Vintage Pulp Jan 5 2023
AVENGER'S ENDGAME
There's no plan B. There's only payback.


Above you see a cover for The Avenger, written by Matthew Blood and published in 1952. It's a detective novel that reads like a parody. It was the first of two starring hard-boiled private dick Morgan Wayne, and it's immediately clear why the character lasted only two outings. In many hard-boiled detective books the hero is unrealistically tough and the women unbelieveably pliant, but here that's taken to a ridiculous extreme, only with poor writing that makes clear that this is not a parody, but a serious attempt at urban crime drama in the Spillane mold. At one point the anti-hero Wayne bites the head off a crook's prized goldfish then shoots him. This is all in pursuit of the person who killed Wayne's new secretary Lois, who he'd been looking forward to laying:

He concentrated fiercely on visualizing her as she must be waiting for him now. That was the only drawback to this affair. There hadn't been enough build-up. Not enough expectation. Nothing at all of the slow and delicious burning that gradually takes complete possession of a man during the period of delightful dalliance that generally precedes the consummation of a civilized love affair.

So much wrong with that paragraph. Delightful dalliance that precedes consummation? But we'll let it pass:

She must be waiting for him in her apartment now, damn it. Soaking up the warmth of a hot bath while she waited for him and anticipated his coming. He savagely cursed the circumstances that were keeping them apart, and unconsciously trod the accelerator closer and closer to the floor boards...

That's pretty bad too. Anyway, Wayne arrives at Lois's apartment to find her dead and mutilated, and along the road to solving the crime he's pursued sexually by a sixteen-year-old, her mother, and various other cock-starved characters, before climbing the ladder to the person who ordered the murder and taking care of business. It's all written in the same graceless fashion as the above examples. The amazing part is that Matthew Blood was a pseudonym for W. Ryerson Johnson and David Dresser. There's no excuse for two brains producing a half-witted book. We do like the cover art, though, and no wonder—it's Barye Phillips again.
 
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Vintage Pulp Dec 25 2022
VIDAL SIGNS
This Cameron Kay fella might just amount to something one day.


Cameron Kay was a pseudonym used by literary leading light Gore Vidal when he was short of cash and needed to publish and get paid fast. He'd used other pseudonyms for this purpose, including Edgar Box and Katherine Everard. It took him about three weeks to produce 1953's Thieves Fall Out, and he made three grand on the deal. It's one of those books where a money-seeking rando goes to a foreign country and immediately inserts himself into the biggest caper going for hundreds of miles around—and does it, improbably, with great ease, while seeming to think, irrationally, that it's a good idea. This character, named Peter Wells, ultimately turns sour on the venture and must figure out a way to flee Egypt with his true love by his side.

Though Vidal is not at the heights he'd reach in his best writing, you already know that going in. In the final analysis he gets the job done, like a good carpenter working on a quick side project. We glanced at a few reviews after finishing the story and they seem to miss the point that Vidal does exactly what adventure fiction requires. Saying the book's plot is stock is like saying dance music is repetitive. It has to be that way to make you dance. Because of the identity of the author, it feels as if reviewers try to flaunt their intellectual bona fides by trashing the result. We're not going to do that. The book is satisfactory.

What Vidal does especially well is local color—though refracted through a wealthy Western prism that few Egyptians would appreciate. Yet it's clear he tries to be egalitarian, if imperfectly, and he crafts a tale with unique characters. There's a piano playing hunchback who hides behind a wall and looks at his nightclub through a peephole, a beautiful French countess who was once the mistress of Egypt's top Nazi, and a fresh young beauty who's the unrequited love of King Farouk of Egypt—who has her followed everywhere by his secret police. Those ideas are unusual, for sure, but they're not as farfetched as some reviewers would like you to think.

We make that statement confidently because we've lived in the wilder world. In Guatemala we met an ex-judge from a proximate country who had fled because of being targeted for death by the new ruling party, but who was a drunk who craved public enjoyment and had shaved his head and grown a beard in order to hang in dive bars unrecognized. Was his story true? Maybe. He had a judicial identification card he eventually showed us that looked real enough. Real enough, in fact, that we gave him a wide berth from then on, thinking that if he was assassinated we didn't want to be in the line of fire. It may not sound real, but there you go. It happened.

Therefore we don't agree with reviewers who think Vidal's characters are intentionally absurd, and that he was pushing the envelope of how bizarre he could make his cast. Such people exist. Vidal would have found them. They make Thieves Fall Out a fascinating read. The book isn't top of the genre, nor bottom, but it's unique, and has a fun climax tied into the burgeoning Egyptian revolution and the real-life fire that destroyed one of the most famous hotels in the world. Here's what Thieves Fall Out is in summation: readable, distracting, and just leftfield enough to let you know the author is someone with a different take on the world, who'd later distill his ideas into fiction that would make him a literary sensation. 

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Vintage Pulp Nov 16 2022
WAY OVER HER HEAD
Dan J. Marlowe gives readers an immersive experience.


