The pieces of treasure are worth a fortune. The nuggets of wisdom—not so much.
Barbara Walton art graces the dust sleeve of John D. MacDonald's A Deadly Shade of Gold. It was published in 1967 by Robert Hale, Ltd. two years after the book's U.S. debut. MacDonald's franchise character Travis McGee kicks ass and dispenses unsolicited wisdom, and while the action is fun, the philosophizing is less so. The latter is sometimes insightful when directed at civilization, but is often sweeping and incorrect when directed at civilians. Vacationers are this way. College boys are that way. Lesbians are this way. We've had plenty of experiences with all the categories of humans McGee thinks of as tedious and banal, and we found them to be as varied and interesting as any other group.
The book, though, is engrossing, built around our favorite film noir and crime fiction device—a trip to Mexico, with the action set in the fictional coastal town of Puerto Altamura. There McGee seeks to uncover the killers of a close friend and determine the whereabouts of a set of golden pre-Colombian statuettes. Five entries into the series and MacDonald seems to have hit his stride. McGee is going to keep making dubious pronouncements (we sent a passage about “negroes” from the seventh entry Darker than Amber to a black friend, who said: “What idiot wrote that?”), but we liked this caper. If you're curious about the character or author you can learn more at thetrapofsolidgold.blogspot.com, pretty much the last word on all things Travis McGee and John D.
Sure, you can get a hot coffee—right in your lap if you don't get your meathooks off me
Rudolph Belarski once again shows his unique painterly skill on this cover for Mamie Brandon by Jack Sheridan. The book, which first appeared in 1949 in England, deals with Mamie Thomas, who runs a roadhouse in desolate central California. She becomes Mamie Brandon when she marries an older man for security, but quickly finds when an old flame reappears in town that money doesn't satisfy all her needs. You know the drill—attraction, infidelity, death. This Popular Library edition has two copyrights. The first date is listed as 1950 “by arrangement with the author,” but a second date specifies January, 1951. Since the book is slightly abridged, according to the editors, maybe the two copyrights make sense somehow.
So much for French chivalry.
This cover for Quatre pas dans la nuit fits right into our collection from earlier this year featuring ruthless men using women as human shields. In fact, it's the same painting by Barye Phillips used on Ben Benson's Broken Shield, which we included in that previous group. Quatre pas dans la nuit appeared in 1958 and is the French edition of the Ed Lacy novel Be Careful How You Live, which is in turn an expansion of his story "Time Wounds All Heels." We talked about Lacy a bit earlier this year, so if you want to know more check here.
I know it's high. It used to be lower, but I spent a summer in D.C., and lemme tell ya, those guys taught me a lot about whoring.
We featured a Charles Rodewald cover last year and loved it, so we're bringing him back today, this time on the front of Ecstasy Novel Magazine, which is showcasing Paula Has a Price!, written by Perry Lindsay, aka prolific pulp author Peggy Gaddis. There's confusion online about the copyright on this, but it was published in January 1949. Top effort from Rodewald, and you can see another here.
I had new shocks installed, so theoretically nobody outside should be able to tell we're in there humping like beasts.
In Sin on Wheels a virgin moves into a trailer park with her new husband and discovers he and most of the other residents are swingers. He's cheating on her within a week, she's cheating back days later, and pretty soon everyone wants a piece of her wedding cake. Of course, it was always the husband's plan to share his bride, which means the friction, so to speak, derives from her attempts to resist being turned into a trailer park plaything. It's all written from her point of view, so it's basically a male fantasy of a woman's descent into the sexual gutter. This is credited to Loren Beauchamp but it was written by Robert Silverberg. If you're thinking this is somehow a diamond in the rough we'll tell you bluntly it's not distinguishable from most other light sleaze. It's fun and quick, though, with lots of heavy drinking, strip poker, and round robin intercourse. It's 1962 copyright, with Paul Rader cover art of one of his best temptresses, an aspect that contributes to the book's collectibility.
You're damned picky all of a sudden for a dame I found dumpster diving behind White Castle.
