Vintage Pulp Jul 17 2023
When nature goes mad human nature follows suit.

As you probably know, we have an attraction to books set in tropical lands. We also, to a similar extent, are automatically drawn to books set during natural disasters. Examples include John D. MacDonald's Murder in the Wind, Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth's A Town Is Drowning, Louis A. Brennan's Death at Flood Tide, Theodore Pratt's Tropical Disturbance, and The Angry Mountain by Hammond Innes. John and Ward Hawkins' A Girl, a River, and Man is an addition to the collection. The book appeared in the above Popular Library edition in 1957, but had been originally published a year earlier as The Floods of Fear, and appeared even earlier in serial form in The Saturday Evening Post.

These two authors certainly know what they're about. A Girl, a River, and Man is propulsive, action packed, well characterized, and climaxes violently. The premise is that, during a major flood, a group of convicts pressed into service to reinforce a dike are caught by rising waters and swept away. Two convicts survive, along with a prison guard, and into the mix is thrown a woman unluckily stranded in the same area. The interaction between this group is volatile, to say the least. One convict, who's a career armed robber, wants simply to loot. The other, a murderer, wants to kill the person most responsible for sending him to jail. The prison guard, meanwhile, is obsessive about putting both jailbirds back into the joint—no matter the cost.

There's no mystery about the fact that the murderer may not have committed the crime—though prison has hardened him to the extent that he's a terrifying presence. His possible innocence becomes obvious early on, and it's the element that catalyzes the actions and reactions that energize the tale. As a magazine serial compiled into novel form, A Girl, a River, and Man is both short and filled with mini-climaxes that drive the reader inexorably toward the finale. There's more action packed into the story than any five typical 1950s-era novels. The Hawkins brothers falter slightly when dealing with the inevitable romantic subplot, but otherwise this is pure escapist adventure executed at a high level, and we recommend it strongly.


Vintage Pulp Jan 29 2023
What! A big bubble? Well, yours looks like five pounds of potatoes in a ten pound sack!

It seems like Florida novels are a distinct genre of popular fiction, and most of the books, regardless of the year of their setting, lament how the state is being drawn and quartered in pursuit of easy money. But those complaints are usually just a superficial method of establishing the lead characters' local cred. Theodore Pratt, in his novel The Big Bubble, takes readers deep inside early 1920s south Florida real estate speculation in the person of a builder named Adam Paine (based on real life architect Addison Mizner), who wants to bring the aesthetic of old world Spain to Palm Beach—against the wishes of longtime residents.

Paine builds numerous properties, but his big baby is the Flamingo Club, a massive hotel complex done in Spanish and Moorish style. He even takes a trip to Spain to buy beautiful artifacts for his masterpiece. This was the most interesting part for us, riding along as he wandered Andalusia (where we live), buying treasures for his ostentatious palace. He buys paintings, tapestries, sculptures, an ornate fireplace, an entire staircase, basically anything that isn't nailed down, even stripping monasteries of their revered artifacts. His wife Eve is horrified, but Paine tells her he's doing the monks a favor because they'd otherwise go broke.

You may not know this, but Spain is pretty bad at preserving its ancient architecture. That's another reason The Big Bubble resonated for us—because Spain is very Floridian in that it's being buried under an avalanche of cheap, ugly developments. We love south Florida's Spanish revival feel. What's metastasized in Spain is a glass and concrete aesthetic that offers no beauty and weathers like it's made of styrofoam. The properties are basically glass box tax dodges. The point is, reading The Big Bubble felt familiar in terms of its critique of real estate booms, but simultaneously we saw Paine as a visionary. He made us wish Spanish builders had a tenth of his good taste.

Since the book is set during the 1920s (and its title is so descriptive) you know Florida's property bubble will burst. Paine already has problems to deal with before the crash. Pratt resolves everything in interesting fashion. He was a major novelist who wrote more than thirty books, with five adapted to film, so we went into The Big Bubble expecting good work, and that's what we got. And apparently it's part of a Palm Beach trilogy (though he set fourteen novels in Florida total). We'll keep an eye out for those other two Palm Beach books (The Flame Tree and The Barefoot Mailman). In the meantime, we recommend The Big Bubble. Originally published in 1951, this Popular Library edition is from 1952 with uncredited art.


Vintage Pulp Jan 23 2023
Why yes, thank you, ma'am. I'd very much enjoy a dance with you. Do you suppose the band could play a waltz?

