What a perfect day. It's days like this that make me glad we invested early in cryptocurrency and retired before thirty.
Above is a Charles Binger cover for John D. MacDonald's 1959 novel The Beach Girls. At this point, we know anything he wrote pre-Travis McGee is going to be good, and even the McGee books are mostly entertaining despite the main character's off-putting social judgments. The Beach Girls is a bit different from other MacDonalds we've read, largely written in a sort of round robin style where the final words of each chapter lead mid-sentence into the first words of the next, but with a change in first person point-of-view. The book cycles through numerous characters via this interesting trick before settling into standard third person narration for the finish.
The story deals with the inhabitants of a marina in fictional Elihu Beach, Florida, some of whom are friends, others enemies, some longtime residents, others newcomers, and how jealousy and resentment lead to a shocking act of violence. From the earliest pages you know this event is coming, and as the book wears on you become pretty sure who's going to be the unfortunate though deserving recipient, and who's going to be the giver. The main question becomes whether MacDonald will subvert these expectations and throw readers a curve. We'll just say it wasn't a predictable tale.
The only thing we don't get is why it's called The Beach Girls. The nearby beach area of the town is mentioned only a few times, no scenes are set there, and the book has an ensemble cast, with the women no more important than the men. There are groups of tourist women that pop up here and there, but they don't impact the story at all. Oh well. The title is a mystery, but an unimportant one. We'll get back to MacDonald a bit later. These 1950s efforts of his have been very worthwhile.
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.
Wait—you're in the mafia? I thought being a good fella was your explanation for why everyone in Little Italy is so nice to you.
I, Mobster, published in 1951, is credited to anonymous but we learned somewhere that it was written by Joseph Hilton Smyth. We don't know how we found that out—a rumor, a tip, an informant—but we're pretty sure we're right. The art is also by an unknown, by the way. The book details the rise of a petty crook through the ranks of the mafia. Anonymous or not, you can be absolutely sure whoever wrote it came forward at some point, because the book was adapted into a 1958 movie and the author would have wanted to get paid for that. We decided not to buy the book, but the movie stars Steve Cochrane and features Lili St. Cyr, so we'll definitely check that out later.
There are skeletons in the closet, and then there are entire graveyards.
Above is a nice Barye Phillips cover for Savage Bride, an alternate to the one we showed you last year, also painted by Phillips. This cover is far nicer, we think. The teaser tells the truth—this story is weird and terrifying. Well, not terrifying in the sense that it'll give you chills. More in the sense that you can't possibly imagine what you'd do if your wife were like the one in this book. You can read a bit more about it here.
Wow. And to think I criticized my last boyfriend for not showing his emotions.
Above, a cover for Weep for Me by John D. MacDonald, for Gold Medal Books with art by Owen Kampen featuring a female figure who looks completely over it. This has the feel of an exact moment from the narrative, but we haven't read it. However, we do have a copy we're going to get to at some point. When we do we'll report back on this fraught scene.
The mob comes to California and spreads like a virus.
Above you see a piece of atypical Barye Phillips art on the cover of the 1957 crime thriller The Hoods Take Over, written by Ovid Demaris. We call it atypical because Phillips rarely painted in collage style, with multiple figures and elements crowded onto a canvas. In fact, this is the first we've seen of this technique from him, though we wouldn't be surprised if there are others. Working in this way, Phillips' beautiful visual style is simplified to the level of comic book art. We think it diminishes his genius, but hey, we bet it paid just as well as his other covers.
Turning to the story here, the title is perfectly descriptive—organized crime hoods are taking over L.A. But the overmatched cops are given a tool to check the rampant spread of lawlessness when a school teacher witnesses a brutal mob murder and—shockingly—is willing to testify even though it endangers his life. This is an excellent tale with a modern feel and pacing, told in numerous short chapters, and starring an array of characters. It hits the ground running, maintains a strong sense of dread, and never lets the tension abate.
