A Harlem detective learns the rules of engagement in pre-civil rights America.
Ed Lacy is credited by many as having created the first African American detective, Harlem gumshoe Toussaint Marcus Moore. Room to Swing is the novel in which this uniquely named character debuted. The set-up for the plot is also unique. The producer of an unsolved crimes television show called You—Detective! has located a fugitive she wants to arrest on air. She hires Toussaint to keep an eye on this ratings goldmine and make sure he's still around when she and her film crew are ready to spring their trap. Sounds simple, but in 1958 a black detective following a white man 24/7 will run into problems, considering he can't safely go to all the same places. Hell, he couldn't comfortably go to all the same places even today.
And if being a cop magnet isn't bad enough for Toussaint, having a white woman as a client is even more problematic, since they can barely be seen in public together. This is true even in New York and Ohio, where the action takes place. Although the northern U.S. was not part of the Jim Crow system, outside of large cities apartheid generally reigned. Small town Ohio is no different from Alabama for Toussaint. Even getting lunch or using a pay phone is often difficult. Speaking to a white man without calling him “Sir” generally leads to trouble, and being referred to as “boy” in return is standard practice. All of which raises the question: Why did this deep-pocketed producer hire a black detective at all? She has her reasons.
Room to Swing won Lacy the coveted Edgar Award, though we wouldn't say the book is brilliantly written. But it takes readers into fresh territory for a detective novel, and Toussaint is portrayed humanistically and empathetically. The book exemplifies the idea that it's possible for anybody to write about anybody else, regardless of race. Unfortunately, it wasn't a luxury that was often afforded to any but white writers back then, but it certainly should have been. All sorts of insights might have been possible. Room to Swing has plenty of those, and if you can find this Pyramid paperback edition with Robert Maguire cover art, all the better.
We're here for the West Side Story audition. And you better understand this right now—we intend to nail it.
We've talked before about the amazing Harlan Ellison. We came to know him as an unparalleled sci-fi writer, but later discovered he was also a juvenile delinquency author. These gang stories were obscure curiosities for us, but through running Pulp Intl. we've since learned that Ellison's juvie fiction is a much discussed and much collected part of his output. Above you see the rare 1958 Pyramid Books edition of his first novel Rumble, later published as Web of the City, with an amazing cover by Spanish artist Rudy De Reyna. Consider this an Ellison trial run that made it into the light of day. Anyone familiar with him knows this will be a strange and violent tale, but the craftsman who gave the world stories like “All the Birds Come Home To Roost” is not yet in evidence. Plotwise, the protagonist Rusty is leader of a street gang and wants out while he's still young enough to make something of his life. Quitting is a savage and harrowing ordeal. Staying out is impossible thanks to his little sister, whose involvement with the gang pulls Rusty back into the life. Ellison is a guy who once claimed he never revised his work. That isn't true because Rumble was cut down and cleaned up by him, and became Web of the City. Everyone says the revised version is much better. Without having read it, we suspect they're right.
Fancy meeting an Aryan like you in a place like this.
We've talked about French author Louis-Charles Royer and mentioned the staying power of his novels, which enjoyed many English language reprints throughout the 1950s. Love Camp is Royer doing what he does best, which is exploring sexual niches and conjuring up romance in far flung locales. The story is as the art depicts—women are chosen for the honor of attempting to mate with Nazi soldiers in order to breed a master race. The program was known as Lebensborn, or Fount of Life, and was under control of the SS. The book interweaves the lives of characters brought to a lakeside monastery for some state sponsored bonin'. Some of them fall in love, others struggle with shame, one fights to preserve a female friend's virginity, and so forth, while the doctor who runs the show manages to knock up an eager young recruit only to later reject her and blame her pregnancy on another soldier. It's all exactly as titillating as it sounds, with women paraded naked before men, a lesbian matron having her way with rejected recruits, nude exercise sessions, and other indulgences, all under the dark Nazi aegis. There were many naziploitation books written during the mid-century period, and while it's probably a good thing the trend died, it really did lend itself quite well to exploring perversion and evil. But considering the Nazis' real world toll, such lightweight books can only minimize the horror. The Pyramid paperback you see here is from 1953 with art by Julian Paul.
Lady, if you don't start cooperating, you're going to be sorry, you hear me? Now for the last time—pull my finger!
