I am happy. You wanna see mad? Keep telling me to cheer up.
Charles Williams wrote more than twenty novels, and though the ones we've read have been good to serviceable, we were expecting eventually to come across an absolute winner. Hell Hath No Fury is that book. It was Williams' fourth novel, written in 1953, and features a tough drifter who becomes a used car salesman in a brokedick country town where he happens to notice bank security is lax. But robbing the bank is the mere entry point to all the problems he encounters. There's also a one-woman nightmare of a femme fatale, a shockingly adept sheriff, a filthy blackmailer, an irascible boss, and a sweet local beauty ripe for love. Williams uses the best line in the book on her:
I took her face in my hands and kissed her. And then they dynamited the dam.
There's no dam. That's just what the kiss does to him. And it's a brilliant pulp moment. A book like this screams for film adaptation, and it was eventually put onscreen in the form of 1990's The Hot Spot, with Don Johnson, Virginia Madsen, and a radiant Jennifer Connelly. We haven't watched the film, but it's on the slate. The only flaw to the book, besides the usual stuff general to 1950s crime fiction, is the title. The main character Harry Madox thinks he's rid himself of the femme fatale Dorothy Harshaw, but hell hath no fury. Those four words tell us she'll be back plenty mad and will have a say in how matters conclude. It takes a little of the suspense away. Otherwise, top notch.
I'm not judging you for being an easy lay, baby. I'm judging you for not letting me get any damn sleep.
This is a nice effort from illustrator Barye Phillips for John D. MacDonald's 1951 thriller Judge Me Not. Everything Phillips does is beautiful, of course, but we were particularly stuck by the pastel pinks and blues here. As for the writing, this is early John D., and the story concerns a burned out war vet having an affair with the mayor's wife in a small town, and the events set into motion when she turns up dead. We've been making our way through MacDonald's bibliography. His renown makes us sure we'll soon come across the book that truly thrills us, but this wasn't the one.
That famous southern hospitality must happen in some other part of the south.
Charles Williams' 1954 thriller Go Home, Stranger doesn't take place entirely at sea like fun efforts such as Dead Calm and Aground, but it does have an aquatic focus, with much of the action taking place in swamps and bayous along the Gulf Coast, as lead character Pete Reno tries to prove to the yokel police force that his famous actress sister didn't murder her husband. Though the cops aren't much help he finds an ally who doubles as a love interest. The Gulf feel is strong, the story is interesting, and the writing is typically solid, but this is not Williams at his best. Relegating the sister—who has the most at stake—to a mainly off-the-page role possibly saps the story of urgency. But of course middling Williams surpasses many thriller authors' best work. The cover art is by Barye Phillips, and its dark and moody nature illustrates the prose nicely. The copyright on this Gold Medal edition is 1963.
Traffic mishaps reach an all-time high.
Below, assorted paperback covers pairing mortal danger and automobiles, including many examples from France, where the theme was particularly popular. Thanks to all the original uploaders on these.
No, I really think you should run, Chico. True, you're just an amoral hustler, but people like that get elected now.
Obviously, Run, Chico, Run has nothing to do with running for office, but metaphorical running, as in trying to survive in a teen gang in Spanish Harlem. The lead character Francisco, aka Chico, yearns to escape the slums, and actually succeeds, at least for a time, by getting tossed into reform school. Four years later he's a changed man. Or is he? By hook or by crook, he finds himself being dragged back into his old life of street crime, and that isn't going to end well at all. No spoiler there, though—the book opens in court and tells the story of poor Chico's downfall working backward. Wenzell Brown wrote other novels in this vein, including Gang Girl, The Wicked Streets, and Teen-Age Mafia. Run, Chico, Run is 1953, with cover art from Barye Phillips. Another nice cover came with the 1960 re-issue, below, but that one's uncredited.
Lady, I just want to get laid. But the crazy way you're talking, I might as well go home to my wife.
