Vintage Pulp May 19 2022
ROUTE CANAL
So just out of curiosity, why aren't you paddling an Uber? Seems like everyone else is.


This spectacular cover for Thomas Sterling's Murder in Venice was painted by James Hill, an artist of obvious skill but one we rarely encounter. The book was originally published in 1955 as The Evil of the Day, with this beautiful Dell edition coming in 1959. Sterling tells the tale of a man named Cecil Fox who invites three guests from abroad to his Venetian mansion in order to pretend he's near death and tease them with the promise of inheriting his wealth. These three guests are people he's not had much contact with in recent years, which makes the game even more delicious for him, the way the trio feel plucked from their lives of obscurity to possibly be gifted wealth and status. Factions form and subterfuges abound, but everything is thrown into disarray when one of the guests is murdered. Was it to eliminate a possible inheritor? To add intrigue to the game? Or for other, unguessable reasons?

Go with option three. The whole point of murder mysteries is to be unguessable. Murder in Venice is a pretty good puzzler, with a small set of curious characters and a few forays into the Venetian night. Sterling gets inside the head of his protagonist Celia Johns quite effectively. She's the personal assistant to one of the invitees, and thus has no skin in the game. She just wants a fair wage for a fair day's work. At least that what she says. Her host Mr. Fox, on the other hand, seems to think everyone is corruptible, and everyone is money hungry—it's just a matter of baiting the hook in the right way. He thinks he knows most people better than they know themselves, and he doesn't see Celia as any sort of exception.

While Murder in Venice is a mystery, it's also a minor sociological examination of what it means to some people to be rich but face losing their money, and what it means to others to not value money at all. Sterling scored a success, but interestingly, he borrowed the idea from Ben Johnson's play Volpone, which premiered way back in 1606. Sterling was up front about his inspiration, and within his novel the play even makes an appearance on a drawing room shelf. Frederick Knott, who wrote the famed plays Wait Until Dark and Dial M for Murder, later adapted Sterling's novel into a 1959 play called Mr. Fox of Venice. The next year the book was published in France as Le Tricheur de Venise and won Sterling the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for foreign authors. And finally, Joseph Mankiewicz combined the original play, Sterling's novel, and Knott's play into a 1967 movie called The Honey Pot.

When material gets recycled to that extent, it's usually good, and Sterling does his part. He was a diplomat before becoming an author and lived in Italy for years, so we would have liked more color from someone who obviously knew Venice well, but he's an interesting writer even without the aid of scenery, as in this moment of musing from Celia: She said, “my sleep,” as though it were, “my dress,” or, “my ring.” It belonged to her. Every night had a certain amount, and if she lost it she was frantic. She had forgotten that sleep was not a thing, it was a country. You couldn't get it, you had to go there. And it was never lost. Sometimes you missed a train, but there was always another coming after. In the meantime, neither the green hills nor the nightmare forests ever changed. They stayed where they were and you went to them. And sooner or later you would go and not come back.
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Vintage Pulp May 18 2022
HEALER THRILL THYSELF
Sleaze novel suggests it's more fun for doctors to trick than to treat.


The only reason we took any notice of the 1975 sleaze novel Doctor's Dirty Tricks by Rand McTiernan is because Swedish actress Christina Lindberg is the cover star. That fact led to the thought process, “Well, we might as well read the thing and see what it's about.” It turns out it's about exactly what you'd think, except there are not one but two doctors—a dentist and a psychologist. They're pals, and both molest their patients. The dentist does it while they're gassed, and the shrink does it while they're hypnotized. The shrink considers himself a better breed, because, “You can't make someone do something under hypnosis they don't want to do.” The cover tagline describes this as being seduced, but the concept of seduction has nothing to do with this book at any point. Sleaze novels are usually pretty fun, with women often the main plot drivers, but then there's this kind too. Doctor's Dirty Tricks is a regressive male fantasy centered around helpless and insensate women. We'll take ours helpful and responsive. No thank you, Mr. McTiernan.

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Vintage Pulp May 16 2022
DEVIL OF A PROBLEM
Her situation is already bad, but as it unfolds it gets even worse.


A woman in a dire situation stars on this cover for Jack Leech's 1963 sleaze novel Satan's Daughters (interestingly, while Leech is credited as author on the outside, John Trimble gets credit inside, so take your pick). The artist here is Bill Edwards, and this is another foldout effort he painted for Europa Books. We love these things, but we wish there were more. As we mentioned previously, there are probably only five.

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Vintage Pulp May 14 2022
CLOSING TIME
Gosh, another broken down wreck of a man. Well, tonight I'm not being picky, so get your game face on, champ.


