She's dangerous, untrustworthy, and cruel—but hey, what beautiful woman doesn't come with a little baggage?
We'd been meaning to get to Milton K. Ozaki, aka Robert O. Saber for a while, and when we came across Murder Doll we took the plunge. Plotwise, Chicago private eye Carl Good finds himself in the middle of an out-of-town gangland takeover. This is no ordinary invasion—the head honcho is rumored to be the beautiful ex-mistress of an eastern mobster. The problem is nobody knows exactly who she is. Good is hired to find this bombshell criminal, as he coincidentally acquires both a hot new secretary and a hot new girlfriend. Hmm... Maybe one of them is not what she seems. This is a mostly unremarkable mystery that even a trip to a nudist colony can't elevate, but it started well, with a clever nightclub murder, and it's very readable in general, so we'll give Ozaki a pass for this lusterless effort and hope he dazzles us next time. It came from Berkley Books in 1952 and the cover artist unknown.
If it bends, it's pulp. But if it breaks, it's parody.
Does the line in our subhead ring a bell? It's from Crimes and Misdemeanors, the 1989 Woody Allen film, spoken by Alan Alda, but applied to comedy. The quote is: “If it bends it's funny, but if it breaks it isn't.” That jumped into our heads when reading James Gunn's Deadlier than the Male. Gunn is described by New Yorker reviewer Clifton Fadiman as bloodier, nastier, and tougher than James M. Cain. Well, okay, but Gunn and Cain come at crime fiction from slightly different angles. Gunn is a good writer, though. No doubt about it. He plays with subtle alliterations, symmetries, and anastrophes that mark him as a skilled practitioner of his art. But can he write a murder book? Was he even trying? Was his primary goal to bend the genre, or to break it?
Deadlier than the Male has been described as a pulp parody but we aren't sure about that. Gunn comes up with some off-the-wall similes, but we don't see them as satirical. We think he simply wanted to push the established tropes of the crime novel a bit farther than usual. He wanted to write a femme fatale that was more of a femme fatale, and write deadpan cynicism that was even more so, to be more Cain than Cain perhaps, which we think Clifton Fadiman was correct to point out in his review. So then, returning to the question of whether Gunn's goal was to write a murder book, we think it was. It bends, but we don't think it breaks.
In terms of plot, what you have here is a woman who vows to unmask the murderer of her friend, while another woman decides to dig into the shady history of the man who's married her younger sister. Murderer and husband are the same man, and his plan is to get his mitts on his new bride's fortune, while of course avoiding any connection to the previous murder. Both women are metaphorically deadlier than the male, since both could be the ruin of the main male character, but their deadliness derives from loyalty, persistence, wiliness, and a lack of scruples. It's not's quite good versus evil, so much as scalpels versus hammer, which we thought was a cool approach.
But you know how you read something, know it's artful, yet fail to be fully engaged? For us this was one of those books. Is it a failure of the writer or the reader? We'll take the blame. We have certain tastes. By now, if you've visited Pulp Intl. often, you know what types of books get our juices flowing. If you tackle Deadlier than the Male you'll probably have the sense of reading something notable. And if you like to get under the hood you'll find a lot of stylish work inside. But will it get your pulse racing? Umm.. *looking over our shoulders to see if any literary critics are near* ...we doubt it.
Soon I realized—you don't mind if I rest my hand here do you?—I realized while at this all girls college that...
We've seen author Clement Wood before. He wrote Studio Affair, which we shared a cover for as part of this large collection, and among his other books was the anthology Flesh and Other Stories. He was multi-talented, a fact demonstrated by his forays into poetry, singing, and teaching, and he strived to be a serious author, with such diverse efforts as Julius Caesar: Who He Was and What He Accomplished, Tom Sawyer Grows Up, The Complete Rhyming Dictionary, and Sociology for Beginners. All of which meant dick to Berkley Books when it published its paperback edition of Desire. Lurid sells—and possibly kills. This appeared in 1950, and you have to wonder if Wood was mortified to death, because he died the same year.
So far I've had malaria, dysentery, dengue, hookworm, and schistosomiasis, but baby, you make it all worth it.
Once again cover art works its intended magic, as we made the choice of reading Georges Simonen's African adventure Tropic Moon solely due to being lured by Charles Copeland's evocative brushwork. This edition came from Berkley Books in 1958, but the tale was originally published as Coup de lune in 1933. It's set in Gabon, then a territory of French Equatorial Africa, and poses the familiar question: does Africa ruins whites or were they bad beforehand? The main character here, Joseph Timar, is done in by heat and booze and easy sex, but he was surely a terrible person before he ever set foot in Gabon, and of course he's a stand-in for all white colonials. All we can say is we get the message. We got it way back when Conrad wrote it. What would be great is some sense of evolution in all these Conrad-derived works, for instance if occasionally the human cost of colonial greed were shown to be black lives and prosperity rather than white dignity and morality, but literary treatments of that sort had not yet come over the horizon during the pulp era. On its own merits, though, Tropic Moon is interesting, a harrowing front row seat for a downward spiral in the equatorial jungle.
What a nice surprise! Let's eat dinner then we'll dump his corpse in the woods.
Above, nice Charles Copeland art for Harry Whittington's 1957 thriller Married to Murder. There's nothing like the occasional thoughtful gift to keep a marriage fresh.
Tallman takes readers on a wild trip to Mexico.
