If you'd just asked for directions like I told you we wouldn't be in this mess.
This is a nice acquisition—Vereen Bell's Swamp Water with George Gross art on the front. The book is a rural slice of life novel dealing with a young trapper named Ben Ragan who ventures into the Okefenokee Swamp in search of his lost hunting dog, Trouble. Nobody, aside from Indian tribes of earlier times, is thought to have entered the dreaded swamp and returned. Ragan goes in and finds Trouble—and trouble. Bell expertly catalogs swamp flora, fauna, and topography, which makes for a backdrop so vivid you can almost feel the humidity. This is an extraordinarily enjoyable tale, a sort of a revenge novel/chronicle of the deep South/backwoods adventure, written when the vast Okefenokee straddling Georgia and Florida was nearly uncharted territory. 1941 on this originally, with Bantam's edition coming in ’47.
They said she needed a hobby and look what happened.
Each vintage book brings interesting discoveries. For instance, we recently learned that there was once a drink made with sherry and an egg yolk. Seriously. Reading Beast in View we learned that another name once used for scissors—at least by author Margaret Milar—was “paper knife.” Always have a really big paper knife around the house. Small ones are fine for cutting paper, but the huge ones are better for going through arteries. A terrible fate, surely, though no worse than drinking sherry with an egg yolk in it. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
The villain in Beast in View begins as nothing more than a serial phone harasser who seems to know just enough about her victims to prey on their insecurities. The lies she tells her victims are terrible, and the language is ugly too. More direct forms of harassment soon commence, just about the time amateur sleuth Paul Blackshear steps in and is asked to find the caller. That seems easy enough at first, but he soon finds that identity is a more nebulous concept than he imagined.
Beast in View won the 1955 Edgar Award for best mystery of the year. Hmm... well we liked it. But is it really better than Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley, which it beat? We don't know about that. Later Beast in View was voted one of the best mysteries of all time by the Mystery Writers of America. That's a broader accolade, in a way, and we can't find any fault there. It's a good book, written in classical mystery style, with a great ending, and this line:
[no spoiler] felt no pain, only a little surprise at how pretty the blood looked, like bright and endless ribbons that would never again be tied.
Well, that's certainly a nice piece of writing. This was our second Millar, and we have another lined up for a bit later. But first we may re-read The Talented Mr. Ripley, just to see if our memories are betraying us and Highsmith really isn't the better writer. But it isn't a competition anyway, is it? That defeats the entire point of reading for pleasure. Copyright on Beast in View is originally 1955, and this Bantam paperback edition came in '56 with Mitchell Hooks cover art.
So when you sang “You're So Vain,” the song really was about me, wasn't it?
This is top work from artist C.C. Beale on this cover for Van Wyck Mason's Saigon Singer, especially the small elements of the background writing on the wall and the Siamese cat in the foreground. The singer of the title—who never performs “You're So Vain,” sadly—is Pamela Saunders, a former prisoner in a Japanese internment camp who survives filth and near starvation to resurrect herself as singer in Saigon. Along the way she becomes known as Black Chrysanthemum before adopting the stage name Xenia Morel. Her transformation is interesting, but the star of the story is Major Hugh North, who turns up in Saigon looking for a dossier containing the names of British and American traitors who during the war sold secrets to a Japanese general. Saunders-Chrysanthemum-Morel survived the prison camp by becoming the mistress of the general, and it's due to this close association that she possesses the dossier. She'll give it to North, but only if he pays her enough money to get to Paris, where she wants to continue her singing career.
Mason knew this part of the world and uses his knowledge well in writing of Saigon social life, oppressive heat, scented baths, tiger hunts, French legionnaires, and other you-had-to-be-there aspects of post-World War II Vietnam. As number thirteen in a series of exotic Hugh North mysteries (others were set in Singapore, Burma, Manila, Bangkok, et al) we sense a formula here, but in the end we liked it despite the usual flaws of colonialist fiction, and we were envious of Mason for having travelled in that part of the world during that time, and having been lucky enough to make a career of writing about it. Well, maybe we can't complain too much—we've hit some good spots too. And we write, though we get fuck-all for it. In any case, this particular discovery makes us curious about earlier Mason books, so maybe we'll check out some of his Hugh North adventures. Saigon Singer was originally published in 1946, and the above edition is from 1948.
