He kills completely without reservation.
Noel Clad was a promising writer who died in a plane crash when he was thirty-seven. His novel The Savage shows some of that promise. It's about a professional killer named John Tree who's been summoned from his Wyoming ranch by the Chicago syndicate to go to New York City and dispose of an S. Harris. Like many fictional killers Tree has a code: he doesn't kill women. When he arrives in New York he learns that S. Harris is Susan Harris, which dismays him. Then the person who's bought the contract and is calling the shots tells Tree to rape Susan before killing her. Next he finds out she's a single mother with a mute five year-old son. None of it sits well with Tree, but it doesn't cause him to flip sides. He just wants out. He asks to be replaced on the job and be done with the situation. Out of sight, out of mind. His employers agree and send two replacement hired guns to do the job. Tree meets with them and realizes they have no ethics—they will rape their target, and they'll murder her son too.
There are hundreds if not thousands of regular mob hitmen in literature and cinema, so why not do something different? It shouldn't be a controversial idea, but sadly, so many these days consider it to be an assault on territory they own somehow. But diversification isn't a new thing. Clever writers have been doing it all along. Clad does it in The Savage. The killer for hire, the anti-hero John Tree, is full name John Running Tree, member of the Shoshone tribe, Native American by both blood and culture. That simple change takes the book in a different direction than other hitman tales. Here we have a killer who hates to think about his impoverished youth on a reservation, who glorifies Native American tests of manhood, and who sees a stripper wearing a tribal headdress as a prop and is angered. You get interesting passages like this:
Being here made him think of religion and how little he knew and the things that had passed for it when he was little: the spirits and the half-reverent amulets and charms. He remembered as he had not for years the lupine tea they drank for Manhood, remembered the girls on the Station eating mushrooms to see if my true love lies, and his own watching of wood smoke that twisted north when the hunting would be good. Even Tall Kite had no longer really believed in the thousand tribal spirits of the upland and the plain, the grass, the insects, the deer and the hawk. And God, in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was no more than the price of chocolate milk. But in this hall, he had a pleasant feeling, relaxed, as though he was on a mountain all by himself.
1958 this was written, with loads of identity angst, as if it were published yesterday. John Running Tree moves like a folkloric wraith through New York City and tries to prevent Susan's defilement and death. The transgressiveness of the rape angle surprised us, as did the plot point that Tree kills by wire garrotte (not rope, as shown on the cover), but those added to the stakes of a harrowing and austere tale. Are there negatives? A few. Clad loses his tight control over the narrative from the moment Susan realizes—as she must—that Tree isn't just a nice guy hanging about for fun. Clad later forces the usage of Shoshone pictograms into a scene where the child mutely communicates an important clue. It might have worked under the right conditions, but in this case defied credulity. Other authorial errors accrue. Even so, good book. We'd read Clad again.
A murder by any other name would kill as dead.
This is a rather pretty cover painted by Charles Copeland for E.M. Harper's 1960 novel The Assassin, the story of Alec Jordan, who's spared the guillotine in an Algerian prison but must repay the shadowy government operatives who freed him by murdering an Arab political figure. We've seen convicts turned into assassins a couple times in vintage literature. What sets this story apart is its many flashbacks to Jordan's youth, from the time he was witness to his moonshiner father's killing by cops, to being sprung from reform school to play high school football (seems someone always wants to put his skills to use), to his various war experiences.
The story begins in Paris, from which Jordan pursues his target to London and Vienna, world weary, haunted by the past, and hounded by the people who are operating him. There's, unsurprisingly, the requisite woman-from-his-past for whom he still has feelings—a beauty named Renée who married an Austrian count while Jordan was hors de combat. Conveniently, she's now a widow, but is reclaiming the past an option for Jordan? To survive but lose your soul, to resist corruption but be killed, to find redemption in love. You've read it before, and though Harper breaks no new ground plotwise, he wrote a contemplative iteration of the story that offers some enjoyment.