Death Deep Down, a thriller from the typewriter of the prolific Dan J. Marlowe, was published in 1965, which is a significant year compared to the books from the ’40s and ’50s we typically read. Books from the mid-sixties and later usually have pacing more similar to today's novels, with faster movement and more action-oriented plot beats. That's true here, and combined with good writing skill, the result is that there isn't a single page Marlowe has written that readers would likely be tempted to gloss over at any point. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

The story revolves around a potential fortune-making modification to scuba equipment (or SCUBA if you prefer), and the various forces—business, government, and non-aligned—that all want the rights to it. When you think scuba you think warm waters, and the cover illustration reinforces that notion, but all the aquatic action is in the freezing waters of Long Island Sound, off Oyster Bay. The protagonist Rocky Conrad, a marine on leave from the Vietnam War, is drawn into the plot when his half brother, who developed the gear, is tortured to death. This is juxtaposed against an inheritance drama within a wealthy family, while lurking in background are mysterious assassins of sadistic bent, who flay skin, break bones, and cut out eyes. Who they're working for is one of several mysteries Rocky needs to unravel. He goes about it the way you'd expect of a guy with his name—fists first.

This was Marlowe's tenth novel, and he knew exactly what he was about. There aren't many flaws, though it's at times jarringly pervy, with female characters getting fully or partly naked according to flimsy authorial pretexts. We love nudity, but within the narrative flow. Rocky's asides get a little digressive. Even so, the female characters play important roles both behind the scenes of the caper, and front and center in the action. One such instance involves a vicious fight. We just mentioned how rarely authors write truly knock-down drag-out battles between two women, and presto—here you go. This fight is amazingly hateful, with face scratching, hair ripping, and the combatants rolling off a deck. At the end both require serious medical attention and are likely to be scarred for life. It's a nice punctuation in a book filled with good action.

Turning to the striking cover, this Gold Medal edition features the instantly recognizable work of Robert McGinnis, and his genius shines through even on what is an understated effort by his standards. As often occurs with mid-century paperbacks, the blurb is misleading. Topside she was all honey and sex and woman—underwater she had the conscience of a shark. That's every woman in the book apart from the main love interest Dulcie, which makes it potentially foolish that Rocky treats them all dismissively. The only thing more dangerous than a femme fatale is, like, three of them. We're going to try another Marlowe. Based on how involved we got in Death Deep Down, more is mandatory.
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Modern Pulp Sep 25 2022
MAN ABOUT TOWN
Matt Dillon gets on an unstoppable roll.


Above is a poster for the U.S. movie The Big Town, which is a drama released today in 1987, set in 1957, based on the 1967 Clark Howard novel The Arm. We like 1950s movies. And we like new movies set during the 1950s. It's always interesting to see an interpretation of the era, versus productions actually made during those years. The Big Town is a fun rendition, as pretty boy Matt Dillon plays a skilled young dice shooter who leaves podunkville Indiana for Chicago and experiences all its pleasures and pains.

On the pleasure side is femme fatale fan dancer Diane Lane, and bringing the pain is Tommy Lee Jones as a gambler who runs a crooked nightspot called the Gem Club—and who happens to be married to Lane. It's always a bad idea to bed a bad man's wife, but it's an even worse idea to break his bank for $15,000. Dillon does both. Later he tries to engineer a high stakes double-cross that will allow him to win the Gem Club in a craps game. Along the road from rags to potential there are plenty of subplots, including revenge, good girl redemption, and the struggle to retain's one's soul.

The Big Town is often called a neo-noir, and though any film with a crime focus and numerous night scenes tends to get that label slapped on it, in this case we feel like the designation is accurate. The movie deals not only with crime and gambling, but also takes passes at burlesque, racism, and the culture clash between ’40s style tough guys and new generation hipsters, with their sculpted hair and rock and roll attitudes. On the acting front, Dillon does a good job, and Jones is excellent as always, doing that unique thing he does. If you're looking for a fast period drama you can certainly do worse.

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Vintage Pulp Sep 24 2022
A FASHION RISK
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. 

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Vintage Pulp Aug 15 2022
DEFANG THE POLICE
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. 

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Vintage Pulp Jun 26 2022
BRINKER OF DISCOVERY
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.
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Vintage Pulp Jun 15 2022
OF A CERTAIN AGE
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.
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Vintage Pulp Jun 13 2022
STALKING AFTER MIDNIGHT
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.

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Vintage Pulp May 28 2022
CRIME DOESN'T PAY
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. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
February 01
1920—Royal Canadian Mounted Police Forms
In Canada, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, aka Gendarmerie royale du Canada, begins operations when the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, founded 1873, and the Dominion Police, founded 1868, merge. The force, colloquially known as Mounties, is one of the most recognized law enforcement groups of its kind in the world.
1968—Image of Vietnam Execution Shown in U.S.
The execution of Viet Cong officer Nguyen Van Lem by South Vietnamese National Police Chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan is videotaped and photographed by Eddie Adams. This image showed Van Lem being shot in the head, and helped build American public opposition to the Vietnam War.
January 31
1928—Soviets Exile Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky, a Bolshevik revolutionary, Marxist theorist, and co-leader of the Russian October Revolution, is exiled to Alma Ata, at the time part of the Soviet Union but now located in Kazakhstan. He is later expelled entirely from the Soviet Union to Turkey, accompanied by his wife Natalia Sedova and his son Lev Sedov.
January 30
1933—Hitler Becomes Chancellor
Adolf Hitler is sworn in as Chancellor of Germany in President Paul Von Hindenburg's office, in what observers describe as a brief and simple ceremony. Hitler's first speech as Chancellor takes place on 10 February. The Nazis' seizure of power subsequently becomes known as the Machtergreifung.
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