Underneath her cool exterior lies a completely different woman.
Paula is another southern sin novel—i.e. set in a decadent, overheated south where sex and greed combine to produce deadly results. This one follows an oil worker who goes to work for an impotent millionaire and his young hottie of a wife—the eponymous Paula. Hero gets hottie pregnant and murder must follow, but it’s after the killing that things really begin to fall apart, and in unpredictable ways. You know the basic idea because you read it in James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice and “Double Indemnity.” Though the cover art from Mitchell Hooks doesn’t specifically invoke a southern mood, it’s really quite nice, especially how the robe is rendered in a style that verges on calligraphy, complimenting the edges of the mirror, and how the reflection in the glass is red, revealing the fiery intensity beneath Paula's cool exterior. Nice touch. You can see a couple more Hooks pieces here and here.
Coconut rum, ma'am? But I only brought two straws, so I'm afraid your husband will have to bugger off.
John P. Marquand won a 1938 Pulitzer Prize for The Late George Apley, so the above effort may seem a bit lightweight for him, but Marquand started out in genre fiction before becoming a leading literary figure. In his prime he specialized in satire of the upper classes, and Sun, Sea and Sand follows in that tradition, telling the tale of Epsom Felch, a problematic member of the snobbish Mulligatawny Club, which is located in the Bahamas. Epsom is a bit of a prankster, and the stuffy club membership are increasingly fed up with him, even though—as his main defender Spike constantly points out—pretty much every fun or memorable event that ever took place at the club was Epsom's doing. Everything comes to a head at the annual Pirate Night ball.
We really like Marquand. Always have. He's a funny and subtle writer, at least in his literary guise, and here you get that classic sense of the upper class cutting off its nose to spite its face, as club members conspire to boot a non-conformist though he's the only person bringing adventure and joy into their circle. Sun, Sea and Sand is novella length, and indeed its entirety first appeared in the May 1950 issue of Cosmopolitan, at right. The compact paperback edition, which is really little more than a pamphlet, comes from Dell, and the amusing cover art is by S.B. Jones.
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.
Well, instead how about I just tell you why you’ll probably never get one of us in the sack?
Yes, this Harry Reasoner is the famed American newsman. Tell Me About Women was his only novel, written mostly while he was serving as a correspondent for Stars and Stripes during World War II, and was originally published by Beechhurst Press in 1946. Reasoner described the book as warmly received, but joked about its poor sales, and after a time admitted he cringed over the prose, perhaps because he never really knew anything about women until he fathered five daughters. The book is partly autobiographical, and follows the pattern of a lot of novels from the period—war, discharge, disillusionment, and troubled relations with the opposite sex. The Dell edition above appeared in 1950, and the art is by Harry Barton.
Always digging up trouble.
We really like this 1944 Dell paperback cover for Dashiell Hammett’s A Man Called Spade. The book contains three Sam Spade stories, plus two other tales. The art is by Gerald Gregg, an illustrator who avoided titillation in his work. While some of his pieces don’t catch the eye the way typical good girl art did, certain pieces—like this one—are really good. The map back by Ruth Belew and four-page Introduction “Meet Sam Spade” by Ellery Queen make this edition highly collectible.
Sorry to barge in. Remember you said your life was total shit and couldn’t possibly get worse? The sheriff is here with a county crew—he says he has to bulldoze your shack.
We’ve already shared Robert McGinnis covers twice this month, but since it’s in the charter of pretty much every pulp website to feature him constantly, here’s another contribution—Deadly Welcome, written by John D. MacDonald, 1959, for Dell Publishing. Probably a substantial proportion of you have read this, but if not, it deals with a government employee sent by the Defense Department back to his home town, the fictional Ramona Beach, Florida, to locate a missing government scientist. We'll get into what we think about MacDonald's writing at a later date. Not that our opinion matters, but we have to fill up these posts somehow.
Okay, we’re ready to go. Um, anytime lazybones. Helloooo. Geez, it’s like he doesn’t even hear us.
Above, a cover for Three Women in Black, a mystery by the prolific American author Helen Reilly, née Helen Kieran, 1953. Part of the Inspector McKee series, this is the story of a wealthy man murdered in a roomful of people, an event which is followed by a second murder, and the uncovering of motives involving blackmail and a hidden inheritance, with a love triangle to add spice to the proceedings. Reilly was a heavyweight in the mystery genre and most of her books sold well and read well, but this one is among her best. The nice art is by Griffith Foxley.
It’s not as fun a place as you think.
Artist William Rose produced this great cover for Doris Miles Disney’s reverse mystery Dead Stop, aka Dark Road, in 1946. Doris Disney was a major writer who produced dozens of novels, many of which were made into movies, including the above (retitled Fugitive Lady), Family Skeleton, (retitled Stella), and Straw Man. This particular novel is about a woman named Hazel Clement who has a comfortable marriage to a boring man and decides that if she had a hammer, she’d hammer in the morning, hammer in the evening, all over his head. No spoiler there—the cover gives it away. The success of the book prompted Disney to write five more starring Jeff DiMarco, the insurance investigator tasked with unraveling Dead Stop’s mystery. We’ve read a couple of Disney books, and we can tell you she penned some pleasingly dark novels that are well worth the time. And in case you’re wondering, she’s unrelated to you-know-who.
They say there are victors and losers in life, but what if you’re both?
David Mark’s 1959 thriller Long Shot, originally published as The Long Chance in 1955, is a look at the life of a compulsive gambler. He picks winning horses, losing horses, marries Ruth, beds Katy and Carol, picks winning horses, picks many more losing horses, and eventually resorts to lies, cheating, theft, and so forth. To understand what the novel is about all you really need to know is the lead character’s doubly predictive name—Evan Victor Loeser. The excellent art here is by Mitchell Hooks.
But I’ve been super tense, and my masseur—his name is Pablo, by the way—he offered to make a house call, and…
Above is a Victor Kalin cover for the John D. MacDonald thriller Soft Touch, a book that originally appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine as Taint of the Tiger in March 1958, back when Cosmo used to print abridged novels. It’s the story of a man whose old war buddy approaches him with an offer to commit a seven-figure heist. The idea is to rob a courier of cash he’s shuttling from Latin America. The lead character is willing to do the job because his work sucks, he misses military action, and his wife is a cheating lush. Basically, he sees the crime as a way out, but of course he actually ends up getting way in—everything goes wrong. Taint of the Tiger was published in hardback as Soft Touch shortly after its Cosmo debut, and appeared in August the same year as a Dell paperback edition, above, with Kalin’s art. This is MacDonald before he invented Travis McGee. Not perfect, but well worth a read.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
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.
1940—Trotsky Iced in Mexico
In Mexico City exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky is fatally wounded with an ice axe
(not an ice pick) by Soviet agent Ramon Mercader. Trotsky dies the next day.
1968—Prague Spring Ends
200,000 Warsaw Pact troops backed by 5,000 tanks invade Czechoslovakia to end the Prague Spring political liberalization movement.
1986—Sherrill Goes Postal
In Edmond, Oklahoma, United States postal employee Patrick Sherrill shoots and kills fourteen of his co-workers and then commits suicide.
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