Himes' Harlemites take the prize.
Above is an unusual orange cover by an uncredited artist for Chester Himes' crime yarn The Big Gold Dream. We're Himes fans, but for us this wasn't as enjoyable as For Love of Imabelle or The Real Cool Killers, nor as well written, in our opinion, but the author's flair is undiminished in a tale about a lottery winner whose $36,000 cash prize is stolen. The most interesting character here is Dummy, a man permanently deaf from a beating and mute from having his tongue cut out, but whose disrespectful nickname belies his tenacity. And of course franchise detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones also star. There are caricatures many readers will find offensive, but that just makes Himes like most writers of the period. No matter what, with him you can count on a portrayal of Harlem that's quirky and insightful, and that's probably reason enough to read the book. It originally appeared in 1959, and this Signet edition dates from 1975.
Then I picked up something at the market and now I'm about to heat it up and enjoy it. How's your day going?
Above, a cover for The Scarlet Bride by Mark Reed, about a cheating wife with a dangerous husband and the horndogs who risk life and limb to get on her. Reed was actually Norman A. Daniels, a prolific author who wrote for pulp magazines, where he created the character Black Bat (the second, more popular one). He also wrote for radio, television, and once published eighteen books in a two year span. This particular effort is copyright 1952.
Basically, the way this job works is my customers phone for drugs and I have people like you deliver them. I call it Instagram.
David Dodge is one of our favorite authors. He's as solid as they get. In 1946 he jumped on the drug hysteria wagon with It Ain't Hay, and which the British imprint Corgi Books re-issued in 1953 as A Drug on the Market. The book features Dodge's tax accountant hero Walt Whitney, star of three previous books, who learns that a prospective client has made his money by sailing marijuana from Mexico to Half Moon Bay, California. This tale is notable for Dodge in that he moves away from his semi-comic comfort zone and into darker territory in which Whitney breaks all kinds of personal codes while trying to bring the kingpin to justice. Dodge comes from the generation that hated drugs but loved to get loaded on booze, so it all reads a bit ironically today, but we don't judge—maybe one day people will say what reactionaries our generation was about uncut black tar heroin. Dodge's storytelling skill is unscathed, and that's all that matters. With Dodge, you can't miss.
A constant clicking noise? I don't hear anything. Anyway, state your full legal name then let's get into some compromising positions.
The cover for Arnold Marmor's Ruthless Fraternity features possibly the least hidden camera in paperback history, but you have to love the art anyway. We've seen several blackmail covers, and they're tricky in that the artists are constrained by having to show both the camera and the intended victim of the set-up. It always turns out ridiculous in terms of believability, but they're always fun covers. The fraternity of the title is not literal. It refers to the proverbial journalistic boys club, and the story deals with the ins and outs, double-dealing, and machinations of a scandal magazine called Tell. We've featured Arnold Marmor books twice before, but had no idea how prolific the guy was. He wrote such sleazers as Bed Bait, Lust Lodge, and Boudoir Treachery, but also dabbled in spy novels and short stories. We'll probably run into him at a later date. This effort was 1960 and the art is by Bill Edwards.
Who needs a man when you have technology?
Éditions R.R. specialized in beautiful covers, and this one continues the trend. The art is by Jef de Wulf, and it fronts Dit oui, Madame by René Roques. You can't tell, but this is about a woman who falls in love with a robot. And he's a French robot, so he shares his feelings, which is more than you do. Roques actually got racy enough here that the book was banned shortly after publication in 1957. Still, we bet it wasn't as wild as this mechanical lover novel. Or for that matter this one. They say robots are going to take all our jobs. Add sex to the list.
Always get out while the getting is good.
Jim Thompson's thriller The Getaway was made into a movie twice, the first time in 1972 with Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw, and the second time in 1994 with Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. Both versions opted to change the thrust of Thompson's tale, so if you've seen either movie reading the novel might provide an interesting experience. It's a crime novel with several deeper themes. For example, Thompson expresses social isolation in the starkest terms, such as here, when writing about a group of poor country folk:
Their existence was centered around existing. They had no hope of anything more, no comprehension that there might be anything more. In a sense they were an autonomous body, functioning within a society which was organized to grind them down. The law did not protect them; for them it was merely an instrument of harassment, a means of moving them on when it was against their interest to move, or detaining them when it was to their disadvantage to stay.
