No man who dumps her ever lives to regret it.
One day there will be no more Charles Williams for us to read, and that'll be sad, but his books, like good wine, are something you have to treat yourself to regularly even as the stock dwindles. His 1958 novel All the Way, which is the source material for the 1960 movie The 3rd Voice, is typically solid Williams work.
It has a fascinating plot at its center. A vengeful woman enlists a fugitive to help her steal her former lover's identity, then impersonate him for weeks afterward so nobody will suspect when he disappears that she's actually killed him. The reason people are supposed to assume a disappearance instead of murder has to do with paranoid schizophrenia in the ex-lover's family, and the fact that the fugitive impersonating him has been faking its rapid onset, publicly and loudly.
With the ground laid in this way, a disappearance will be the logical conclusion, and since the man is rich, the fact that a hundred seventy grand is missing from his bank accounts merely indicates he's never coming back—not that an imposter has withdrawn the cash. The scheme is convoluted, but the genius femmes who come up with them are a staple of pulp literature. Williams gets the job done again, as does Ernest Chiriacka, who painted the cover art.
Too bad life doesn't have a rewind button—you could go back to when you wouldn't let me seduce the information out of you.
This is a fantastic piece of art for The Big Bite by Charles Williams. We'd be tempted to say frequent Pan Books illustrator Sam Peffer painted it, but he almost always signed his work in a place where it was not easily cropped or covered, the clever boy. Therefore we've seen only a few confirmed fronts by him where his signature was not present. Well, whoever was responsible for the art, we love this scene. You have a man recieving a severe beatdown as the femme fatale stands in the foreground barely interested. They do bore easily. In addition to the excellent art, this was an entertaining tale. We talked about it last year, and you can see what we thought at this link. It was originaly published in 1956, with this edition coming in 1960.
Well, my herb garden died and my macramé is crap. Looks like betrayal and adultery are my remaining options for passing the time.
You know what's weird about Charles Williams' 1951 thriller River Girl? There's no river. The action takes place in a swamp, and several sloughs. Sloughs are sluggish side channels. It struck us as funny. Why not call the book Swamp Girl? That would fit both literally and figuratively, because the main character Jack Marshall gets swamped by trouble clear up to his neck. There's a funny line of dialogue about halfway through the book that encapsulates his dilemma. A character muses, “It just doesn't seem possible that in only eleven million years, or however long they've been here, men could have got as stupid about women as they have. They must have practiced somewhere before.”
Yup. What happens here is Jack Marshall, who's deputy sheriff of a southern town, stumbles across a woman living way out in an isolated corner of the local swamp, and is overcome with fascination and lust. We've met these isolated swamp women before in mid-century fiction, and they're always problematic. This one's name is Doris, and Jack wants her real bad, but she lives in a shack with her fisherman husband Roger, the two scratching out an almost feral existence. Why? It seems as if Roger is hiding from either the law, or some shady characters he double-crossed. That's all the opening our horny deputy needs to drive a wedge into the marriage—a dick-shaped wedge. He boats into the swamp to enjoy Doris's company whenever her husband is away, and when she finally agrees to run away with him everything goes wildly, ballistically wrong.
Concerning those ballistics, the hero reflects at one point: “No jury on earth would ever believe I'd had to shoot an unarmed man twenty pounds lighter and fifteen years older than I was just to defend myself. I could have stopped him with one hand.” In the scene, Roger was indeed unarmed, but had moved toward a gun that Marshall reached first. Under identical circumstances, an American cop today could shoot that person—multiple times whether they were unarmed or not—claim to have been afraid, and only an extraordinary set of circumstances would see the cop lastingly punished. But here in 1951 Deputy Do-Wrong is in a real pickle.
There's only one solution: via a complicated gambit he tries to make it look as if Roger has killed him and fled the state with Doris. The key to the scheme is that Roger's body must never be found, nor his own, nor can there be any sign of Doris ever again. Think he can pull it off? Then we've got some prime swampland to sell you at a nice price. Like submerged bodies, complications always pop up. In Williams' hands, those complications provide more than enough dramatic current to make River Girl a fun, swift read. As we've said about him before, he's as reliable as the Woolworth clock. Anything he writes will be at least decent, and often it will be excellent. We rate this one lower than his top efforts, but above what most authors were producing around the same time.