The 1959 mystery Crime Cop was written by Larry Holden, which was a pseudonym used by author Lorenz Heller. Why he didn't want to call himself Lorenz Heller is the real mystery, as that's about as writerly a name as one could hope to have. Actually, he did publish under his own name one time when he debuted in 1937, but soon chose new identities, including Burt Sims, which was reserved for his television writing. In this novel cops Flavin and Gilman hunt a strangler. The cover art, which is battered but beautiful (just like us!), is by Harry Schaare.
Whew. I think I finally lost him. What a moron he is. What a klutz. What a big stupid fat balding jerk.
Like they teach you in driving class, look left, then right, then left again. Or is it the other way around? Whichever direction, you want to look a lot to avoid a potential fatality. More Beautiful than Murder tells the story of a man on trial for murder whose alibi is the testimony of his girlfriend, who was with him the night of the killing. Only one problem—he doesn't have a girlfriend and has never seen the woman on the witness stand before. But it all starts to make sense after he's acquitted and sucked into even more danger, including a few more killings. The main character is a guy named Steve Blake but the book is part of a series featuring author Octavus Roy Cohen's creation Lieutenant Marty Walsh. Originally serialized in Collier's magazine and published in 1948, this Popular Library paperback appeared in ’52, and the cover art, with its amazingly garbed Jane Russellian femme fatale, was painted by Rudolph Belarski.
Oh, that Katherine Everard. On second thought, maybe the book isn't so bad after all.
“A first novel that holds little promise of a future.” Thus concluded one 1949 review of Katherine Everard's Cry Shame!, aka A Star's Progress. This assessment is funny because Everard was a pseudonym used by American literary treasure Gore Vidal, who'll be remembered far longer than any of his critics. Cry Shame! tells the story of a girl who becomes a stripper in New Orleans at age thirteen, a wife for a much older man at age fourteen, a Hollywood starlet as an adult, and finally—thanks to romantic misfortune—a broken woman. Today's critics claim they can see touches of Vidalian genius in various details of the book. Of course they can. This Pyramid edition comes complete and unabridged—except for the bottom half inch of the cover cut off by some shoddy work at the printer—with art by Harry Bennett.
They were like shipments passing in the night.
Above, a classic piece of good girl art by illustrator Frank Cozzerelli for Si Podolin's Devil's Cargo, 1955, from Pyramid-Giant. The book is about a solder of fortune and an “Arab bellydancer” who team up in Marseilles to smuggle stolen weapons into French Morocco. It was written around the time of a lot of unrest there, which gives it some extra spice, and Morocco finally gained independence a year later.
You know, you’re really quite a lovely little… GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!
Above we see the instant before the main character on the cover of Yankee Trader realizes boiling water has been poured atop his wiener. Okay, that’s not what really happens, though he would deserve it. The story is set in colonial Connecticut and Africa, and he's a slave trader and all around scoundrel who will stop at nothing to get rich. We checked a review from 1947, when the book was originally published, and critic W.E. Hall admitted that, yes, it’s true early American colonists were guilty of “misdemeanors” against Africans. Misdemeanors? Slavery, murder, and rape? Oh, what a lovely dream world where these are mere lapses of decorum. Maybe it’s Hall who needed to have his wiener parboiled. 1952 on this Pyramid paperback, with uncredited art.
What do you mean you don’t want to play anymore? You two are real bummers. You know that?
“Okay, my turn. Ready? I spy with my little eye, something that—”
“Is it a shark?”
Sigh. “You’re supposed to wait until I finish.”
“It’s a shark, right?”
“Look, you have to systematically narrow it down. That’s the whole fun.”
“Okay, okay. Is it alive?”
“Is it outside the raft?”
“Well... for now.”
“Is it a shark?”
Maybe it’s the name that keeps people away, because, you know, we’re actually very welcoming here in Tough Town.
Tough Town appeared in 1952 as a reprint of 1946’s The Ragged Edge. It’s the story of three impoverished siblings who are dragged into the seamy side of life in a fictional New York City slum called Marshall Place. There's lots of juvenile delinquency here, a bit of low level mob activity, a couple of fatal shootings, backroom abortion stuff, political corruption, and so forth.
Two of the siblings have a rough go, but one of them vows to clean up the town and eventually makes it all the way to a position as district attorney. This is an attempt at serious literary art by author Jack Karney, who revisited the subject of the pernicious effects of poverty more than once in his novels. But America is, sadly, a much less sympathetic place toward the poor today, and we doubt this story would resonate for modern readers. The cover art is by Frederick Meyer.
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