Vintage Pulp Jul 18 2024
I want this to be good, you two. So take one more look over here to remind yourselves what you're fighting about.

Last time we read a novel by the globetrotting Ed Lacy, we said afterward we'd travel anywhere with him. In 1961's The Freeloaders, for which you see a beautiful but uncredited cover above, he once again conducts readers to an exotic place—the Côte d'Azur, in the company of a small clan of Americans trying to survive without work visas in and around Nice.
Freelance writer Al Cane, the most recent addition to the group, has occasional gigs and makes enough money to live. Ex-boxer/ex-cop/ex-advertising man/constant enigma Charley Martins has savings that keep him in a nice seafront apartment. But painter Gil Fletcher and inveterate schemer Ed Jones struggle daily. The women within the group are diverse. Charley's girlfriend Pascale is young, beautiful, and precocious; Gil's partner Simone is opportunistic and fickle; Ed's girlfriend Daniele is industrious and kind.

Eventually, Gil, desperate to stay in Nice and in need of money for he and Daniele, cooks up a foolproof robbery scheme. But to quote Mickey Rourke in Body Heat, "Any time you try a decent crime, you got fifty ways you're gonna fuck up. If you think of twenty-five of them, then you're a genius." Gil is no genius. The rest of the story deals with the aftermath of the crime on the Nice guys, the unraveling of the mystery of who the mysterious Charley really is, and Al's growing lust toward Pascale.
As with other Lacy novels, the flavor is as important as the plot, and he dishes up the South of France (with sides of Italy) in satisfying fashion. There are always a few nits to pick with him. Any time you write a novel there are at least fifty ways to fuck up. Lacy is no genius, but he always entertains. That's travail numéro un.

Vintage Pulp Jul 15 2024
When you need a high quality cover who you gonna call?

Any French publisher that needed top tier art could look to the Gourdon brothers Michel and Alain for a solution. Above you see the work of the younger Gourdon—Alain, also known as Aslan—on a set of covers for Éditions de l'Arabesque and its series Les Nymphes. These are all from 1956 and 1957, and despite the assorted author attributions, Georges Roques—credited with five of these novels—also published as Luis Della Roca, and possibly others of these persons as well. 


Vintage Pulp Jul 13 2024
Murder hates company.

Rudolph Belarski, whose work is always instantly recognizable, painted this cover for Rufus King's 1944 mystery Never Walk Alone, earlier known as The Case of Dowager's Etchings. The change tells you that Popular Library thought a less old-fashioned title would boost sales for this 1951 re-issue. But the old-fashioned nature of the story is a feature, not a bug. What you get is intrigue at the residence of Carrie Giles, who's opened her large home up as a boarding house called River Rest and had the rooms filled by workers in an arms factory.

Giles is a throwback who's still driven around by horse and carriage in an era of cars and planes. The tale is told from her point of view, and never has a more self-contained observer been committed to the printed page. This derives from her belief in politeness and decorum. Even if you're a bit nosy, as she is, you don't make a fuss. When she finds a body on her grounds she simply leaves it there for someone else to stumble across the next afternoon. Maybe she's not such a throwback after all—we can see that happening even today, so she's an interesting figure created by King.

Her genteel nature is summed up in a passage about Humphrey Bogart. Don't forget that Bogart was a famous film villain before he altered the trajectory of his career. Giles knows only the early Bogart, and is horrified when someone compares one of her boarders to Humphrey: Mrs. Giles shut her eyes. She was fairly familiar with Mr. Bogart's characterizations on the screen, and to have any one of those blood-throttling roles in the house was the last straw.

Can a mystery be fun when told from the point of view of a hidebound busybody? Turns out it can. While other elements of the story are interesting too (she thinks the murder has to do with wartime spies, and particularly suspects an outspoken and modern-minded female guest), Mrs. Giles is ultimately such a fascinating and delicate creation that it was her who kept us turning pages. Never Walk Alone isn't for readers seeking fireworks and sexual intrigue, but as an example of a character-driven mystery, it worked fine.


Vintage Pulp Jul 11 2024
Extreme volatility in the creepy old manor sector forces many from their homes.

