That's not exactly the type of apology I had in mind, but I guess it'll have to do.
This is an interesting piece of cover art for Raymond Chandler's third Phillip Marlowe thriller The High Window, the novel that was filmed as Time To Kill with Marlowe rewritten as another character, then filmed several years later as The Brasher Doubloon, with Marlowe restored. The book originally appeared in 1942, and the above painting by James Meese fronted Pocket Books' 1955 edition. Without reading it, one might assume this is Marlowe being punchy, but it's actually a bad guy named Alex Morny laying into his wife/accomplice-in-crime Lois. In the narrative Marlowe is lurking nearby, but he doesn't intervene because he's contemptuous of criminals, whether male or female.
Marlowe generally sticks up for underdogs. He particularly hates the abuse of authority. When two cops give him a hard time for being uncooperative he reminds them why he's that way by refreshing their memories concerning a case he investigated where a spoiled heir shot his secretary then killed himself. The cops closed that case with the official finding that the opposite had happened—the secretary had shot the heir before turning the gun on himself, and they did it to spare the heir's powerful father public embarrassment. The cops ask an annoyed Marlowe what difference it makes. They were both dead, so who cares?
Marlowe: “Did you ever stop to think that [his] secretary might have had a mother or a sister or a sweetheart—or all three? That they had their pride and their faith and their love for a kid who was made out to be a drunken paranoiac because his boss's father had a hundred million dollars? Until you guys own your own souls you don't own mine. Until you guys can be trusted every time and always, in all times and conditions, to seek the truth out and find it and let the chips fall where they may—until that time comes [I will not trust you].”
We've paraphrased a bit because the specifics aren't needed here, but it's a great speech. Countless sociological and criminological studies reveal that justice is still meted out mildly upon some groups, and severely upon others, more than half a century after Chandler wrote those lines. And the fact that a two-tiered justice system exists is so accepted these days it's banal to even point it out. But Marlowe tended to rail against corruption, even if doing so caused him problems. To resist was part of his personal code, and the code is part of what makes him such an interesting character. If you want to know more about The High Window you can find an extra detail or two in our write-up on Time To Kill here.
On this next verse I'll dip you, then we'll finish with a spin. This is a lot better than shooting at each other, right?
Circo en el oeste by Fel Marty is another book from the stash we uncovered while traveling a couple a weeks ago. To recap, we found a pile of adventure fiction in a house that had been empty for years and was being shown to us by a real estate agent. The first example we shared was from the Spanish publishing company Crucero. Today's is from the South American imprint Andina, but it was also sold in Spain. The uncredited cover art shows two cowboys trying to solve their problems non-violently. If more of us did this the world would be a better place.
It's my ex, if you must know. I was in love, and lower back tattoos were trendy. But then the creep really hurt me.
Reliable old Midwood graces Robert Bruce's sleaze drama The Face of Evil with a nice piece of Victor Olson art. Though it would be funny if the book were about a woman's tattoo mistake, it actually concerns a rich widow named Marguerite who serially dominates and destroys men. Olson's work on her hair, with its turquoise and violet streaks, requires a second glance to really appreciate. It's copyright 1966
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.
Hiding behind her won't help you. She's my wife, and this morning she demanded a divorce.
Here's another cover to add to our collection of women being used as human shields, Faut pas me la faire by Robert Chirze, aka Georges Claveyre-Peyre, for Éditions le Trotteur's collection Les Grandes Roman Noirs, 1953. The art is a particularly nice example of the work of Alex Pinon, and you can see another piece here.
That was interesting. Next time can we just do it the normal way?