Listen, humans are a delicacy. They don't taste very good, but eating them is about status.
We wanted to revisit Dutch illustrator Piet Marée, whose style is so unusual it's very much worth another look. There's nothing biographical out there about him, as far as we can find. But we love his work. Een boodschap aan Garcia, which means, “a message to Garcia,” was written by Luc Willink, aka Lucas Willink, aka Clifford Semper, and published by Hague based Anker-Boekenclubin in 1950. How it relates to Elbert Hubbard's dramatized 1916 essay of the same name (which resulted in a 1936 Barbara Stanwyck movie) is unknown to us. We can tell you it's the same story—U.S. soldier Andrew S. Rowan carries a secret message from President William McKinley to Calixto García, a rebel hiding in the mountains of Cuba, before the Spanish American War. But the point here is Marée's art. We love it. We'll try to dig up more from him to share later.
If you don't get me out of here I'm a dead woman. The sheets are like sandpaper and the toilet has no seat.
Above is a cover painted by Bert Lannon for the 1948 novel Love Is a Surprise! by Faith Baldwin, a major author of romance flavored fiction who produced around one hundred books in a career than ran six decades, from 1921 to 1977. Lannon is a new illustrator for us. We like his style. The moment he's used for his illustration is also highlighted by editors in the intro page:
She stood in the prison cell, a steel bar in either hand, her face pressed against the metal. He bent his head, and before she could pull away, just managed to kiss her startled lips. “My fee,” he remarked – and went toward the waiting sheriff.
We haven't read Baldwin, but we expect we'll run into something of hers we want to check out eventually. In addition, some of her work was translated to the silver screen, resulting in such films as 1937's Portia on Trial and 1938's Men Are Such Fools. Lannon, conversely, doesn't seem to have been very prolific. There's a little gallery of his work at Flickr, which you can see at this link.
Maybe it's too soon to bring it up, but if you ever remarry maybe choose someone who isn't a Red Sox fan.
Awhile back we put together a small collection of vintage paperback covers featuring hanging figures. The above cover for Joseph Shearing's The Golden Violet is an addition to that group. Shearing was actually Margaret Gabrielle Vere Long, who earned acclaim writing numerous historical and gothic horror novels, with The Golden Violet part of the latter group. The cover on this Dell edition was painted by Barye Phillips. Side note: the Red Sox are going to miss the playoffs again, and they might even finish last. We're devastated—not. That's for you, Dan. With love, of course.
Cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good.
We enjoyed an excellent tale not long ago in John and Ward Hawkins' natural disaster thriller A Man, a River, and a Girl, which was also published as The Floods of Fear by Corgi Books, as you see above. The striking art on this edition is by John Richards. You can read more about the book here.
Horwitz Publications perfectly red the paperback market.
For a while we were tracking the possibly unlicensed usage by Australian imprint Horwitz Publications of celebrities on its paperback covers. We fell down on the job a bit. The last one we looked at was two years ago.
The red-haired model used above on Carter Brown's thriller No Halo for Hedy is Playboy centerfold and nightclub performer Colleen Farrington, who was the mother of actress Diane Lane. The book originally appeared in 1956, and the above reprint came in 1959. This photo used for the cover is rare. We've seen no other shot of Farrington in these capri pants. Presumably, at one point multiple frames from the session existed, but time disposes of such items. However, it can't diminish the beauty of this cover. You can see all of our Horwitz celeb covers by clicking here.
Revenge is a dish best served on land. Served at sea it might come back up the wrong way.
Mort Engle art fronts this Dell edition of Frank Kane's 1962 novel The Conspirators, the improbable tale of a tycoon named Howard Carter who takes an ill-fated yachting trip from New York City to the French Riviera and onward toward Crete and Turkey with his wife, lawyer, and various acquaintances. Carter is not a nice guy, while his guests are mainly sniveling, underhanded, and weak. Why then has he invited them onto his yacht? Good question. He plans to hold them helpless while the machinery of revenge churns. They tried to double-cross him on a land deal, which in reality was an elaborate loyalty test/entrapment he set up in the first place. He can't wait to see their faces when he reveals that they've profited nothing except maybe prison terms for embezzlement, and, stuck on the boat, they can do nothing to help themselves—except possibly beg for mercy.
