Where have you been? I've waiting all day to crush what little spirit you have left.
The Brat is solid work from Gil Brewer. The novel has been extensively reviewed online, but we'll give you the set-up: a woman from the sticks marries the first man who can rescue her from nowheresville, but her desire for a better life soon reveals itself to be a mad lust for riches. She conceives a robbery that has no hope of success and tries to drag her husband into it against his will. The result is murder and a lot of evidence pointing his way, though he had nothing to do with it. The only way to keep his neck out of the noose is to find his missing wife, the missing money, and learn whether the robbery was all a fatal error or a set-up from the beginning. Excellent stuff from Brewer, with an awesome air boat chase in the Everglades as its pivotal action piece. The cover art on this 1958 edition is by the stalwart Barye Phillips, and we think it's one of his best.
Well, duh, of course we used you until you were sad and broken. What the hell do you think we learn in business school?
Above, a cover for Carlton Joyce's campus sleazer Fraternity Row, 1963, about a charming sociopath named Chaz Graycen III, king of the hotshot Delta Mu fraternity, who knows no bounds of taste nor conscience when it comes to using people for his own benefit. So basically it's a deadly accurate take on entitled one percenters. The cover art is by Tom Miller, who we did a little feature on here.
Chester Himes' tough love affair with Harlem continues.
A beautiful piece of George Ziel art fronts this Avon paperback edition of the Chester Himes' thriller The Real Cool Killers. The story here takes place during one night, as a white man is shot in the back on a Harlem street and the detective duo Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed make the scene. Ed goes off his head and is suspended, which makes 90% of the book Gravedigger's show. Was the victim an innocent bystander? Was the murderer who it seems to be? And what does Coffin Ed's daughter have to do with it?
Himes' descriptive flair is unique, his sense of place is vivid, his use of language is a highwire act, and his characters are interesting. Even their names are often amazing—Ulysses Galen, Sugartit, Shiek, etc. The Real Cool Killers appeared in 1959, and as we noted when read The Crazy Kill, we're struck by the fact that—in that charged cultural era on the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement—Himes doesn't bother writing a single sympathetic black character aside from his two cops. But in this way he's no different than other hard-boiled crime writers.
Himes moved black characters to the center. They drive the action from all sides rather than are merely affected by it. Research shows that books, films, and television shows in which black characters drive rather than are affected by the action tend to be less popular with white Americans. Seen in that light, Himes' success is a tribute to a unique skill set. In the same way the murdered man in The Real Cool Killers gets his thrills going to Harlem, readers in 1959 were able to visit a world not their own in Himes' fiction. He's more than just a real cool writer. He's a pioneer.
Not bad, kid. You got talent. Now can you make them rotate in opposite directions?
Above, a typical piece of Greenleaf Classics sleaze, Flesh Act, written in 1963 by whoever inhabited the Don Wellman pseudonym this time out for the sub-imprint Ember Books. It's a tale about women, talent agents, movie producers, and the casting couch, 1963, with Ed Smith cover art. Smith has been a fertile source of visual material, as you can see here and here.
I wanted you from the first moment I caught a whiff of your backside.
Clyde Merrick's 1961 novel Sex Pack goes in the high school sleaze bin, with fictional Keldon High School's coolest kids putting together an extracurricular club of alpha dogs devoted mainly to getting in girls' panties. The protagonist Troy Cooper is a football star and all around upstanding type who isn't interested, but when his innocent girlfriend Betsy joins not knowing what's in store, he joins too to try to get her out. Or at least that's the plan. This was billed by Beacon as “a book that should be read by every parent,” which was a typical approach, promotionally speaking. But we doubt many people bought it for any reason other than to get their loins heated up. Beacon was usually pretty good about crediting its covers, but not always. Artist unknown in this case.
Hi girls! I brought my paddle. And a couple of fresh balls. I still don't see where we'll play, though.
It's uncredited but memorable, this cover for Night Lust by Ken Gardner, from Erotik Books, a subsidiary of Foremost Publishing, which was a branch of Connoisseur Publications. It's almost like nobody really wanted credit for this book. Basically a kid named Peter is shaped by his two lesbian neighbors into a pervert. First they play dress-up with him and pretty soon they're leading him down the path of total perversion, which results in him becoming a roving peeper. The cover depicts them about to play the “spanking game,” which like ping pong incorporates the backhand smash. Put this book in the evil lesbians bin. Not that there's a good lesbians bin. This is mid-century sleaze. Lesbianism is like demonic possession—you're either eventually exorcised or lost forever. Gardner, presumably a pseudonym, continued in this vein with Terrified, Sex Hostage, and other highbrow literary efforts. Night Lust is from 1966.