Alley Girl has some of the harder boiled characters we've come across in mid-century fiction. We're reminded a bit of James Ellroy, whom we suspect must have read and been influenced by this book. The style of author Jonathan Craig, aka Frank E. Smith, is not similar to Ellroy's, but the feel is a match. The lead male Steven Lambert is a crooked cop, a sexual predator, and a serial swindler. His girlfriend is a hardcore drunk, a nymphomaniac, and a self-destructive thrill seeker. Most everyone else is a victim or a dupe, particularly the innocent man Lambert is framing for murder, and the man's beautiful wife who Lambert coerces into sex by promising not to go through with the frame-up. We throughly enjoyed this book. It's anchored by just the sort of irredeemable heel that makes crime fiction so entertaining. The only problem is a 1954 edition from Lion like you see here could cost you a fortune. The 2013 re-issue, which comes from Black Curtain Press—but without the excellent cover art from Robert Maguire—is much more economical. We recommend reading it in any case.
You're lovely in that, but for pure sexiness nothing beats a woman in an assless hospital gown.
Above is an alternate cover for a book we featured a couple of years ago—Frank G. Slaughter's Eastside General. The previous art was from 1957, but this edition is from 1952 with cover work by Owen Kampen. It struck us for a couple of reasons. First, the patient is wearing a negligée, and second, she's smoking. Possibly the doctor would tell her smoking is bad for her, but in 1952 the link between cigarette smoking and cancer was suspected but not established. Sometimes it takes a while but science always reaches a consensus. So do we, and our consensus on this cover is that it's great. You can see our original write-up on Eastside General at this link.
Sorry losers and haters, but my I.Q. is one of the highest—and you all know it!
You know the aphorism about intelligence, right? The one where smart people never feel smart enough and stupid people never realize they're stupid? The lead character in Jonathan Gant's, aka Clifton Adams' Never Say No to a Killer constantly brags about how smart he is. He even claims to have a genius I.Q. He puts this brainpower to use in escaping prison, setting himself up in Lake City, gaining possession of a million dollars worth of blackmail material, and sparking interest from the most beautiful woman he's ever seen, but you have a sneaking suspicion the entire time he isn't really that smart.
Since the story is told from first person point-of-view you have no evidence he's a blowhard, but for a guy who's allegedly so much smarter than everyone else plenty of things go wrong with his schemes, and the corpses he generates don't inspire confidence in his self assessment. And indeed, later you discover definitively that he isn't bright at all—he just has an enormous ego, one that allows him to bluster his way through problems, but which keeps him from spotting obvious dangers and prevents him from understanding it's he who's being played.
He believes beautiful women are his reward for being so much better than everyone else, which makes it especially satisfying when these women begin giving him trouble. If he was really a genius he'd have known that you never cross a femme fatale. Never Say No to a Killer is not an especially well written book, but the story is great and the character of Roy Surratt is rare. Well, rare in fiction. In real life people like him are everywhere. Recommended stuff from Ace Double Novels, circa 1956, with uncredited cover art, and Louis Trimble's Stab in the Dark on the flipside.
Population 1280. Correction—1274.
Purely by coincidence, we also read a novel that's the dark twin of Never Say No to a Killer. The book was Jim Thompson's Pop. 1280, and in this one the main character is a self-described moron, and so is everyone else. At least it seems that way at first. Or maybe it's kinder to say they're simply unpretentious and earthy. Check out this exchange between two lawmen from adjacent counties:
“Pre-zactly! Ken said. “So I'll tell you what to do about them pimps. The next time they even look like they're goin' to sass you, you just kick 'em in the balls as hard as you can.”
“Huh? But don't that hurt awful bad?”
“Pshaw. 'Course it don't hurt. Not if you're wearing a good pair o' boots.”
“I mean, wouldn't it hurt the pimps?”
Once we're immersed in this chaw-and-cornbread milieu, one character emerges to be considerably more cunning than the others. The aphorism applies again. Though he doesn't consider himself to be smart, somehow he's more than up to the task of conniving his way through multiple nefarious schemes to reach his ultimate goals, which consist of getting laid and not working too hard as sheriff.
The book is set during the Great Depression and its portrait of man-woman and white-black relations is both horrifying and hilarious. Thompson's approach is partly satirical, but the actual ideas espoused by his characters are deadly serious, as well as historically grounded, such as in a conversation about whether the county's black residents have souls. The consensus is they don't. Why? Because they aren't really people.