Above, a pair of covers from Barye Phillips for H. Vernor Dixon's To Hell Together. The first edition is from 1951, and as a Gold Medal Giant is about twice the length of the average mid-century paperback thriller, more than 100,000 words. The reprint came in 1959, and you'll notice it's an uncensored abridgement. Which means they cut it but kept the dirty parts in. And people say short attention spans are a new phenomenon.
Age is just a number—a prison sentence is real.
The cover blurb on this 1957 Crest paperback for Gil Brewer's Little Tramp is a case of false advertising. The femme fatale is not jail bait—she's eighteen. Which might make involvement with her a case of bad judgment, but not one of illegality. An important detail, that. But even if young Arlene isn't jail bait, she still might be the reason the down-on-his-luck protagonist Gary Dunn goes to prison. She's decided to stage her own kidnapping to pry money from her rich father, and has set Dunn up to look like the perpetrator. The scheme goes wrong when a sleazy private investigator decides to use the scam to kidnap Arlene for real. This is typical Brewer—an everyman finds himself in over his head with a woman. The art however, is not typical. It's first rate stuff, painted by the always great Barye Phillips for Fawcett-Crest in 1957.
No, I'm not going out. I just thought you'd feel better about me taking your money if I formalized the process.
Above, Barye Phillips cover art for Mike Skelly's Halo for a Heel, 1952, from Red Seal Books. This one is about a crooked big city mayor named Danny Dolan, and the subject matter is why the cover appealed to us. Strip away all the trappings and ceremony and we think this is a fairly accurate representation of what politicians in the U.S. really do.
My life has gone horribly wrong, but at least I still have my digni— Oh, great. My fly was open this whole time, wasn't it?
In David Goodis' 1954 thriller Street of No Return, a down-on-his luck nobody named Whitey, who had been a great singer years ago only to lose his voice, career, and sobriety—thanks to a dame, of course—finds that even for a man at rock bottom things can get worse. And it involves something more serious than discovering his fly is open, though that would be funny. What happens is an impulsive act of compassion drags him into a pit of murder and corruption, set against the backdrop of Puerto Ricans-vs-cops race riots in Philadelphia. There are plenty of reviews of this online, so for details just look around. This one caught our eye because of the intricate and gritty cover art, yet another top effort from Barye Phillips.
This is my disappointed face. You know why I'm making this face? Because I'm fucking disappointed is why.
Originally written by the mysterious B. Traven and published in 1927, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre appeared in the above Pocket Books version in 1948 with Barye Phillips on the cover chores. We have to say, he did a bang-up job capturing Bogart's world weary mug. You already know the story in this book: lust for riches lays a greedy man low. But it's a particularly good riff on that theme. A highly recommended read.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1911—Team Reaches South Pole
Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, along with his team Olav Bjaaland, Helmer Hanssen, Sverre Hassel, and Oscar Wisting, becomes the first person to reach the South Pole. After a celebrated career, Amundsen eventually disappears in 1928 while returning from a search and rescue flight at the North Pole. His body is never found.
1944—Velez Commits Suicide
Mexican actress Lupe Velez, who was considered one of the great beauties
of her day, commits suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. In her note, Velez says she did it to avoid bringing shame on her unborn child by giving birth to him out of wedlock, but many Hollywood historians believe bipolar disorder was the actual cause. The event inspired a 1965 Andy Warhol film entitled Lupe
1958—Gordo the Monkey Lost After Space Flight
After a fifteen minute flight into space on a Jupiter AM-13 rocket, a monkey named Gordo splashes down in the South Pacific but is lost after his capsule sinks. The incident sparks angry protests from the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, but NASA says animals are needed for such tests.
1968—Tallulah Bankhead Dies
American actress, talk show host, and party girl
Tallulah Bankhead, who was fond of turning cartwheels in a dress without underwear and once made an entrance to a party without a stitch of clothing on, dies in St. Luke's Hospital in New York City of double pneumonia complicated by emphysema.
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