But Carter hasn't considered that this disloyal crowd might fight back. They might, for example, knock him over the head and toss him overboard. We didn't blame them a bit for deep-sixing him. Carter is one of the meanest characters we've come across in fiction. There's an Ayn Randian shading to his portrayal, and you already know we hate Rand's objectivist horseshit. The land swindle was even over a parcel named Galt, just to make Kane's thinking clear. In any case, sending Carter over the side is not the end of the conspirators' problems, but we won't tell you more of the plot except to say that it's malarky. But Kane can write, so the story comes across mostly okay. We can't say we were enamored of him repeatedly describing one of the characters—a blonde woman—as “the snowtop.” That's just bizarre. But all authors have quirks. The Conspirators is an entertaining voyage.
It's you and me, baby, ’til death do us part. What's your name again?
Here's a quick quiz for you. Is the following passage from a crime novel or a romance? There was one truth between us, one truth that would never be untrue. Whatever this animal thing inside me was, there was something inside her that was a mate for it. I felt that nothing could ever change that. It had to be brought alive again. It had to live and burn its own fire and be electric with its own voltage.
Those lines are from Richard Himmel's 1950 thriller I'll Find You, aka It's Murder, Maguire, first in a series of books starring mobbed up Chicago lawyer Johnny Maguire. The passage illustrates something we've noted before—that crime novels and romance novels sometimes intersect. Fictional tough guys occasionally fall head over heels in love, and when they do, the prose describing that love—in some author's hands—can be as overwrought as what you'd find in any romance novel.
In this story, Maguire, who must be one of the dumbest smart characters in crime fiction, falls for a deceased friend's wife who later fakes her own suicide. While the police believe she's dead, he never buys it, and risks his career and safety to locate her. He finds her living under a new identity and refuses to let her get away from him again—which is exactly as stalkerish as it sounds, considering he barely knew her before she vanished. She eventually submits to his overbearing attentions, but sadly, malign actors may ruin their love story.
It's surprising to us that there was a sequel, but Himmel's crime-romance must have struck a nerve with the reading public. It didn't strike one with us, but we didn't dislike it. We felt that it was eye-rollingly saccharine, and we found Himmel's dialogue a bit stilted. On the plus side, Maguire is funny at times, and his friend-with-benefits relationship with a supporting character named Tina has the potential to be engaging, assuming she hangs around. We'll see what develops in book two.
I've studied organ rejection extensively. Trust me—mine is compatible with your body.
Yes, it's still more medical sleaze—1968's Second-Year Intern by Val Munroe, from Softcover Library with an uncredited cover. We told you we'll never run out of these, nor of stupid shit to say about them. Munroe, aka Frank Castle, wrote one of the better sleaze books of the 1950s in Carnival of Passion, which we discussed here. And here, actually. We'd love to see what he can do in a hospital setting, but with more than a hundred books to read, well, sometimes you have to say no.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1916—Rockefeller Breaks the Billion Barrier
American industrialist John D. Rockefeller becomes America's first billionaire. His Standard Oil Company had gained near total control of the U.S. petroleum market until being broken up by anti-trust legislators in 1911. Afterward, Rockefeller used his fortune mainly for philanthropy, and had a major effect on medicine, education, and scientific research.
1941—Williams Bats .406
Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox finishes the Major League Baseball season with a batting average of .406. He is the last player to bat .400 or better in a season.
1964—Warren Commission Issues Report
The Warren Commission, which had been convened to examine the circumstances of John F. Kennedy's assassination, releases its final report, which concludes that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed Kennedy. Today, up to 81% of Americans are troubled
by the official account of the assassination.
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