Jazz provides the backdrop. Craig provides the thrills.
Above: an unattributed front cover plus the backside for Frenzy by Jonathan Craig, originally titled Junkie and published in 1952 by Falcon Books. This edition from Lancer Books came in 1962. We read it a few years ago and can't remember what the “one thing she wouldn't do” was, as teased on the cover, but we're not curious enough to look back. Craig is generally a decent writer and this, while not his best, is still entertaining.
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.
Judge, jury, executioner. Rinse out the blood and repeat.
Red-Headed Sinners was originally published in 1953, with the above edition coming from Lancer Books in 1963 fronted by uncredited art. Jonathan Craig, aka Frank E. Smith, writes simply, without much in the way of flourishes, but his stories hit hard. Sinners features a detective drummed off the King City police force for beating a female witness. The cop hopes he can redeem himself and be reinstated, but he has a drinking problem which under certain circumstances unlocks a childhood trauma that sends him into a red haze of violence. This trauma thing is handled by Craig in a hamfisted way, but the book is a gripping thriller starring a cop on the edge of self destruction—and the destruction of others. It's definitely one for pulp fans to read.
Cats always get in the way at the worst moments.
The above cover from the Milan based publishers Longanesi & Co. features U.S. glamour model Virginia Gordon fronting a 1959 translation of Ed McBain's The Pusher. McBain is basically a legend, but is it a stretch to call Gordon legendary too? We don't think so. She was Playboy magazine's January 1959 Playmate of the Month, and because of that her photos are highly collectible and expensive. You'd see two important reasons why if not for a mischievous cat, but you can outmaneuver him by clicking here or here.
Below we have a few more fronts from Longanesi, including Jonathan Craig's Case of the Village Tramp, which also has Gordon on the cover, and John Jakes' detective novel Johnny Havoc, featuring Carol Baker giving a nice over-the-shoulder glance. Like Australia's Horwitz Publications and several other non-U.S. companies, Longanesi used (probably) unlicensed images of Hollywood starlets and glamor models as a matter of habit. We'll show you more examples of those a bit later.
You're damned picky all of a sudden for a dame I found dumpster diving behind White Castle.
Alley Girl has some of the harder boiled characters we've come across in mid-century fiction. We're reminded a bit of James Ellroy, whom we suspect must have read and been influenced by this book. The style of author Jonathan Craig, aka Frank E. Smith, is not similar to Ellroy's, but the feel is a match. The lead male Steven Lambert is a crooked cop, a sexual predator, and a serial swindler. His girlfriend is a hardcore drunk, a nymphomaniac, and a self-destructive thrill seeker. Most everyone else is a victim or a dupe, particularly the innocent man Lambert is framing for murder, and the man's beautiful wife who Lambert coerces into sex by promising not to go through with the frame-up. We throughly enjoyed this book. It's anchored by just the sort of irredeemable heel that makes crime fiction so entertaining. The only problem is a 1954 edition from Lion like you see here could cost you a fortune. The 2013 re-issue, which comes from Black Curtain Press—but without the excellent cover art from Robert Maguire—is much more economical. We recommend reading it in any case.
Once an addict always an addict.
The title of Jonathan's Craig's, aka Frank E. Smith's novel Junkie! is a bit misleading. The junkie in question has little part in the action save as the damsel in distress, mostly kept offpage. But the art by Ketor Seach captures the book's mood nicely, even if it highlights someone other than the actual protagonist, a jazz musician named Steve Harper who prowls the mean streets and smoky clubs of Washington, D.C. trying to solve a murder, then another, then another. A trio of beautiful women keep him thoroughly baffled, and a specially made couch plays a crucial role. Harper's characterization as an actual musician is thin, but the book is a good read, with short chapters and spare prose. Though the fertile milieu could have led to a higher quality result, we recommend the final product.
It’s not their fault—it’s a jean-etic disorder.
In pulp and sleaze fiction there are many types of bad women—vamps, golddiggers, black widows, you name it—but women who wear jeans, or even jean shorts, are destined for a special brand of trouble. Some of these women are already corrupt while others are merely at the gateway, but they all end up in the same place—Calamity City, daddy-o.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1981—Ronnie Biggs Rescued After Kidnapping
Fugitive thief Ronnie Biggs, a British citizen who was a member of the gang that pulled off the Great Train Robbery, is rescued by police in Barbados after being kidnapped. Biggs had been abducted a week earlier from a bar in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by members of a British security firm. Upon release he was returned to Brazil and continued to be a fugitive from British justice.
2011—Elizabeth Taylor Dies
American actress Elizabeth Taylor, whose career began at age 12 when she starred in National Velvet
, and who would eventually be nominated for five Academy Awards as best actress and win for Butterfield 8
and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles. During her life she had been hospitalized more than 70 times.
1963—Profumo Denies Affair
In England, the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, denies any impropriety with showgirl Christine Keeler and threatens to sue anyone repeating the allegations. The accusations involve not just infidelity, but the possibility acquaintances of Keeler might be trying to ply Profumo for nuclear secrets. In June, Profumo finally resigns from the government after confessing his sexual involvement with Keeler
and admitting he lied to parliament.
1978—Karl Wallenda Falls to His Death
World famous German daredevil and high-wire walker Karl Wallenda, founder of the acrobatic troupe The Flying Wallendas, falls to his death attempting to walk on a cable strung between the two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wallenda is seventy-three years old at the time, but it is a 30 mph wind, rather than age, that is generally blamed for sending him from the wire.
2006—Swedish Spy Stig Wennerstrom Dies
Swedish air force colonel Stig Wennerström, who had been convicted in the 1970s of passing Swedish, U.S. and NATO secrets to the Soviet Union over the course of fifteen years, dies in an old age home at the age of ninety-nine. The Wennerström affair, as some called it, was at the time one of the biggest scandals
of the Cold War.
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