It's the worst case scenario. You're forced out of your home in the middle of the night with only the clothes on your back. As recent home buyers, that thought is a nightmare for us. In our case, it would be bankers sending us out the door. But in romance novels it's husbands, crooks, ghosts, or just bad vibes. These are all paintings by Harry Barton made for the covers of gothic romances, which we came across while trying to find out who painted the front for The Minerva Stone, a book we talked about last month. That brilliant piece is the one just above (and we've added a zoom so you can see the details of the work). It surprised us that Barton specialized in gothic romances, but it shouldn't have—he could do anything. Look at more examples of his ability here, here, and here.


Vintage Pulp Jul 10 2024
Look at that view, men! Just think how much money a trip like this would cost us if we were civilians!

Donald Downes' World War II combat and espionage novel The Scarlet Thread originally appeared in 1953, with this Panther Book edition coming in 1959, adorned with cover art from an unknown. Like many mid-century war novelists, Downes saw it all firsthand. He was in the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), the British Security Coordination (BSC), and the OSS (we don't need to decipher that one, right?), and saw action against the fascists in Italy and Egypt. This novel, his first, draws on those experiences in telling the story of an aviator sent on a mission to eliminate a suspected double agent. Its French translation won Downes the 1959 Grand Prix de Littérature policière. Mission accomplished. 


Vintage Pulp Jul 9 2024
Freud probably never imagined they could be used for gambling.

We're down to the last of our dream books with cover art by Gene Bilbrew. This one, Ahmed's Dream Book & Numbers, was published in 1972 by the Wholesale Book Corp. It never occurred to us before, but these could be considered cousins of Freudian psychoanalysis, which was laid out in Freud's 1899 tome The Interpretation of Dreams, and helped legitimize the long held concept that dreams have meaning. Of course, his idea of meaning was that they gave insight into the subconscious mind, while a dream book's idea of meaning is that of prognostication for gamblers. We doubt Freud ever dreamt of anything like that. You can find out more about these books, and see more art from Bilbrew, by clicking this link and going down the subsequent rabbit hole. 


Vintage Pulp Jul 8 2024
I really shouldn't be letting you fondle them this way. Any spike in your blood pressure could be fatal.

Above: classic sleaze from Kimberly Marchand, her 1966 medical romp Sex in White. The rear cover is unusually descriptive, a perfect entry for our burgeoning teaser text-as poetry collection:

His hands moved so gently
and then as he pressed to her
a searing and deep ecstasy took over.
From the depths to the stars, again and again
her body came alive and reached for him
clung and caressed him.
Paul felt the depth of her thrill
and she trembled and shook as if ill.
He'd never experienced
such complete abandon in a woman
such complete giving
without rudeness or excuse.
The result was music—
a symphony...

Love it. It even rhymes a little. Do you need to read the book now? Neither do we. The cover is by the great Bill Edwards, king of absurd erotic paperback art. You can find proof here, here, here, here, and here.

Vintage Pulp Jul 6 2024
She makes sure a Pheasant time is had by all.

We were attracted to the 1958 John Boswell thriller The Blue Pheasant not only because of the lovely cover art, and the tale's setting in East Asia and New Zealand, but because the title suggests that a bar plays a central role. We always like that, whether in fiction or film. The teaser text confirms it. The title refers to a fictional bar in Hong Kong. Irresistible.

The book stars professional photographer, amateur painter, and rolling stone Chris Kent, who's at desperate ends and takes a job to travel from Hong Kong to far away Auckland to recover two Chinese scrolls that are the keys to a vast inheritance. Needless to say, there are other interested—and ruthless—parties. In addition there are three femmes fatales: Sally Chan, the bar dancer who puts Kent onto the job; Sonya Sung, whose family are the rightful owners of the misplaced scrolls (or are they?); and Ann Compton, mystery woman who becomes Kent's reluctant partner.