Binger understates the obvious.
Above: a 1960 cover from Gold Medal Books for Hell Hath No Fury by Charles Williams. This was painted by Charles Binger and it's a beautifully simple watercolor composition, a very different approach from the almost fiery 1953 Barye Phillips cover. Of course, there's a good possibility that this is a random Binger not actually inspired by the book, but if so it's still interesting that Gold Medal would choose it. This is a reminder to track down more of Binger's work, and it's also a reminder that we're overdue to read another Williams. The cover says he was, “one of the best of all specialists in paperback-original suspense stories,” and it's true.
A blackmailer takes on a murderer and learns he probably should have stayed in his weight class.
We picture Charles Williams coming up with the idea for The Big Bite in the shower. We generally have our best ideas there, so why not him? But wherever he was it was a eureka moment. He probably stopped whatever he was doing—dinner with friends, walking the dog, pleasuring his wife—and without a syllable of explanation sprinted for his writing desk. Friends sit there baffled wondering who's going to cover the check, dog ends up in the pound, wife is left frustrated and has to finish herself off. But that's the price you pay for associating with artistic types—sometimes an idea has to come first. As Williams' story develops, it isn't just his idea for the novel that's ingenious, but his main character's eureka moment within the narrative too.
Professional football player John Harlan is driving his convertible and is forced off the road by a second car. Both cars crash. The driver of the second car is killed, his head smashed in. But Harlan soon learns that the crash was a deliberate murder attempt, though not aimed at him. It was a case of automotive mistaken identity. He subsequently learns that the man who tried to kill him and died in the second car was himself murdered—not killed by the accident as the police presumed. There had been a third car, and from that car came a killer who administered a coup de grâce. Harlan learns all this and decides to blackmail that killer as recompense, because the accident has ruined his football career. He wants $100,000.
We know Williams was proud of himself for coming up with this automotive shell game that leads to blackmail. You know how? Because although his main character keeps referring to his scheme in terms like, “If everything worked out the way I planned...” and, “This was precisely what I needed to happen...” he never explains exactly what his plan is. As readers you have to watch it unfold, and be impressed that this big lug of a gridiron meathead is so smart. But the snag is—and there's always a snag—Harlan doesn't know anything about his blackmail target. He just knows the person owes him for a lost career. But because he hasn't bothered to learn anything about this killer, he has no idea what he's actually up against.
The Big Bite is Charles Williams' ninth book, coming in 1956, and at this point, five years into his career as a novelist, he's in cruise control. His concepts are excellent, his execution close to flawless. If there's any misstep at all it's that he sacrifices some of what he's built over the course of the novel for an ending that's ironic rather than realistic. We've seen this malady strike mid-century crime novels before, but up until that point Williams has a major winner here. Also in the winning category is the cover art by Arthur Sussman. It mirrors the protagonist's master plan perfectly—deceptively simple, yet ultimately ingenious. We highly recommend this book.
There's nothing in her way except a huge red box.
Above you see a wonderful alternate cover for Nothing in Her Way by Charles Williams, with the great Robert McGinnis on the brush chores. We personally don't mind that Gold Medal covered McGinnis's femme fatale with a box of text, but we imagine McGinnis purists do. Considering this cover dates from 1963, it's perhaps a little too much to expect a publisher to feature a practically naked woman on a mainstream novel—and make no mistake, Charles Williams was a mainstream author who sold piles of books. Gold Medal obviously made concessions for the puritans, of which there have always been many in the U.S. But never fear. The case of the censored femme fatale was easy to solve. Just look below, where we've composited together a complete version, not to be found on any other website. Pretty good, no? We're not just pretty faces. See the earlier Gold Medal cover here.
Is it just me or is our fire, like, totally out?
