Basically, the way this job works is my customers phone for drugs and I have people like you deliver them. I call it Instagram.
David Dodge is one of our favorite authors. He's as solid as they get. In 1946 he jumped on the drug hysteria wagon with It Ain't Hay, and which the British imprint Corgi Books re-issued in 1953 as A Drug on the Market. The book features Dodge's tax accountant hero Walt Whitney, star of three previous books, who learns that a prospective client has made his money by sailing marijuana from Mexico to Half Moon Bay, California. This tale is notable for Dodge in that he moves away from his semi-comic comfort zone and into darker territory in which Whitney breaks all kinds of personal codes while trying to bring the kingpin to justice. Dodge comes from the generation that hated drugs but loved to get loaded on booze, so it all reads a bit ironically today, but we don't judge—maybe one day people will say what reactionaries our generation was about uncut black tar heroin. Dodge's storytelling skill is unscathed, and that's all that matters. With Dodge, you can't miss.
And long story short, that's why my senior class voted me most likely to be kidnapped. So really, this comes as no surprise.
Above is an uncredited 1961 cover from Corgi Books for Lucille Fletcher's Blindfold. If her name sounds familiar it may because she also wrote the classic Sorry, Wrong Number. Her main character here isn't kidnapped. He's a psychiatrist who's flown top secret to treat a patient whose identity and location he's not allowed to learn. It's actually the patient who may be the kidnapping victim, though the doc is in danger too, from mere association. When events force him to try locating his mystery patient again, despite having been blindfolded each time he was taken to see him, the doc's keen senses come into play—everything from his internal clock to the feel of the ground beneath his shoes to his sense of smell.
Is he able to locate a distant place he's never seen with his own eyes? Well, it wouldn't much of a thriller if he couldn't. We don't know if this is the first time this gimmick was used in a novel, but it's a pretty cool plot contrivance. Interestingly, despite the Cold War seriousness of the novel and the intense menace of the paperback's cover art, the story was transformed into one of those insouciant little thrillers peculiar to the 1960s, along the lines of Charade or Arabesque. It was also called Blindfold and it starred Rock Hudson and Claudia Cardinale. In fact, see below...
I see dead people. Not next week's lottery numbers. Not future stock fluctuations. Just useless, creepy dead people.
Richard Matheson was a well known writer who published many novels and short stories, penned teleplays for The Twilight Zone, and wrote the novel Psycho—which later became Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller—but his 1962 supernatural novel A Stir of Echoes is a bit obscure. It's probably better known as a 1999 movie starring the ubiquitous Kevin Bacon. The story here deals with a man whose talent as a medium is accidentally unleashed when he's hypnotized at a party. The book isn't elegantly written. A typical sentence: He walked weavingly toward the door. But you don't have to be a master stylist to tell a good story and that's what Matheson did over the course of his long career, churning out great concept after great concept, here unspooling the tale of a man who can't control his unbidden psychic talent. With the power to see the future, the protagonist gains unwanted knowledge of kidnapping, adultery, a shooting, and other violent and nightmarish occurrences. It defies belief that all this happens in a week or two on a formerly quiet suburban street, but A Stir of Echoes is an entertaining story with a nice twist ending. We haven't seen the movie but we're curious now.
Work hard, play hard, die young, live forever.
Dorothy Baker's hit 1938 novel Young Man with a Horn tells a story inspired by jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, who, along with Louis Armstrong, was one of the most important early jazz soloists, but who drank himself to death in 1931, when he was only twenty-eight. Baker's protagonist is Rick Martin, who gets to live a couple of years longer than Beiderbecke before she knocks him off. Hope that didn't give too much away. The book was optioned by Hollywood and became a 1950 movie starring Kirk Douglas, which we talked about last year. The great cover, our primary interest today, was painted by British artist Josh Kirby, a legendary illustrator who during his long career did fronts for westerns, crime thrillers, James Bond novels, and non-fiction books, as well as creating many fronts and interior illustrations for sci-fi magazines. As you can see, he had a bold vision and a very confident hand. We'll keep an eye out for more of his work. This one is from 1962, for Corgi Books.
But since you're about to have so much of it inflicted on you shouldn't you be telling yourself it isn't real?
The cover you see here was painted by Eric Tansley, who produced relatively few paperback fronts as far as we can discern, but who was prolific in other areas, including illustrating nature books and making western fine art. This nice effort for British author Robert Westerby's Only Pain Is Real is from 1953.