If you could ask the ones who did it we suspect they'd say dying young is overrated.
Above, a nice front for Dead, She Was Beautiful by Whit Masterson, aka Wade Miller, who in turn was actually William Miller and Robert Wade writing in tandem. This one has an unusually interesting set-up. A divorce detective is hired by a man to follow his unfaithful wife, and the detective is shocked to discover the woman is his ex-wife. This is in Los Angeles, which immediately raises the question of how such a bizarre coincidence could happen in a city of millions. Well, it isn't a coincidence, which becomes clear when the wife/ex-wife is killed by being shot in the back with an arrow. The cops think the detective may have done it, especially because he hated his ex, so what you get here is the time-honored scenario of a private op who has to solve a crime or take the fall for it. We'd describe this as decent, but nothing special. The cover art is by Barye Phillips, and the copyright is 1956.
Prosecution maintains that the only way to know if these are in fact the witness's panties is to have her try them on.
As the great defense attorney Johnny Cochran once so memorably intoned, “If the panties don't fit you must acquit.” Lawyering is all about snappy rhymes. Robert Traver knew this because he was in reality John D. Voelker, first a prosecutor, second a justice on the Michigan Supreme Court, and all the while the author of numerous novels. The most famous of those was Anatomy of a Murder, which became an Otto Preminger motion picture starring Jimmy Stewart and Lee Remick. Looking at the odd cover scene above, you probably want to know what's happening. An assistant prosecutor is trying his first case, which centers around a house painter who “did ravish and carnally know” a young woman named Gloria. But it turns out Gloria's mother had interrupted what was actually a consensual encounter, exploded with shame and outrage, and forced her daughter to file rape charges. The case falls apart in court and the young prosecutor is made to look like a fool, so the cover art tries to capture that event. Trouble Shooter was originally published as Trouble-Shooter: The Story of a Northwoods Prosecutor in 1943, with this Bantam paperback edition coming in 1947.
Then when he tripled my rent so he could evict me and give my place to some Silicon Valley tech jerkwad I just snapped.
Yet another subset of pulp novels was the true crime book, and this effort called San Francisco Murders was edited by Joseph Henry Jackson, written by Allan R. Bosworth, Hildegarde Teilhet, and others, and details ten San Fran murders that took place over the course of a century. Among the killers: Jerome von Braun Selz, aka The Laughing Killer, Theodore Durrant, aka The Demon of the Belfry, and Cordelia Botkin, who had no nickname but probably should have, considering she killed rather exotically with arsenic laced chocolates. She was trying to do in her ex-lover's wife and ended up poisoning not only her target, but a hungry bystander as well. We're thinking the Accidental Chocolatier, or maybe the Bitter Chocolate Killer. Right? Yeah? San Francisco Murders was originally copyright 1947, and this Bantam paperback edition came in 1948 with cover art by Bob Doares.
Hello, ma'am. I'm from the ACME home security company and I'm selling new and improved shorter door chains.
The Fabulous Clipjoint is the 1947 debut novel by Fredric Brown, published originally as Dead Man's Indemnity in Mystery Book Magazine in April 1946. This edition came from Popular Library in 1948. The basic idea here is a hapless alcoholic is murdered in Chicago and his son and brother decide to find the killer or killers. As their investigation unfolds, the son learns his father wasn't hapless at all, but rather had lived a full life that included adventures in Spain and Mexico, winning a duel, romantic entanglements, and more. None of it has to do with why he died. It merely serves to awaken his son to the possibilities of life, and helps convince him to run off to join a carnival. A clipjoint, literally speaking, is a nightclub or strip bar where customers are promised everything, delivered little, and cheated down to their last dime. The clipjoint of The Fabulous Clipjoint is figurative. It's the city of Chicago, perhaps even the entirety of life itself. As a metaphor it's grand, but the novel is less so. It's competent, but Brown would do better later in his career. The cover art here featuring the world's most useless security chain is by Ed Grant, and fits nicely into our collection of women confronting trouble at their doors. See that here.
