All the worst things together in one place.
It's been a while since we got our hands on an Ace double novel. Ace Double 59 features Robert Bloch's Spiderweb and David Alexander's The Corpse in My Bed. The first has cover art by Harry Barton, and the second, despite looking painted by the same artist, is actually uncredited. Two decent books here. Spiderweb deals with a novice grifter who embarks on a long con under the tutelage of a devilish criminal mastermind. Pretty soon he's committing terrible deeds against his will, including setting up his own girlfriend's politician father for a scam. We were more than a little surprised when the book used the identical gag that we raved about in Lou Cameron's 1960 novel Angel's Flight, in which a hat blown by the wind becomes a crucial life lesson. Check here to understand what we mean. At first we thought Bloch had stolen the idea from Cameron, an assumption we made because Angel's Flight is a far superior book, but nope—Spiderweb predates Angel's Flight by two years. It goes to show that the old adage is true: good writers borrow, great writers steal.
The Corpse in My Bed, originally titled Most Men Don't Kill, tells the story of a former soldier who in his civilian career as a detective finds himself in the classic shamus pickle—standing over a corpse amidst possibly incriminating evidence. A war related head wound plus some booze leaves him unsure whether he merely found the body or caused it, so he goes into hiding while his partner Chet and an acquaintance nicknamed Tommy Twotoes try to get to the bottom of the puzzle. It isn't easy to come up with a character that really stands out in the pantheon of mid-century crime fiction. Twotoes—a 300-pound millionaire with a weird affinity for penguins—is one you'll remember for a while. We checked to see if Alexander used him in other novels, but as far as we can tell he didn't, though he seemingly showed up in a few short stories. Both Bloch and Alexander do good work here, a bit rough around the edges at times, but well worth a read. Just don't pay $350, like one vendor is charging. We got them for twenty bucks. Schwing!
It's taken weeks to get here, but it will be worth it—in that fabled place I am told are stores that have shoes, boxer-briefs, bug repellant, and more.
We shared a Robert Stanley cover for Edgar Rice Burroughs' wild adventure Tarzan and the Lost Kingdom a while back. We'd be doing a disservice if we didn't also share the brilliant Frank Frazetta art used for Ace Books on its 1962 re-issue. Frazetta is an artist about whom there is no debate. He was a genius.
You'd be vicious too if you ate only once a month.
When we last saw Bertrand the Werewolf—on a very nice 1951 cover of Guy Endore's The Werewolf of Paris—he had been unleashed by the full moon and was dining out in decidedly un-French style. On this 1962 Ace Books edition he's finished his meal and is pondering possible desserts. He looks considerably more menacing here than on that previous cover thanks to the skill of the artist, who is, incredibly, uncredited. For that Ace receives a serious demerit, because this is special work and it should have been attributed. Bad publishers! We'll dig around and see if someone has an idea who painted it.
As the source of the strange noises you've been hearing, I strongly suggest you resist your innate curiosity.
Louis Trimble's Stab in the Dark is one half of an Ace double novel, the other half of which—Jonathan Gant's Never Say No to a Killer—we powered through in one day back during the fall of 2017. Ordinarily when you finish one of these doubles you start right in on the back side, but you know how easily distracted we are. We finally got around to Stab, though, and it pits a secret agent against a group of blackmailers in possession of dirty photos of important people. Sounds fun, doesn't it? But there's nothing special here. We assume Trimble did better work elsewhere. 1956 on this, with unattributed cover art.
Listen, lady! There's two of us and only one goat on this island! We're going to have to come to an agreement!
No, this cover for William Fuller's 1954 thriller Goat Island is not a duplicate of yesterday's. It's a similar piece painted by the great same artist—George Gross. On both fronts you have the dark-haired femme fatale, the open white shirt, the seated position, the nearby tree, the shack in the distance, and a general backwoods mood. If you must copy, copy yourself. In terms of content the book falls into the category of South Florida detective yarns, a sub-genre scores of writers have found profitable over the decades. It's the second book featuring Fuller's franchise detective Brad Dolan. In 1957 Ace Books republished it with the art redone by John Vernon, which you see below. Yes, they're different. Look closely. Vernon's signature appears at the extreme bottom right, whereas Gross's is absent at top. Duplicating covers was common during the mid-century paperback era but we've rarely seen an artist as accomplished as Vernon given the task. Both covers are good, but Gross gets the nod of quality for only copying himself.