We won't get into the plot too much except to say that we love novels where survivability for the good guys isn't guaranteed, and here you are in no way assured that the protagonists—embodied by that proud but possibly foolish teacher—will win. Will he stick to his principles when the mob comes a-knocking, threatening him and his pregnant wife? Most people wouldn't, but this particular citizen thinks he can make a difference. Because he never fought in World War II he believes the challenge now before him is how he's meant to contribute to the world's hard-won freedom.
The Hoods Take Over isn't a perfect novel. For one thing, its violent and messy ending is a shade on the improbable side, possibly conceived because Demaris felt it was the only way to conclude all his disparate character arcs in economical fashion. But unlikely or not, it's a slam-bang climax, and the book is very good overall. So good, in fact, that we immediately went online and located a couple more Demaris novels, and went way above our usual price ceiling for paperbacks to buy them. Guess we've come down with a bad case of Ovid.
This absolutely sucks. Next time grandma needs a basket of food I'm telling her to order it from Uber Eats.
Have you heard the story of Little Red Riding with Hoods? It's a classic. Little Red Riding with Hoods leaves her cottage one day intent on buying a gift with a cashier's check. She crashes into a carload of bank robbers, and since their vehicle is now disabled, they steal hers—with her in it. They flee to their hideout, and thereafter are divided over what to do with Red. But the debate is short. They all know she's a witness and must be killed, which makes efforts by the cops a race against time. Crucially, they've lost some of that time because when the cops find out about the cashier's check they think Red has run away to start a new life. But they finally uncover a salesman who's owed for the gift Red ordered, and at that point realize she has indeed been kidnapped and probably doesn't have long to live. How does it all end? Well, we can tell you this—the book could have gone all sorts of places, but in 1957 when Lionel White published it, is there any doubt Red lives happily ever after? You sense it early and grow more certain with each page. But don't yell spoiler at us—Hostage for a Hood is still a good read, foregone conclusion and all.
I know it isn't exactly Tahiti, baby, but it's warm, cheap, and there aren't any COVID restrictions.
We're fans of illustrator James Meese. His covers are easy to caption. Remember Fort Everglades? How about Amazon Head-Hunters? We don't know if credit goes to him for the interesting moments his chose for his work, or if the publishers who employed him were responsible, but we'll take it. Above is another—Gil Brewer's 1953 novel Hell's Our Destination, with a couple who look like they've just realized their non-refundable AirBnB is right over a country/western dance bar that stays open until sunrise.
These shots are surprisingly revealing. This shaving thing you do—call me crazy but I think that could really catch on.
Above, a Barye Phillips cover for Bodies in Bedlam by Richard S. Prather, the second entry in his forty-one novel series (or maybe it was forty-two) starring detective Shell Scott, for Gold Medal Books, 1951. We have a couple, so we'll circle back to Prather and Mr. Scott a bit later.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1949—First Emmy Awards Are Presented
At the Hollywood Athletic Club in Los Angeles, California, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences presents the first Emmy Awards. The name Emmy was chosen as a feminization of "immy", a nickname used for the image orthicon tubes that were common in early television cameras.
1971—Manson Family Found Guilty
Charles Manson and three female members of his "family" are found guilty of the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders, which Manson orchestrated in hopes of bringing about Helter Skelter, an apocalyptic war he believed would arise between blacks and whites.
1961—Plane Carrying Nuclear Bombs Crashes
A B-52 Stratofortress carrying two H-bombs experiences trouble during a refueling operation, and in the midst of an emergency descent breaks up in mid-air over Goldsboro, North Carolina. Five of the six arming devices on one of the bombs somehow activate before it lands via parachute in a wooded region where it is later recovered. The other bomb does not deploy its chute and crashes into muddy ground at 700 mph, disintegrating while driving its radioactive core fifty feet into the earth, where it remains to this day.
1912—International Opium Convention Signed
The International Opium Convention is signed at The Hague, Netherlands, and is the first international drug control treaty. The agreement was signed by Germany, the U.S., China, France, the UK, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Persia, Portugal, Russia, and Siam.
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