Chase is on in his blockbuster debut.
This 1961 Panther Books edition of James Hadley Chase's debut novel No Orchids for Miss Blandish labels it a bestseller that exploded into world headlines. That's quite a claim, but it's true. The book provoked a strong response when first published in 1939 due to its sexual frankness. Written in spare, hard hitting fashion, it's the multi-layered, uncompromising tale of the kidnapping of and search for the titular Miss Blandish, whose first name is never given despite her presence from beginning to end. There's violence, drugs, sexual content, and a lot of very low characters. Since we're pulp fans but not literary historians, we went into the book with no idea what it was about or that it was in any way significant, and came away immensely entertained and impressed. The highest compliment we can give it is that we were never sure who would win, or who would survive. Pair that with propulsive plotting and you end up with a must-read. World headlines? We believe it. Mitchell Hooks cover art? All the better.
Hey everyone, I'm looking for a Master H.E. Bates. Is there anyone here who's Master Bates?
Author of numerous novels, short story collections, essays, and three—count 'em three—autobiographies, H.E. Bates has been described by numerous critics and peers as a master storyteller. Which makes him master Bates. We know—we're totally juvenile. We blame the booze. Also, he wrote a book called Spella Ho, a tricky grammatical proposition we've discussed in the past. There we go being juvenile again. It's inappropriate, because Bates was an important author who had major literary game and deserves a serious discussion. But not today. It's Friday. We have cava sangria chilling and the PI girls waiting.
We will tell you, though, that Charlotte's Row is an early Bates novel, coming in 1931, and that this Panther Books paperback edition appeared in 1958. The story deals with an alcoholic bootmaker and his daughter, who live in poverty on the eponymous street. It's a detailed chronicle of the soulcrushing conditions in British factory towns around the turn of the last century, which is to say it's Dickensian rather than pulp, but we shared this anyway because we love the cover by Josh Kirby. We may or may not return to master Bates, but we will definitely see Kirby's excellent work again. For now, you can have a look at two more great examples of his genius here and here, and an entire gallery at his website here.
… two... and three. Wait. I screwed up again. That would've been on three and. I meant to do it on three.
Here's something backwards from what we usually share—a novel adapted from a film instead of vice versa. The Camp on Blood Island is a 1958 British-made World War II film written by J.M. White and Val Guest, and when you learn it was produced by schlockmeisters deluxe Hammer Film you could be forgiven for suspecting it was low rent b-cinema, but this is Hammer trying to be highbrow. Near the end of the Pacific War, a Japanese prison camp commandant decides that if Japan surrenders he'll execute all his prisoners. So the prisoners decide to prevent news of any prospective surrender from reaching the commandant by sabotaging communications, and they also prepare to rebel when the times comes. We may check the film out sometime, but we were mainly drawn by the paperback art. Not only did it remind us that prison camp novels are yet another subset of mid-century literature, but we saw the Josh Kirby signature on this one and realized we haven't featured him near enough. Last time we ran across him was on this excellent piece. We'll dig around for more. And we may also put together a small collection of prisoner-of-war covers later. They range from true stories to blatant sexploitation, and much of the art is worth seeing.
The most important safety precaution is to make sure the chamber on this baby is empty, or else disaster can—BANG!
The U.K. imprint Panther Books had some tasty covers during the mid-1950s, including this pretty effort by John Vernon for Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest. We gave it a read and it involves Hammett's recurring character, a Continental Detective Agency operative, aka the Continental Op, being hired by a newspaper publisher who turns up dead before the two can meet. The subsequent investigation lifts the lid on corruption in a small town called Personville—but which locals call Poisonville. Hammett was a very solid genre author, with a spare, raw style, like this, from chapter seven:
It was half-past five. I walked around a few blocks until I came to an unlighted electric sign that said Hotel Crawford, climbed a flight of steps to the second floor office, registered, left a call for ten o'clock, was shown into a shabby room, moved some of the Scotch from my flask into my stomach, and took old Elihu's ten-thousand dollar check and my gun to bed with me.
After reading dozens of other (still very entertaining) authors since we last hefted a Hammett it was good to be reminded just how efficiently brutal he was. While the story is spiced up by a wisecracking femme fatale named Dinah Brand, the main element in Red Harvest is violence—a storm of it. By the end of the bloody reaping there are more than twenty five killings, as one player after another is knocked off. We rate Red Harvest the most lethal detective novel we've ever read. It was first published in 1929, with the above edition appearing in 1958.
Help you drag him to the car? Are you high or did you simply not notice that my dress is Givenchy?
Artist Raymond Johnson offers up a great femme fatale on this cover for The Deadly Miss Ashley, authored by Stephen Ransome as the first entry in his Schyler Cole and Luke Speare detective series (gotta love those names). In this one Miss Ashley is actually a missing person who Cole and Speare need to locate. The book was originally published in 1950 in the U.S. under the writer’s real name Frederick C. Davis, with this Panther Books edition appearing in England in 1959.
Jack Kerouac writes about the road ahead.
Jack Kerouac gets a pulp style cover by Mitchell Hooks for the short, semi-autobiographical (of course) novel Maggie Cassidy. It’s a tale of high school into college, as well as love sought and lost, but you can always count on Kerouac to subvert conventionality. Maybe it isn’t his best, but it has those sparks and flashes of his unique style. The book was first published in 1959 by Avon, and this edition from the British imprint Panther appeared in 1960.
Is worth a fortune in the pocket.
Above, a rare copy of Dashiell Hammett’s classic 1930 detective story The Maltese Falcon, the Panther Books edition, 1957, with cover art by John Vernon. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1978—Son of Sam Goes to Prison
David Berkowitz, the New York City serial killer known as Son of Sam, is sentenced to 365 years in prison for six killings. Berkowitz had acquired his nickname from letters addressed to the NYPD and columnist Jimmy Breslin. He is eventually caught when a chain of events beginning with a parking ticket leads to his car being searched and police discovering ammunition and maps of crime scenes.
1963—Buddhist Monk Immolates Himself
In South Vietnam, Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc burns himself to death by dousing himself with gasoline and lighting a match. He does it to protest the persecution of Buddhists by Ngô Đình Diệm administration, choosing a busy Saigon intersection for his protest. An image of the monk being consumed by flames as he sits crosslegged on the pavement, shot by Malcolm Browne, wins a Pulitzer Prize and becomes one of the most shocking and recognizable photos ever published.
In New York City, Dr. Robert Smith and William Griffith Wilson, who were both recovering alcoholics, establish the organization Alcoholics Anonymous, which pioneers a 12-step rehabilitation program that is so helpful and popular it eventually spreads to every corner of the globe.
1973—John Paul Getty III Is Kidnapped
John Paul Getty III, grandson of billionaire oil tycoon J. Paul Getty, is kidnapped in Rome, Italy. The elder Getty ignores a ransom demand for $17 million, thinking it is a joke. When John Paul's ear later arrives in the mail along with a note promising further mutilation, he negotiates the ransom down to $2.9 million, which he pays only on the condition that John Paul repay him at four percent interest. Getty's kidnappers are never caught.
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