What she thinks is written all over her face.
Above is an uncredited 1951 cover for The Agony Column by Earl Derr Biggers, a book we read a couple of years ago solely because of its strange title. It was originally published in 1916, turned out to be a sort of romance rather than the thriller we expected, and taught us that big city newspaper sections where people wrote anonymously to other readers were called “agony columns.” Example: “Dear Pulp Intl. girlfriends. Don't you know I'd treat you better than those two glib losers? I'm funnier than those guys too. Anonymous admirer.” To which we'd reply, for example, you'd better stay anonymous, or we'll teach what agony really is. You can read what we wrote about the book here.
I gather there are some doubts about me, so let me clear those up. Georgie will. Every time.
This is a cheery cover for Maxwell Bodenheim's Georgie May, which is actually a mostly dark story about a prostitute trying to survive in the pre-Depression American south. The art is uncredited. Bodenheim was a literary light in his prime years, but he isn't widely known today, though his books remain in circulation. During his turbulent life he became destitute, was homeless, panhandled for cash, and finally was infamously the victim of a double murder along with his much younger wife in 1954. Maybe we'll get back to that story a bit later. Georgie May was originally published in 1928, with this Avon edition coming in 1948.
You can't keep a dead man down.
Ann Cantor once again does excellent brushwork, this time with a sinister cover for Avon Publications and the 1949 novel Night Cry by William Stuart. We talked about this one a while back. It's the story of a cop who kills a suspect, does to the body what you see in the art, then struggles to keep proof of his crime concealed. It's an atmospheric tale capped with an unexpected ending. We haven't watched the movie based on it, the 1950 film noir Where the Sidewalk Ends, but we'll get to it. See more art from Cantor here and here,
Alarms, security, police... As a master jewel thief I thought I'd considered every possible obstacle. Just goes to show.
This Avon Publications cover for The Deadly Game by Norman Daniels was painted by Bob Abbett. The book has a promising premise, though there's no nude that interrupts a safe cracking. The story concerns a high society jewel thief who's being constantly dogged by a determined police detective, and who decides to get revenge by bedding the cop's wife, then, for good measure, implicating her in his next heist. It's revenge to the nth degree—cuckold the cop, further humiliate him by succeeding with the crime, then railroad his wife to prison. We're talking cruel. Too bad this one is undone by substandard writing. But it wasn't bad enough to stop us from sticking with it until the end and finding out how it all resolved. If you find it for five bucks or less, it's probably worth taking the plunge.
It's not just your eyes or your lips that thrill me. It's the entirety of your head.
Above, an amusing cover for 1954's Forbidden by Leo Brattes, painted by an unknown artist. Brattes was a pseudonym for Leslie Raddatz, and this seems to have been his/her only book.
Crook and cop play hide and seek in Maurice Procter's Brit crime thriller.
1954's Murder Somewhere in This City by Maurice Procter was originally published as Somewhere in This City, and it turns out it was the source material for a movie we saw last year called Hell Is a City. We didn't know that when we started the book. We just liked the cover (which it turns out is uncredited). The plot deals with a criminal and cop who have been enemies for so long their feud is personal. A robbery, a kidnapping, and a murder pit them against each other for what both suspect will be the decisive last time. But the cop has to actually find his nemesis, who's in hiding somewhere in the big city, making plans, achieving objectives, laying groundwork for his final escape overseas. The plot began to seem familiar pretty quickly, and no wonder the movie was good, because the book is too. Procter writes an entertaining story that is part detective procedural, part heist thriller, and part domestic drama. The film tracks it closely, which means you can find out more about the novel at our write-up on the movie here.
Hmm. I know there are seven deadly sins, but maybe if I just keep doing lust over and over it'll only count once.
It's been a criminally long time since we've read a James M. Cain novel. We have several, so we'll have to remedy the omission pronto. The last one we read was Sinful Woman, and above we have the cover of the 1957 edition from Avon, which originally published the book in ’47. That earlier cover is spectacular, and we recommend taking a look at it here. We'll get back to Cain soon.
Everybody tells me you're great at taking it hard to the hole.
Hard to the hole? Of course we went there. Why wouldn't we? The sport of basketball—which is what Fletcher Flora's The Hot-Shot deals with—has loads of sexual terminology. We could have gone with, “I hear you're an amazing ball handler,” or, “I hear you perform best coming off the bench,” or, “I hear you go back door with the best of them,” or, “I hear when you get in a zone you can really stroke it,” or—
*catching breath and taking a sip of water*
“I hear you like to work it inside,” or, “I hear you're a great penetrator,” and so forth.
But while Flora did write some mildly sexual novels, such as Strange Sisters and Park Avenue Tramp, this one is actually a classic rags to riches to corruption tale of the sort you've probably read before. The main character, Skimmer Scaggs, finds that his basketball talent offers a way out of nowheresville, but soon finds himself in the middle of a big time point-shaving racket. The story comes with extra credibility because Flora was a basketball coach before turning his talents to fiction. We have three of his novels, so we'll try to get back to him a bit later.
The CDC says we should stay at least six feet apart, but baby, my lips can't reach that far.