There's no festish sex or podophilia in With Naked Foot. This is actually a serious novel about whites coming to ruin in Africa, which is a crowded literary niche, but one in which Emily Hahn carved out an important place for herself. In fact, maybe the adjective “Hahnesque” should be used alongside “Hemingwayesque.” This is a person who wrote fifty-four books and more than two hundred articles and short stories, whose works were significant in romanticizing Africa and Asia for western readers, who lived in Florence and London in the mid-1920s, traveled to the Belgian Congo where she worked for the Red Cross, lived with a pygmy tribe for two years, crossed Central Africa alone on foot, and journeyed to Shanghai where she taught English for three years while becoming acquaintances with political powerhouses the Soong Sisters and the Chinese poet Zau Sinmay. With Naked Foot is, therefore, unusually well informed. It revolves around a beautiful Congolese girl named Mawa whose relationships with various lustful white men bring disaster. The reviews were rapturous, though some critics protested that it was too focused on sex. That's never a complaint you'll hear from us, though some of the usual flaws of mid-century racial fiction are evident. The cover art on this Bantam paperback was painted by an unknown, and the copyright is 1951.
The only friend I need is Jack and he comes in a bottle. Um—I mean he comes from a bottle.
Mary McCarthy's The Company She Keeps was reviewed positively in The Guardian—in 2011. No small feat for a book dating from 1942. It's a semi-autobiographical novel dealing with love, sex, New York City society, and the search for happiness. It's divided into six episodes starring the same woman, and each section features a different central male figure, usually a love interest, but other times a person who stands in contrast to a love interest, such as the therapist to whom the protagonist vents about her marriage. Needless to say, the book fails the Bechdel test at every turn. It made a controversial splash in the ’40s because of its frank style, and is seen today as a minor classic, the first effort from an author who would go on to greater recognition. The edition you see here appeared in 1955 and the cover art of a woman and her little friend in a bottle—perhaps not Jack Daniel's but something sure to hit the spot anyway—is by Robert McGuire.
She purrs but only when she's thinking about destroying you.
This edition of Wade Miller's iconic sleazer teaser Kitten with a Whip is a rarity and it came from Gold Medal in 1963. There's a moment early in the narrative when the hapless protagonist David turns on a news report about the seventeen-year-old sexpot invader occupying his home. Up until then the girl, whose name is Jody, has been in David's house tormenting him only a few hours, but is threatening to ruin his life with lies that they've been shacked up having a grand old time, or that he tried to rape her. David is paralyzed with fear that his wife, neighbors, and employer will believe her. But in that moment when the entire city is told the girl is a violent psycho who escaped her confinement a mere twelve hours earlier by stabbing a matron, David doesn't realize nobody will believe anything she says—not his employers, not his neighbors, and certainly not his wife—as long as he turns her in then and there. “I woke up, found her in my house, bought her some clothes because she had none, gave her money for a bus out of town—and instead of leaving she decided to stay and blackmail me.” He'd be believed, beyond a doubt. But he never makes the call. So he really deserves everything that happens afterward. But the book is a classic for a reason. It's a fun, crazy read.
Fatal confrontation leaves world a sadder place.
Here's a colorful little something from our house hunting raid last week, a pocket paperback entitled Diablo Rubio, or “blonde devil,” written by Jim Bravo for Madrid based Publicaciones Crucero. The narrative is set in Arizona and concerns a famed gunman and the rivals that dog his heels. We haven't actually read it yet. We can read Spanish but we're too lazy to do it right now, even though we're dying to know why the clown got shot. Ever been to a rodeo? Cowboys and clowns are natural allies, so there must be a complex story behind this tragedy. The art is uncredited, of course, but seems to be signed “M Leal” or “N Leal.” We get no hits on either name. Nor do we get hits on writer Jim Bravo, an obvious pseudonym. But we'll dig, and if we find anything we'll report back.
Who you gonna call when 007 can't get the job done?
We said we'd get to Clyde Allison's, aka William Knoles' Agent 0008 and here we are, sooner than you thought. Above and below are covers for all twenty entries in the series. The idea here, of course, is a sleaze riff on James Bond, or possibly even a riff on the many imitators of Bond. The dominant literary motif is satire, but as a wise man once said, just because it's satirical doesn't mean it's smart or good. The cover art on most of these is by Robert Bonfils, doing some of his better work, with Darrel Milsap handling the chores on Platypussy, and an unknown tapped for The Sin Funnel.