We were amused by how easily Kent's head was turned by all three women. He's tough, but he's also an all-day sucker. In trying to sort out why women are so confounding to him, there are numerous moments of, “Well, what's a guy to do when women are ________” By the end, though, he starts to wonder if he's the problem. Spoiler alert: pretty much. The actual caper is well laid out, with a lot of sleuthing and surveillance, a few moments of swift action, a suspicious Kiwi cop, a love/hate dynamic between Kent and Compton, and precise local color in both Hong Kong and Auckland.

We consider The Blue Pheasant to have been a worthwhile purchase. That was actually almost a given, considering the low price for the book (Seven dollars? Sold!). But our point is that you never know what you'll get with a writer as obscure as Boswell. Well, now we do. And we have his sequel, 1959's Lost Girl. We'll get around to reading that later.

Turning back to the cover for a moment, the example at top is one we downloaded from an auction site because the William Collins Sons & Co. edition, which is a hardback with a dust jacket, shows the wonderful art painted by British talent John Rose to best advantage. The edition we actually bought is a paperback from Fontana Books, and our scans of that appear below. They're fine, but the cleaner Collins version is frameworthy. We have another Rose cover at this link, and we'll be getting back to him again shortly.


Vintage Pulp Jul 5 2024
Young, wild, and free—of conscience, worries, and inhibitions.

Celebrities on paperback fronts are a (yet another) weakness of ours. We've been seduced into reading books by cover imagery from the likes of Kitty Swan, Elke Sommer, and Christina Lindberg, among others. Greenleaf Classics put Spanish star Soledad Miranda on the cover of Alan Marshall's 1974 novel Wild Young Flesh. The shot is a variation of an image of Miranda we shared years back. You may remember she died young in an automobile accident in 1970 at age twenty-seven, but left behind a few interesting movies, such as El diablo que vinó de Akasawa and 100 Rifles. And now, this cover.

Alan Marshall was a pseudonym, and while it was sometimes used by known authors such as Donald Westlake, in this case the actual writer remains unknown. The story deals with the carnal goings-on among a group of high schoolers. In addition to it being a creepy experience reading its explicit underaged sex, about a quarter of the story takes place in a utility closet. If you know anything about sleaze novels and the talent level involved, the fact that the author couldn't be bothered to set scenes outside of a single small room tells you that the narrative is extremely minimal. But we couldn't resist Soledad. We'll just try to put this one behind us, though, and we recommend that you don't put it in front of you.


Vintage Pulp Jul 3 2024
He's hopelessly outclassed by his prey. And the tiger is a problem too.

Above you see a nice cover by an uncredited illustrator for 1959's Womanhunt, written by Harry Wilcox posing as his alter ego Mark Derby and published in this Ace paperback edition in 1960. This is interesting visual work. You notice that the femme fatale's eyes resemble the tiger's eyes. That comparison is at the crux of the tale Derby tells. In the story a government agent named Dickson (Dix to his friends) is sent upcountry in Malaya to pose as a big game hunter there to kill a deadly tigress, while behind the scenes he's searching out a communist cabal and determining whether an agent already there is doing her job or has turned.

That agent—Anna Swansey—is someone Dix barely knows but is “miserably and hopelessly in love with.” Under the pressure of his mission, his feelings turn into a consuming obsession. As high concept novels go, the idea of trying to stalk an apex predator, arouse love within a woman, and expose a spy ring all at once is as ripe as it gets. There's a lot going on at all times, and Derby keeps multiple plates spinning on sticks while treating readers to some nice passages, like this one:

Before her magnificent body, an electric apparition of charcoal, gold, and white, had passed out of sight, he had a second view of her snarl, the haughty sneer that drew mouth and white whiskers high and quivering on each side, the narrowing of the usually rounded eyes, the flash of the ivory teeth.

At one point Dix is alone in the jungle and hears the tigress's roar. It's a moment when he realizes, terrifyingly, that his hunt of her may have turned into her hunt of him:

He jumped as if a cannon had gone off. He had got it into his head that she was somewhere over on his right, or behind him, and this growl came from directly ahead. It sounded awesomely near, too. [snip] The roar, a sound which perhaps only one in every million human beings ever hears, and only one in ten million ever hears at close quarters, filled the dark jungle with shock. There was a moment, perhaps of one second, during which Dix did nothing but stiffen; then his arms moved and the beam of the flashlight mounted on the rifle barrel cut a cone of light in the dark clearing.