Yep, from now on I think all my problems are behind me.
First published in 1945 with this Bantam paperback appearing in 1951, Dorothy Macardle's The Unforeseen deals with a woman who installs herself in a quiet Irish cottage to work on a book about birds, but begins having a series of hallucinations. The main character Virgilia at first thinks they're manifestations of second sight, especially since more than a few of her visions come true. But they're such minor predictions that it's easy for her—after seeing a psychiatrist friend who offers rational explanations—to dismiss them as imaginings brought on by fatigue and stress. But the doctor's psychic researcher son believes the visions are supernatural, and covets Virgilia as a prospective case study. Things get darker when the visions at the story's center go from basically harmless to darkly frightening, but are they actually real? We won't tell. The Unforeseen is pretty entertaining, all in all, especially considering we picked it solely because of the cover art by H.E. Bischoff. However, pulp fans may find the book slow, as it owes more to du Maurier than to any crime or adventure writers.
Actually, that's more than enough money, lover. You're under arrest.
The thing about GGA covers is they often mislead in terms of written content. The dove in The Frightened Dove is not the femme fatale on the cover but rather a Mussolini underling named Colombo—Italian for dove—who's hunted by the hero Ricci Bartoli, a retired anti-fascist fighter dragged out of his peaceful life as a tailor in New York City. Colombo is after a trove of gold, and Bartoli is out to stop him, with the crucial action taking place in Montreal. You can always tell there's something French about a book when the cover femme is wearing a beret. And her name is Marie, which seems to be the go-to for French women in genre fiction. The story here fits squarely into the post-war political adventure niche—i.e. cleaning up the loose ends of World War II. And on the subject of pseudonyms, Hardin was actually a Hungarian author named Louis Vaczek. The Frightened Dove was originally published in hardback in 1951, with the above Bantam paperback arriving in 1952 with uncredited cover art.
It's a dirty job but at least I get to enjoy these little reversals of male privilege. Now bend over.
Above, a cover for Woman Doctor, originally titled Women Will Be Doctors, by Hannah Lees. In mid-century fiction there's an entire sub-genre of nurse novels, and this should be considered an offshoot. But it's basically the same idea whether nurse or doctor—woman in male dominated profession must show her skill and mettle, winning over skeptics, and usually finding true love along the way. The rear cover gives you a sense of these themes, though obviously the main character doesn't dish out prostate exams. But it would be funny if she did. Copyright 1955, with uncredited art.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1942—Battle of Stalingrad Begins
The Battle of Stalingrad, perhaps the most pivotal event of World War II, begins. It lasts for more than six months, spread across the brutal Russian winter, and ends with two million casualties. The Russian sacrifice reduces the powerful German army to a shell of its former self, and as a result Nazi defeat in the war becomes a simple matter of time.
1979—Alexander Gudonov Defects
Russian ballet dancer and actor Alexander Borisovich Godunov defects to the U.S. The event causes an international diplomatic crisis, but Gudonov manages to win asylum. He joins the famous American Ballet Theater, where he becomes a colleague of fellow-defector Mikhail Baryshnikov, and later earns roles in such Hollywood films as Witness and Die Hard.
1950—Althea Gibson Breaks the Color Barrier
Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American woman to compete on the World Tennis Tour, and the first to earn a Grand Slam title when she wins the French Open in 1956. Later she becomes the first African-American woman to compete in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
1952—Devil's Island Closed
Devil's Island, the penal colony located off the coast of French Guiana, is permanently closed. The prison is later made world famous by Henri Charrière's bestselling novel Papillon, and the subsequent film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.
1962—De Gaulle Survives Assassination Attempt
Jean Bastien-Thiry, a French air weaponry engineer, attempts to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle to prevent Algerian independence. Bastien-Thiry and others attack de Gaulle's armored limousine with machine guns, but after expending hundreds of rounds, they succeed only in puncturing two tires.
1911—Mona Lisa Disappears
Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, aka La Gioconda, is stolen from the Louvre. After many wild theories and false leads, it turns out the painting was snatched by museum employee Vincenzo Peruggia.
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