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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The whole town knew—but was what they knew right?
It's amazing how many mid-century authors were compared to Erskine Caldwell, but such was his influence that any pass at southern smalltown loving, feuding, and corruption prompted reviewers to cite him as the king of the genre. Francis Irby Gwaltney's The Whole Town Knew, originally published as The Yeller-Headed Summer, was compared by many to Caldwell. It deals with the rape and murder of a woman, subsequent efforts to find her killer or killers, efforts to keep the details of her free-spirited ways out of court, local newspaper drama, a not-too-bright lawman in way over his head, and more.
This lawman is the center of the book, and his problems mount tremendously—starting with the fact that he's supposed to leave influential members of the community alone and stick to policing poor and powerless folk. Art imitates life, right? The town of Walnut Creek was close kin to the burgs from Caldwell's oeuvre, as were the antics of the townspeople, but the book was well reviewed, leading to Irby—actually a protégée of Norman Mailer, whose mentorship was instrumental—becoming very famous for a time. We love the cover art on this 1955 Popular Library edition. It was painted by Ray Johnson, who always does great work, as you can see here and here.
Who's the hottest? I'm the hottest. Who's the coolest? I'm the coolest.
David Westheimer's Day into Night is a more serious novel than its cover would lead you to believe. It was originally published in 1950 as The Magic Fallacy, and the fallacy is the one harbored by youth that everything in life is beautiful. Westheimer promptly proves otherwise by telling the tale of a sixteen-year-old boy named Pershing who is stricken when his mother leaves his father, and later absorbs another blow when his father's remarries to a twenty-year-old femme fatale. You know where this leads—the new bride homes in on Pershing's missile. Westheimer went on to publish the hit thriller Von Ryan's Express, source for the movie of the same name. The top notch cover on this Popular Library paperback is by Rudolph Belarski, from 1952.
All right guys, new rules—I've decided to speed this process up by taking you two at a time.
You're familiar with the Mann Act, right? Basically, it's a law that forbids transporting any female across state lines for debauched purposes. Generally, it was applied to men who had sex with underage girls, but not always. In One by One, the hero drives a dancer named Dolly Dawn from Los Angeles to Las Vegas and has sex with her, whereupon she threatens to call police and have him prosecuted under the Mann Act if he doesn't continue to indulge and take care of her. The action revolves around his repeatedly thwarted efforts to extricate himself from her sticky web. One very interesting aspect of the book is that it's a period piece, set nineteen years before its 1951 publication date. Also, if you're looking at the cover blurb and thinking “less morals” sounds weird, you're right that it's grammatically off. Morals is a plural noun, so you'd have fewer morals, not less. We imagine the editors knew that and wrote the blurb colloquially to connect with the reading audience. It probably didn't matter, because the cover art alone pretty much sells this book. But it's uncredited, which is a shame.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1933—Capone Sentenced to Prison
Chicago organized crime boss Al Capone is convicted of income tax evasion after all other attempts to tie him to an assortment of crimes, from the mass murder of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre to widespread violations of the Volstead Act, fail. He is sentenced to eleven years in federal prison and, cut off from the outside world while on Alcatraz Island, his power is finally broken.
1964—China Detonates Nuke
At the Lop Nur test site located between the Taklamakan and Kuruktag deserts, the People's Republic of China detonates its first nuclear weapon, codenamed 596 after the month of June 1959, which is when the program was initiated.
1996—Handgun Ban in the UK
In response to a mass shooting in Dunblane, Scotland that kills 16 children, the British Conservative government announces a law to ban all handguns, with the exception .22 caliber target pistols. When Labor takes power several months later, they extend the ban to all handguns.
Pierre Laval, who was the premier of Vichy, France, which had collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, is shot by a firing squad for treason. In subsequent years it emerges that Laval may have considered himself a patriot whose goal was to publicly submit to the Germans while doing everything possible behind the scenes to thwart them. In at least one respect he may have succeeded: fifty percent of French Jews survived the war, whereas in other territories about ninety percent perished.
1966—Black Panthers Form
In the U.S., in Oakland, California, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale form the Black Panther political party. The Panthers are active in American politics throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but eventually legal troubles combined with a schism over the direction of the party lead to its dissolution.
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