The title of book registers weird in 2024, but it isn't misogynist—or not very. A few web pages say the woman of the hunt is, metaphorically, the tigress. No. It's a metaphor, alright, but not one that simple. The woman of the hunt is actually both the tigress and Anna. That's made clear because Derby flogs the woman-as-tigress metaphor until it's welted from nose to tail. But he's also capable of smirking at it, briefly anyway, such as here:

My grandfather used to say that a tigress was a woman, a woman who did not wish to be caught. She would hide down trails the hunter didn’t know and, just like a woman, her lies would be more clever than his traps. That’s what he used to say.” ’Che Kadan was fond of quoting his grandfather, who’d been one of the Malayan sultans—an old man of character, it seemed, since his quoted remarks were invariably mere clichés or sentimental platitudes which must have been remembered for the authority with which he’d uttered them.

It's a comparison that's probably insulting to most modern women, but don't let it fool you. The tale is steeped in debilitating male emotion, lustful obsession, existential terror, and a desperate loneliness. It reads tragically at times, as Dix tries but fails to keep Anna from slowly taking over his thoughts. And that's another unusual aspect of the book: Dix is increasingly driven by jealousy. At first it's directed only against Anna's boss Charlton Lang, who also wants her badly and uses his authority to constantly keep her near him in a work capacity. Then Anna's ex-lover shows up. Dix is driven near to madness by this event.

Derby deals in high emotion. For example, big cats generally kill humans when they're the only obtainable prey. Usually the animal is hurt, or very old. Dix sympathizes with the tigress, doesn't consider her to be in any way at fault, but people keep getting eaten, so he has no choice about killing her—not merely as matter of his cover, but as a matter of saving lives. His conflict over this is wrenching, symbolic of terrible choices forced on us all. To add an extra ingredient, he isn't an experienced hunter. He can shoot—but he isn't expert. His pursuit of the tigress is ridiculously dangerous.

This is a great book. However, the usual warnings apply to colonial fiction. In addition, within the communist plotlines Dix's quarries are all fools, monsters, or victims of coercion. Capitalism wasn't then—and isn't now—turning the world into a fruit laden banquet table overflowing with goodness for all, and Derby was surely smart enough to understand that. But despite the billions killed to establish and maintain his preferred global order, he never touches the reasons why alternative political philosophies take hold. In his mind, resistance comes from the deluded, from dolts who—for inexplicable reasons—believe colonials have no right to steal foreign lands. That may annoy the more politically objective readers.

But while more character depth on that front would have made Womanhunt perfect, and its total and rather smug one-sidedness means it has to be partly classified as propaganda, Derby can really construct and deliver an adventure. How do you wrap up a communist spy caper, Malayan big game hunt, and heart-hurting love story all at once? Those spinning plates never wobble. The hunt's spectacular end flows immediately into the climax of the spy tale, and within that chaotic resolution the love story concludes with fireworks. We'll be revisiting Derby soon.


Next Page
History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
July 19
1966—Sinatra Marries Farrow
Superstar singer and actor Frank Sinatra marries 21-year-old actress Mia Farrow, who is 30 years younger than him. The marriage lasts two years.
July 18
1925—Mein Kampf Published
While serving time in prison for his role in a failed coup, Adolf Hitler dictaes and publishes volume 1 of his manifesto Mein Kampf (in English My Struggle or My Battle), the book that outlines his theories of racial purity, his belief in a Jewish conspiracy to control the world, and his plans to lead Germany to militarily acquire more land at the expense of Russia via eastward expansion.
July 17
1955—Disneyland Begins Operations
The amusement park Disneyland opens in Orange County, California for 6,000 invitation-only guests, before opening to the general public the following day.
1959—Holiday Dies Broke
Legendary singer Billie Holiday, who possessed one of the most unique voices in the history of jazz, dies in the hospital of cirrhosis of the liver. She had lost her earnings to swindlers over the years, and upon her death her bank account contains seventy cents.
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