Vintage Pulp Jan 30 2018
A LITTLE INSURANCE POLICY
Oh, I need the gun, trust me. You'd be surprised how people react when I deny their coverage.


There are more than a few gun toting insurance investigators in mid-century literature, and they tend to be as tough as any regular private eye or cop. In Cleve F. Adams' thriller What Price Murder insurance stud Steve McCloud is tasked with recovering a fortune in stolen diamonds insured by his company West Coast Indemnity. Along the way he deals with crooks, cops, and assorted women, including one named Kay Mercedes—which we think is one of the better handles for a femme fatale. Originally published in 1942, Popular Library issued this paperback version in 1952 with highly effective cover art by Sam Cherry.  

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Vintage Pulp Dec 20 2017
BLUES BROTHER
Geez, everyone's a damn critic. I mean, look around. I play the blues for a reason.


Chicago based author William Attaway's Blood on the Forge is another of those highly serious literary novels that got the good-girl-art cover treatment. Numerous previously published authors were repackaged in this way during the 1950s. We're talking everyone from George Orwell to Aristarchus of Samos. This Popular Library edition is from the heyday of the makeover era—1953—but the book first appeared in 1941. It's about African American sharecroppers during the early twentieth century leaving their agrarian existence in Kentucky and heading to West Virginia, where they seek better lives and something closer to equality (the rear cover says Pennsylvania, but that happens much later in the story). This era is known historically as the Great Migration, when a lot of blacks got the hell out of the South and the increasingly vicious Jim Crow culture that thrived after slavery. The characters in Blood on the Forge find, like most real life migrants did, that the North is also unfair and difficult.

The cover art isn't as much of a stretch as it often is with these pulped up versions. The guitar player is Melody Moss, a major character, and the woman is Anna, who in the narrative is a Mexican girl of fourteen, but is depicted as well above the age of consent here. It's a pretty nice piece of art, though by an unknown (Ray Johnson? Owen Kampen?). As for the actual fiction, it was neglected for decades but it's now considered a literary classic and Attaway is recognized as an important figure of the Black Chicago Renaissance. Fitting, because Attaway was a real Renaissance man. He stopped writing novels after Blood on the Forge and moved into music and writing screenplays for radio, films, and TV. In 1957 he published the Calypso Song Book, a compendium of tunes he had collected. He also wrote for Harry Belafonte, including the classic "Banana Boat Song (Day O).” By the end of his career he had penned over 500 songs. You have to be impressed. 

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Vintage Pulp Nov 26 2017
HER CUP RUNNETH OVER
Sure, you can get a hot coffee—right in your lap if you don't get your meathooks off me


Rudolph Belarski once again shows his unique painterly skill on this cover for Mamie Brandon by Jack Sheridan. The book, which first appeared in 1949 in England, deals with Mamie Thomas, who runs a roadhouse in desolate central California. She becomes Mamie Brandon when she marries an older man for security, but quickly finds when an old flame reappears in town that money doesn't satisfy all her needs. You know the drill—attraction, infidelity, death. This Popular Library edition has two copyrights. The first date is listed as 1950 “by arrangement with the author,” but a second date specifies January, 1951. Since the book is slightly abridged, according to the editors, maybe the two copyrights make sense somehow.

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Vintage Pulp Sep 9 2017
GONE BABY GONE
Tallman takes readers on a wild trip to Mexico.


Colorado born writer Robert Tallman achieved his first true recognition from 1947 to 1949 writing the weekly radio program The Adventures of Sam Spade. He went to Acapulco on vacation, ended up staying a year, and that idyll inspired his first novel, 1950's Adios O'Shaughnessy, about a collection of bizarre characters who've fetched up in a fictional Mexican town called Pollo Sabroso. Besides the title character, there's the raven haired beauty Gloria Blackman (described as a blonde in the rear cover blurb either by mistake or for marketing purposes), the young Mexican hunk Manuel Mendoza, and a black child named Miguelito who wanders the town—for reasons we can't discern—naked. It's the precocious Miguelito who provides the title of the book when he notices O'Shaughnessy looks like Robert Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips.

The plot of the book is barely discernible, but partly involves a fishing boat and the various characters who covet it. Some want to fish in it, while others have more political aims that ultimately lead to deadly violence. The book worked for us not because of its plot, but because of its depiction of gringos cast adrift in Latin America. Despite the serious subject matter, Tallman's writing is ornate and often lighthearted. For example: “Ramirez, acquainted with the eellike elusiveness of this class of quarry, grabbed him by the most convenient handle, the baggy seat of his pants. There was an ominous sound of ripping fabric, and the disaster resulting was such that the poor witness, in all modesty, could not now walk upon the streets.”