So we read a couple of these and they involve the spy agency SADISTO (Security and Administration Division of the Institute for Special Tactical Operations), which is located in a sprawling bunker beneath the Maryland countryside. There the agents, about sixty of them, male and female, attend briefings in a pillow covered den while lounging mostly nude, and take on assignments too difficult for MI5, the FBI, SPECTRE, the CIA, etc. Their main weapon is sex, and their main advantage is that they're utterly ruthless. They even use kidnapped college co-eds for live fire training sessions. Because they're sadistic like that.
In The Desdamona Affair SADISTO's budget has been cut, their fleet of Jaguars exchanged for Volkswagens, and their banks of IBM computers swapped out for calculators and an abacus. 0008 goes after a villainess named Desdamona Eva de Struxion (D. Eva de Struxion) in order to steal a secret formula that could eliminate world hunger. Along the way he fights trained panthers, is captured by Indian maidens, and imprisoned in an oil tanker, but ends up with all the money de Struxion has accumulated selling the formula, which means SADISTO can once again afford fancy cars and big computers. The whole narrative is absurd the same way Sharknado is absurd.
In Gamefinger 0008 is sent by SADISTO to the island of a madman named Cantwell Undershaft, aka Gamefinger, who wants to end war by broadcasting to the world via satellite lethal gladiatorial spectacles. The unwilling deaths of hundreds of kidnapped naked men and women, he reasons, will prevent the deaths of billions in World War III by slaking humanity's bloodlust. This book differs from the previous one due to the extreme violence, but the formula is the same. In a text with so many jokes, a few will hit the target, but the percentage is depressingly low and the glib approach generally wears thin.
At this point you must be wondering how we got through these. All we can say is they're curiostities—stupid, poorly written curiosities. We can't imagine anyone reading more than two—one to get the general dumb idea, and the second to confirm that the idea remains dumb. Most of the content is sex, but written entirely without making a single explicit reference to penises, vaginas, oral sex, or bodily fluids. Doesn't that sound stimulating? If you should happen to want your own copies of these they usually go for around $100, which we consider wishful thinking on the part of the vendors, but with online buying, if you bide your time, someone will always sell at a more reasonable price.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1945—Mussolini Is Arrested
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, his mistress Clara Petacci, and fifteen supporters are arrested by Italian partisans in Dongo, Italy while attempting to escape the region in the wake of the collapse of Mussolini's fascist government. The next day, Mussolini and his mistress are both executed, along with most of the members of their group. Their bodies are then trucked to Milan where they are hung upside down on meathooks from the roof of a gas station, then spat upon and stoned until they are unrecognizable.
1933—The Gestapo Is Formed
The Geheime Staatspolizei, aka Gestapo, the official secret police force of Nazi Germany, is established. It begins under the administration of SS leader Heinrich Himmler in his position as Chief of German Police, but by 1939 is administered by the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, or Reich Main Security Office, and is a feared entity in every corner of Germany and beyond.
1937—Guernica Is Bombed
In Spain during the Spanish Civil War, the Basque town of Guernica is bombed by the German Luftwaffe, resulting in widespread destruction and casualties. The Basque government reports 1,654 people killed, while later research suggests far fewer deaths, but regardless, Guernica is viewed as an example of terror bombing and other countries learn that Nazi Germany is committed to that tactic. The bombing also becomes inspiration for Pablo Picasso, resulting in a protest painting that is not only his most famous work, but one the most important pieces of art ever produced.
In Detective Comics #27, DC Comics publishes its second major superhero, Batman, who becomes one of the most popular comic book characters of all time, and then a popular camp television series starring Adam West, and lastly a multi-million dollar movie franchise starring Michael Keaton, then George Clooney, and finally Christian Bale.
1953—Crick and Watson Publish DNA Results
British scientists James D Watson and Francis Crick publish an article detailing their discovery of the existence and structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, in Nature magazine. Their findings answer one of the oldest and most fundamental questions of biology, that of how living things reproduce themselves.
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