Vintage Pulp Apr 1 2021
PRETTY MUCH DEAD
Well, girls, Mai Tai number six did Becky in. Told you she didn't have what it takes to join a sorority.


James Hadley Chase's 1939 debut novel was titled No Orchids for Miss Blandish. He later wrote a sequel with orchid in the title. And here in 1949's You're Lonely When You're Dead—for which you see a 1951 Popular Library edition with Willard Downes cover art—the action is centered around fictional Orchid City. So we guess he liked orchids. No drunk sorority girls in this one. The main character, Vic Malloy, who would star in other Orchid City capers, runs a fixer agency for rich folks, and is called in by a husband to look into the background of the woman he married after a whirlwind romance. Shady history turns up and bodies fall, starting with one of Malloy's operatives. Lonely when you're dead? Not in this book. The dead are a crowd, as characters go bye-bye in quick succession. Revenge, theft, blackmail, action, murder, and effective comic relief combine to make this a nice read. It's not quite Miss Blandish. But then how could it be?

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Vintage Pulp Jan 15 2020
NO KITTEN AROUND
Nations to betray, people to murder. *yawn* Let me nap for about twelve hours before I spring into action.


We move from yesterday's canines to today's felines. Pure pinup style art by Willard Downes adorns this Gold Medal paperback of John Flagg's, aka John Gearon's, novel The Persian Cat. Looking at this, we were pretty sure Downes painted it long before Gold Medal came knocking at his studio door, simply because this piece, while wonderful, is also generic enough to front probably a quarter of mid-century thrillers. A read through the tale seems to confirm our suspicion. The main character is ex-OSS agent Gil Denby, who money lures back into the spy game for a high stakes mission in Teheran, where he's supposed to bring to justice a femme fatale who was a Vichy traitor during World War II. The femme does plenty, but she never quite gets around to lounging abed in her undies.

This was published in 1950, a crucial period in Iranian history. Though the narrative doesn't reveal an exact time frame, it's a given that the tale and publication date are closely aligned. That means the story takes place when Iran was ruled by Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, aka the Shah, with some power also apportioned to a series of prime ministers. In fact, there were seventeen prime ministers from 1940 to 1950, which hints at the political volatility of the country. Iranians would eventually elect the reformist Mohammed Mossadegh as PM in 1951, and the U.S. and Britain would promptly overthrow him in 1953, leading to the Shah gaining unchallenged power.

You will learn none of this reading The Persian Cat. It isn't even there as deep background. Also missing is any affinity for language, culture, geography, architecture, or life in the streets. Nor does Flagg mention that the predominant language in Iran is Farsi, not Arabic, and he only hints that the predominant ethnic group is Persian, not Arab. In short, the book lacks a sense of place. When reading about the exotic and distant city of Teheran, this is a letdown. Flagg traveled the Middle East but could have written this novel without ever leaving the U.S. We can't say why the Iranian flavor is so weak, but lack of interest and/or lack of willingness to have learned usable details of the country are leading possibilities. See: David Dodge for how to write exotic locales successfully.

That said, The Persian Cat is a reasonably fun, well-written adventure. Yes, we know that assessment seems contradictory. We'd have liked a more atmospheric and informative tale, but Flagg has talent. His hero Denby deals with betrayal, murder, hairsbreadth escapes, and serious doubts about whether he wants to send that languorously stretching femme fatale to her death. The book's biggest flaw—besides the usual behavior toward women that might easily earn Denby a restraining order or prison time today—is a climax built on revelatory dialogue, pages of it, that will leave you screaming in your head, “Enough talk! Just shoot the fucker!” Still, Flagg overcomes these issues to craft nine tenths of a good book. We'll probably try him again down the line.

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Vintage Pulp May 2 2015
BLOOD BATHS
They’ve gotten themselves into hot water for the last time.

There’s no safe place in pulp—especially not the bathtub. Above and below is a collection of vintage covers featuring various unfortunates who chose the wrong time to be naked and defenseless. Well, most of them are naked. A few have clothes on for reasons we cannot discern. Art is by Willard Downes, Barye Phillips, Robert Bonfils, Jef de Wulf, and others. See another good example here.

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Vintage Pulp Aug 20 2012
DEATH BECOMES HER
Die young and leave a good-looking corpse.

Above, seven excellent if morbid paperback covers showing a favorite pose of pulp artists—the beautiful supine dead woman with (just to make it extra creepy) nice cleavage. It's amazing how similar these covers are. Art is by Maurice Thomas, Rudolph Belarski, Willard Downes, George Geygan, Harry Schaare, and unknowns. 

Update: We were also sent another example in this style by a reader. Check here.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
October 23
1935—Four Gangsters Gunned Down in New Jersey
In Newark, New Jersey, the organized crime figures Dutch Schultz, Abe Landau, Otto Berman, and Bernard "Lulu" Rosencrantz are fatally shot at the Palace Chophouse restaurant. Schultz, who was the target, lingers in the hospital for about a day before dying. The killings are committed by a group of professional gunmen known as Murder, Inc., and the event becomes known as the Chophouse Massacre.
1950—Al Jolson Dies
Vaudeville and screen performer Al Jolson dies of a heart attack in San Francisco after a trip to Korea to entertain troops causes lung problems. Jolson is best known for his film The Jazz Singer, and for his performances in blackface make-up, which were not considered offensive at the time, but have now come to be seen as a form of racial bigotry.
October 22
1926—Houdini Fatally Punched in Stomach
After a performance in Montreal, Hungarian-born magician and escape artist Harry Houdini is approached by a university student named J. Gordon Whitehead, who asks if it is true that Houdini can endure any blow to the stomach. Before Houdini is ready Whitehead strikes him several times, causing internal injuries that lead to the magician's death.
October 21
1973—Kidnappers Cut Off Getty's Ear
After holding Jean Paul Getty III for more than three months, kidnappers cut off his ear and mail it to a newspaper in Rome. Because of a postal strike it doesn't arrive until November 8. Along with the ear is a lock of hair and ransom note that says: "This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits." Getty's grandfather, billionaire oilman Jean Paul Getty, at first refused to pay the 3.2 million dollar ransom, then negotiated it down to 2.8 million, and finally agreed to pay as long as his grandson repaid the sum at 4% interest.
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