years. This Popular Library edition from 1953 has pretty nice art, but sadly it's uncredited.
Don't look so smug, buster. I've had better.
Natalie Anderson Scott's 1955 novel Hotel Room was originally published in 1953 as The Little Stockade, and it's a tale set in New York City's infamous Hell's Kitchen, involving a woman named Marie who is made into a prostitute by a man she loves but shouldn't. This was Scott's follow up to her hit novel The Story of Mrs. Murphy, which instead of examining a woman stuck in the trap of vice examined a woman stuck in the trap of alcoholism. Unfortunately, this gritty follow-up wasn't as well received. But she still had a decent career, publishing several more books over the years.
Popular Library had the knack of getting artists who painted in the same general style—perhaps the company even required it. Sometimes that makes it hard to know who a cover artist is, but in this case it's Rafael DeSoto. Here he's painted a nimbus around the head of his female figure. We realized we'd seen the same effect before from him, for example here and here—and even here, if you look closely—so we had a scan around the internet to see how often that occurred. While DeSoto did it on some covers, we wouldn't go so far as to call it a trademark. Still, it's a cool effect on a very nice piece of art.
Have a nice flight! See you after you land!
Paperback cover art changed radically with the arrival of so-called good girl art. Popular Library would become one of the foremost practitioners of the form, but Patricia Wentworth's 1941 mystery In the Balance, also published as Danger Point, features old style art. It's still pretty effective, in our opinion. The novel is a murder-for-inheritance tale, fourth in a series of more than thirty capers starring private investigator Maud Silver. But Silver doesn't make much of an appearance in this, instead influencing events from a distance. The star of the story is fragile rich girl Lisle Jerningham, whose wealth is coveted by one or more family members and close friends.
Lisle is really something. We lost count of how many times “the colour rose to her cheeks,” but that sort of stuff—along with pulses racing, feeling faint, and thoughts awhirl—is a package deal with these traditional whodunits. Is the book any good? We enjoyed it. Trembling English flowers are the opposite of our usual femmes fatales, which makes them refreshing changes of pace, especially when well written. You, on the other hand, might feel differently. In the Balance is of its place and time. That place and time is polite, stuffy, upper class Britain before the ravages of World War II. Hard-boiled pulp fans should proceed with caution.
Our recommendation: Take the Fifth.
We read Jonathan Latimer's The Fifth Grave in its retitled incarnation Solomon's Vineyard and talked about the book a few years ago. That edition was from Great Pan and appeared in 1961. The Popular Library version you see above came in 1950 with art by the great Rudolph Belarski. We think back to this strange and dark novel often. At the time we thought it was very good but not a classic. Years later, considering how much it sticks in the head, maybe we'd better bump it up to the top tier, and once again recommend that you read this unusual tale. After digging around we finally got ahold of a couple of other Latimers and we're really looking forward to those. Can he possibly equal The Fifth Grave/Solomon's Vineyard? We'll report back.
First of all, hell no. Second, why are you wearing lipstick? And third, crushed strawberry is not your color.
When it comes to mid-century fiction, basically all the guys had problems respecting women's boundaries. There are so many covers of the above type we could curate an entire collection. We can't think of any others, however, where the guy looks like he's wearing lipstick. We checked a few other examples of this one online, just in case this look was courtesy of some kid with a crayon, but he's wearing that crushed strawberry in all of them. Not that we disapprove. More guys probably should do it. We've done it, and it was fun, if not even educational. But maybe we're drilling too deep into this subject. Boundaries we were talking about, right? So, Mike Moran was aka Ben Kerr, Jonas Ward, and Thomas Wills, and this book deals with a private eye who takes a job bodyguarding a boxer who's run into problems as the night of a big bout approaches. Reviews are mixed to middling. But this cover opens the door to all sorts of discussion, which makes it worth sharing. 1953 on this.
You're too late. We all got dressed ten minutes ago.
Above, The Naked Hours by Wenzell Brown, for Popular Library, 1956, with unusual bright green art by an unknown. We knew nothing about the book or the author, but this cover, battered as it is, attracted us, so job well done there. The book is good. A guy with a serious alcohol problem goes on a bender and wakes up in a strange bed with a girl he doesn't remember meeting. But she's sexy as hell so he embarks on an affair with her that evolves into a half-serious plot to kill his rich wife. Once he realizes the plot is real, he can't get out because the original transgression—that of his infidelity—will get him divorced and booted out of the Upper Manhattan good life if it becomes known. So he keeps trying to finesse his way to a solution, which involves outsmarting two hitmen intent on spousal murder. Odds on getting out unscathed are not good, but in effective crime fiction the odds should never be good. Nice one from Brown. We'll be looking for more.
Arizona Jim? Never heard of him. I'm New Mexico Clarence. Totally different guy.
Above, Arizona Jim, by the prolific Charles Alden Seltzer, 1949, for Popular Library. A preacher named Jim McDonald shows up in the town of Red Rock and has to deal with a gang of local outlaws led by Flash Haddam. Usually, facing lawless thugs would be a big job for a preacher, but it's only a disguise—Jim is really a government lawman. Classic motifs, including romance with a local good girl. The paperback is fronted by cover art from an unknown.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1959—Lou Costello Dies
American comedian Lou Costello, of the famous comedy team Abbott & Costello, dies of a heart attack at Doctors' Hospital in Beverly Hills, three days before his 53rd birthday. His career spanned radio and film, silent movies and talkies, vaudeville and cinema, and in his heyday he was, along with partner Abbott, one of the most beloved personalities in Hollywood.
1933—King Kong Opens
The first version of King Kong
, starring Bruce Cabot, Robert Armstrong and Fay Wray, and with the giant ape Kong brought to life with stop-action photography, opens at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The film goes on to play worldwide to good reviews and huge crowds, and spawns numerous sequels and reworkings over the next eighty years.
1949—James Gallagher Completes Round-the-World Flight
Captain James Gallagher and a crew of fourteen land their B-50 Superfortress named Lucky Lady II in Fort Worth, Texas, thus completing the first non-stop around-the-world airplane flight. The entire trip from takeoff to touchdown took ninety-four hours and one minute.
1953—Oscars Are Shown on Television
The 26th Academy Awards are broadcast on television by NBC, the first time the awards have been shown on television. Audiences watch live as From Here to Eternity wins for Best Picture, and William Holden and Audrey Hepburn earn statues in the best acting categories for Stalag 17 and Roman Holiday.
1912—First Parachute Jump Takes Place
Albert Berry jumps from a biplane traveling at 1,500 feet and lands by parachute at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. The 36 foot diameter chute was contained in a metal canister attached to the underside of the plane, and when Berry dropped from the plane his weight pulled the canopy from the canister. Rather than being secured into the chute by a harness, Berry was seated on a trapeze bar. It's possible he was only the second man to accomplish a parachute landing, as there are some accounts of someone accomplishing the feat in California several months earlier.
1932—Lindbergh Baby Is Kidnapped
The twenty-month-old son of aviator Charles Lindbergh, Charles Augustus Lindbergh III, is kidnapped from the family home in East Amwell, New Jersey. Over two months later the toddler's body is discovered in woods a short distance from the home. A medical examination determines that he had died of a massive skull fracture. A German carpenter named Bruno Hauptmann is arrested, tried, and convicted for the crime. He is sentenced to death and executed in April 1936.
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