Yes, I'd like to report a murder. A man murdered every last bit of my patience.
Above, a nice cover for Day Keene's 1954 thriller Death House Doll, with excellent art by Harry Barton. In the story, a Korean War vet has promised his fatally wounded brother he'd look after his wife and baby daughter, but when he gets back to the world (Chicago) he's stunned to find that she's sitting on death row for murder, and unwilling to spill the truth even if it saves her. The attraction with this one is watching a decorated war hero run riot on hoods and thieves, while up against the always effective ticking clock gimmick—an execution date, which in this case is five days hence. The book was an Ace Double with Thomas B. Dewey's Mourning After on the flipside, and the art on that one, just above, is by Victor Olson. We put together a nice collection of Harry Barton's work back in May that we recommend you visit 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 were 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. Overall this is decent-but-not-great stuff from Ace Double Novels, circa 1956, with uncredited cover art, and Louis Trimble's Stab in the Dark on the flipside.
Don't worry—last time I saw your husband he was making a spear to kill some pig he claims is lurking around.
How many times have we talked about Harry Whittington? Plenty, but he wrote so many books, and had a habit of making them consistently interesting. In The Naked Jungle a plane crash leaves three survivors stranded on a deserted tropical island. There's Krayer, who's driven and a bit crazy; there's his wife Fran, who's lusty and unhappy; and there's Webb who wants Fran—badly. Three people, limited resources, and zero trust. On the flight Webb had overheard Fran tell her husband that their marriage is over, so he's not too worried about sticking his nose—or any other body part—where it doesn't belong. And Krayer didn't want to share survival supplies with Webb in the first place, so you can imagine how he feels about sharing his wife. It's all a recipe for more Whittington fun. The dramatic cover art is, sadly, uncredited, though it looks a lot like James Meese to us. Just a guess.
It's time you got your hands dirty, tough guy. We'll start with a pedicure.
Above, an Ace double consisting of John Creighton's Trial by Perjury and Louis Trimble's The Smell of Trouble. Cover art is by uncredited and his twin brother unattributed. You can see another Ace double here.
I think we should consider a separation. And I have just the body part in mind.
A gringo detective with an agency in Mexico City is hired to locate his crooked ex-partner, who has bailed with the agency's money, and now is causing trouble for the client. The PI takes the job, glad to be paid to track down his betrayer, and starts in the Mexican town of Rio Bravo where the partner immediately turns up dead. From there the hero delves into local corruption, crosses the border to Texas, uncovers a human trafficking ring, meets a cantina dancer named Arden Kennett, deals with a dangerous wife, watches murders pile up and the police begin to suspect him, and learns that knives can be thrown just as effectively as they can be brandished.
The book was published in the U.S. as an Ace Double in 1959 with Paul Rader art and bound with Charles Fritch's Negative of a Nude, but the rare edition above is from Aussie imprint Phantom Books and appeared in 1960. We can't identify the artist, which is an affliction we've been dealing with quite a bit of late. But don't blame us—as we've mentioned once or twice before, including just a few days ago, Phantom didn't credit art, possibly because much of it was copied from U.S. editions. Many of the covers do, however, look like the same hand, so hopefully someone will be able to ID the owner of that hand at some point in the future.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1941—Lou Gehrig Dies
New York Yankees baseball player Henry Louis Gehrig, aka The Iron Horse, who set a record for playing in 2,130 consecutive games over the course of fourteen seasons, dies of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, two years after the onset of the illness ended his consecutive games streak.
1946—Antonescu Is Executed
Ion Antonescu, who was ruler of Romania during World War II, and whose policies were independently responsible for the deaths of as many as 400,000 Bessarabian, Ukrainian and Romanian Jews, as well as countless Romani Romanians, is executed by means of firing squad at Fort Jilava prison just outside Bucharest.
1959—Sax Rohmer Dies
Prolific British pulp writer Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward, aka Sax Rohmer, who created the popular character Fu Manchu and became one of the most highly paid authors of his time writing fundamentally racist fiction about the "yellow peril" and what he blithely called "rampant criminality among the Chinese", dies of avian flu in White Plains, New York.
1957—Arthur Miller Convicted of Contempt of Congress
Award-winning American playwright Arthur Miller, the husband of movie star Marilyn Monroe, is convicted of contempt of Congress when he refuses to reveal the names of political associates to the House Un-American Activities Committee. The conviction would later be overturned, but HUAC persecution against American citizens continues until the committee is finally dissolved in 1975.
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