Jack Finney's alien invasion novel is filled with close encounters of the worst kind.
This paperback cover was painted by John McDermott, and it's iconic, as is Jack Finney's novel The Body Snatchers. You know the story. Aliens come from space in the form of pods that grow into exact duplicates of humans, who are replaced and dissolved into dust. Finney deftly blends sci-fi and horror, and the result is great—simply put. As with many macabre tales, the fear factor subsides somewhat once the monsters move from the shadows to center stage, but it's still very good even after that point.
The Body Snatchers became a movie in 1956, 1978, 1993, and 2007. The ’56 Don Siegel version is famously considered by many to be a direct Cold War allegory, and is the best of the quartet of adaptations, but the ’78 iteration is damned good too. In terms of metaphor, the book is less about the Cold War and more clearly about the overall loss of freedom in American society. Finney would probably be a bit dismayed about how—other than the freedom to buy things—that process continues to accelerate.
The novel originally appeared in 1955 as a serial in Colliers Magazine, with this Dell edition coming the same year. The cover artist McDermott is someone we've featured before, and if you're curious you can see more of his nice work here and here. Some book dealers actually try to sell this edition for $100, if you can believe that. Money snatchers is more like it. Buy a cheap new edition, read it, and enjoy it.
I want to rob the Egyptian Museum as bad as anyone, but I don't think a mummy disguise is the answer!
Above, an alternate cover for Donald Hamilton's Night Walker, from Dell Publications. We already showed you a 1964 edition from Fawcett Publications. This is the 1954 first edition paperback, with a cover painted by Carl Bobertz. The male character, by the way, is in disguise, but not as a mummy. Just want to make sure you don't go stampeding to get the book expecting anthropological intrigue. You can read what we wrote about it here.
Legendary thief plays cat and mouse on the French Riviera.
One of our favorite fiction tricks is the hero who has no idea a beautiful pest loves him. In David Dodge's To Catch a Thief the technique is used to good effect as readers are treated to a fun tale about a retired jewel thief known as Le Chat (the Cat) who'll be thrown in a French prison on general suspicion unless he catches an imitator who's robbing one percenters all over the French Riviera. Dodge is a rock solid storyteller, not the type of artisan to win literary prizes, but one to keep you turning pages at a rapid clip, and he's great here as usual. The art on this 1953 edition from Dell Publications is by Mike Ludlow, and even though the bikini clad cover figure for some reason is depicted on a piney lakeshore rather than the beach at Cannes, the image is still a nice match for Dodge's urbane, sun-drenched, Mediterranean mystery. Highly recommended.
There's an actual iron maiden down here. Looking at it, I admit it's an unduly harsh thing to call you when I'm angry.
As you know by now, we're often drawn to books by the covers, and John Dickson Carr's Hag's Nook attracted us because of the instantly recognizable art by Robert Stanley. Well, you can't win them all. This is a gothic mystery featuring Dr. Gideon Fell, who would appear in more than twenty other novels. Fell is unique in crime lit. He's obese and gets around on two canes—which is actually a pretty good description of the book's plot. Carr would go on to become a legendary writer of golden age mysteries, so we don't doubt for a moment that he penned numerous excellent tales, but this early effort—1933 originally, with this Dell edition appearing in 1951—didn't get it done for us. What did get it done for us, though, is the dungeon feel of Stanley's cover art. He's one of the good ones. We remember the blog Pop Sensation once described his work as "rich and creamy," which was descriptively on the nose, we think. Check for yourself here and here.
That was amazing when you started moaning, “Jack, Jack,” right at the end. My name's Robert, by the way.
Above, a George Erickson cover for The Strangers, by William E. Wilson, copyright 1955. The book concerns a man, his dissatisfied wife, and the love triangle that results, which sounds like solid sleaze, but this is actually literary fiction from a serious author. Wilson became known as an anti-racism voice during his day. His first novel, Crescent City, is focused on the Ku Klux Klan, and one of his noted works is the autobiographical essay, “Long, Hot Summer in Indiana,” set during 1924, when the Klan was ascendant. The Stranger wasn't rapturously received, but we think Wilson is a good writer, so we may check out Crescent City. If we do, we'll report back.
We decided our immigration procedures weren't cruel enough, so we've made a few changes.
