I know—a magenta coat and white beret are bold choices for a clandestine meeting. But just look at the results.
Deep Is the Pit, for which you see Barye Phillips cover art above, is the story of a thief and killer named Marty Lee, who, like Stringer Bell of The Wire, tries to plow his ill-gotten gains into legitimate business. In this case, he swings a deal to buy the decaying old Stannard Hotel in San Francisco, which he turns into one of the hot spots of the West Coast by installing several themed bars and nightclubs. Since all his crimes were committed under a well established false identity and in disguise, he feels pretty safe, even when hostelry success makes him part of Frisco's highly scrutinized glitterati. There's only one snag—his former girlfriend from his criminal days is still around. But because she wants to make it big as a singer and actress, she has no reason to cross a guy who now owns some of the best clubs in California. Her knowledge of his past is neutralized by her ambition, and that's the only reason he hasn't killed her. Well, not the only reason. She's also great in bed.
He eventually jilts her for the rich daughter of the Stannard clan, Karen, and it's here that we see Marty's true colors. His bride is a virgin, and he pretty much ruins sex for her from the word go by ravaging her like an animal, which is the way he's always done it. Her pain and humiliation don't matter to him. He thinks her growing reluctance and eventual refusal to have sex with him is her fault. Even though he understands on some level that she needs gentleness and affection, he can only take what he wants, at whatever time and as violently as his mood dictates. He inevitably turns back to his old girlfriend, carrying on an affair while his upper crust marriage appears on the surface to be a happy one. Yet at the same time, he's very attached to his wife. It isn't love. It's something more akin to bedazzlement.
H. Vernor Dixon is one of those writers who lacks a strong or notable style, yet still puts a story across entertainingly. We were never tempted to skip even a paragraph. It's at about the two-thirds point that Marty's problems arrive in a bunch. His hotel is robbed by some of the subordinates he trained in the art of theft, an underworld figure with whom he's had dealings starts hanging around the property, and his old girlfriend suddenly wants more than just a singing career—or else. He can't do much about the robbers or the mobster, but he can handle his old flame. If he gets rid of her, his other problems will likely sort themselves out. But in these books supposedly disposable women can have tricks of their own up their sleeves. Deep Is the Pit ultimately hinges on Marty's desperate attempt murder his mistress, which Dixon manages to describe tautly and with good twists. The pit is deep indeed, but for readers falling in is a good time.
Wolf cops resort to kicking doors down after controversial court decision bans blowing houses in.
It's a prosaic way to conduct raids, kicking down doors as opposed to huffing and puffing and blowing entire houses in, but that's the way it goes. Reformists are never happy, though. Now they're trying to pass a law preventing wolf cops from dismembering and eating suspects under the full moon. Law enforcement's paws are practically tied at this point. Pretty soon they'll just have to let criminals go free. 1961 on this, with uncredited cover art.
Why am I on the beach this morning in lingerie and one shoe? Let's just say the ball didn't end at midnight.
This piece of art for Lee Roberts' If the Shoe Fits was painted by Robert McGinnis and it's one you see around often, probably because it's a top effort, at least in our view. In addition, the lettering is wonderful, with its two red dots over each “i.” The Crest Books paperback, we understand by looking around online, is usually copyright 1960, but our copy carries a date of 1959. The art relates to the novel only tangentially—missing high heels and whom they might fit are a key element, however they were worn by a fully dressed woman, not by a lingerie clad femme fatale. But as always the final result from McGinnis is amazing. It's possible he custom painted it for the story—with a bit of artistic license taken.
Between the covers, Roberts, aka Robert Martin, spins the tale of a smalltown murder. Young playboy Paul Anway has his head bashed in while sitting lakeside in his convertible, and certain people had reason to hate him—the gamblers to whom he owed four grand, the two women he was dating, the jilted boyfriend of one, a sleazy detective hired for strongarm work, and possibly others. As it happens, all of them had the opportunity to kill Anway, a feat achieved though the gimmick of having him tailed to the secluded site of his eventual murder by three cars at the same time, with two of the drivers unaware that they're involved in a coincidental caravan. It sounds strange, but it works, particularly because the existence of these tails is revealed only in flashback.
The one person who isn't tailing Anway is the protagonist Clinton Shannon—local doctor, county coroner, and all around nice guy. Conceiving Shannon as both a trusted doctor and a city official allows Roberts to provide the character access to almost every event that occurs, a useful trick in a murder mystery. Shannon makes a couple of decisions that might raise an eyebrow—rashly disclosing confidential evidence to the victim's father, for example—but for the most part Roberts writes him as exactly the sort of capable hero stories like this rely upon. With its likeable lead and involving plotline, we think If the Shoe Fits will fit your reading list.
Sometimes to find yourself you need to lose yourself.
It's probably fair to call Beebo Brinker a legendary novel—or at least a notable one. Last in a series of lesbian themed tales written by Ann Bannon, née Ann Weldy, but written as a prequel to the other books, it came out in 1962 and follows young Beebo as she arrives in New York City's Greenwich Village and quickly becomes the most intriguing and sought after denizen of the local scene, searching for and finding herself with the help of her roommate Jack Mann, and a trio of diverse sexual partners.
