Vintage Pulp Jan 12 2019
INNOCENT UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY
Do you find people disagreeable? Maybe it's you that's the problem.


This Ron Lesser cover for John D. MacDonald's Pale Gray for Guilt is a variation on the one we posted years back. Yes, we keep reading these MacDonald books even though we complain about the author, but we have no problem with the writing itself—the guy was named a Grandmaster of the Mystery Writers of America, after all. He can certainly write, his plots are usually engrossing, and his characters are interesting. All good. But to an extent we also read him for the same reason some people watch cable news—i.e. to disagree with his opinions. We think the ’60s and ’70s counterculture brought about important, positive, and long overdue changes to society. MacDonald is basically counter-counterculture.

Years back we developed an aphorism, which we became known for among our friends: The moment you make a generalization about any group of people, the living contradiction to that generalization will be nearby to make you look like a fool. MacDonald's franchise character Travis McGee has met his share of people and has scathing views of various groups. We don't mean ethnically or gender-wise, but more esoterically. He'll put down all people who see psychiatrists, or all people who waterski, or all people who vacation in Palm Springs. He finds various categories of humans tedious, save for the few that meet his lofty standards and in so doing serve as proof of his own excellent taste.

The Heisenberg Uncertainly Principle states that the more accurately you measure the velocity of a particle the less accurately you can measure its position, and vice versa. Which is to say any energy you use to pinpoint position will alter a particle's velocity simply by impacting it, and the reverse is true. In human relations, some people tend to alter those they meet. Nice people may cause disagreeable people to temporarily behave a bit nicer; disagreeable people may make normally nice people behave disagreeably. To a disagreeable person, then, it seems as if lots of people are disagreeable.

In Pale Gray for Guilt the disagreeable Travis McGee is focused on avenging the murder of one of his best friends, which seems to have come about due to a refusal to sell waterfront acreage to a large development corporation. McGee manages to buy the land himself, thus bringing the villains out of woodwork to wrest it from him. The story takes a curiously long time to develop, gets overly deep into the minutiae of stock trading, and contains virtually no action, so we imagine this is one of the less liked entries in the McGee series. Yet it's still very readable, which just goes to show what raw writing skill can do.

We finally used the internet for something useful and solved this MacDonald problem—we simply looked up some lists of his best books. Based on the consensus that emerged from his fans (who by the way seem to agree that the McGee series is not as good as his earlier standalone novels), we're going to read Dead Low Tide, Soft Touch, Deadly Welcome, The Executioners (made into the film Cape Fear), and The Drowner. Those seem to be the books people really like, and as a bonus they're all cheap to buy.

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Vintage Pulp May 9 2011
SQUEEZE PLAY
Not so tight sweetie—I just ate eggs.

Margaret Millar was a respected writer who won the Mystery Writers of America's Grand Master Award in 1983, and happened to be the wife of acclaimed pulp author Ross MacDonald, aka Kenneth Millar. The air she has in mind here isn’t a physical thing, but rather the emotions of guilt and suspicion. Still though, it’s kind of a funny title, because when you consider how married couples get after a few decades together, it’s easy to imagine old Ross’s reaction every time Margaret let one slip. He probably smirked and said, “Jesus, there really is an air that kills.”

Anyway, the book is a mystery in which a married couple’s seemingly stable existence is rocked when the wife reveals that she’s pregnant with another man’s baby. That man soon turns up dead, drowned in his car at the bottom of a lake. However, this isn’t a straightforward puzzler. There are elements of melodrama, and the plot is stretched out over an extended period as we see the couple split and begin to live separate lives. But of course the mystery underpins everything, eventually circling back to center upon the woman’s new child.

An Air that Kills is considered by some to be Millar’s best work, and indeed Millar herself is considered by many critics to be a better writer than her husband. She estbalisher herself a writer before her husband, though that doesn't seem to be as widely known as it probably should. In terms of writerly skill, we aren’t really qualified to make that comparison, but we’re sure it made for some interesting discussions at the MacDonald/Millar dinner table. We highly recommend this book. 

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Vintage Pulp Dec 11 2009
NO MUSS, NO FUSS
Not the hair! Not the hair!

Mignonette Eberhart was an acclaimed mid-century crime writer who was the first to create a female sleuth, which she did in her book The Patient in Room 18. This was a year before Agatha Christie created her immortal sleuth Jane Marple in Murder at the Vicarage. Eberhart soon veered away from pure whodunits and into romance-mysteries that usually centered on good women involved with bad men. The tagline of 1940’s The Hangman’s Whip—“Death is quicker than divorce”—gets that idea across succinctly. It was in these writings that Eberhart flourished, becoming internationally known and highly paid. She authored fifty-nine books, six of which were adapted to film, along with three of her short stories, and in 1971 she earned the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award. Eberhart died in 1996, but she changed the romance genre and entertained millions while doing it. Her books—including The Hangman’s Whip—remain widely available.      