Here's another nifty passage that gives an even better sense of Tallman's style: “Had a goddess leaped forth from the limpid, luminous swells, he would not have been altogether astonished. What did leap forth was much more unlikely. A slim, small-breasted woman with a face like an ecstatic mask, legs as long as a fashion drawing, and with the graceful bather's especial gift of emerging from the water without seeming wet: this is what he saw before he realized it was Ella Praline, stark naked, running up the beach pursued by a naked boy who resembled a faun in more ways than one.” Pretty cool, that whole sequence, though it ends rather weirdly for poor Ella.

In fact the whole novel is weird, and while it takes its time coming together, it eventually reveals itself to be good entertainment for those who don't mind fiction that's more influenced by Graham Greene than by Dashiell Hammett. Also, it spoke to us on a personal level because, like Tallman, we threw caution to the wind and moved abroad—to Guatemala not Mexico. Tallman captures the drinking, the fighting, the skinny dipping, the random stupidity, the constant undercurrent of danger, the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the beautiful women who pass through for days or weeks to turn the town upside down, and, most of all, the odd personalities who think all of this is the best possible way to live. We count ourselves among them. Whatever else one thinks of Adios O'Shaughnessy it has the feel of the real thing.
 
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Vintage Pulp Sep 2 2017
GRAPES OF WRATH
Okay, I take it back—you don't hit like a girl.


Above you see a great Sam Peffer cover for Jonathan Latimer's Solomon's Vineyard, originally published in 1941, and banned in the U.S. until 1988. We could go into why it was blacklisted, but as always it doesn't really matter, because save for a brief mention of underage sex the book is not racy by today's standards. Its best quality is not sexual innuendo anyway, but toughness. To give you an example, we'll transcribe one of its many interesting scenes. The main character Karl Craven—a burly ex-football player-turned-private detective—becomes upset at the layered deceptions he's had to deal with and finally loses his temper:

I grabbed her by the arms and shook her. Her false teeth fell out and rolled across the carpet. [snip] I started into the parlour, but a thin man in shirtsleeves was in the way. I hit him and he went down. In the parlour the blonde who'd slugged me with the lamp began to scream. She thought I was coming for her. I went to the big radio in the corner. I picked it up, tearing out the plug, and tossed it across the room. It shattered against the wall. I kicked over a table with two lamps on it. I tore some of the fabric off a davenport. I threw a chair at a big oil painting over the fireplace. I took a metal stand lamp and bent it up like a pretzel. I pulled up the oriental rug and ripped it down the middle.


That's going berserk like you mean it. We won't bother with a long plot summary since you can find those all over the internet, but basically the protagonist is hired to spring a woman from a cult and finds himself neck deep in corpse worship, hidden treasure, police corruption, and sado-masochism. The book is reasonably well written, very hard boiled, and built around a set of unlikely characters—including a femme fatale known by all as “The Princess.” Great Pan published it in 1961, and it had an alternate cover which you also see here. It was re-issued several times after its debut—including by Popular Library as The Fifth Grave—which means it isn't hard to find. We recommend you give it a read. 

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Vintage Pulp Aug 29 2017
CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
It wasn't me! I swear! You want the goth chick in 4D!


Rudolph Belarski has some of the most recognizable artistic output of the mid-century period. This is his work on the front of the 1949 Popular Library edition of Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's The Death Wish, which first appeared in hardback in 1935. In the plot, it's actually two men wishing to be free of their marriages that starts all the trouble. The women are potential victims, though not wholly sympathetic ones. Do you wish you could read something convoluted and at times verging on the ridiculous? Congrats—this may be it. Still, it's a good book. Holding's rep as one of the top suspense writers of her period was deserved. 

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Vintage Pulp Aug 22 2017
WHATEVER IT TAKES
Tell you what—no-strings-attached sex, plus a twelve pack, and I'll order pizza. Now do you wanna come over?

Above, James Howard's I'll Get You Yet, 1954 from Popular Library's sub-imprint Eagle Books, with art by an unknown generally suspected to be Ray Johnson or Owen Kampen. The cover wraps around, and the rear gives you the gist of the plot, which involves a man trying to defend a woman and her sister from organized crime baddies. Regarding the art, we think Johnson is the more likely perpetrator, though we may never have an official answer. But you can see why we're guessing Johnson by taking a look at another of his pieces here. See if you don't agree there's a strong stylistic similarity. Also, this uncredited cover is definitely the same artist. Johnson too? We suspect so.

