Vintage Pulp Dec 16 2023
THE DEAD ZONE
When people say the town is dying they mean it literally.


Oliver Brabbins teamed with Graphic Books to provide beautiful cover art once again, this time for The Corpse Next Door by John Farris. Before we get into the fiction let's take a few moments to appreciate how good this art is. Brabbins has created multiple levels of perception in this piece. The cop outside on the street at a call box sees the woman in the foreground, and via her direct gaze, she sees you. Whatever nefarious deed she's up to, you're in it as well. Brabbins nailed the close-up perspective of the blinds, where the angle becomes edge-on in the middle of the scene, allowing the cop to be visible. Assorted impressionistic street details form the background, and daubs of gold at the woman's ears and neck complete this top tier effort. With art like this, the book better be good.

This was the debut novel from Farris and came in 1956. In the story, Bill Randall, cop in the town of Cheyney, suspects murder and a frame-up in what had been officially closed as a jailhouse suicide. His belief that the official determination is wrong pits him against his own department, specifically his chief Sam Gulliver, who's stubborn, angry, physically imposing, and dangerous. As Randall digs, the murder seems connected to past crimes and the future political career of local chosen boy Nathan Fisher, who has a raft of problems that threaten to derail his lofty ambitions.

The narrative is gritty and the action is a cut above, particularly in a scene during a shootout where a character shoves a refrigerator down a flight of stairs at two gunmen. On the minus side there's an unlikely plot device in which a woman who's shot in the woods removes her bra before dying in order to impart to the police that they should seek a clue at a pawn shop called Brassier's. We let that bit pass and were rewarded with a stimulating climax, so on the whole the novel was a plus. Farris would go on to success in horror fiction, including with his 1976 novel The Fury, made into a 1978 film starring Kirk Douglas. The talent is clear in this first book. We'll keep a watch for more of him on the auction sites, and certainly for more of Brabbins.

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Vintage Pulp Nov 4 2023
BULLET POINTS
Say it with words! Seriously! I very much prefer words!


Say It with Bullets was written by Richard Powell and published by Graphic Books in 1954 with great Walter Popp cover art of the instant before all hell breaks loose in a bar. It's the tale of a man named Bill Wayne who, while serving as a pilot in China in World War II, is shot by another pilot, one of five who betray him over half a million dollars in contraband gold. He's left behind but survives, and years later, now in the U.S., has found where each of his almost-killers are residing. He books a spot on a cross-country bus tour called Treasure Trip of the Old West that happens to be passing through those cities, and plans to dispose of his compatriots one by one.

So, obviously, booking a tour that goes through Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Reno, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, where one's betrayers coincidentally live, is a reach. Actually, let's just call it impossible. But we're believers in accepting the premise of a book, and since Powell explains this set-up in paragraph five we were willing to go with it. Need we say that revenge isn't as clinical as Wayne imagines? It's complicated by a nosy tour director—young and beautiful, of course—an ambitious deputy sheriff, and the growing realization that he's being trailed by a party or parties unknown.

The book is unusual on multiple fronts but the most notable element is that Wayne is one of the biggest wise-asses we've come across in literature. Here's a typical line, delivered after he's taken a beating from the aforementioned sheriff and, dismayingly, run into him the next morning on a street corner: There was Deputy Sheriff Carson Smith, on leave of absence from a dude ranch advertisement. “Hello,” Wayne said. “Did your knuckles recover from that severe bandaging they got here last night?” Wayne is amusing—or tries to be—even in his direst moments. His attitude pushes Say It with Bullets into farce at times, but he also makes an uneven book more interesting than it deserves to be.
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Vintage Pulp Jun 26 2023
SEX TRAFFIC
Fatal Manhattan pile-up caused when multiple cabs simultaneously try to pick up same fare.