Colorado born writer Robert Tallman achieved his first true recognition from 1947 to 1949 writing the weekly radio program The Adventures of Sam Spade. He went to Acapulco on vacation, ended up staying a year, and that idyll inspired his first novel, 1950's Adios O'Shaughnessy, about a collection of bizarre characters who've fetched up in a fictional Mexican town called Pollo Sabroso. Besides the title character, there's the raven haired beauty Gloria Blackman (described as a blonde in the rear cover blurb either by mistake or for marketing purposes), the young Mexican hunk Manuel Mendoza, and a black child named Miguelito who wanders the town—for reasons we can't discern—naked. It's the precocious Miguelito who provides the title of the book when he notices O'Shaughnessy looks like Robert Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips.
The plot of the book is barely discernible, but partly involves a fishing boat and the various characters who covet it. Some want to fish in it, while others have more political aims that ultimately lead to deadly violence. The book worked for us not because of its plot, but because of its depiction of gringos cast adrift in Latin America. Despite the serious subject matter, Tallman's writing is ornate and often lighthearted. For example: “Ramirez, acquainted with the eellike elusiveness of this class of quarry, grabbed him by the most convenient handle, the baggy seat of his pants. There was an ominous sound of ripping fabric, and the disaster resulting was such that the poor witness, in all modesty, could not now walk upon the streets.”
Here's another nifty passage that gives an even better sense of Tallman's style: “Had a goddess leaped forth from the limpid, luminous swells, he would not have been altogether astonished. What did leap forth was much more unlikely. A slim, small-breasted woman with a face like an ecstatic mask, legs as long as a fashion drawing, and with the graceful bather's especial gift of emerging from the water without seeming
wet: this is what he saw before he realized it was Ella Praline, stark naked, running up the beach pursued by a naked boy who resembled a faun in more ways than one
.” Pretty cool, that whole sequence, though it ends rather weirdly for poor Ella.
In fact the whole novel is weird, and while it takes its time coming together, it eventually reveals itself to be good entertainment for those who don't mind fiction that's more influenced by Graham Greene than by Dashiell Hammett. Also, it spoke to us on a personal level because, like Tallman, we threw caution to the wind and moved abroad—to Guatemala not Mexico. Tallman
captures the drinking, the fighting, the skinny dipping, the random stupidity, the constant undercurrent of danger, the earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the beautiful women who pass through for days or weeks to turn the town upside down, and, most of all, the odd personalities who think all of this is the best possible way to live. We count ourselves among them. Whatever else one thinks of Adios O'Shaughnessy
it has the feel of the real thing.
This is the clean side. I just finished using the other side with my Saturday through Tuesday boyfriend.
We checked online and the indications that you need a new mattress include: it's more than eight years old, you wake with aches and pains, and there's a noticeable sag. And the indications you need a new life include: your bed is in a filthy slum tenement. Such is the case with Perversity and Depravity, 1956 and 1957, in which virtually every character needs a do-over of their existence. Both books, by New Caledonian author Francis Carco, née François Carcopino-Tusoli, are set in the 1920s Parisian underworld of prostitution, crime, and poverty. Carco deals with these subjects compassionately, and his work is heavy with colloquialism and has a strong sense of place. He acquired his insight the old fashioned way—by consorting with the types of people he wrote about. Though his work is obscure in the English speaking world, he was fairly well regarded in his day and is still remembered in France. These are dark books, maybe even brutal, certainly ahead of their time. Harry Barton painted the cover of Perversity and an uncredited artist handled the chores on Depravity.
Harry Bennett channels Himes and Harlem.
Chester Himes’ cycle of Harlem detective fiction spanned eight complete novels, and one unfinished effort, with five of the paperback editions illustrated by Harry Bennett, whose work you see above. Himes is world renowned, Bennett somewhat less so, but he was an award winning artist who illustrated hundreds of paperbacks during his career. We were reminded of him by a recent entry on Killer Covers, and remembered how much we like these pieces. In contrast to his lushly rendered romance covers, or more conventional crime novel art, these have an almost spontaneous quality. Publisher input usually has quite a bit to do with it, but we suspect Bennett was also influenced by Himes’ writing and the Harlem setting, and as a result produced this jazzy art for a jazzy novelist. Excellent stuff.
Climb up just a bit higher. The part of you I’m planning to shoot isn’t out of the water yet.
Interesting Charles Copeland cover art for Victor Canning’s 1955 adventure thriller Twist of the Knife, published outside the U.S. as His Bones Are Coral. It’s the story of a drug smuggler flying contraband from Sudan to Egypt who crash lands near the town of Suabar, gets involved in a caper to raise gold from the waters of the Red Sea, and of course beds the only white girl within sight. This was actually made into a really bad Burt Reynolds movie called Shark! in 1970.
Slow down, tiger—that isn’t the opening I had you in mind for.
This is a very successful cover. In pulp and sleaze fiction, it’s the male boss who typically attacks his female assistant, but here, by using subtleties of facial expression and briefcase style, the artist makes clear that the woman is the boss in this situation, stuck with fending off the advances of her subordinate. These days he’d probably be fired, possibly arrested, and maybe even sued. But in 1954, when Nine to Five was first published, you don’t even have to guess what happens—he gets fully up in the boss’s panties and she loves it! But that’s why it’s fiction. This edition comes from 1960 via Berkley Books, the artist is Julian Paul, and it’s unrelated to the movie starring Fonda, Tomlin, and Parton.
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