Why so bashful, beefcake? Turn around, drop those buckskins, and let me see what I'm working with.
The frontier adventure The Stranger by Lillian Bos Ross has a fun and games sort of cover, but it somewhat belies the content of the book, which is about a lonely Kansas woman who advertises herself as a willing wife, agrees to an arranged marriage, travels to California's Bug Sur coast to wed, and finds that her new husband is an awful brute. It's an adventure but also a romance, and being written in 1942 and set even earlier, her main goal is to—you see this coming, right?—win over the husband who beats on her (and cheats on her, for that matter). Does she succeed? Do bears shit in the woods? This Bantam paperback edition was published in 1949, and the cover art is credited to Bernard Barton, who was actually Harry Barton, but using his middle name instead.
North of the border, south of the border.
We're back into quasi-quarantine where we live, so what better way to use up double the idle time than with an Ace double novel? In The Cut of the Whip a loner named Dan Port fetches up in a dusty Texas oil town and finds bad luck and trouble when his sports car is rammed and totaled. The person who did it was fleeing town with a sheaf of valuable business documents. The owner of those dox—the fugitive's father—pays Port to retrieve them, and soon he finds himself the only person who can foil a kidnapping plot. The previous books we've read by Rabe verged on bizarre in terms of concept, but this outing is more conventional—we suppose because Port was a franchise character. Rabe would eventually wheel him out for six adventures. We missed the Rabe of efforts like The Box and Kill the Boss Good-by, but he's adequate here, if less imaginative. Port blows into town, whips the asses that need whipping, and drifts away to who-know's-where. Just like a franchise character should.
Robert H. Kelston's Kill One, Kill Two, like its partner book, starts with a deadly auto incident. Maybe that's why the novels were paired. But similarities vanish from that point forward. This book is set in Monterrey, Mexico, and opens with a bang when the protagonist runs over a man on a dark highway. Kelston uses this event to frame a set of circular relationships: there's the protagonist Allen McCoy, who is bedding Juanita, a local nude dancer widely considered to be the most beautiful woman in Monterrey, who is watched over by her hot-headed brother, and is lusted after by a knife fighter known as the Shadow, who's acquaintances with an alcoholic blonde temptress of easy virtue, who is having an affair with the dancer's husband, but all along is trying to bed studly Mr. McCoy.
We've given nothing away with that summary. Kelston shoehorns all that into the first thirty or so pages, and you might have to re-read them to keep the connections straight. Who was it that got run over, you're wondering? That would be Juanita's husband Raúl, the guy who's making naughty spoons with the blonde. Thus McCoy is perceived to have gotten a romantic rival out of the way, and is believed by local gossips to now be bedding both the dancer and the blonde. In local macho culture that makes him a pure stud, but for his corporate employers it makes him radioactive. The gossips have it all wrong, though. The death was an accident, a result of drunken driving and darkness. McCoy soon comes to believe that poor Raúl was thrown in front of his car, and must solve the mystery or see his career destroyed by the rumors.
That's all fine, but the entire story turns out to be a fish too big for Kelston to land. He has it on the hook, then sees it wriggle off through pointless dialogue, confused motivations, and general lack of clear direction. We accepted the main character's motivation, but not necessarily his flimsy engineering background, nor his extraordinary bravery and physical competence in the face of danger. After all, he's just a builder. But that's genre fiction for you—on the page anyone can be a stud, even a pasty-ass, red-headed numbers cruncher like Allen McCoy. A cruel editor would have improved this tale, but in the end we enjoyed it anyway, because owing to our background we're predisposed to like adventures set in Latin America. The fact that it came packaged as an Ace double helped. We have a few other Ace doubles in the website, and you can see the whole lot by clicking its keywords below.
All the worst things together in one place.
It's been a while since we got our hands on an Ace double novel. Ace Double 59 features Robert Bloch's Spiderweb and David Alexander's The Corpse in My Bed. The first has cover art by Harry Barton, and the second, despite looking painted by the same artist, is actually uncredited. Two decent books here. Spiderweb deals with a novice grifter who embarks on a long con under the tutelage of a devilish criminal mastermind. Pretty soon he's committing terrible deeds against his will, including setting up his own girlfriend's politician father for a scam. We were more than a little surprised when the book used the identical gag that we raved about in Lou Cameron's 1960 novel Angel's Flight, in which a hat blown by the wind becomes a crucial life lesson. Check here to understand what we mean. At first we thought Bloch had stolen the idea from Cameron, an assumption we made because Angel's Flight is a far superior book, but nope—Spiderweb predates Angel's Flight by two years. It goes to show that the old adage is true: good writers borrow, great writers steal.
The Corpse in My Bed, originally titled Most Men Don't Kill, tells the story of a former soldier who in his civilian career as a detective finds himself in the classic shamus pickle—standing over a corpse amidst possibly incriminating evidence. A war related head wound plus some booze leaves him unsure whether he merely found the body or caused it, so he goes into hiding while his partner Chet and an acquaintance nicknamed Tommy Twotoes try to get to the bottom of the puzzle. It isn't easy to come up with a character that really stands out in the pantheon of mid-century crime fiction. Twotoes—a 300-pound millionaire with a weird affinity for penguins—is one you'll remember for a while. We checked to see if Alexander used him in other novels, but as far as we can tell he didn't, though he seemingly showed up in a few short stories. Both Bloch and Alexander do good work here, a bit rough around the edges at times, but well worth a read. Just don't pay $350, like one vendor is charging. We got them for twenty bucks. Schwing!
Yes, I'd like to report a murder. A man murdered every last bit of my patience.