The last Milton K. Ozaki book we read left us cold, but because 1952's Deadly Pick-Up has beautiful cover art we decided to give it a shot. Graphic Books during the early 1950s routinely had brilliant covers. About a paragraph into reading this we realized it was the same Ozaki as before, but we forged ahead into the tale of a man wrongfully suspected of a woman's strangulation, who must solve the crime before he's snared by the cops. The dead woman's sister, a private detective, helps him out, and they discover the reason for the killing was $60,000 in counterfeit bills, which turn out not to be fake after all.

In terms of specific problems with the book, we'll highlight a couple. First, the sister detective is immediately pushed by Ozaki into a background role, protected and sidelined by the main character. We'd be okay with it if the hero were a qualified tough guy. But he's a damned insurance salesman. It seems as if Ozaki was imaginative enough to create a female detective, but not imaginative enough to conceive of her refusing to let some rando tell her how to do her job. In an era where other writers had already created tough and competent women detectives it was simply a whiff. A second issue, more serious in our view, is the tortured similes Ozaki uses. Some choice examples:

With his bat in hand he hurdled the bar as gracefully as a ballet dancer sailing over a papier mâché bush.

He kept watching me as though my nose were an independent organism likely to do tricks.

Thinking was like trying to bounce a rubber ball in a puddle of wet, sticky mud.

Crime writing and hard boiled similes go hand-in-hand, but you have to do better than that. Ozaki does manage to create a few unusual moments, including steering the investigation into a gay bar—where the hero is physically attacked twenty-against-one when he's assumed to be a morals spy. The gay characters in the book do not—obviously—fare well descriptively. That's never fun to read, but it's what you have to expect considering the time period. Ozaki would not have earned our future trust regardless. He just doesn't write well. But we're glad to have the book because the cover—uncredited, sadly—is aces. 
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Vintage Pulp May 26 2023
ONE LAST CIGARETTE
Could you not smoke? Geez, you're inconsiderate to the very end, aren't you?

We featured an Australian cover for James O. Causey's Killer Take All about five years ago, but have only gotten around to actually reading the book now. The 1957 Graphic edition you see above has Roy Lance cover art, and we like it. We liked the story too. The protagonist was not a cop or criminal, but a golf pro, a guy who tried to make it on the PGA tour but failed. Now he works at a country club, and one day the woman who left him without a word while he was trying to make the big time turns up hitting balls on the range. She's married to another man, and since her husband isn't a nice person that's all the heartbroken hero needs to get neck deep in trouble. His difficulties start with losing fistfights to his rival, progress to a murder rap, and quickly to another, then to a web of deceit involving contraband art, and finally to a full-on Wide Eyes Shut circle of sexual thrillseekers. All in all, the novel is a pretty good journey. And importantly, it features a hero you can root for. He's a bit hapless, but never quite helpless. We'll keep an eye out for more Causey. He hit a lot of good notes with Killer Take All.

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Vintage Pulp May 19 2023
BAG OF TRICKS
You're always digging in that purse of yours. Until the day I die I'll never understand what women keep in those things.

We were just talking about the classic detective novel set-up in which a woman walks into the dick's office, and here's another example—This Kill Is Mine from Graphic Books in 1956—using that time honored technique. It was originally published as No Slightest Whisper in 1955. Before we get into the book, though, let's note the awesome illustration from Oliver Brabbins, an artist we don't see as much as we'd like. He covers it all here—femme fatale, gun, noir blinds, etc. We especially like how he gets all Manet with the bottle and glasses. It's lovely work. Let's also note the cool interior graphic by an unknown designer (see below) featuring a beautiful stylized silhouette. We liked the book before we read a word.

Those words were written by Dean Evans, and as we said he goes classic with his opening when a woman walks through Reno detective Arnold Weir's office door. Evans tweaks the formula a bit by having the woman be a millionaire's secretary and having the actual millionaire call first and announce that his secretary is on the way, but basically it's the old standard: door opens and trouble commences. Weir is soon embroiled in murder, blackmail, cop trouble, false identity, missing jewels, and the romantic attentions of the secretary. The narrative is filled with hard-boiled lines such as:

He needs protecting like the Painted Desert needs a second coat.

