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.
When ragtag crooks hook up with a bevy of Bahama mamas a tropical storm breaks.
Basil Heatter 1963's novel Virgin Cay was an enjoyable tale, so when we saw this Robert McGinnis cover for Harry and the Bikini Bandits we couldn't resist. The novel, which came in 1969 with Fawcett/Gold Medal's edition appearing in 1971, is the story of seventeen-year-old Clayton Bullmore's trip to the Bahamas to see his nutty uncle Harry, who lives on a raggedy ketch and has a magic touch with women of all types. This is where the bikinis come in, but the bikini-wearers are not the bandits (except, technically, one). The bandits are Harry, a couple of his acquaintances, and Clay, who's dragged into a scheme to rob the big casino in Nassau. The combination of coming-of-age story and casino caper is fun, and Heatter mixes in humor, sex, and action, and folds it all into a winning waterborne milieu. He even manages to add a shipwreck, a deserted island, and buried treasure, so we'd say he includes all the most beloved tropes of tropical adventures. It'll make you want to run away to the Caribbean. Heatter is two-for-two in our ledger.
Everybody's gotta go sometime.
We don't find much Brazilian pulp, but above is an interesting—if battered—cover for Tarn Scott's, aka Walter Szot and Peter G. Tarnor's Não Me Deixem Morrer, which is a translation of their U.S. released 1957 kidnapping tale Don't Let Her Die, a book we read and enjoyed a few years ago. This was put out by the Rio de Janeiro based imprint Ediex for its Selecrimes series in 1964. We gather that Ediex was a branch of the Mexico City publisher Editormex Mexicana, and that the company released quite a few translations of English crime books during the 1960s.
The art, which is by an unknown, is a low rent copy of that found on the cover of 1958's The Lusting Drive by Ovid Demaris, which you see below. That cover is also uncredited, but some think it's by Ernest Chiriaka. We agree. In fact, we don't think there's any doubt. Not only is the style—particularly of the female face—a dead match, but Chiriaka was pumping out illos by the cartload for Gold Medal during the mid- to late-1950s. So we're going to go ahead and call this one a lock. We may share a few more Brazilian paperback covers in a bit. Stay tuned.
Yup, that's them, but do they have to go to jail? I felt like they brought a real touch of class to skid row.
A line-up of women at the mercy of a witness and the police? You know this isn't going to end well. Angels in the Gutter is classic scare fiction (i.e. if you're not careful this could happen to someone you know—or even you!) originally published in 1955 by Fawcett Publications for its Gold Medal line, with this second printing coming in 1959. We really should have bought this book. It's cheap and there are no reviews online. That's the daily double for us. Plus the wraparound cover (below) is excellent. But we have about ten times as many books lined up as women lined up at this police station, and that's no exaggeration, so this one was a difficult pass.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1934—Arrest Made in Lindbergh Baby Case
Bruno Hauptmann is arrested for the kidnap and murder of Charles Lindbergh Jr., son of the famous American aviator. The infant child had been abducted from the Lindbergh home in March 1932, and found decomposed two months later in the woods nearby. He had suffered a fatal skull fracture. Hauptmann was tried, convicted, sentenced to death, and finally executed by electric chair in April 1936. He proclaimed his innocence to the end
1919—Pollard Breaks the Color Barrier
Fritz Pollard becomes the first African-American to play professional football for a major team, the Akron Pros. Though Pollard is forgotten today, famed sportswriter Walter Camp ranked him as "one of the greatest runners these eyes have ever seen." In another barrier-breaking historical achievement, Pollard later became the co-head coach of the Pros, while still maintaining his roster position as running back.
1932—Entwistle Leaps from Hollywood Sign
Actress Peg Entwistle
commits suicide by jumping from the letter "H" in the Hollywood sign. Her body lay in the ravine below for two days, until it was found by a detective and two radio car officers. She remained unidentified until her uncle connected the description and the initials "P.E." on the suicide note in the newspapers with his niece's two-day absence.
1908—First Airplane Fatality Occurs
The plane built by Wilbur and Orville Wright, The Wright Flyer, crashes with Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge aboard as a passenger. The accident kills Selfridge, and he becomes the first airplane fatality in history.
1983—First Black Miss America Crowned
Vanessa Williams becomes the first African American Miss America. She later loses her crown when lesbian-themed nude photographs of her are published by Penthouse magazine.
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