Sorry to scare you. Just triple checking. So it's a firm no on that dinner invitation. Any chance you'd meet me for coffee?
In one of our favorite episodes of The Simpsons, Bart is on edge because he's being stalked by Sideshow Bob, who wants to kill him. Homer decides to show Bart a new hockey mask and chainsaw he's bought. He bursts into Bart's room wearing the mask, brandishing the roaring chainsaw, and yells, “Hey Bart! Check out my new hockey mask and chainsaw!” Bart screams in terror, and Homer, realizing he's chosen the worst possible time to show off these purchases, backs out of the room apologizing. Amazingly, a scene exactly like that occurs in Mignon G. Eberhart's 1946 Miami based parlor mystery White Dress, except protagonist Marny Sanderson is terrified of a killer who's been stalking her while wearing a black raincoat with a black scarf wrapped around his head. Another character dons the same costume and walks unannounced into her room with the intention of confirming her description of the killer. He doesn't yell, “Hey Marny, did he look anything like THIS!” But he might as well have. His subsequent apology: “My God, how stupid of me. It never occurred to me that I might frighten you.” We got a hearty laugh from that.
None of this is to say White Dress is bad, but it's certainly obtuse in parts. It's also old fashioned, even for a novel from the period. Authors like Dashiell Hammett had debuted more than a decade earlier and changed the conventions of detective novels, peopling them with hard-boiled men and women. Swooning flowers of maidenhood like Marny continued to exist in the sub-genre of romantic mysteries Eberhart specialized in, but ladies of leisure faced with murder don't react in proactive ways. That's where the romance comes in, as Marny attracts the attentions of a dashing Navy flier who makes it his latest mission to swoop down and save the hot damsel in distress. Though more decisive than Marny, his approach to the mystery is often ridiculous. Without getting deeply into it, suffice it to say he has a couple of dangerously cockeyed brainstorms. But you know what? For all its quirks we still liked White Dress. It's a window onto a romanticized realm we've never understood. Maybe it never truly existed. But viewed anthropologically, it's engaging and amusing.
All her problems turned out to be relative.
Cool French cover art for Mignon G. Eberhart's 1937 mystery novel Danger in the Dark, also known as Hand in Glove, and released in France by Presses de la Cité in 1947 as Une clameur dan la nuit, which translates as “a scream in the night.” A man means to stop the distant cousin he loves from getting married, but when her fiancée turns up dead the two relatives decide to make the scene look like a robbery to avoid the police suspecting them of murder. But who did the killing? Eberhart had a long and distinguished literary career, typically mixing her mysteries with strong elements of romance and ending up with Christie-meets-Harlequin. This is a prime example, but a well reviewed book.
In case of emergency—jump.
Consider these a small subset of our collection of falling covers—call them desperate leaps. The interesting part is if the gunmen weren’t there, both women would look like they were having fun. The art is by Harry Barton, 1957, and Rudolph Belarski, 1948.
Ottoman, Ottoman, Otto mighty mighty good man.
Assorted Turkish language pulps published by the pop culture magazine Hayat, circa 1960s and early 1970s. The authors are, top to bottom, Allison L. Burks, Gerald de Jean, William McGivern, Ngaio Marsh, William Irish, Mignon G. Eberhart, Nora Roberts, Ellery Queen (aka Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee, aka Daniel Nathan and Manford Lepofsky), John Dickson Carr, and Robert Bloch.
Not the hair! Not the hair!
Mignonette Eberhart was an acclaimed mid-century crime writer who was the first to create a female sleuth, which she did in her book The Patient in Room 18. This was a year before Agatha Christie created her immortal sleuth Jane Marple in Murder at the Vicarage. Eberhart soon veered away from pure whodunits and into romance-mysteries that usually centered on good women involved with bad men. The tagline of 1940’s The Hangman’s Whip—“Death is quicker than divorce”—gets that idea across succinctly. It was in these writings that Eberhart flourished, becoming internationally known and highly paid. She authored fifty-nine books, six of which were adapted to film, along with three of her short stories, and in 1971 she earned the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award. Eberhart died in 1996, but she changed the romance genre and entertained millions while doing it. Her books—including The Hangman’s Whip—remain widely available.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1919—Wilson Suffers Stroke
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson suffers a massive stroke, leaving him partially paralyzed. He is confined to bed for weeks, but eventually resumes his duties, though his participation is little more than perfunctory. Wilson remains disabled throughout the remainder of his term in office, and the rest of his life.
1968—Massacre in Mexico
Ten days before the opening of the 1968 Summer Olympics
in Mexico City, a peaceful student demonstration ends in the Tlatelolco Massacre. 200 to 300 students are gunned down, and to this day there is no consensus about how or why the shooting began.
1910—Los Angeles Times Bombed
A massive dynamite bomb destroys the Los Angeles Times building in downtown Los Angeles, California, killing 21 people. Police arrest James B. McNamara and his brother John J. McNamara. Though the brothers are represented by the era's most famous lawyer, Clarence Darrow, of Scopes Monkey Trial fame, they eventually plead guilty. James is convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. His brother John is convicted of a separate bombing of the Llewellyn Iron Works and also sent to prison.
1975—Ali Defeats Frazier in Manila
In the Philippines, an epic heavyweight boxing match known as the Thrilla in Manila takes place between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. It is the third, final and most brutal match between the two, and Ali wins by TKO in the fourteenth round.
1955—James Dean Dies in Auto Accident
American actor James Dean, who appeared in the films Giant
, East of Eden
, and the iconic Rebel without a Cause
, dies in an auto accident
at age 24 when his Porsche 550 Spyder is hit head-on by a larger Ford coupe. The driver of the Ford had been trying to make a left turn across the rural highway U.S. Route 466 and never saw Dean's small sports car approaching.
1962—Chavez Founds UFW
Mexican-American farm worker César Chávez founds the United Farm Workers in California. His strikes, marches and boycotts eventually result in improved working conditions for manual farm laborers and today his birthday is celebrated as a holiday in eight U.S. states.
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