Of the three, her true love is Paula Ash, who arrives too soon to hold on to a Beebo bent on exploring her boundaries. Part of that exploration involves following a famous actress named Venus Bogardus to Los Angeles, where she's contracted to star in a television show called Million Dollar Baby (no relation to the Clint Eastwood movie). Having found her way out of the closet in Greenwich Village, in Hollywood Beebo has to go right back in to protect Venus's public persona.
Beebo Brinker is a talky book, melodramatic in parts, and highly romantic as well, which Bannon manages to make work thanks to better than average authorial skills, a good sense of Village life, and of course an excellent feel for her main character. Even so, we can't recommend it for everyone simply because it's a tale of self discovery and those tend to be more compelling for people below a certain age. If you've compiled a lot of life experience you probably won't find Beebo's groping her way to sexual awakening very fascinating. But objectively, it's a good book, and we liked it.
The cover on this Gold Medal edition, if you didn't recognize the style immediately, is by Robert McGinnis, and the image is custom made for the novel, showing Beebo upon her arrival in the Village with a wicker suitcase and no idea where to go, standing on the corner of Bleecker and Gay Streets. If you've spent time in the Village you know that Bleecker and Gay don't intersect in reality, so that was McGinnis taking a little license. His cover is, in all respects, excellent work.
She's old enough to know better but too young to care.
So Young, So Wicked is a book we were looking forward to because our previous forays into Jonathan Craig's work were fun. In this one a mafia hitman named Steve Garrity is given a rush job—kill fifteen-year-old Lena Noland, and make it look like an accident. Will he drown her? Push her down some stairs? Run her over? The problem isn't so much choice of method, but having to operate in a small town where strangers tend to be noticed by everyone, and the local piggly wiggly are always on the lookout for big city troublemakers. Therefore Garrity takes the only approach he can—he romances Leda's aunt and legal guardian Nancy so he has a logical reason to be hanging around.
It occasionally happens that a title works against an author, and this is one of those cases. Thanks to the title, we don't have to tell you that Lena is not your typical clueless fifteen-year-old. Craig writes her as a sexually precocious but seemingly sweet girl, however Wicked has been implanted in your head from the moment you saw the book on a secondhand rack, so you know there's more to her than the reader—or crucially, Garrity—suspects. The rear cover also pulls that trick, describing Lena as deadly. Therefore, what Craig clearly meant to be twists have less impact than we'd have liked.
But, fine, Leda is wicked and deadly. You still have to find out in exactly what ways. Compared to other Craigs we've read, though, So Young, So Wicked is a concept that doesn't come to fruition. Partly it's knowing Leda is a very bad girl, but partly it's the writing. Craig does that thing where characters constantly use each others' names in dialogue (“Tell me why you feel that way, Steve.” “Well, Lena, I don't know if I can explain it.” “Try, Steve.”) It reads weird, but the book is basically fine. We just expected more from the guy who wrote Red-Headed Sinners and Alley Girl. This Gold Medal edition is from 1957 and the wrapaound art is by William Rose.
I better make these next few weeks count. I hear the city is switching to brighter LED bulbs.
Above, a cover for Terror in the Night, written by Sebastian Blayne, aka Janet Huckins, and published in 1953 by Fawcett/Gold Medal. The art is uncredited.
Some people wait for success to come. Some people go out and grab it.
Lou Marchetti painted this cover for Chance Elson by W.T. Ballard, and as always does a good job. This came in 1958, and by then Ballard, who had been publishing since the days of Black Mask magazine, was an extremely experienced author. All that practice shows as he weaves the Depression-era tale of a Cleveland nightclub owner who's driven out of business and town by the mafia and crooked cops, fetches up way out west in a wasteland city called Las Vegas, and tries to build a hotel/casino empire. His rival in this endeavor turns out to be the same mafia thug who precipitated his departure from Cleveland.
There's an interesting subplot here involving Elson taking in an orphaned girl of fourteen named Judy, who grows into a beautiful woman and the main love interest. Because she had escaped from a reform school, he at first passes her off as his younger sister, but as she nears adulthood it's pretty clear to most that Woody and Soon-Yi—oops, we mean Chance and Judy—have something more than guardian/ward feelings for each other. As you might suspect, in the deadly game of dueling casinos that develops between Elson and the mafia, she becomes the pawn.
Chance Elson has a timeline that runs for over a decade, so the book moves beyond the boundaries of most crime thrillers into life story territory, and a major theme concerns whether Elson, who's trying to keep a growing Las Vegas from being overrun by organized crime, can win that battle without becoming as bad as those he seeks to thwart. Or more to the point, his business dealings hinge upon ruthlessness, but his personal dealings and opportunity for true love hinge upon becoming a better human being. Are there flaws in the book? Well, we weren't happy with certain aspects of the woman-in-danger subplot. But like we said, Ballard was experienced. His fictional retelling of the rise of Sin City is expert work.
