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.
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.
Poor baby. If I'm making you cry now, just wait. I've got shit planned for you that'll really unleash the waterworks.
We said we'd get back to Paul Connolly's and here we are. This cover for his 1952 novel Tears Are for Angels was painted by Barye Phillips, and though skillful as always, it's deceptively plain for a book laden with doom, steeped in pending disaster, and populated by lost souls suffering in self-made hells. What you get here is a man named Harry London, whose shoot-first reaction to adultery comes at the heavy price of his amputated arm and his wife's life, due to his attempt to kill her lover going horribly awry. After two years of drinking himself into oblivion his chance for revenge comes along in the person of his dead wife's friend Jean, who signs onto London's long delayed murder scheme. The book is a clinic in noir style, with characterizations pushed to the very darkest levels, like something James M. Cain thought up, then went, “Naaah! Too downbeat!” Self loathing and hate fucks make the book overwhelmingly malicious, then comes the wild murder scheme, which has WARNING! DISASTER AHEAD! across it in flashing letters. Additionally, the task Connolly sets for himself here is to make a beautiful woman's attraction to a drunken, reeking, one-armed ogre of a man seem plausible. He failed, as almost any writer would, but we have to give him credit—even though the romantic interaction between his leads is ridiculous, he makes turning each page an exercise in dread. That takes talent. Tears Are for Angels is a fascinating read.
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.
It never ceases to amaze me how she can be totally batshit insane awake yet seem so sweet and innocent asleep.
This cover is brilliant but uncredited, painted for So Fair, So Evil by Paul Connolly, aka Tom Wicker, for Gold Medal Books, 1955. Our header, of course, could apply to men as well, probably more so, but we work with the art we have. The story concerns a Korean War vet whose wife commits suicide while he's in a mental institution. Upon his release he concludes that it was murder and decides to solve the crime, which invloves dealing with his wife's rich southern family. Generally, the book has rapturous reviews, but we couldn't find a vintage edition. We did, however, find a vintage copy of Connolly's 1952 novel Tears Are for Angels, which is supposed to be excellent too. We'll read it and report back.
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.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
2009—Farrah Fawcett Dies
American actress Farrah Fawcett, who started as a model but became famous after one season playing detective Jill Munroe on the television show Charlie's Angels
after a long battle with cancer.
1938—Chicora Meteor Lands
In the U.S., above Chicora, Pennsylvania, a meteor estimated to have weighed 450 metric tons explodes in the upper atmosphere and scatters fragments across the sky. Only four small pieces are ever discovered, but scientists estimate that the meteor, with an explosive power of about three kilotons of TNT, would have killed everyone for miles around if it had detonated in the city.
1973—Peter Dinsdale Commits First Arson
A fire at a house in Hull, England, kills a six year old boy and is believed to be an accident until it later is discovered to be a case of arson. It is the first of twenty-six deaths by fire caused over the next seven years by serial-arsonist Peter Dinsdale. Dinsdale is finally captured in 1981, pleads guilty to multiple manslaughter, and is detained indefinitely under Britain's Mental Health Act as a dangerous psychotic.
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