Maybe I should have listened to my parents and stayed in community college.
Above, a nice James Avati cover for Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham, copyright 1949. The hardback of this came out in 1946, and it was adapted to the big screen in 1947 with Tyrone Power in the lead role, so this art reflects the movie, which is why the cover femme looks like and is dressed like co-star Colleen Gray. This is one of many mid-century novels set in and around carnivals, and it's one of the better ones, we think. The film version adheres reasonably close to Gresham's original vision. We talked about it several years ago, so check here if you're interested. We've also talked about several other carnival books over the years and now we have an idea to put together a cover collection along those lines. We'll have to see if there are any examples left to find. But in the meantime you can see what we've already collected here, here, here, and here.
Being good is okay, but being bad is a whole lot more fun.
We've seen May Britt in exactly one movie but we thought she was quite good in it. That was 1959's The Blue Angel. Above you see the Signet tie-in edition of Heinrich Mann's source novel, which was called Professor Unrat when it was published in Germany in 1905. Britt fronts this paperback looking alluring but a little shabby too, which is of course what her character is all about. You can read a bit about the film here.
The sky's the limit in third Bond thriller.
Ian Fleming's Moonraker is James Bond's third literary outing and it sees him trying to prevent the detonation of a loose nuke. If you've never read a Bond book, you may want to know that in addition to being thrillers they're hardcore car and food porn. Fleming takes pains to describe engines, exhausts, gearing; then he'll turn toward flavors, ingredients, and vintages. In Moonraker a chapter long car chase is a tour de force. A meal in a private club is almost as exciting. The rarefied world of three digit speed and three star dinners drew us in almost as much as the plot. But the main takeaway from this book for us is that it was absolutely murdered by United Artists when adapted for the screen. They left nothing but the title and the name of the villain. It's worth reading just to experience Fleming's original vision. This 1960 Signet edition has Barye Phillips cover art, and it's a bit different for him but very nice.
Bond is born in Ian Fleming's 1953 Cold War thriller.
We've read a few Bond novels, but not his debut in 1953's Casino Royale. When it comes to secondhand bookstores and yard sales you read what you find. But we decided to finally made a deliberate effort to go back to the beginning with an edition from Signet, which appeared in 1960 with Barye Phillips cover art. The debuts of franchise characters leave room for continuing adventures by design but we've never read a book that was so deliberately a prequel as Casino Royale. It's the essential novel for understanding Bond. You know the basics already: Cold War intrigue, opposing teams taking the field for a long struggle, a Soviet spy named La Chiffre who's dipped into funds not his and who hatches a desperate plan to restore them via the baccarat tables of a famous French casino, Bond dispatched to outplay him, break him, and ensure his downfall for stealing the money.
The book is fantastic from its opening, through its tremendously tense middle sections, and on to its brutal punchline of an ending. Bond is imperfect as both a spy and a man. He's sometimes kind, prone to sentiment, and philosophical about his work; he's also sexist, racist, and generally regressive. Casino Royale is designed to explain how the first three qualities were destroyed, making him a perfect spy. The latter three qualities remain. While in serious fiction many authors of the period were writing about racial equality and the essential sameness of people, Ian Fleming was declaring that Asians are terrible gamblers because as a race they lack resolve. None of this is a surprise because much is known about Fleming's personal views. Bond is an icon, but of a less enlightened era. We're readers, of ours. Yet we can meet on the page, and—with a tolerance Fleming never showed others—still manage to have a little fun.
No, there's two in every town. Unless you showed up here for some other reason, manslut.
Above, a Signet paperback edition of James Aswell’s There’s One in Every Town, originally published in 1951, with this edition appearing in 1956. Aswell conducts readers into Erskine Caldwell country with a tale of sex and consequences. This genre was absolutely bursting back in the 1950s. We never stop running across entries that were previously unknown to us. This particular story is about young—very young—Jackie Vose, who by mere association ruins any male who comes near her. She's seen as salvageable by at least one man—or rather boy, since he's the seventeen-year-old heart-smitten narrator. But he never has much of a chance. It's the town doctor who actually gets in too deep, and it doesn't end well. South, sin, and sadness.
Al Wheeler gets caught in an explosive situation.
