Vintage Pulp Dec 1 2018
TARGET ACQUIRED
L.A. stands for Lew Archer in John MacDonald's tinseltown thriller.


We love this cover art by Harvey Kidder for John MacDonald's, aka Ross MacDonald's first Lew Archer novel The Moving Target. The way the figures are placed at such a remove from the viewer and the text is stretched across the underside of the pier is strikingly different. The book was originally published in 1949 with this Pocket Books paperback coming in 1950, and it stars MacDonald's franchise detective trying to locate a philandering millionaire who's gone missing. The man's wife is more concerned about the possibility of her spouse being on a bender and sharing the family money than she is about foul play, but Archer soon decides that the situation is a kidnapping.

We'd been meaning to read MacDonald for a while. We'd heard that his prose has a Dashiell Hammett vibe and that certainly turned out to be true. Set in and around Los Angeles, it weaves summer heat, wacky mysticism, outsize ambition, and broken dreams together into a tale with great Southern California flavor. And Archer is appropriately road worn: “I believed that evil was a quality some people were born with, like a harelip. But it isn't that simple. Everybody has it in him, and whether it comes out in his actions depends on a number of things. Environment, opportunity, economic pressure, a piece of bad luck, a wrong friend.”

In this world that he's accepted as more complex than he'd like it to be, he navigates using a solid personal code and a very hard skull—both severely tested multiple times. We gather the story is considered unremarkable compared to later Archer novels, but for us it was entirely satisfactory. It satisfied Hollywood too, which made it into a star vehicle for Paul Newman called Harper. Why the name of the detective was changed we can't even begin to guess, but we saw the movie a couple of years ago and it was enjoyable. Below you see a 1959 Pocket Books edition of The Moving Target with Jerry Allison art. More from MacDonald later.
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Vintage Pulp Jun 1 2015
SEX AND THE SINGLE FISH
Give a girl a light? You’ll have to lean down here, though. If I come up there I’ll start flopping around something awful.

We love this Ray App cover for John Ross MacDonald’s, aka Kenneth Millar's mystery The Drowning Pool because it’s incredibly bizarre. Plot of the book aside (it’s the second Lew Archer novel), there can be only two reasons for the female figure to be positioned as she is—she’s either standing in a rowboat, presumably for the pure pleasure of it, or she’s trying to conceal her mermaid half. She shouldn’t worry about hiding, though—generally guys don’t hang around the docks unless they’re at least a little interested in seafood. 1950 original copyright, and 1951 on the paperback. 

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Vintage Pulp May 9 2011
SQUEEZE PLAY
Not so tight sweetie—I just ate eggs.

Margaret Millar was a respected writer who won the Mystery Writers of America's Grand Master Award in 1983, and happened to be the wife of acclaimed pulp author Ross MacDonald, aka Kenneth Millar. The air she has in mind here isn’t a physical thing, but rather the emotions of guilt and suspicion. Still though, it’s kind of a funny title, because when you consider how married couples get after a few decades together, it’s easy to imagine old Ross’s reaction every time Margaret let one slip. He probably smirked and said, “Jesus, there really is an air that kills.”

Anyway, the book is a mystery in which a married couple’s seemingly stable existence is rocked when the wife reveals that she’s pregnant with another man’s baby. That man soon turns up dead, drowned in his car at the bottom of a lake. However, this isn’t a straightforward puzzler. There are elements of melodrama, and the plot is stretched out over an extended period as we see the couple split and begin to live separate lives. But of course the mystery underpins everything, eventually circling back to center upon the woman’s new child.

An Air that Kills is considered by some to be Millar’s best work, and indeed she's considered by many critics to be one of the better writers of her era. She established a career before her husband did, though that doesn't seem to be as widely known as it probably should. In terms of writerly skill, we aren’t really qualified to say whether she's better than her spouse, but we’re sure it made for some interesting discussions and slightly edgy ribbing at the MacDonald/Millar dinner table. We highly recommend this book. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
October 13
1970—Angela Davis Arrested
After two months of evading police and federal authorities, Angela Davis is arrested in New York City by the FBI. She had been sought in connection with a kidnapping and murder because one of the guns used in the crime had been bought under her name. But after a trial a jury agreed that owning the weapon did not automatically make her complicit in the crimes.
October 12
1978—Sid Vicious Arrested for Murder
Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious is arrested on suspicion of murder after the body of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen is found in their room at New York City's Chelsea Hotel. Vicious and Spungen had a famously stormy relationship, but Vicious proclaims he is innocent. He is released on bail and dies of a heroin overdose before a trial takes place.
1979—Adams Publishes First Hitchhiker's Book
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the first of five books in a series, is published by Douglas Adams. The novels follow on the heels of the tremendously successful British television series of the same name.
October 11
1976—China Coup Thwarted
The new head of the Chinese Communist Party, Hua Goufeng, snuffs out a coup led by Chairman Mao's widow Jiang Qing and three other party members. They become known as the Gang of Four, and are tried, found guilty of treason, and receive death sentences that are later commuted to lengthy prison terms.
1987—Loch Ness Expedition Ends
A sonar exploration of Scotland's Loch Ness, called Operation Deepscan, ends after a week without finding evidence that the legendary Loch Ness Monster exists. While the flotilla of boats had picked up three sonar contacts indicating something large in the waters, these are considered to be detections of salmon schools or possibly seals.
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