We've seen a lot of whites-in-the-tropics covers, but this 1958 Popular Library paperback effort for Peter Bourne's 1947 Haitian drama Drums of Destiny gets across the essential dilemma better than most. Such books always suggest there's something deadening and restrictive about modern civilization, but always come to the eventual conclusion that if life at home sucks, total freedom overseas sucks worse. We've read no books in the sub-genre where the main character stays in tropical lands happy, but surely they exist. They must. We'll dig around. One of those would be an interesting read. As for the tropical culture clash books we've already read, if you're interested we can point to several (but by no means all): here, here, herehere, here, here, and here.


Vintage Pulp Jan 3 2023
She was worried about making friends here, but as you can see she's become pretty much the person to know.

Above is a curious cover for Stuart Cloete's novel Congo Song, first published in 1943, with this Popular Giant version coming in 1952 fronted by excellent George Mayers cover art. This is a book we've kept our eyes on over the years. We finally bought it, but not this version. We have the 1958 Monarch Books edition with Harry Schaare cover art. We'll circle back to that later and tell you what it's all about. We expect sheer craziness. 


Vintage Pulp Dec 28 2022
After she homicides Johnny, she's going to homicide everyone else who ever crossed her too.

We've returned to Steve Fisher, as we said we would, after reading his 1954 social drama Giveaway. We chose Homicide Johnny because of the title and the Rudolph Belarski cover art. The tale stars Johnny West, a cop in tiny Mamaroneck, New York, about to give up his badge for a private detective gig in far away San Francisco, but who's pulled into one last case. A priceless anti-streptococcic compound has been stolen, and West not only has to solve the crime, but must work with his ex-girlfriend, police investigator Penny Lane. She has a very good if not photographic memory—which is too bad for Johnny because she can't forget or forgive that time he cheated on her. Collaborating with someone who seems to despise you isn't easy, but without trust and cooperation a murderer just might generate more victims. Spoiler alert: he does. Despite Steve Fisher's good rep, we consider Homicide Johnny to be average, even with its unusual medical research backdrop and relationship tension. But there was nothing in it to discourage us from trying him again, so expect to see him here down the line. 


Vintage Pulp Oct 19 2022
No, seriously. I said come and get me. Don't just stand there. Or... did I interrupt something?

Above is a cover for Johnny Laredo's Come and Get Me, copyright 1956 from Popular Library. Think Laredo is a pseudonym? You think correctly. The publishers make a big deal out of keeping his real identity secret, writing a blurb inside the book calling Laredo, “the pseudonym of a young fiction writer whose stories have appeared in Argosy, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Cosmopolitan, and Bluebook.” Why an extensively published author wanted no credit for this book is a mystery, but the gig is up—he was Gene Caesar, a writer who had an affinity for westerns, but here crafted a crime drama about a man bent on avenging the murder of his girlfriend. The art, which we love because it can be interpreted a couple of ways, is by Raymond Johnson. 


Vintage Pulp Oct 10 2022
Oh, good. Hard liquor. I hope you have more, because I'm gonna need lots before we continue.

It's another case of a good-girl-art makeover, as this 1952 Popular Giant paperback edition of Thomas H. Raddall's 1950 novel The Nymph and the Lamp disguises as titillation what is actually a piece of serious literature by one of Canada's most renowned authors. The guy even has a park named after him—Thomas Raddall Provincial Park, located in Nova Scotia, where he lived much of his life. He also co-founded the Queens County Historical Society, which runs the Thomas Raddall Research Centre, where visitors can see an exact replica of his study, furnished with his actual possessions. And there's even the Thomas Head Raddall Award, which is given yearly to a writer from Canada's Atlantic provinces who produces the best work of adult fiction.

But we didn't know any of that when we read The Nymph and the Lamp, so we merely noted that it was an expertly written and deep reaching book about a grizzled telegraph operator named Matthew Carney who brings a somewhat younger woman named Isabel Jardin with him back to the lonely North Atlantic island outpost of Marina where he works with a small crew of colleagues, and lives together with them in the ancient telegraph building. Isabel didn't realize she was signing up for cohabitation with multiple men in a sort of industrial workplace, and naturally has adjustment issues:

The place reeked of hot oil. It had a concrete floor and in the midst of it a large single-cylinder gasoline engine whirled a pair of flywheels. From one of these a long slatting belt led her eye to the generator, spinning and whining at the farther end of the room. [snip] Isabel, standing on the greasy floor, was startled by a terrific sound as sharp, as deafening as rifle shots, and the little engine room was lit by a rapid succession of bright violet flashes that sprang, like the sound, from the revolving brass spark-studs at the end of the generator shaft. Casting dignity aside she fled into the hall and covered her ears with her hands.

