Vintage Pulp Sep 11 2022
DEEPLY TROUBLED
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 Waterthey 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. 
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Vintage Pulp Mar 16 2022
THE TRAP IS SPRUNG
There are lots of ways to enter and no way to leave.


Sam Peffer painted this beautiful cover for The Trapped Ones by Louis Charbonneau, originally published in 1959 as Night of Violence, with this renamed edition from Digit appearing in 1963. Either title works. The characters are trapped, and it's violent. The location: a motel in nowheresville New Mexico. The violence: a mob guy who's stolen $50,000 and whose pursuers catch up to him right when he stops for a rest. How to solve the problem? Taking a few hostages might work. The other characters include the studly owner, the beautiful best girl, the ex-wife, the hateful couple, the confirmed coward, the dangerously precocious daughter who's mistaken the secretive criminal for her favorite singer, and the minor league pitcher-turned-hitman eager to throw his “fastball”—i.e. a hand grenade. Personal demons come to the fore, seduction has a cost, the premises become a battleground, people get shot, and that grenade explodes. The book is well written, if a little melodramatic. Certainly it's in the upper half of the quality curve for mid-century thrillers. We'll be back, Charbonneau. 

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Vintage Pulp Apr 20 2021
BLOWING HIS OWN HORN
For someone so big he didn't leave much of a trace.


You'd think a guy named Bunyan would be a giant, at least figuratively, but after some deep searching we found no mention of Pat Bunyan associated with the mid-century jazz movement in any context other than that offered by the blurb on the back of the jazz oriented 1963 novel The Big Blues. The rear says, “Told by a man who blew the horn in many a night spot from the lowdown dive to way up there...” So you can see why we expected to find him mentioned as a major dude of the bop era. But we found no credits for him—way up there or anywhere, even on the comprehensive music site Discogs. Well regarded jazz players often—if not typically—played on albums as sidemen. No such indications exist for Mr. Bunyan. Of course, he could have performed under a pseudonym.

The Big Blues was originally published in the U.S. in 1958 by Newsstand Library, then again in 1960 as I Peddle Jazz by Saber Books, both low budget outfits that specialized in sleaze novels. That probably tells you all you need to know as far as Bunyan's literary talent goes. As far as confirming his identity, we had hopes when we saw he was referred to as Paul Porto on the U.S. edition. Maybe that was the name he used when he lit a firestorm in the American jazz scene. Maybe he had to change identity or be arrested for terrorism after blowing club after club sky high. To the far corners of the online realm we went and... nope. There's no evidence of a Paul Porto playing music during the mid-century jazz era.

As we've commented before, the internet is just an aperture and only about .000001% of all knowledge makes it through the opening. Someone has to actually take the time to do what we do here at Pulp Intl., which is decide the data is worthwhile to others and upload it. We're constantly uploading from sources we've purchased, for example from old tabloids. That makes us gatekeepers of sorts, and as members of that group we can tell you we're notoriously lazy, repetitive, and biased. But even if the gatekeepers don't do the best job getting all relevant data online, would the internet not have info on a great jazzman who played way up there? For that reason, we suspect Bunyan/Porto was just a hack author taking advantage of the jazz trend.

In any case, Digit saw something salable in The Big Blues and certainly elevated it when it produced its edition. The company often featured brilliant cover art—examples here, here, and here—and the front of this one was painted by the masterful Sam Peffer, aka Peff, who we've talked about a couple of times, notably here. So The Big Blues paperback ended up being more artful than its author probably ever expected, and thanks to its collectible nature survives today. As for Big Pat Bunyan, he wrote one other novel that used jazz as a backdrop, 1966's A Doll for Johnny Marco, then disappeared from the publishing scene. We're curious though. Which means we'll probably pick up one of his books if we find one at the right price.

Update: we received an e-mail with a scan of an item from the Hartford Courant newspaper of June 1957 containing an announcement about a concert by Pat Bunyan and his band. So Bunyan did exist. Corrections from readers are part of the package for bloggers, and we'd be nothing without them. So thanks for the e-mail. Now we'll definitely have to read one of Bunyan's books. In fact, we just ordered The Big Blues a few minutes ago.
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Vintage Pulp Sep 2 2017
GRAPES OF WRATH
Okay, I take it back—you don't hit like a girl.


Above you see a great Sam Peffer cover for Jonathan Latimer's Solomon's Vineyard, originally published in 1941, and banned in the U.S. until 1988. We could go into why it was blacklisted, but as always it doesn't really matter, because save for a brief mention of underage sex the book is not racy by today's standards. Its best quality is not sexual innuendo anyway, but toughness. To give you an example, we'll transcribe one of its many interesting scenes. The main character Karl Craven—a burly ex-football player-turned-private detective—becomes upset at the layered deceptions he's had to deal with and finally loses his temper:

I grabbed her by the arms and shook her. Her false teeth fell out and rolled across the carpet. [snip] I started into the parlour, but a thin man in shirtsleeves was in the way. I hit him and he went down. In the parlour the blonde who'd slugged me with the lamp began to scream. She thought I was coming for her. I went to the big radio in the corner. I picked it up, tearing out the plug, and tossed it across the room. It shattered against the wall. I kicked over a table with two lamps on it. I tore some of the fabric off a davenport. I threw a chair at a big oil painting over the fireplace. I took a metal stand lamp and bent it up like a pretzel. I pulled up the oriental rug and ripped it down the middle.


That's going berserk like you mean it. We won't bother with a long plot summary since you can find those all over the internet, but basically the protagonist is hired to spring a woman from a cult and finds himself neck deep in corpse worship, hidden treasure, police corruption, and sado-masochism. The book is reasonably well written, very hard boiled, and built around a set of unlikely characters—including a femme fatale known by all as “The Princess.” Great Pan published it in 1961, and it had an alternate cover which you also see here. It was re-issued several times after its debut—including by Popular Library as The Fifth Grave—which means it isn't hard to find. We recommend you give it a read. 