We've mentioned before that when you see the name Charles Williams on a book buy it. Unless it's the wrong Charles WIlliams. Fires of Youth was published by a fly-by-night imprint known as Magnet Books in 1960 and credited to a Charles Williams, but who was actually James Lincoln Collier, who happened to choose for a pseudonym the name of an actual working, thriving thriller author, for reasons we cannot ascertain. Obviously that created confusion and still does, but this is definitely not the Charles Williams who wrote such great thrillers as Hell Hath No Fury and Dead Calm. Magnet Books didn't last long, and in just a year or two was out of business. In true pulp style, at that point a man named Don Robson, who was languishing in Her Majesty's Prison Dartmoor in Devon, England, found Fires of Youth in the prison library, retyped the entire text, presented it as his own work, and in 1963, with the help of the prison's credulous governor, managed to get his plagiarism published in Britain as Young & Sensitive. The book won the Arthur Koestler Literary Prize, which had been established to recognize creative output by British convicts, but Robson's robbery soon came to light. It's a funny story, and you can read a good account of the tale at this link.
Musically speaking, I'm like a piano ballad and you're like a guy playing banjo with his dick. We just don't belong together.
Above, a cover for Nothing in Her Way, another excellent novel by the reliable Charles Williams, this one dealing with con men—and a masterful con woman. Like any book of this sort, the fun is in the scams within scams within scams. It starts as a real estate swindle, and broadens into thoroughbred racing, with numerous mini-stings mixed in, as the main character finds himself getting into deeper trouble trying to keep up with his slippery ex-wife. Good fun from beginning to end, tense, involving, surprising, and affecting. The copyright on this is 1953. We don't know who painted the cover, but since Barye Phillips was tapped for an entire set of Williams fronts for Gold Medal in the early 1950s, it's a reasonable bet he did this one too.
McGinnis sells sea tale with a seashore.
West German publishing company Heyne Bücher makes good use of art by Robert McGinnis on the cover of Der Flamingo Mörder, which was a translation of Charles Williams' 1958 novel The Concrete Flamingo, aka All the Way. This beachy painting originally appeared in Argosy in April 1961 as an illustration for Ed Lacy's story "The Naked Blanco,” but it's a perfect match for Williams, who became a gifted crafter of oceangoing thrillers, among them Dead Calm, And the Deep Blue Sea, Scorpion Reef, and Aground. And yes, we know, by the way, that technically (not even technically, but actually) a fowl is a bird domesticated for its eggs, which flamingos aren't, but you try thinking up headers for these posts for eleven straight years. Anyway, the entire McGinnis painting from which the cover art was borrowed is below. And as always you can learn more about everyone involved by clicking their keywords at bottom.
During my time in the city I learned those folks have some depraved and immoral ideas. Wanna try a few?
When you read a lot of vintage crime fiction of varying quality it's useful to occasionally return to a trusty author like Charles Williams. He's a solid stylist, which makes all his books decent reading experiences. Big City Girl isn't his best, but it's interesting just the same. It's about an escaped convict who, if he accomplishes nothing else while free, wants to murder his wife—the big city girl of the title. She's living with his family on an isolated farm and, in pure femme fatale fashion, is causing more than her share of trouble with her hosts. What Williams attempts to do here is write an entire collection of characters that aren't very smart, and as we've noted before, that's more difficult than you'd think. You have to credit how well the feat is pulled off here. Some of Williams' books we've read have been great, others merely decent, but none have been close to disappointing. You can purchase anything he authored with confidence. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1969—Allende Meteorite Falls in Mexico
The Allende Meteorite, the largest object of its type ever found, falls in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The original stone, traveling at more than ten miles per second and leaving a brilliant streak across the sky, is believed to have been approximately the size of an automobile. But by the time it hit the Earth it had broken into hundreds of fragments.
1985—Matt Munro Dies
English singer Matt Munro, who was one of the most popular entertainers on the international music scene during the 1960s and sang numerous hits, including the James Bond theme "From Russia with Love," dies from liver cancer at Cromwell Hospital, Kensington, London.
1958—Plane Crash Kills 8 Man U Players
British European Airways Flight 609 crashes attempting to take off from a slush-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport in Munich, West Germany. On board the plane is the Manchester United football team, along with a number of supporters and journalists. 20 of the 44 people on board die in the crash.
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