Matthew merely grinned. “You’ll get used to it,” he declared calmly. “There’s a muffling drum that fits over the spark disc but we leave it off.”

Do you mean to say,” she demanded in a voice that sounded thin and strange in her singing ears, “that it goes on like that, day and night?”

Only when the chap on watch is transmitting.”

But the transmitting goes on day and night—at intervals, I mean?”

Oh yes. As I say, you’ll get used to it.”

The island has other inhabitants aside from Isabel and the telegraphers. There's a cadre of lifesavers who patrol the beaches for survivors of the frequent wrecks, a permanent lighthouse crew, and all the various workers' wives and children. There are also wild ponies living among the windswept dunes, and plenty of seals and oceangoing birds. None of it thrills or interests Isabel, but she's legitimately committed to Carney. The question is whether that committment can survive all the obstacles of life on a wild frontier.

Returning to the cover art, the creator here is Rafael DeSoto, who doesn't really get across the mood of the story. The rear cover text, which is written in such a way as to compliment the painting, is also misleading. Someone does barge in on Isabel, but it's an accident, and he has zero designs on her. He's so drunk he doesn't realize he's in the wrong room. He's soon removed, and the incident has no further bearing on the tale. But we'll say this for GGA art—it has lured us into reading not just pulp style fiction, but obscure literary fiction too. Some of it, like The Nymph and the Lamp, is very good.

Vintage Pulp Sep 22 2022
I have something very serious to ask you. I'm ready. And our relationship is ready. Darling... will you lend me your car?

Above: Robert McGinnis cover art for Eugene Mirabelli's 1959 novel The Burning Air, with this Eagle Books edition coming in 1960. It's basically a drama about a young couple with some tricky relationship issues to work out. Like how he's going to get home when she leaves him there.


Vintage Pulp Mar 27 2022
No, my husband doesn't mind that I have sex with other men. Though he probably would if he knew.

Ben Kerr, who we first knew as Mike Moran, then William Ard, might make the trusted author category. His 1957 novel Club 17 is a nice little yarn. It deals with a down-on-her-luck actress finally driven to prostitution, but her first customer is a vice cop out to bust the crime ring she works for, which operates out of an unassuming Manhattan watering hole called Club 17. She can't go through with the deed, which transforms the cop's appraisal of her from hooker to sweetheart, and romance is born.

We know what you're thinking, but the same old motif of love at first sight works because Kerr writes fast and with style. He had to write fast—he churned out three books a year, but his work didn't suffer for it. Some writers just have that gift. He pulls together a cohort of major characters—the cop, the call girl, the groomer, the pimp, a political climber, his two-timing wife, and a private investigator—and effortlessly sets the narrative spinning within only twenty pages.

Turning to the cover, which is amazing, it's unattributed, but we think it's by Ray Johnson. He was working with Popular Library from at least 1955 onward, as we've shown you here and here. The rear cover below reinforces our conviction on this. Look below and note the hair, the shape of the face, and that certain lift of the eyebrows, then check the links. He's the prime suspect. If so, excellent work, from a top rank illustrator.

Vintage Pulp Jan 18 2022
You know, instead of sitting around watching the clock we can try being naked in the day. Just once. Could be fun.

Puerto Rican illustrator Rafael DeSoto's cover work is always recognizable, not only because he often painted rosy-cheeked women on glowing backgrounds, but because his characters often had knowing or sly looks on their faces. On this piece for Jon Cleary's 1955 war drama Naked in the Night, you see the standing woman and sitting man sending sneaky nonverbal signals to each other and get the feeling that, come naked time, the brooding brunette won't get to join in the fun. That's classic DeSoto. He was a singular artist. See a few more secretly amused expressions here, here, and here.


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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
September 25
2002—Mystery Space Object Crashes in Russia
In an occurrence known as the Vitim Event, an object crashes to the Earth in Siberia and explodes with a force estimated at 4 to 5 kilotons by Russian scientists. An expedition to the site finds the landscape leveled and the soil contaminated by high levels of radioactivity. It is thought that the object was a comet nucleus with a diameter of 50 to 100 meters.
September 24
1992—Sci Fi Channel Launches
In the U.S., the cable network USA debuts the Sci Fi Channel, specializing in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and paranormal programming. After a slow start, it built its audience and is now a top ten ranked network for male viewers aged 18–54, and women aged 25–54.
September 23
1952—Chaplin Returns to England
Silent movie star Charlie Chaplin returns to his native England for the first time in twenty-one years. At the time it is said to be for a Royal Society benefit, but in reality Chaplin knows he is about to be banned from the States because of his political views. He would not return to the U.S. for twenty years.
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