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Vintage Pulp Mar 28 2016
GENTLEMAN'S DISAGREEMENT
Wait, wait, wait! Why don't we settle this like real men? By blaming the woman!


Howard Baker, born Arthur William Baker, is an Irish author sometimes referred to as W. Howard Baker, and who also wrote as Peter Saxon, William Arthur, W.A. Ballinger, and Richard Williams. The Big Steal involves a typical cast of misfit thieves trying to make off with a cache of gold bullion from Heathrow Airport, mixed with a plot thread about a killer on the loose. Baker also wrote war fiction, sci-fi and supernatural tales. The great cover art for the 1964 Mayflower Dell paperback you see here was painted by Peff, aka Sam Peffer. 

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Vintage Pulp Jul 17 2015
ULTIMATE FIGHTING
Vintage paperback violence gets up close and personal.


We have another collection today as we prepare to jet away on vacation with the girls. Since the place we’re going is known for rowdy British tourists (what place isn’t known for that?), we thought we’d feature some of the numerous paperback covers featuring fights. You’ll notice, as with our last collection, the preponderance of French books. Parisian publishers loved this theme. The difference, as opposed to American publishers, is that you almost never saw women actually being hit on French covers (we’d almost go so far as to say it never happened, but we’ve obviously not seen every French paperback ever printed). The French preferred man-on-man violence, and when women were involved, they were either acquitting themselves nicely, or often winning via the use of sharp or blunt instruments.

Violence against women is and has always been a serious problem in the real world, but we’re just looking at products of the imagination here, which themselves represent products of the imagination known as fiction. Content-wise, mid-century authors generally frowned upon violence toward women even if they wrote it into their novels. Conversely, the cover art, stripped of literary context, seemed to glorify it. Since cover art is designed to entice readers, there’s a valid discussion here about why anti-woman violence was deemed attractive on mid-century paperback fronts, and whether its disappearance indicates an understanding of its wrongness, or merely a cynical realization that it can no longer be shown without consequences. We have another fighting cover here, and you may also want to check out our western brawls here.

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Vintage Pulp Nov 1 2011
TOP SHELF PULP
Does this look like one of the top sixty pulp book covers of all time to you?

No, it doesn’t look like that to us either. Don’t get us wrong. It isn’t bad. But top sixty? Ever? Yet we found it on a site that included it in its top sixty, along with a collection of other covers of which we can honestly say only three were excellent. There was not one Fixler or Aslan to be found. Nary a J. David, nor a Peff, nor even a hint of a Rader. Clearly, whoever put the feature together took sixty random images off Flickr (yet watermarked the art they borrowed) and called it a day. This highlights one of the main problems with the internet: it’s difficult to know which sites are primarily focused upon providing information, and which exist solely to generate traffic revenue. A site can do both (as we try to do here with our very minimal ad presence), but when some corporate pulp site that possesses endless resources somehow misidentifies the pulp era as lasting from the 1950s to 1970s, and asserts that the term “pulp” was popularized by the movie Pulp Fiction, it’s clear that information has not only taken a back seat to traffic revenue—it’s being dragged 100 feet behind the car on a rope. We would never presume to do something as subjective as select the best covers of all time, because who the hell are we? But we have, we hope, earned some credibility over the last three years. So on this, our official third anniversary, we're going to do a pulp cover collection of our own. We don't claim these are the best—only that we like them very much. We’re posting twenty-four because we’re too lazy to do sixty, but we think all of them are winners. A few have already appeared on our site; most have not. Got better ones? Use our reader pulp feature to send them. So here we go. And thanks to the sites from which we borrowed some of these.  

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Vintage Pulp Apr 18 2011
POSITIVE CHANGE
Erle Stanley Gardner classic gets respectful treatment every time out.


Erle Stanley Gardner’s The Case of The Sulky Girl is one of those books that was reissued many times through the years with different covers, all quite nice. This isn’t an exceedingly rare occurrence, but the quality of the art in this case is notable. Below, we have seven examples starting with the original paperback cover from 1933, followed by excellent efforts from Muni (panel three), Dawson (panel four), Peffer (panel five), McGinnis (panel seven) and unknowns.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
September 28
1941—Williams Bats .406
Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox finishes the Major League Baseball season with a batting average of .406. He is the last player to bat .400 or better in a season.
September 27
1964—Warren Commission Issues Report
The Warren Commission, which had been convened to examine the circumstances of John F. Kennedy's assassination, releases its final report, which concludes that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed Kennedy. Today, up to 81% of Americans are troubled by the official account of the assassination.
September 26
1934—Queen Mary Launched
The RMS Queen Mary, three-and-a-half years in the making, launches from Clydebank, Scotland. The steamship enters passenger service in May 1936 and sails the North Atlantic Ocean until 1967. Today she is a museum and tourist attraction anchored in Long Beach, U.S.A.
1983—Nuclear Holocaust Averted
Soviet military officer Stanislav Petrov, whose job involves detection of enemy missiles, is warned by Soviet computers that the United States has launched a nuclear missile at Russia. Petrov deviates from procedure, and, instead of informing superiors, decides the detection is a glitch. When the computer warns of four more inbound missiles he decides, under much greater pressure this time, that the detections are also false. Soviet doctrine at the time dictates an immediate and full retaliatory strike, so Petrov's decision to leave his superiors out of the loop very possibly prevents humanity's obliteration. Petrov's actions remain a secret until 1988, but ultimately he is honored at the United Nations.
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