Against this hostile backdrop the two main characters, Doc and Carol, are—unlike in the movies—unambiguously amoral people, a couple who are certain only that the world is institutionally corrupt, and that their only hope for survival is each other. What starts as a standard heist-and-flight tale becomes an allegorical descent into hell, complete with images borrowed from various religious myths. This makes the latter third of the novel something far weirder than expected going in, but the ultimate idea of crime as a soul-killer comes across crystal clear.
You really can't go wrong with Thompson. While The Getaway is perhaps not as top flight as Pop. 1280 or some of his other books, it's still one to fit into your reading schedule at some point. It was originally published in 1958, and the above edition came from Signet in 1959 and features a nice orange cover from the incomparable Bob Abbett. If you're interested in seeing him at his best, check the small cover collection we put together here.
So she likes to have fun. Do we really need to put a label on it?
The lush of Orrie Hitt's The Lady Is a Lush is the character Amy Collins mentioned in the cover blurb, but her husband Chip really deserves the title. Like his wife he's screwing around, and like her he makes terrible decisions under the influence of booze, but lacks the sense to avoid getting one of his flings pregnant. At one point he finds condoms in Amy's purse and is relieved she's being careful about her extracurriculars, but does he follow her example? No. Things get pretty dark, but after some drama and soul searching he basically comes up roses. Not so for Amy, who does the full downward spiral. We'll say this much—this is a better-than-usual effort from Hitt. The characters are believable and the backdrop of a small-time trucking company works. If you're going to read him, this is one to try. The Beacon-Signal cover is iconic, yet uncredited.
But I feel absolutely miserable, nurse. And you know misery loves company.
Above we have an addition to our ongoing collection of nurse/doctor covers, 1953's Night Nurse by David Charlson for Venus Books, which was a branch of Star Guidance, Inc. If you seek to buy this, you'll find it priced at up to $100, which is enough to put you into shock, and then you can have a night nurse of your own. We don't know about you, but we'll content ourselves with this nice scan. The art is uncredited. See more guaranteed-to-amuse nurse and doctor covers here, here, here, here, here, and here.
For you this is just a light, but for me it's the beginning of a toxic sexual obsession and eventual restraining order.
We're going to do one more entry on France before we head to other countries. Once we have time to do some intensive scanning you'll see the bulk of our Paris treasures. Paris, by the way, is a city where strangers often ask you for a light, which is why we thought of the above subhead. If we actually smoked it would be a great way to meet people, but since we never have an actual light all interaction ends there. So while we learn how to smoke, above you see a cover for Elle ne perd pas son temps, by George Maxwell, aka Georges Esposito, for Presses Mondiales and its series Les grands romans dessinés, published in 1953. These were comic books adapted from the series La Môme Double-Shot, specifically 1952's La belle se joue à deux, which you can see here. Elle ne perd pas son temps translates to “She doesn't waste her time,” and neither did the artist Jacques Thibésart, aka Mik, when he painted this nice cover. If you're inclined you can see examples from him here, here, and here, and you can certainly expect more in the future. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1984—Miss America Resigns
Vanessa Williams, who had been crowned Miss America and was the first African American woman to win the prize, resigns her title after Penthouse magazine purchases and slates for publication a series of lesbian-themed nudes Williams had posed for when she was younger. After resigning she files a $500 million lawsuit against Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione but later drops the suit.
1992—Cocaine Baron Escapes Prison
Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria, imprisoned leader of the Medellin drug cartel, escapes from a posh Colombian jail known as La Catedral after he learns authorities intend to move him to a real prison. His taste of freedom doesn't last—he's killed in a shootout a year-and-a-half later.
1925—Jury Decides the Teaching of Evolution Is a Crime
In the famous Scopes Monkey Trial, American schoolteacher John Scopes is found guilty of violating the Butler Act, which forbids the teaching of evolution in schools. The sensational trial pits two great legal minds—William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow—against each other. Ultimately, Scopes and Darrow are destined to lose because the case rests on whether Scopes had violated the Act, not whether evolution is fact.
1969—First Humans Reach the Moon
Neil Armstrong and Eugene 'Buzz' Aldrin, Jr. become the first humans to walk on the moon. The third member of the mission, command module Pilot Michael Collins, remains in orbit in Apollo 11.
1972—Chaos in the Big Apple
In New York City, within a span of twenty-four hours, fifty-seven murders are committed.
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