Barye Phillips art adorns the cover of Carter Brown's The Bombshell, first published in 1957, with this Signet edition appearing in 1960. The book features his franchise police detective Al Wheeler, who's assigned a murder case where there's no body. He protests because it's really a missing persons investigation, but his boss is convinced young Lily Teal's corpse is somewhere to be found. Even so, a previous investigation came up empty and Wheeler is assigned the case with the expectation he won't get anywhere. But failure is for lesser detectives. Our favorite exchange in this one:
Femme fatale: “Maybe it's something to do with me being born in the South—a girl matures early in a hot climate.”
Al Wheeler: “And you've been carrying that climate around with you ever since.
We shared this cover as part of a collection several years ago, but hadn't read the book. The scan above is from our own copy. This is the third Al Wheeler book in the long running series, but it already feels a bit perfunctory. The narrative doesn't really take off until Wheeler is framed for attempted sexual assault. At that point, based on how far his still unknown enemies are willing to go, he realizes there's more to the case than just a possible murder. Overall, not a bad outing, but nothing special. We have more Al Wheeler mysteries we acquired recently, so we'll see how those go.
Okay, okay. I wanted pizza, but we'll order the damn Thai food instead.
You don't know pressure until the Pulp Intl. girlfriends have applied it, believe us. We'd almost rather face what the protagonist of Charles Francis Coe's Pressure deals with—going from an obscure lawyer trying to scrape by to a crucial cog in an organized crime cartel. It's a bit Breaking Bad in the sense that he initially does it for his family, but ends up alienating them. The pressure really mounts when he decides he has to get out or lose everything. The book first appeared in 1951 and the above Signet edition came in 1952, with cover work by Harry Schaare.
I hereby claim this land and everything in it for the British Emp—er, I mean for me!
Since we're on the subject of tropical islands (see below), here is a really beautiful cover for Adam Shaw's 1966 novel Pleasure Island. We first saw it at killercoversoftheweek, which informed us that it was painted by Ron Lesser, one of top illustrators of the mid-century era. Taking a close look at the art, it seems to us that the characters depicted are thinking two entirely different things at this moment.
Him: Wow, she's hot! I can't wait to have her. I think I'll call this place Pleasure Island.
Her: *sigh* It was nice while it lasted. Looks like we'll have to invent clothes and self defense classes now.
The locale in the story is one of the Marquesas Islands. Shaw's characters made a habit of stumbling upon natural wonders, because he followed Pleasure Island with Isle of Delight and Shipwrecked on Paradise. Safe to assume pleasures, delights, and paradise-like qualties were quickly ruined in each place. See more Lesser cover art here.
True, neck rubs aren't in your job description, but they're in your husband description. So get to rubbin'.
We often take liberties interpreting cover art, and Jerry Weil's 1957 novel Office Wife has given us just such an opportunity. The woman is supposed to be the man's “executive sweetie,” but we see it the opposite way. Also, the book doesn't really involve an office marriage. The term “wife” is meant loosely—i.e. the main character Eileen enjoys wifely liaisons with guys at her chic NYC advertising firm. Ultimately she taps into her executive ambitions and, in order to get what she wants, transforms from used to user. You can see a collection of entries from the office sleaze bin at this link, and we have individual entries here and here.
Wait. Okay, you're right. No argument. I really messed up. But wouldn't it be an even bigger sin to shoot me?
Verne Tossey's cover art on this 1953 Signet paperback edition of Jack Webb's The Big Sin suggests that the sinner of the title is either the armed woman or her unseen target, but actually the sinner is someone who isn't even alive. It's a beautiful Mexican showgirl named Rose Alyce whose death has been ruled suicide by gunshot. But protagonist Father Shanley believes her death had more sinister origins, because Alyce was a devout Catholic he knew as sweet Rosa Mendez, and he's convinced she would never commit “the big sin.” You can only truly know someone inside the confessional booth, apparently. Shanley uncovers government corruption and teams up with detective Sam Golden on the way to solving the mystery, of which mobsters are an integral part. We ran across a beautiful dust jacket for the book from British publishers T. V. Boardman, which came from an interesting site called dustjackets.com that reproduces hardback sleeves for vintage books. That strikes us as a pretty cool idea. You can have a look at that site here. |
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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