Above, a nice cover for Day Keene's 1954 thriller Death House Doll, with excellent art credited to Bernard Barton, who's aka Harry Barton (Bernard was his middle name). In the story, a Korean War vet has promised his fatally wounded brother he'd look after his wife and baby daughter, but when he gets back to the world (Chicago) he's stunned to find that she's sitting on death row for murder, and unwilling to spill the truth even if it saves her. The attraction with this one is watching a decorated war hero run riot on hoods and thieves, while up against the always effective ticking clock gimmick—an execution date, which in this case is five days hence. The book was an Ace Double with Thomas B. Dewey's Mourning After on the flipside, and the art on that one, just above, is by Victor Olson. We put together a nice collection of Harry Barton's work back in May that we recommend you visit at this link.
This is the clean side. I just finished using the other side with my Saturday through Tuesday boyfriend.
We checked online and the indications that you need a new mattress include: it's more than eight years old, you wake with aches and pains, and there's a noticeable sag. And the indications you need a new life include: your bed is in a filthy slum tenement. Such is the case with Perversity and Depravity, 1956 and 1957, in which virtually every character needs a do-over of their existence. Both books, by New Caledonian author Francis Carco, née François Carcopino-Tusoli, are set in the 1920s Parisian underworld of prostitution, crime, and poverty. Carco deals with these subjects compassionately, and his work is heavy with colloquialism and has a strong sense of place. He acquired his insight the old fashioned way—by consorting with the types of people he wrote about. Though his work is obscure in the English speaking world, he was fairly well regarded in his day and is still remembered in France. These are dark books, maybe even brutal, certainly ahead of their time. Harry Barton painted the cover of Perversity and an uncredited artist handled the chores on Depravity.
A nuzzle a day keeps the blues away.
A couple of days ago we shared a cover painted by Harry Barton, and today we're back with assorted examples in the same vein, once again showing instances of neck kissing, or variations very close to that. All of these were also painted by Barton, who clearly had a fine appreciation for female necks. Or male mouths. Whichever.
Barton was a prolific artist who through the ’50s and ’60s produced covers for Avon, Bantam, Dell, Monarch, and Pocket Books. He painted even more fronts with poses close to those seen here, for example men and women kissing normally, but today we decided to stick only to neck kissing. Which by the way is a nice way to spend a few minutes if you have a willing partner.
Ouch, that one's getting a little sore. Can you can switch to the right one?
Above, a cover for Prime Sucker, 1954, written by Harry Whittington for Beacon-Signal, with art showing a man enjoying the milk of human kindness. Well, not really, but it kind of looks that way, right? In this one a man lusts for his employee's wife, which is normally not a problem for the employee, as his wife has more or less free rein. But this time the wife falls for her fling. Meanwhile the boss has a wife too, and while she's normally reserved, she's got a hidden wild streak, if only someone can bring it out. Put this one in the suburban wife-swapping bin. The cover work is by Harry Barton, and interestingly, the throat (or boob) sucking you see above was not a one-off. See here.
Seventeen thrillers from swinging sixties.
Above, seventeen covers from Gold Star Books for Hank Janson's, aka Stephen Daniel Frances's, best selling and highly sexual Hank Janson series, starring a tough reporter who shared a name with the author's pseudonym. We think these represent the complete run of Janson books published by Gold Star, though there are more entries in the series. Later novels were written by Victor Norwood, Harry Hobson, and D.F. Crawley. The excellent art is from Paul Rader, Harry Barton, and Robert Maguire, circa 1963, 1964, and 1965.
Go completely unnoticed in any setting with the amazing new Undercover Operative Trench Coat.
Well, some products don't work as advertised. We weren't going to buy it, but then we learned it came with a complimentary limited edition newspaper with two eye holes cut in it. But when we wore the coat we got spotted immediately and now we have a restraining order. 1955 copyright on this Ace Double of Harry Whittington's One Got Away (Robert Schulz cover art), bound with Cleve F. Adams' Shady Lady (Harry Barton on the art chores). We'll see you after our probation hearing.
Going for the throat.
First rate Harry Barton art of a guy devouring his girl's golden delicious adorns the cover of Ronald Simpson's Eve's Apple, the story of a university student who embarks on a troubled affair with an older woman. Rear cover blurbs are an art form, and this one, using dialogue from the novel, is sublime:
“Well sir, it's a bit embarrassing. There's this married woman..."
“And you've been having an affair with her?”
The professor stared blankly for a moment before committing himself. “Well, Hobie, perhaps I shouldn't say this, but boys will be boys.”
“But—but she's pregnant, sir.”
“Hobie, you really have a problem.”
“No, sir. The problem's yours. You see, it's Eve—your wife, sir.”
We can only assume the professor fails Hobie at that point. 1964 copyright, from Monarch Books.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1966—LSD Declared Illegal in U.S.
LSD, which was originally synthesized by a Swiss doctor and was later secretly used by the CIA on military personnel, prostitutes, the mentally ill, and members of the general public in a project code named MKULTRA, is designated a controlled substance in the United States.
1945—Hollywood Black Friday
A six month strike by Hollywood set decorators becomes a riot at the gates of Warner Brothers Studios when strikers and replacement workers clash. The event helps bring about the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, which, among other things, prohibits unions from contributing to political campaigns and requires union leaders to affirm they are not supporters of the Communist Party.
1957—Sputnik Circles Earth
The Soviet Union launches the satellite Sputnik I, which becomes the first artificial object to orbit the Earth. It orbits for two months and provides valuable information about the density of the upper atmosphere. It also panics the United States into a space race that eventually culminates in the U.S. moon landing.
1970—Janis Joplin Overdoses
American blues singer Janis Joplin is found dead on the floor of her motel room in Los Angeles. The cause of death is determined to be an overdose of heroin, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol.
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