Georges Simenon was an incredibly prolific author who wrote two hundred books, starting at age seventeen, striking gold in 1931 when he invented the character of Inspector Jules Maigret. While he rode the honorable inspector like a sturdy horse for scores of outings, he also made the occasional splash with stand-alone books such as Four Days in a Lifetime, which you see above. It was originally published as Les Quatre Jours du pauvre homme in 1949, and is a tale narrated in two sections about lowly François Lecoin, who starts with little but achieves success via underhanded and amoral means. It's a rise and fall story, and a particularly turbulent one. The Signet edition came in 1953 with cover art by Stanley Zuckerberg.

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Vintage Pulp May 13 2022
TRUE, DETECTIVE
This club is boring. I think we should let a few criminals join.


Above: a cover for Le club des détectives from Librairie Hatchette, 1947. The author, credited here only as Berkeley, is British writer Anthony Berkeley and this is a translation of his 1929 novel The Poisioned Chocolates Case. Berkeley's franchise detective Roger Sheringham has an informal club called the Crimes Circle where he and several pals regularly examine cases unsolved by Scotland Yard and try to deduce a solution. It's all fun and games until Sheringham recieves a box of chocolates, but gives them away, leading to a club member's wife being poisoned to death. Sheringham also wrote as Francis Iles and A. Monmouth Platts, and published more than a dozen novels. Owing to the time period, those books don't generally have the type of art that attracts us, but this French cover caught our eye.

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Vintage Pulp May 11 2022
GILDA COMPLEX
She's okay when she's good but she's better when she's bad.


How could we not buy a book called Gilda? Rea Michaels' 1964 novel, with its uncredited art of a woman who looks like a burlesque dancer, is obviously not related to the classic film noir, but we figured anyone who'd appropriate the title probably wrote something interesting. Well, it's that, alright. Basically, a film director named Marc Sanders who drank away his career locates a good script and attempts a comeback, but there are several problems: the only financial backing he can garner comes from a gangster, he can't get a distribution deal, and he has creative differences with the screenwriter.

Then there's Gilda Moore, who has also fallen on hard times and convinces him to let her star in the movie. She's a sex addict and is almost guaranteed to sink Sanders' chance for professional redemption, but she's also inexpensive and talented. Can he actually make a good movie with a star who consumes male crewmembers like oatmeal cookies? Though Michaels is no literary wiz, everything she does here works, particularly the way she writes the film's mounting problems. Those reach absurd proportions, even to the extent of a location shoot causing a riot. On the negative side, Gilda is tame for a book that bills itself as sleaze, but that's okay—we've read far worse.
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Vintage Pulp May 10 2022
BAD DREAMS
Ever wake up but feel like you're still having a nightmare?


In vintage crime fiction getting the hero laid—or at least having the opportunity arise—is almost a mandatory requirement. The main character of Evan Hunter's, aka Ed McBain's, 1952 novel The Evil Sleep is a heroin addict who, at a certain point, has had cold and hot sweats all day long, hasn't showered, shaved, or brushed his teeth, yet manages to get laid by a clean, beautiful woman. This was a dead giveaway that she was shady, and dead giveaways in mysteries are something authors should avoid. Even so, The Evil Sleep is an interesting book. It's about a junkie who wakes up with a corpse, and must dodge the police, find the real murderer, and get a fix, or somehow keep his shit together without one. It was later published as So Nude, So Dead. The cover you see here, which is unattributed, came from an auction site. Our copy, which came cheap as part of a lot, is basically coverless. By which we mean the femme fatale was cut completely out, probably to end up as part of some high-school art student's collage that has long since gone to a landfill. Very naughty. If you want to buy this in good condition the price might run $400. That's even naughtier. 

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Vintage Pulp May 7 2022
YOU NEED ONLY AXE
Bad news, I lost the key. But before I was a kidnapper I was an orthopedic surgeon, so foot reattachment is no problem.


Above is another vibrant cover for Adam magazine, this one from May 1968, uncredited as always but painted by Phil Belbin or Jack Waugh. The pair did the bulk of the illustrations for the magazine, but it's not possible—for us, at least—to determine who was responsible for which pieces, because they worked in a similar style. On the occasions Belbin bothered signed something it wasn't only as himself—sometimes he signed as Duke, Pittsburgh, Humph, or Fillini. Waugh, as far as we know, was always Waugh. We've now uploaded more than seventy issues of Adam (we haven't done an actual count for a couple of years) and we'd say signatures appear on maybe one of every ten illustrations. Waugh's scrawl pops up here in the art for the H.M. Tolcher story, “Prize Sucker.”