But you can't refuse, or I'll release your shameful sex tape and you'll be ruined. How does becoming a reality star change that? And what the hell is it anyway?
We became interested in the thriller Blackmailer because it was by George Axelrod, who would later go on to become one of Hollywood's most respected screenwriters, scripting such films as Bus Stop, Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Manchurian Candidate, and How To Murder Your Wife. Some reviewers really like this novel, but we thought it was middle-of-the-pack. The bones of the story are good. It's about a publishing executive offered one of the world's most famous author's final, posthumous manuscript—which we quickly learn may not be genuine. The reasons the ultimate villain wants it published are unexpected, but we think Axelrod should have ended up with a better final result. Even so, he supplies the usual thriller ingredients—some twists, a couple of beautiful women, a few beatdowns, and a lot of drinking—which means Blackmailer is worth a read. This edition came in 1952 from Fawcett Publications and Gold Medal Books, and the cover art of a woman lounging with the world's largest pillow is uncredited.
Who can take a casino, walk in sight unseen, eliminate resistance, and collect up all the green? The candyleg. Oh, the candyleg can.
We just finished our second Ovid Demaris novel. The man could write, and his plot set-ups are compelling too. His 1961 mafia thriller Candyleg, also published as Machine Gun McCain, tells the story of McCain, an Alcatraz lifer, who's unexpectedly paroled and told it's so he can mastermind a Las Vegas casino robbery. Jack Falcon, the young and ambitious boss of the western states, wants the casino robbed because it's run by someone he dislikes. McCain is willing, plus he owes a debt for his release, but he soon learns that there are tricky crosscurrents.
Falcon has no doubt McCain can and will rob the casino, but knowing McCain is too independent to share information, Falcon commands his girlfriend Irene to keep McCain close—as in between the sheets—and report back everything going on. McCain, by the way, is Falcon's father. Why do they have different last names? Daddy issues. In any case, he's sending his girlfriend to lay his dad in order to pry info loose about the heist to relay back. It's precarious, family-wise, but high stakes require extraordinary efforts. Falcon needs the best for the heist, and his dad is the best.
Unfortunately, the controlling interests in the casino, who are all headquartered back east, catch vague wind of something related to their valuable and 100% legal investment, and one of their top bosses comes to town to impress upon Falcon that there can be no turbulence of any sort in Vegas—on pain of death. Absolutely, says Falcon, even as he's sweating the fact that McCain, who wants one big score followed by retirement in South America, has gone off-grid and is unreachable. Falcon is counting on Irene to keep in contact, but will she? She doesn't like her boyfriend nearly as much as she likes his dad.
We recommend this thriller. It has interesting characters, a lean but involving plot, good action, good movement, and a lot of moral ambiguity. In the crime fiction genre, Demaris is top notch. At least so far. We'll see if he can keep his streak going. Oh, and what's a candyleg, by the way? It doesn't have anything to do with Irene, though you'd think so reading the front cover blurb. It means a soft touch, and Irene uses it to describe McCain at one point. It's an interesting term, but she's wrong. McCain isn't soft. He's as tough as they come, and so is Demaris's fiction.
I knew we'd have to fight to get a train at rush hour. We should have taken the three-fifteen.
Above: an uncredited cover for High Red for Dead, 1951, from William L. Rohde for Gold Medal. An author chooses yet another interesting profession for his protagonist. This time he's a railroad detective named Mo Daniels who sets out to solve what looks like a deliberate train derailment. Could the disaster have been caused by a competing railroad, the airlines, board members betting on the business to fail? None of the above? Rodhe unexpectedly takes the mystery to a nudist colony where there's a bizarre mile-long footchase through the wilderness between Daniels and a femme fatale named Lucretia Polestra, but otherwise the tale sticks to familiar caper territory. Mo is no schmo—he's as tough as they come. We liked High Red for Dead because of the railway backdrop and nudie sidebar, but we wouldn't call it top notch. If you find it cheap, go for it.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1992—Sci Fi Channel Launches
In the U.S., the cable network USA debuts the Sci Fi Channel, specializing in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and paranormal programming. After a slow start, it built its audience and is now a top ten ranked network for male viewers aged 18–54, and women aged 25–54.
1952—Chaplin Returns to England
Silent movie star Charlie Chaplin returns to his native England for the first time in twenty-one years. At the time it is said to be for a Royal Society benefit, but in reality Chaplin knows he is about to be banned from the States because of his political views. He would not return to the U.S. for twenty years.
1910—Duke of York's Cinema Opens
The Duke of York's Cinema opens in Brighton, England, on the site of an old brewery. It is still operating today, mainly as a venue for art films, and is the oldest continually operating cinema in Britain.
1975—Gerald Ford Assassination Attempt
Sara Jane Moore, an FBI informant who had been evaluated and deemed harmless by the U.S. Secret Service, tries to assassinate U.S. President Gerald Ford. Moore fires one shot at Ford that misses, then is wrestled to the ground by a bystander named Oliver Sipple.
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