Spillane thriller gives new meaning to getting in too deep.
This cover for Mickey Spillane's The Deep comes from the UK imprint Corgi Books, which gave Spillane's entire catalog similar minimalist—and uncredited—treatment. Spillane had a couple of gaps in his publishing career, and this book came in 1961 after a nine year break following his indoctrination into the Jehovah's Witnesses in 1952. It has a main character named Deep and he's on a revenge spree, so there's the title for you. Though the cover isn't credited we suspect it was painted by Renato Fratini. It looks like his work, and he did a Spillane series for Corgi during the early 1960s.
An American crime story.
Written by The Gordons, who were the tandem of spouses Gordon Gordon and Mildred Gordon, FBI Story follows Agent John Ripley as he investigates the disappearance of a woman named Genie. She's wanted for theft by the FBI, and by the Los Angeles police as a person of interest in a murder case. Ripley finds that he and the missing woman have a lot in common, a fact revealed by his perusal of her bookshelf and diary. Is she really a criminal or just a desperate woman in deep trouble? As the investigation unfolds and the search spans the entire United States, we learn that other people are after her, including a millionaire American fascist who looks like Hitler and rants about the master race. Eventually Ripley uncovers jewel thievery, treason, and the mysterious Genie herself.
Originally published in hardback on the heels of World War II in 1950, FBI Story delves deeply into the weariness and cynicism of combat vets, of which Ripley is one, yet all the agents are unswervingly dutiful and honest. Considering the fact that the novel is dedicated to J. Edgar Hoover, one could be excused for branding it propaganda. In fact, Gordon Gordon was an ex-FBI agent and had J. Edgar Hoover approve his work. Even so, FBI Story is generally considered a good read. It was later turned into a movie starring James Stewart and Vera Miles. The Bantam edition of the book is from 1955 with uncredited art, and the Corgi one appeared in 1957 with Mitchell Hooks on the cover chores.
Beauty and the beasts.
Wade Miller was a shared pseudonym of Robert Wade and William Miller, and in Kiss Her Goodbye they tell the tale of a pair of siblings—a steady, responsible brother named Ed and his childlike but beautiful sister Emily. By childlike, we mean she’s fully grown but was stricken in her youth by some kind of brain ailment, maybe encephalitis, that stunted her mental development. She violently explodes when men make sexual advances toward her, something that happens constantly because, well, mainly because men are scum, but also because bombshell Emily is friendly toward strangers. You can imagine where this all leads. We’ve shared quite a few fronts from Corgi Books this year and this one from British artist Oliver Brabbins is especially nice with its color blocking and sprawled figure. Truly excellent work, and the book is good too. We have another piece from Brabbins here, and we’ll definitely have more later.
It could be worse, I guess—I could be working at Wal-Mart.
Georges Arnaud’s 1952 thriller Le salaire de la peur, aka The Wages of Fear has one of the great set-ups in literary history—four desperate men agree to drive two truckloads of nitroglycerine through the treacherous Guatemalan mountains to where it’s needed to put out an oil well fire. Mud, rain, potholes, steep inclines, hairpin turns, and fallen boulders are bad enough on their own, but for men strapped into rolling bombs each of these is a deadly test of both luck and nerves. Arnaud’s masterpiece sold more than two million copies worldwide, which is why if you seek out a vintage copy you’ll find many versions, including this Corgi edition from 1960 with uncredited but excellent cover art. This book has always resonated for us because we lived in Guatemala for two years, which made it mandatory reading. But you’ll appreciate it even if you’ve never been there.
Okay, okay, I owe you five bucks—you can do more pull-ups than me.
John Richards offers up striking cover art for UK imprint Corgi Books’ edition of Bill S. Ballinger’s The Longest Second. The story concerns a man who wakes up in a hospital bed with amnesia and a slashed throat who must go about finding his identity and situation. Unable to speak, and with no way to tell who is friend or foe, he digs for clues. He discovers his name is Vic Pacific, he was found naked save for his shoes—one of which contained a thousand dollar bill—and things just get weirder from there. Two women quickly become involved, but one of them… well, she ends up hanging around a bit too long. The Longest Second was originally published in 1957, was nominated for an Edgar Award in 1958, and the Corgi edition above is from 1960. It’s considered one of Ballinger’s best.
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