Robert Stanley does his usual expert job on the cover action and Robert Parker—not Robert B. Parker, but a different author who wrote only three novels—provides the narrative for Passport to Peril. The art here depicts the impending torture of a character named Countess Orlovska, and things get pretty uncomfortable for her. They get even worse for the protagonist John Stoddard. He'd merely intended to travel from A to B for personal reasons. Instead he gets tangled up in espionage when he purchases a false passport he assumes bears a made-up identity, but which actually belonged to a missing-presumed-dead spy. The spy's associates soon come calling. Considering the increased focus on immigration in many western nations, we saw this not only as a spy story but also as a saga about a privileged westerner ironically caught in a migratory wringer. Set in Budapest with all the Cold War intrigue the background suggests, this is pretty entertaining stuff from Parker. It originally appeared in 1951, with this Dell edition coming in 1952.
Listen, lady! There's two of us and only one goat on this island! We're going to have to come to an agreement!
No, this cover for William Fuller's 1954 thriller Goat Island is not a duplicate of yesterday's. It's a similar piece painted by the great same artist—George Gross. On both fronts you have the dark-haired femme fatale, the open white shirt, the seated position, the nearby tree, the shack in the distance, and a general backwoods mood. If you must copy, copy yourself. In terms of content the book falls into the category of South Florida detective yarns, a sub-genre scores of writers have found profitable over the decades. It's the second book featuring Fuller's franchise detective Brad Dolan. In 1957 Ace Books republished it with the art redone by John Vernon, which you see below. Yes, they're different. Look closely. Vernon's signature appears at the extreme bottom right, whereas Gross's is absent at top. Duplicating covers was common during the mid-century paperback era but we've rarely seen an artist as accomplished as Vernon given the task. Both covers are good, but Gross gets the nod of quality for only copying himself.
Man, I've really got the munchies. Kinda wanna murder a bunch of people too.
Measured by pennies per word William Irish's, aka Cornell Woolrich's 1941 drug scare classic Marihuana is one of the most expensive paperbacks you'll ever come across. The Dell edition you see here with iconic cover art by Bill Fleming could cost you over $100 for its sixty-four pages. It's the story of King Turner, who goes slumming in Hell's Kitchen and smokes a joint that sets him off on a murderous rampage. Best passage:
“You don't reason with a hooded cobra or a hydrophobic dog or a time bomb. You can't.”
That is frickin' hilarious. In case you're wondering, hydrophobia is rabies. Well, one thing is correct—you can't reason with people who are stoned. But instead of trying to stop them from hurting someone, you try to tell them strawberry jelly on Saltines is a bad solution for the munchies. Marihuana makes its point of view abundantly clear: weed bad, and don't be shocked when your life goes down the commode. You've been warned.
I'm not usually a quitter! But right now! I'm considering! Going back! To delivering pizzas!
And speaking of trains, above you see the cover of Lawrence G. Blochman's novel of foreign intrigue Bombay Mail, a murder mystery set in India and staged on a Calcutta to Bombay mail train. The lead character isn't actually a postal worker, but rather an investigator, Leonidas Prike of the British C.I.D., also known as the Criminal Investigation Department. This was Blochman's debut, originally appearing in hardback in 1934, which was the same year another celebrated trainbound mystery—Murder on the Orient Express—was published.
About that copyright date, by the way. Nearly every place you look will have Bombay Mail listed as arriving in 1934, but it may have appeared, at least in limited form, in 1933. We deduced this because the movie Bombay Mail, which was based on the novel, premiered in the U.S. in January 1934. We have a hard time imagining a debut novelist selling his book to movies before it hit the stores, so 1933 might be the actual publication date. One thing we're sure about, though, is this Dell mapback edition arrived in 1943, and the art is by Robert Stanley.
My colleagues would be shocked if they knew the perverse pleasure I take in not washing my hands.
Does he go naked under his smock? Does he prefer Merlot over Syrah? What exactly is the doctor hiding? His secret is—spoiler alert!—he isn't really a doctor. Gerbrand was a year from finishing medical school when World War II swept him up and he found himself serving as a Wehrmacht medic, first in battle, and later in concentration camps. That's a serious secret. We were thinking about other terrible secrets doctors could have. If we were being treated by Gerbrand, here are five more things we'd hate to discover.
He took the Hippocratic Oath with his fingers crossed.
He gets a bizarre sexual thrill from giving injections.
No matter what time your appointment is he has his receptionist let you in an hour later.
During chest surgery he squeezes patients' hearts and makes quacking noises.
He knows exactly where Hitler's other ball is.
Anyway, during the war Gerbrand learns everything a real doctor would, and then some. When peace comes he lands a job as a surgeon in West Germany, becomes known and respected, and has romantic liaisons with upper crusty women. But his secret will come out and when it does he'll be in trouble bigtime. We won't tell you how it turns out, because that would require a second spoiler alert, and one per write-up is our limit. The book was originally published in 1955 as Without Sanction, and this retitled Dell paperback came in 1959 with cover art by James Hill.
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