It's a pointed commentary on the distant Jim Crow south, yet the very same question of black humanness festers at the core of America's 2017 problems. If you doubt it ask yourself how the same observers who have limitless sympathy for a white rancher shot after initiating a standoff with federal lawmen somehow have none for unarmed black men shot in the back, or why rich white ranchers who refuse to pay their federal grazing fees are perceived as persecuted, while a poor black man trying to survive by selling loose cigarettes is not.
Critic Stephen Marche once described Pop. 1280 as “preposterously upsetting,” which is as apt a description as we can imagine. The idea of who's really human, what is sexual consent, what are the obligations of lawmen, and what is evil are played for laughs by Thompson, but always with an incisive twist that lets you know where his sympathies lie. Yet as shocking as the book is to read, it's addictive and consistently entertaining, particularly when various characters dispense their tabacky soaked wisdom…
… about women: “I'd been chasing females all my life, not paying no mind to the fact that whatever's got tail at one end has teeth at the other, and now I was getting chomped on.”
... about the mentally challenged: “You probably ain't got as long a dingle-dangle as him—they tell me them idjits are hung like a stud hoss.”
… about learning: “I mean I caught him reading a book, that's what! Yes sir, I caught him red-handed. Oh, he claimed he was only lookin' at the pitchers, but I knew he was lyin'.”
We recommend Pop. 1280 highly. The Gold Medal paperback you see above with its Robert McGinnis cover art is expensive, but numerous later printings are available at reasonable prices. Just go into the reading with your psyche girded. You'll root for the main character Nick Corey, but he's merely one of the most charming bad apples in a town that's rife with rot. That rot leads to the reliable pulp staples of adultery, betrayal, and murder many times over, but in the most unique and enjoyable way.
Uh, guys? Remember when you said don't worry she always makes it home in one piece?
The art on this Handi-Book edition of Edward Ronn's, née Edward S. Aarons' 1950 thriller Dark Memory isn't what you'd call masterfully executed (we've never see a foot that had a straight little toe), but it sure makes you look twice, and that's really the point. It was painted by Mike Privitello. The art on the other editions is interesting too, and we've uploaded those for the sake of comparison.
Also published as The Art Studio Murders, the novel opens with a man pushed in front of a subway train. He survives only to endure a blow to his art career when the paintings he's been toiling over for years are destroyed days in advance of a big exhibition. This atrocity is followed by the murder of a friend. At that point he flees to a bucolic island, but quickly learns that whoever is after him is not someone he can shake with a mere change of area code.
Aarons authored more than 80 novels during a long career spanning the 1930s through 1970s. Six more novels appeared after he died in 1975, but these were built from partial manuscripts and were ghost written by Lawrence Hall. We haven't actually read any Aarons, but considering his output we'll almost certainly run across him in our local used paperback outlet at some point. When we do we'll report back.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1912—Piltdown Man Discovered
A hominid fossil known as Piltdown Man is found in England's Piltdown Gravel Pit by paleontologist Charles Dawson. The fragments are thought by many experts of the day to be the fossilized remains of a hitherto unknown form of early man, but in 1953 it is discovered to be a hoax composed of a human skeleton and an orangutan's jawbone. The identity of the Piltdown forger remains unknown, but suspects have included Dawson, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Arthur Conan Doyle and others.
1967—Australian Prime Minister Disappears
The Prime Minister of Australia, Harold Holt, who was best known for expanding Australia's role in the Vietnam War, disappears while swimming at Cheviot Beach near Portsea, Victoria and is presumed drowned.
1969—Project Blue Book Ends
The United States Air Force completes its study of UFOs, stating that sightings are generated as a result of a mild form of mass hysteria, and that individuals who fabricate such reports do so to perpetrate a hoax or seek publicity, or are psychopathological persons, or simply misidentify various conventional objects.
1985—Gotti Ascends to Mafia Throne
In New York City, mafiosi Paul Castellano and Thomas Bilotti are shot dead on the orders of John Gotti, paving the way for Gotti to assume leadership of the powerful Gambino crime family. Gotti is eventually arrested by federal authorities in 1990, and dies of throat cancer in 2002 in a federal prison hospital.
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