The cover illustrates the Joachim Heinrich Woos story, “The Danger Behind,” which is is about a man walking through the woods at the exact moment some rural cops and a heavily armed posse are looking for men who robbed a bank. The robbers shot the guards and several police. Blinded by a lust for revenge, the mob mistakes the innocent hiker for one of the killers and chases him over hill and dale with the intent to end his life. He escapes by rowboat only to drift downriver and run into one of the real crooks, who's chained up a hostage and has bad ideas as well as an evil temperament. It's a decent story from Woos, who also wrote for Pocket Man, Argosy, Off Beat Detective Stories, Adventure, and Manhunt. We have thirty-three scans below.
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Vintage Pulp May 6 2022
THE OTHER HALF
Part of me really loves nature and solitude. But then part of me wants a frappuccino and a cheese danish.


Frisco Dougherty is back, and as impressed with himself as ever, if we judge by how many times he refers to himself in the third person. Last seen in 1951's Jewel of the Java Sea, he's still knocking around Indonesia in 1960's The Half-Caste, eternally seeking the big score that will earn him enough money to escape the tropics for San Francisco. His newest chance comes in the form of a trio of Americans who have arrived in Java to repatriate the bones of an anthropologist who died in the jungle. Dougherty suspects the coffin they plan to recover contains not a body, but a treasure, and formulates a complicated plan to steal whatever is inside. He follows the group into deepest Borneo, funded by the Wuch'ang crime cartel, who he also plans to betray.

There are two main positives to The Half-Caste. First, the exotic setting mixed with deep background concerning the Dutch East Indies evolving into an indepedent Indonesia influenced by a rising China is interesting; and second, the contents of the coffin are a clever surprise. Overall, though, we considered the book an unworthy sequel to Jewel of the Java Sea. Dougherty always verged on caricature, but now he's fully up that river. While still calculating, bigoted, chauvinistic, and pervy, he's bereft of charm, which used to be his saving grace. We suspect Cushman wanted to show how the tropics had decayed Dougherty's psyche since the first book, but he comes across too unsympathetic. It feels as if Cushman returned to the character unwillingly.

As for the half-caste of the title—Annalee, aka Sangra Brueger—she's one of the trio of coffin seekers, but because Dougherty spends nearly the entire book tracking the group from afar, she's barely in the narrative physically until the last forty pages. Dell Publications used Annalee's meager presence, with an assist from Robert McGinnis cover art, to lure readers, but it's a slight misrepresentation. The book is basically all Dougherty, along with his two male partners. During the era of good girl art there were nearly always women on paperback covers, no matter how flimsy the rationale, so you have to expect this sort of thing. We can't really complain, because certainly, the art is brilliant. We're happy to have it.
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Vintage Pulp May 3 2022
NURSED TO HEALTH
Just look at all of you—up and about and alert. You've really regained the will to live since I started.


Not only do the patients in the male ward look better lately—if they keep making this kind of progress they'll soon brawl over the nurse and be pronounced 100% normal. Physically, anyway. Obviously, you have superior cover work here, and that's because it was painted by Rudolph Belarski, one of the can't-miss illustrators of the mid-century era. He painted this one for Venus Books and Mitchell Coleman, aka William Neubauer, and the copyright is 1954. We have Belarski scattered throughout the website, particularly in men's magazines and cover collections, but to see a few interesting individual entries, you can go here, here, here, and here. Also, note that the patient in the foreground is holding a paperback. It's Sylvia Erskine's 1954 novel Nurses' Quarters, for which Belarski also painted the cover. How meta of him. Is that meta? Let's just call it self-referential.

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Next Page
History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
May 23
1934—Bonnie and Clyde Are Shot To Death
Outlaws Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who traveled the central United States during the Great Depression robbing banks, stores and gas stations, are ambushed and shot to death in Louisiana by a posse of six law officers. Officially, the autopsy report lists seventeen separate entrance wounds on Barrow and twenty-six on Parker, including several head shots on each. So numerous are the bullet holes that an undertaker claims to have difficulty embalming the bodies because they won't hold the embalming fluid.
May 22
1942—Ted Williams Enlists
Baseball player Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox enlists in the United States Marine Corps, where he undergoes flight training and eventually serves as a flight instructor in Pensacola, Florida. The years he lost to World War II (and later another year to the Korean War) considerably diminished his career baseball statistics, but even so, he is indisputably one of greatest players in the history of the sport.
May 21
1924—Leopold and Loeb Murder Bobby Franks
Two wealthy University of Chicago students named Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold, Jr. murder 14-year-old Bobby Franks, motivated by no other reason than to prove their intellectual superiority by committing a perfect crime. But the duo are caught and sentenced to life in prison. Their crime becomes known as a "thrill killing", and their story later inspires various works of art, including the 1929 play Rope by Patrick Hamilton, and Alfred Hitchcock's 1948 film of the same name.
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