Too bad life doesn't have a rewind button—you could go back to when you wouldn't let me seduce the information out of you.
This is a fantastic piece of art for The Big Bite by Charles Williams. We'd be tempted to say frequent Pan Books illustrator Sam Peffer painted it, but he almost always signed his work in a place where it was not easily cropped or covered, the clever boy. Therefore we've seen only a few confirmed fronts by him where his signature was not present. Well, whoever was responsible for the art, we love this scene. You have a man recieving a severe beatdown as the femme fatale stands in the foreground barely interested. They do bore easily. In addition to the excellent art, this was an entertaining tale. We talked about it last year, and you can see what we thought at this link. It was originaly published in 1956, with this edition coming in 1960.
Think your marriage is difficult? Think again.
Patricia Highsmith is here to tell you that no matter your perceived problems with your spouse, they're actually a traipse down a flowered path, because Vic and Melinda Van Allen, the two main characters of her 1957 drama Deep Water—they have marital problems. Melinda is a serial cheater, and Vic has become so numb over the years that he can't even be bothered to care. Melinda is so brazen she brings her lovers to the house to stay overnight and shows up with them at neighborhood parties. She even neglects and ignores her young daughter. In a fit of pique one night Vic claims to an acquaintance that he killed one of Melinda's ex-lovers—who in reality had simply drifted away—and the reaction he gets makes him feel excellent. When he murders Melinda's next lover for real, and gets away with it, he feels still better. So he murders her next lover...
Patricia Highsmith was the high mistress of sociopathic characters, and Vic Van Allen, coming a couple of years after her famed psycho Tom Ripley, is an amazing creation. He's kind, urbane, low key, and horribly mistreated—all of which makes him a pressure cooker ready to explode. Deep Water is told entirely from his point of view, and its highly interiorized narrative makes you really feel for the guy—even after he starts killing people. The key to dragging forth the reader's sympathy is Highsmith's portrayal of Melinda, who tortures Vic day in and day out, destroying his peace of mind, his reputation, and his masculinity. This is a highly recommendable book, and if you can get the 1961 Pan edition you see here with Sam Peffer cover art, you'll be that much the happier for it.
Looks like neither of us values tidiness or organization, so that's cool.
Ben Ostrick, who signed his work J. Oval, painted this 1963 Pan Books cover for Sloan Wilson's 1960 novel A Sense of Values. Ostrick was an amazing artist, with a colorful and harmonious style that Pan used to good effect on scores of covers. We wrote way back that he was British, but a few online sources say he was actually Australian. We'll dig into that at some point and see if we can figure it out. In the meantime, we have two small collections of his work, here and here. You should have a look.
Upfield's franchise character is never quite fleshed out.
Bony and the White Savage, for which you see a Pan Books cover above, has as its central character a half aborigine detective named Napoleon Bonaparte—Bony for short. The idea of this person made us think immediately of Ed Lacy's creation Toussaint Marcus Moore, considered to be the first African American detective in literature. But Upfield may have been first to create a black detective of any nationality—that is if we accept being half black ethnically as being fully black culturally. It's certainly that way in the U.S., as we've talked about before. Upfield created his Bony character and first published him way back in 1929, almost thirty years before Lacy, and the above installment of what was a long running series of Bony novels is from 1964 and sees the hero on the trail of a rapist and overall hellion who's holed up somewhere in the wild crags of the southwestern Australian coast.
Good premise, but in short, our hopes that this book would be something akin to Ed Lacy were misplaced. The way it's written, Bony being half aborigine is wasted—which is to say it impacts nothing and nobody mentions it. That approach might be commendable from a purely fictional perspective, but is it realistic? We've lived outside the U.S. for a long time, so we understand—trust us, we understand—that compared to the rest of the world Americans tend to overdo things. Like, everything. So Upfield would definitely be more subtle than Ed Lacy, who made the color of his Toussaint character central, but Upfield veers pretty far in the other direction, presenting a colorblind outback we know for a fact doesn't exist today. Was it colorblind back then? We doubt it, but Australian aborigines have recessive genes for blonde hair and blue eyes, so Bony might have fit in physically a lot better than we imagine.