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Modern Pulp Jun 24 2009
EARTH ANGEL
Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Above is the promo art for the June 24, 1987 Japanese premiere of Alan Parker’s supernatural thriller Angel Heart, a movie that happens to be one of our favorites around here. It’s based upon a novel by William Hjortsberg. That novel, a brilliant channeling of Hammett and Chandler titled Falling Angel, was nominated for an Edgar by the Mystery Writers of America. The film version is dark, violent, sexual, and unflinching. Most of the action was transplanted to New Orleans in place of the book’s New York setting, and that decision gave the film an ominous backdrop of jazz, rain, voodoo, bayou, and shadows, with a desperate protagonist wandering virtually lost in the center of it all.

When the film opened in the U.S. reviewers were impressed with the visual tapestry Alan Parker had constructed, but quite a few were unhappy with both Lisa Bonet’s sexually charged role and the lack of sympathetic characters in the narrative. But this is another of those films that has staying power. Mickey Rourke is brilliant as the rumpled detective Harry Angel, Bonet manages a brave performance in a difficult role, and Robert DeNiro is oily and secretly amused as Louis Cyphre, the client who knows so much more than he’s telling. In fact, if not for an almost ruinous special effects misstep in the final minutes, we’d call this movie a perfect piece of pulp cinema. But even with that one colossal error, this kind of hellride doesn’t come along often, which is why we appreciate it as a rare gem, now twenty-two years old.

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Vintage Pulp Jun 9 2009
ONCE AROUND THE BLOCK
Another master crime novelist writes sex books to make ends meet.

Here we have another heavyweight author earning extra nickels under the guise of a pseudonym. This time it’s crime thriller icon Lawrence Block, who’s won four Shamus Awards, three Edgars, seen his novels 8 Million Ways To Die, The Campus Tramp and Deadly Honeymoon made into films of varying quality, and who wrote the screenplay for the recent critically acclaimed film My Blueberry Nights.

But it was as Sheldon Lord that he really let his hair down, penning salacious books like Stud, left, as well as the lesbian themed tales below. He also flaunted his utter immunity to writer’s block by publishing fiction under the names Jill Emerson, Chip Harrison, Paul Kavanaugh, William Ard, and Andrew Shaw. Quite an output. Maybe when Block wrote Stud he was thinking about himself.

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Intl. Notebook Jan 1 2009
WILD WESTLAKE
One of the most prolific thriller writers ever dies.

Novelist and screenwriter Donald Westlake died Friday of a heart attack at age 75. Westlake who began publishing in 1960, wrote more than 100 books under his name and several pseudonyms. He won three Edgar awards from the Mystery Writers of America, and his screenplay of Jim Thompson’s novel The Grifters earned him an Academy Award nomination. Fifteen of his novels were adapted to film, including 1972’s The Hot Rock, with Robert Redford, and 1999’s Payback, with Mel Gibson.

Like many pulp authors, Westlake wrote a few erotica novels, these under the pen name Alan Marshall. Curiously, a visit to Westlake’s official website finds no mention of Marshall, which we count as an official disavowal. Nevertheless, you see an Alan Marshall cover below. Westlake said he published under so many names because it would have been unbelievable that one person wrote so much. His feverish output will continue even after death—his latest novel Get Real is due to be published in April.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
January 22
1946—CIA Forerunner Created
U.S. president Harry S. Truman establishes the Central Intelligence Group or CIG, an interim authority that lasts until the Central Intelligence Agency is established in September of 1947.
1957—George Metesky Is Arrested
The New York City "Mad Bomber," a man named George P. Metesky, is arrested in Waterbury, Connecticut and charged with planting more than 30 bombs. Metesky was angry about events surrounding a workplace injury suffered years earlier. Of the thirty-three known bombs he planted, twenty-two exploded, injuring fifteen people. He was apprehended based on an early use of offender profiling and because of clues given in letters he wrote to a newspaper. At trial he was found legally insane and committed to a state mental hospital.
January 21
1950—Alger Hiss Is Convicted of Perjury
American lawyer Alger Hiss is convicted of perjury in connection with an investigation by the House unAmerican Activities Committee (HUAC), at which he was questioned about being a Soviet spy. Hiss served forty-four months in prison. Hiss maintained his innocence and fought his perjury conviction until his death in 1996 at age 92.
1977—Carter Pardons War Fugitives
U.S. President Jimmy Carter pardons nearly all of the country's Vietnam War draft evaders, many of whom had emigrated to Canada. He had made the pardon pledge during his election campaign, and he fulfilled his promise the day after he took office.
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