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Vintage Pulp Aug 18 2017
ANGER MANAGEMENT
A rage to love? Right now I'd welcome a mild interest in cleaning up after yourself.


This is a nice piece of uncredited art fronting Frank Tilsley's A Rage Love, his second of numerous novels, this one dealing with a cruel and ambitious man named Jimmy Magnall, who's fresh out of the army in 1919 and eager to pluck the world's plump fruit for his enjoyment, and who uses women in his climb from slummy Birmingham roots to the top of the London class pyramid. He rides high for some years, but of course eventually loses all he has, including the women, and enlists right back in the army at the beginning of World War II. These are especially interesting bookends for the character because the author Tilsley was bothered by having been too young to fight in World War I and too old to enlist for combat in World War II, so engineering Jimmy Magnall into both wars may be a case of living vicariously. The book was originally published in 1953 as The Fortunate Man and was well reviewed in most quarters. We would love to know who painted the cover art, but no such luck. 1959 copyright on this Popular Library edition.

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Vintage Pulp Apr 30 2017
LONG TIME COMING
Hello there, my dear. Guess what today is.


That look right there. That's the one you never want to see on someone's face, because even if they aren't actually going to kill you, they're for sure thinking about it. In Dana Chambers' Someday I'll Kill You, the heroine Lisa is targeted by a blackmailer who threatens to pin an accidental death on her as murder if she doesn't pony up a hundred grand. She summons help to her enclave in the Connecticut countryside in the form of a rugged pilot and former lover with the unlikely name Jim Steele. He's reluctant to get involved because Lisa jilted him after a Caribbean idyll and married a wealthy psychiatrist. But he can't resist—and really, how can he when asked by “a long-legged, slim-hipped Diana with—startlingly and unforgettably—the breasts of Venus.”? The story unfolds from his perspective—partly obscured by the aforementioned Venusian breasts—as blackmail leads to murder, first thought to be a case of mistaken identity, then understood to be part of the plan. Steele sets about trying to unravel the scheme and to somehow insert himself back into Lisa's bed. Chambers, aka Albert Leffingwell originally published this in hardback in 1939, with the Popular Library paperback edition you see above coming in ’53. There's considerable online debate about who painted the cover art, but for now it remains in the unknown bin. 

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Vintage Pulp Apr 28 2017
CROWD PLEASER
Just stay over there a minute. I want you to get the full effect of this awesome pose.


In Evan Hunter's 1954 novel Don't Crowd Me an NYC advertising copywriter seeks tranquility in the lake region but instead finds himself encountering two sisters with very different temperaments who both seem to find him irresistible. Then, of course, there's a murder to spoil everything, and it looks like he's the only one who can solve it. The plot may sound improbable, but Hunter, born Salvatore Albert Lombino, was better known by his pseudonym Ed McBain, which means you would expect this to be decently written. And in fact you would be correct. The cover art, which is great, was painted by Walter Popp. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
February 25
1947—Prussia Ceases To Exist
The centuries-old state of Prussia, which had been a great European power under the reign of Frederick the Great during the 1800s, and a major influence on German culture, ceases to exist when it is dissolved by the post-WWII Allied Control Council comprised of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union.
1964—Clay Beats Liston
Heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay, aged 22, becomes champion of the world after beating Sonny Liston, aka the Dark Destroyer, in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. It would be the beginning of a storied and controversial career for Clay, who would announce to the world shortly after the fight that he had changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
February 24
1920—The Nazi Party Is Founded
The small German Workers' Party, or DAP, which was under the direction of Adolf Hitler, changes its name to the National Socialist German Workers' Party. Though Hitler adopted the socialist label to attract working class Germans, his party in fact embraced mainly anti-socialist ideas. The group became known in English as the Nazi Party, and within the next fifteen years expanded to become the most powerful force in German politics.
1942—Battle of Los Angeles Takes Place
A object flying over wartime Los Angeles triggers a massive anti-aircraft barrage, ultimately killing 3 civilians. Initially the target of the aerial barrage is thought to be an attacking force from Japan, but it is later suggested to be imaginary and a case of "war nerves", a lost weather balloon, a blimp, a Japanese fire balloon, or even an extraterrestrial craft. The true nature of the object or objects remains unknown to this day, but the event is known as the Battle of Los Angeles.
February 23
1945—Flag Raised on Iwo Jima
Four days after landing on the Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima, American soldiers of the 28th Regiment, 5th Marine Division take Mount Suribachi and raise an American flag. A photograph of the moment shot by Joe Rosenthal becomes one of the most famous images of WWII, and wins him the Pulitzer Prize later that year.
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