We decided our immigration procedures weren't cruel enough, so we've made a few changes.
Robert Stanley does his usual expert job on the cover action and Robert Parker—not Robert B. Parker, but a different author who wrote only three novels—provides the narrative for Passport to Peril. The art here depicts the impending torture of a character named Countess Orlovska, and things get pretty uncomfortable for her. They get even worse for the protagonist John Stoddard. He'd merely intended to travel from A to B for personal reasons. Instead he gets tangled up in espionage when he purchases a false passport he assumes bears a made-up identity, but which actually belonged to a missing-presumed-dead spy. The spy's associates soon come calling. Considering the increased focus on immigration in many western nations, we saw this not only as a spy story but also as a saga about a privileged westerner ironically caught in a migratory wringer. Set in Budapest with all the Cold War intrigue the background suggests, this is pretty entertaining stuff from Parker. It originally appeared in 1951, with this Dell edition coming in 1952.
Biggers isn't always better but he tried.
What's an agony column? Basically it's a newspaper feature in which readers writes messages to other readers. For example: “Regular at Main Street Cafe who takes her coffee every weekday morning just before 9:00. Would you be amenable to meeting a certain gentleman who has admired you from afar?” You get the idea. The “agony” in the terminology derives from the fact that people who write in generally are suffering from some sort of heartache or other.
The Agony Column is basically an epistolary mystery, in which a man writes letters to the crush he contacted through a London newspaper's agony column, and details his involvement in a puzzling murder case. It's a very esoteric set-up for a novel, and besides mystery there's a dose cute romance. Nearly the entire book takes the form of the main character's letters, though some sections are conventionally written.
The nature of the novel requires more suspension of disbelief than usual, simply because nobody really writes letters with detailed, multi-character dialogue, but once you get over that hurdle it works pretty well. There are other hurdles. About London's Chinatown the main character writes, “Not only the heathen Chinee so peculiar shuffle through its dim-lit alleys, but the scum of the earth of many colors and of many climes. The Arab and the Hindu, the Malayan and the Jap, black men from the Congo and fair men from Scandinavia.”
Ouch. That brought the cuteness to a screeching halt. But readers should note that Biggers evolved, and would later create the Chinese American detective Charlie Chan partly as a counter to racist portrayals of Asians. The books were popular, but as the decades progressed people soured on them because Chan too is a racial stereotype. It's difficult for authors to write characters—especially outside their own ethnic group—that stand up over time as social mores change. But they keep trying, and should, in our opinion. What would fiction be like if they didn't?
The Agony Column has plenty of positives. Being set on the eve of World War I in a London gripped by tension over the looming global hostilities lends it atmosphere, and the mystery itself contains a few surprises we doubt most readers will foresee. It's also a short tale, which keeps the epistolary gimmick from wearing thin. We think it's worth a read. The Agony Column originally appeared in 1916, with this Avon edition, illegibly signed by the cover artist and unattributed inside, coming in 1943.
So I thought to myself, why stop at my lips? I had plenty of lipstick and I was bored with this gold colored dress so I just kept going.
This is top quality George Gross art fronting R.R. McCollum's 1951 novel Passion Has Red Lips. You'll notice once again that trick of subtly phallic content in the art. Just look at the guy and the bottle he's holding that seems ready spill at any moment. This was published by Rainbow Books, a company renowned for its brilliant cover art. You can see more amazing examples by clicking its keywords below.
You better hurry up. At the top of the hour I turn back into a housewife and hand you a list of chores.
Jason Hytes' 1960 sleazer Sex Before Six is about a married twenty-something who uses her body to climb all the way from nowheresville to the cusp of a career in professional filmdom. She's willing to lie, connive, and serially cheat on her mild mannered husband to reach her goal but is disturbed when she discovers film people are depraved. What's their depravity, exactly? Some of them are gay and lesbian. The word “evil” occurs more than once. If you were to read this with your anti-regressive filter activated you might find a thrill or two sandwiched around the homophobia and Bible style retribution, but we wouldn't go so far as to recommend the book. The best thing about it is the brilliant cover femme fatale painted by Bruce Minney. We've seen magazine art from him before but this is the first paperback front we've come across. Top work.