CDC, our many non-U.S. readers may need to know, stands for the Centers for Disease Control, and while maybe it's not in the best taste to kid about coronavirus, when did taste ever matter us? There's virus all over the place where we live, but luckily we don't have to leave our place, which is the benefit of having weeks of food in the larder and your entire work life online. Our last foray outside was for PSGP's birthday party last Saturday, for which we made lots of hand sanitizer out of aloe gel, anti-microbial lavender oil, and vodka. These props were intended as a little joke, but our ulterior motive was to remind everyone to take the precautions recommended by health authorities. We predicted that night would be the last hurrah around here for a while and we were right, as now schools, sporting events, and other gatherings of people have been restricted. We're glad we had one last get-together before those changes came, and so far—fingers crossed—all fifty or so people that showed up seem to be fine.
Other people who are getting in a last get-together are the couple on this cover of Len Zinberg's Strange Desires, originally published in 1946 as What D'ya Know for Sure. This great piece was painted for Avon's 1949 edition by Ann Cantor, who we've featured several times, including on Maurice Leblanc's Wanton Venus, one of our personal favorites. Zinberg was the real name of prolific U.S. author Ed Lacy, whose boxing opus Go for the Body we just talked about last week. No boxing in this one, unless clinches count. This is about Hollywood, making movies, industry ambition, redemption for the damaged, and those sorts of things. Just like in Go for the Body the narrative makes a surprising turn near the end, and just like in The Woman Aroused, the story hinges on a disturbed femme fatale. Like we said‚ Zinberg/Lacy was prolific, which we guess means he borrowed from himself occasionally. We should know—we've been borrowing from ourselves here for twelve years. More Zinberg/Lacy coming soon.
Oh, I plan to go for his body, alright. Particularly below the belt. I hope he plans the same for mine.
Ed Lacy is a fascinating writer, a fearless craftsman who sought unique angles for his vivid, often racially charged tales. His 1954 novel Go for the Body is a story of amazing imagination dealing with an ex-boxer and would-be promotor named Ken Francine who runs across a black American boxer in Paris. Francine already knows this other boxer, Bud Stewart, from Stateside. In fact, Stewart was the reason Francine retired, a decision brought on by a brutal ass-whipping that exposed his deficiencies in the ring. Now, years later in Paris, Francine sees an opportunity for profit, and begins pushing Stewart up the ladder in the European fight racket. The text on the cover art is deceptive. The book isn't really about the love story, “DIFFERENT” or otherwise, between Stewart and his beautiful wife. It's about Francine, local politics, the dirty work of promoting boxers, and murder.
In the hands of a brilliant writer this could have been an all-time classic. Don't get us wrong—it's still enjoyable. Lacy evokes the atmosphere of Paris effortlessly by sharing minute details. He never crosses the line into travelogue. A quip about the trendiness and expense of Perrier followed by a local's aside that the pipes in European cities weren't always great is enough to plant the idea in the reader's head that fizzy bottled water became popular because it was known to be clean. Another example is how Lacy doesn't bother to describe any of the geography or people of Champs-Élysées, but simply notes that you see big American cars there. He makes clever choices like these throughout Go for the Body, never taking the obvious route, instead relying on readers' ingrained knowledge of Paris from popular culture to fill in the blanks.
His plot does the same. There are few obvious turns. Guessing which direction the narrative will go will likely prove fruitless. Of course, certain aspects are required, such as the Parisian flavor, the post-war malaise, and the nostalgia for a lost love. And naturally, boxing novels nearly always lead up to a big fight, and this one does too, in Milan, Italy. But there's far more on the line in that final bout than any reader could possibly suspect when the book begins. That's the main reason we give Go for the Body a thumbs up—its scope. Lacy is no Faulkner or Malamud, and his main character Ken Francine is confoundingly slow-witted at times (as an ex-fighter who was literally beaten into retirement it's possible he's not supposed to be very bright), but the tale delivers a solid punch. It may not knock you for a loop, but in the end the decision goes in its favor.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1934—Arrest Made in Lindbergh Baby Case
Bruno Hauptmann is arrested for the kidnap and murder of Charles Lindbergh Jr., son of the famous American aviator. The infant child had been abducted from the Lindbergh home in March 1932, and found decomposed two months later in the woods nearby. He had suffered a fatal skull fracture. Hauptmann was tried, convicted, sentenced to death, and finally executed by electric chair in April 1936. He proclaimed his innocence to the end
1919—Pollard Breaks the Color Barrier
Fritz Pollard becomes the first African-American to play professional football for a major team, the Akron Pros. Though Pollard is forgotten today, famed sportswriter Walter Camp ranked him as "one of the greatest runners these eyes have ever seen." In another barrier-breaking historical achievement, Pollard later became the co-head coach of the Pros, while still maintaining his roster position as running back.
1932—Entwistle Leaps from Hollywood Sign
Actress Peg Entwistle
commits suicide by jumping from the letter "H" in the Hollywood sign. Her body lay in the ravine below for two days, until it was found by a detective and two radio car officers. She remained unidentified until her uncle connected the description and the initials "P.E." on the suicide note in the newspapers with his niece's two-day absence.
1908—First Airplane Fatality Occurs
The plane built by Wilbur and Orville Wright, The Wright Flyer, crashes with Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge aboard as a passenger. The accident kills Selfridge, and he becomes the first airplane fatality in history.
1983—First Black Miss America Crowned
Vanessa Williams becomes the first African American Miss America. She later loses her crown when lesbian-themed nude photographs of her are published by Penthouse magazine.
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