But let's set that aside, because this is fiction, and a writer can do anything he or she wants. At least that's what we think. They're required to pull it off, though. Purely in terms of the plot, we had pretty high expectations here and they went unmet. Despite the exotic setting, interesting set-up, the unusual hero, and the fearsome antagonist, Bony and the White Savage isn't special. And we were really looking forward to reading an entire series of Down Under adventures, with all its local quirks and idiosyncrasies. But you know us by now. We're tenacious. This particular book, which was the only one available to us, is number twenty-six in the Bonaparte series. We're going to try again. We suspect that the qualities we anticipated are in the first book, The Barrakee Mystery, in which this Bony person must be more fully fleshed out. So we'll read that. If we can find it.
He'll make you love him even if it kills you.
Patricia Highsmith's reputation demands that you read any book of hers you find, so when we ran across This Sweet Sickness we knew it would be good. Originally published in 1960 with this paperback coming from British publisher Great Pan in 1963, she tells the story of another troubled man à la her famous Tom Ripley novels. Here we have David Kelsey, in love with a woman who, inconveniently, is married. No problem, though, because obstacles mean nothing. He's determined to win his prospective love's affections, ignoring the fact that she's both unavailable and uninterested.
The book is told from the perspective of this dangerously deluded man, and his mental dissonance, deftly written by Highsmith, is cringe inducing. In Kelsey's head, everything is proof his love is returned. When the woman he desires is kind, it encourages him. When she's resistant, he assumes she isn't acting of her own accord, but instead is being pressured by her husband. There's nothing she can do—literally nothing—to dissuade Kelsey from the idea that his love for a woman obligates her to love him back. It all leads pretty much where you expect—to conflict, terror, death, and the high, lonely ledge of insanity.
It's fascinating to us that the U.S. born Highsmith was unappreciated in her own country, despite her breakthrough at age twenty-nine with Strangers on a Train. Well, considering she spent her life writing novels while residing mainly in France and Switzerland, we doubt she suffered much from the neglect. She's well remembered as an author now, though less so as a person, since she had views that were eyebrow raising even in the context of her era. But This Sweet Sickness is an interesting and relevant book, and we highly recommend it.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1933—Prohibition Ends in United States
Utah becomes the 36th U.S. state to ratify the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution, thus establishing the required 75% of states needed to overturn the 18th Amendment which had made the sale of alcohol illegal. But the criminal gangs that had gained power during Prohibition are now firmly established, and maintain an influence that continues unabated for decades.
1945—Flight 19 Vanishes without a Trace
During an overwater navigation training flight from Fort Lauderdale, five U.S. Navy TBM Avenger torpedo-bombers lose radio contact with their base and vanish. The disappearance takes place in what is popularly known as the Bermuda Triangle.
1918—Wilson Goes to Europe
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sails to Europe for the World War I peace talks in Versailles, France, becoming the first U.S. president to travel to Europe while in office.
1921—Arbuckle Manslaughter Trial Ends
In the U.S., a manslaughter trial against actor/director Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle ends with the jury deadlocked as to whether he had killed aspiring actress Virginia Rappe during rape and sodomy. Arbuckle was finally cleared of all wrongdoing after two more trials, but the scandal ruined his career and personal life.
1964—Mass Student Arrests in U.S.
In California, Police arrest over 800 students at the University of California, Berkeley, following their takeover and sit-in at the administration building in protest at the UC Regents' decision to forbid protests on university property.
1968—U.S. Unemployment Hits Low
Unemployment figures are released revealing that the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to 3.3 percent, the lowest rate for almost fifteen years. Going forward all the way to the current day, the figure never reaches this low level again.
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