American singer gets booked for special engagement Down Under.
We love documenting the appropriations of celebrities by Horwitz Publications. This time the company snares U.S. nightingale Abbe Lane for its 1955 edition of Carter Brown's Swan Song for a Siren. You see the original photo they worked with below, which also features Lane's husband Xavier Cugat in the left background, erased by Horwitz's graphics guru and replaced by a man with a gun. The company would reprint this title in 1958 with Senta Berger on the cover, because once you get a taste for kidnapping celebrities you never stop. You can see that edition here. And if you want to see more examples of celebrity theft click the Horwitz keywords below.
He'll choose me in the end. She's a plain old black pepper, whereas I'm more of a savory golden turmeric.
More flavorful goodness from Midwood-Tower, 1964's The Spice of Life by Grant Corgan. Basically it's about a bunch of suburban swappers and the usual problems that arise when that type of wanton mixing occurs. The cover on this is uncredited.
As long as you're already feeling terrible I might as well tell you he landed on your cat.
For such clever animals cats do get underfoot at inconvenient times, don't they? But fret not—no felines are flattened in Day Keene's Wake Up To Murder. There's barely any character development at all, let alone time for extraneous animals. What happens here is the protagonist James Charters decides to save a woman from death row. Sound familiar? That's because it's the same set-up Keene used for Death House Doll. Plotwise the books diverge from there, as Charters gets blamed for a couple of murders and has some mobsters chasing after him for $10,000 they think he has. Put this in the Florida thriller bin, copyright 1952.
Yeah, wow, nice. I've never seen one without hair. It's slick as a— Wait, did you say you tore it out with hot wax?
Above, the cover of Orgy Man by Dean Hudson, a Greenleaf Classics house pseudonym used in this case by veteran sleaze author Evan Hunter, writing for Greenleaf's Idle Hours imprint, with cover art by Robert Bonfils, copyright 1964. Hah. We did that all in one sentence.
Then you die. And she's happy about it.
To quote Queen Latifah: “Who you callin' a bitch?” In this 1958 thriller trusty old Gil Brewer concocts a tale in which violent events are unleashed when a detective is hired to shadow a cheating wife. He learns there's two-hundred grand in a safe and stages a robbery, which of course goes spectacularly wrong, and leads to him being identified as the thief. He's suddenly on the run and everyone he knows is chasing after his big bag of money. Treachery abounds. There are actually two wives in this story. Which one is the bitch of the title? Well, from the narrator's point of view, probably both. But his troubles are his own fault. The book is fun, but there's a curiously aimless quality to this particular effort from Brewer. He's done better. The cover art, on the other hand, is about the best you'll see, though it's uncredited. Now we'll let Queen have the last word:
One day I was walking down the block.
I had my cutoff shorts on, right, ’cause it was crazy hot.
I walked past these dudes.
When they passed me one of 'em felt my booty.
He was nasty.
I turned around red.
Somebody was catching the wrath.
Then the little one said, “Yeah me, bitch,” and laughed.
Since he was with his boys he tried to break fly.
I punched him dead in his eye,
and said, “Who you callin' a bitch?”
He's been eaten down to the bones. I don't know about you but this is by far the worst case of frostbite I've ever seen.
We imagine Boston born author James Holden sitting around one bitterly cold night, probably just a little tipsy from drinking warm brandy, staring out at a December snowstorm, thinking to himself that if anyone's out there in such terrible weather they're risking frostbite. And then his eyes grow wide and he says aloud, “What if the frost... takes more... than just a bite? Yes! Writer's block cured!” And some months later he finishes Snow Fury, in which the snow eats people entirely. Yep. How could snow eat people? Might have something to do with a scientific experiment run amok. And just to push the entire concept to full fruition Holden named the main character David Storm. Well, at least the cover is brilliant, and for that you can thank James Meese. This Perma edition is from 1956 and the book originally appeared in hardback in 1955.
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