Little grafting souls. Little, filthy, cheap, unimaginative, grafting souls.


I felt as sour as a quince in a bucket of lemons.


Hard-boiled dialogue is a double edged sword. Generally, all but the best authors come up with clunkers, such as Evans' insistence on saying this or that person “curled his lips” at someone else. Once, okay. Twice, maybe. Instance six or seven was a reminder that a standard “smile” or “sneer” will get the job done. Curled his lips sounds like something from a horror novel. Then there was this dud: Her skin was soft and clean looking, like the skin of a fifteen-year-old waking after a night's sleep. Hmph. But generally Evans does well with the repartee. You have to give him credit for that much.


Weir the detective wanders around on a standard clue hunt before finally uncovering the solution—which is related to revenge and secrets that go back twenty years—and finally settling matters in a wild shootout. Overall the book isn't bad, but there are an awful lot of not-bads in genre fiction. Evans knows the formula for writing a mystery, but doesn't make the ingredients come together into something memorable aside from his many clever turns of phrase. We gather he was mainly a sci-fi and fantasy writer, and This Kill Is Mine was his only detective novel. If he'd kept with it he might have done well, but this effort doesn't quite get there.

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Vintage Pulp Sep 13 2022
DEATH DEFYING ACT
Gunman goes to club to murder mob boss but changes mind and shoots terrible singer instead.


Sometimes you win with these obscure old novels, and sometimes you lose. Since there's so little info on many of them, for us the most important reason whether to buy one is its price. We often pay more for ones we really want, but if it's cheap and the cover art is interesting, we pull the trigger. Hal Braham's 1957's mystery Call Me Deadly was eight dollars, which is a nice bracket, and as a bonus it has an excellent cover by Walter Popp. His dramatic nightclub tableau doesn't correspond to any scene in the story, but purely as an illustration we love it.

What we don't love is that, literarily, there's nothing special here. Ex-cop and recent widow Jim Dillon has been off the L.A. beat for two years and is now an insurance investigator with American Reporting Service. He's ordered to look into the death of a man named John Jasnich who had a large double-indemnity policy with a company—National Casualty—that doubts their client really went over the rail of a ferry into the Pacific Ocean to drown. His corpse hasn't turned up, and as you'll start to suspect early on in the proceedings, it never will.

Close calls with vicious thugs, interludes with three women of very different types, and hard-boiled repartee with various police ex-colleagues and current insurance industry competitors bring Dillon, long and windingly, to a twist ending that pushes into similar territory Chinatown would use seventeen years later. Despite that, the appropriate word for Braham's work here is, we think, perfunctory. There's plenty of mystery, but far less plot impetus than we'd have liked. He published seven other books under his name and the pseudonym Mel Colton, but Call Me Deadly had nothing to encourage us to buy again. Unless it's eight dollars or less.
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Vintage Pulp May 6 2019
INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER
Whoops. I guess the safety wasn't on after all.


Above, a fun cover for Al Fray's And Kill Once More, published in 1955, about a lifeguard turned bodyguard who gets involved in murder. The cover art on this is by Saul Levine, who you can see more of here and here

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Vintage Pulp Jan 5 2019
DIER EDUCATION
I guess we've answered the question of whether your so-called practical learning is as good as my master's degree, haven't we?


What's the quote about people believing resistance to facts is just as valid as acceptance of facts? Fact is, the cowpoke who just got shot dead on the cover of Ford Pendleton's western adventure Gunmaster serves as an example that expertise is good. We slay people like this all the time—with words, heh. Speaking of which, “dier” is indeed a word. It's in Merriam-Webster. Use it in Scrabble. Gunmaster is from Graphic Books, 1956, with cover art by Roy Lance. If you want to see him in a more contemplative mode, check here

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Vintage Pulp Nov 29 2018
A  RAW DEAL
I told you to always stand on a hard 17, and never double down when they deal out death, but you don't listen.