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.
I guess I'll just wait until they're finished before I tell them I only date women.
Danger Trail, written by Theodore Pratt, is about a mailman in Florida who braves storms, gators, thieves, politics, and more, along a seventy mile route from Miami to Palm Springs, to get a difficult job done. If it sounds like an unusual and imaginative tale, you're right. Pratt was an experienced writer who knew his stuff, and had five books adapted to the big screen. Danger Trail was originally published in 1943 as The Barefoot Mailman and was made into a 1951 movie with that title. This Bantam paperback arrived in 1949.
*gasp* That phone is just everything! Where did you find it in that color? I'm dying of jealousy right now.
Murder takes no holiday and neither does artistic talent, as proven by this beautiful Robert McGinnis cover of a man losing his shit over the latest pink phone from Ma Bell. Okay, that isn't what's happening, but it looks that way, right? Actually the male figure is way over his head in a smuggling plot and the female figure—a femme fatale named Vivienne Larousse—is keeping him from losing his nerve. The book is set on the fictional Caribbean Island of St. Albans, a British enclave that seems to be modeled after the Caymans. Brett Halliday's franchise sleuth Michael Shayne is thrown into the mix to solve a murder that took place in the U.S., and follows the clues to the tropics. Of the approximately seventy Shayne novels, this one—number thirty-five or so—is merely adequate. Actually, all the ones we've read have been merely adequate. But we'll keep at it. McGinnis, on the other hand, is masterful. Of all the moments in an action oriented book to illustrate he chose an unlikely one, but the result is just everything. His alternate cover, below, is also great.
Have you ever considered the possibility that it's just a penis substitute offering psycho orgasmic relief for self esteem inadequacies?
Leave it to a woman to overcomplicate things. Sometimes a gun is just a plain old penis substitute. Dan Cushman's 1953 novel Jungle She features plenty of those, as his franchise man's-man Frisco Dougherty helps an escaped “half caste” damsel in distress return to the locale of her captivity on a Borneo plantation and to try and steal the tyrannical owner Van Hoog's hidden fortune. That's supposed to be her in John Floherty, Jr.'s cover art, and if you're thinking to yourself she looks inclined to use the gun on Frisco, well—spoiler alert—she actually does shoot him, but he survives to confront Van Hoog in a vertiginous rope bridge climax. If you want to buy any of Cushman's jungle adventures you'll probably find them expensive—up to $100 for this one. But be patient. We also saw it for eight bucks.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1963—Profumo Denies Affair
In England, the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, denies any impropriety with showgirl Christine Keeler and threatens to sue anyone repeating the allegations. The accusations involve not just infidelity, but the possibility acquaintances of Keeler might be trying to ply Profumo for nuclear secrets. In June, Profumo finally resigns from the government after confessing his sexual involvement with Keeler
and admitting he lied to parliament.
1978—Karl Wallenda Falls to His Death
World famous German daredevil and high-wire walker Karl Wallenda, founder of the acrobatic troupe The Flying Wallendas, falls to his death attempting to walk on a cable strung between the two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wallenda is seventy-three years old at the time, but it is a 30 mph wind, rather than age, that is generally blamed for sending him from the wire.
2006—Swedish Spy Stig Wennerstrom Dies
Swedish air force colonel Stig Wennerström, who had been convicted in the 1970s of passing Swedish, U.S. and NATO secrets to the Soviet Union over the course of fifteen years, dies in an old age home at the age of ninety-nine. The Wennerström affair, as some called it, was at the time one of the biggest scandals
of the Cold War.
The federal penitentiary located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay closes. The island had been home to a lighthouse, a military fortification, and a military prison over the years. In 1972, it would become a national recreation area open to tourists, and it would receive national landmark designations in 1976 and 1986.
1916—Einstein Publishes General Relativity
German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein publishes his general theory of relativity. Among the effects of the theory are phenomena such as the curvature of space-time, the bending of rays of light in gravitational fields, faster than light universe expansion, and the warping of space time around a rotating body.
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