She's old enough to know better but too young to care.
So Young, So Wicked is a book we were looking forward to because our previous forays into Jonathan Craig's work were fun. In this one a mafia hitman named Steve Garrity is given a rush job—kill fifteen-year-old Lena Noland, and make it look like an accident. Will he drown her? Push her down some stairs? Run her over? The problem isn't so much choice of method, but having to operate in a small town where strangers tend to be noticed by everyone, and the local piggly wiggly are always on the lookout for big city troublemakers. Therefore Garrity takes the only approach he can—he romances Leda's aunt and legal guardian Nancy so he has a logical reason to be hanging around.
It occasionally happens that a title works against an author, and this is one of those cases. Thanks to the title, we don't have to tell you that Lena is not your typical clueless fifteen-year-old. Craig writes her as a sexually precocious but seemingly sweet girl, however Wicked has been implanted in your head from the moment you saw the book on a secondhand rack, so you know there's more to her than the reader—or crucially, Garrity—suspects. The rear cover also pulls that trick, describing Lena as deadly. Therefore, what Craig clearly meant to be twists have less impact than we'd have liked.
But, fine, Leda is wicked and deadly. You still have to find out in exactly what ways. Compared to other Craigs we've read, though, So Young, So Wicked is a concept that doesn't come to fruition. Partly it's knowing Leda is a very bad girl, but partly it's the writing. Craig does that thing where characters constantly use each others' names in dialogue (“Tell me why you feel that way, Steve.” “Well, Lena, I don't know if I can explain it.” “Try, Steve.”) It reads weird, but the book is basically fine. We just expected more from the guy who wrote Red-Headed Sinners and Alley Girl. This Gold Medal edition is from 1957 and the wrapaound art is by William Rose.
Human nature red in tooth and claw.
Whenever we have minimal expectations of a film and receive reasonable entertainment we're reminded why we like watching old movies so much. In The Leopard Man, for which you see a striking William Rose poster above, a New Mexico nightclub chanteuse loses her feline sidekick and it soon begins prowling the desert night and savaging women. Or is it? Pretty soon the singer and her manager begin to wonder if the leopard is being blamed for killings committed by someone—or something—else. The movie feels a bit like Cat People, which makes sense, because director Jacques Tourneur helmed both productions. But where Cat People was set in New York City, this one has a bordertown flavor, with flamenco music and various Mexican and Spanish characters in scattered roles, including Margo—just Margo—who was Spanish bandleader Xavier Cugat's niece. The solution to the mystery comes in a climax set against the town's creepy Spanish processions. It turns out the killer is a someone, not a something, but that was never truly in doubt. At just over an hour in length the movie is a pretty nice time killer, but the shorthand feel of it also shows why feature films tend to be longer. The Leopard Man premiered in the U.S. today in 1943.
Phillip Marlowe gets involved in shady business.
Above, a very nice piece of William Rose cover art incorporating a window shade for Raymond Chandler's Playback, from Cardinal Books, 1960. This is the last Phillip Marlowe novel Chandler wrote. It first appeared in Britain in 1958 as a hardback. Basically, it's a missing persons case set in California in which Marlowe is put on the trail of a woman being pursued by various shady figures from her past. Many critics consider it lesser Chandler, but it has its plusses. The mystery blog Bloody Murder agrees, and you can read a detailed positive review there by following this link.
Change is inevitable—especially if you're dealing with Ian Fleming.
Ian Fleming was not an author to be trifled with. We talked about how he shifted the rights for Casino Royale from Popular Library to Signet. Well, here we go again. The above 1957 Perma paperback of Diamonds Are Forever with excellent William Rose cover art is rare because Fleming shifted the publishing to Signet after Perma changed the title of Moonraker to Too Hot to Handle. Since this happened after the Casino Royale fiasco you’d think the editors would have known better.
Perma: Ian, Moonraker is a terrible title. It sounds like a sci-fi novel.
Fleming: You listen here, you sniveling little pup—
Perma: This is my job, okay. I’m telling you a bad title hurts your whole brand.
Fleming: Well, I have an idea for a book called Goldfinger. I suppose you think that’s a bad title too?
Perma: Well, yeah...
Fleming: Why you annoying insect. And Octopussy? You don’t like that either?
Perma: Sounds pornographic. It’s ludicrous.
Fleming: You have two tin fucking ears is what’s ludicrous! And Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang?
Perma: The worst of the bunch, and pornographic. I’m sorry, Ian—
Fleming: Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang? Pornographic? That’s the last goddamned straw, you pimply little Yank!
Okay, *gasp*, you win, *wheeze*, there is a tide…
Evocative cover art painted by William Rose for Agatha Christie’s 1948 mystery There Is a Tide, aka Taken at the Flood. Other possible akas include: I Was Only Choking My Dear, Blue Crush, All Hands on Neck, and Squish You Were Here. Are we lucky or just good?
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1943—Philadelphia Experiment Allegedly Takes Place
The U.S. government is believed by some to have attempted to create a cloak of invisibility around the Navy ship USS Eldridge. The top secret event is known as the Philadelphia Experiment and, according to believers, ultimately leads to the accidental teleportation of an entire vessel.
1953—Soviets Detonate Deliverable Nuke
The Soviet Union detonates
a nuclear weapon codenamed Reaktivnyi Dvigatel Stalina, aka Stalin's Jet Engine. In the U.S. the bomb is codenamed Joe 4. It is a small yield fission bomb rather than a multi-stage fusion weapon, but it makes up for its relative weakness by being fully deployable, meaning it can be dropped from a bomber.
1969—Manson Followers Continue Rampage
A day after murdering actress Sharon Tate and four others, members of Charles Manson's cult kill Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. Manson personally orchestrates the event, but leaves the LaBianca house before the killing starts.
1977—Son of Sam Arrested
The serial killer and arsonist known as Son of Sam and the .44 Caliber Killer, is arrested in Yonkers, New York. He turns out to be 24-year-old postal employee David Berkowitz. He had been killing people in the New York area for most of the previous year.
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