Dealing Out Death is another paperback given to us by a friend. He bought it randomly years ago and passed it along to us when he visited from the States a while back. Of the books he gave us we'd have read this one first if we knew, one, that it had to do with the movie industry (where we once worked), and two, that it was so good. It was written by W.T. Ballard, published by Graphic Books in 1948, and deals with bigtime studio VP Bill Lennox, who tries to figure out who murdered star actress Renée Wilson's husband. Wilson is in Las Vegas to deal with a personal matter—her screw-up brother's desperate plea for money to get out from under a mob boss—but soon discovers that her brother's troubles and her husband's murder are connected to an impending turf war, one initiated by mobsters from the east who want to move in on the legitimate hotel owners. Lennox flies out from Hollywood to find the killer, save his star actress from both danger and bad publicity, and navigate the seething cauldron of Vegas without losing his cool or his life.

In mid-century crime fiction you find tough guys in unlikely places. The various authors, casting about for signature characters, made ass kickers out of insurance adjusters, chemists, charter fishermen, and more. Having known a few movie producers we can tell you they run the gamut. Being a producer generally means you merely have access to money or the ability to raise it, or you have access to a script or treatment and the mandate to shop it. You can get into such a position by working your way up the ladder, but if you come to the party with money already in pocket that buys your entrance. Thus producers in both the old days and today might be former organized crime guys, former drug dealers, and such. Think Chili Palmer in Get Shorty. So the fact that the studio exec hero in Dealing Out Death is so tough is unusual but not unrealistic. Ballard uses the character of Lennox to construct an engrossing plot, imbue it with a strong sense of place, and populate it with numerous competing personalities. He's a very confident writer and he gets the job done in Dealing Out Death briskly and skillfully. The ending is not perfect, but they rarely are. Recommended stuff.

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Vintage Pulp Nov 12 2018
WINDOWS SHORTCUT
So I told the creep off and slammed the door in his face. He won't be back.


In Comes Death is the seventh and last entry in Paul Whelton's series starring newspaperman Garry Dean of fictional Belle City. Dean is convinced to try and save a wrongly convicted man from prison. You know the drill. Nobody believes him—not his editor, not the cops, etc. The art on this, which depicts an actual scene in the narrative involving murder and a silk stocking, is uncredited, circa 1951. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
February 26
1917—First Jazz Record Is Made
In New Orleans, The Original Dixieland Jass Band records the first ever jazz record for the Victor Talking Machine Company in New York. The band was frequently billed as the "Creators of Jazz", but in reality all the members had previously played in the Papa Jack Laine bands, a group of racially mixed performers who helped form the basis of Dixieland while playing under bandleader George Laine.
February 25
1947—Prussia Ceases To Exist
The centuries-old state of Prussia, which had been a great European power under the reign of Frederick the Great during the 1800s, and a major influence on German culture, ceases to exist when it is dissolved by the post-WWII Allied Control Council comprised of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union.
1964—Clay Beats Liston
Heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay, aged 22, becomes champion of the world after beating Sonny Liston, aka the Dark Destroyer, in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. It would be the beginning of a storied and controversial career for Clay, who would announce to the world shortly after the fight that he had changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
February 24
1920—The Nazi Party Is Founded
The small German Workers' Party, or DAP, which was under the direction of Adolf Hitler, changes its name to the National Socialist German Workers' Party. Though Hitler adopted the socialist label to attract working class Germans, his party in fact embraced mainly anti-socialist ideas. The group became known in English as the Nazi Party, and within the next fifteen years expanded to become the most powerful force in German politics.
1942—Battle of Los Angeles Takes Place
A object flying over wartime Los Angeles triggers a massive anti-aircraft barrage, ultimately killing 3 civilians. Initially the target of the aerial barrage is thought to be an attacking force from Japan, but it is later suggested to be imaginary and a case of "war nerves", a lost weather balloon, a blimp, a Japanese fire balloon, or even an extraterrestrial craft. The true nature of the object or objects remains unknown to this day, but the event is known as the Battle of Los Angeles.
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