Have a nice flight! See you after you land!
Paperback cover art changed radically with the arrival of so-called good girl art. Popular Library would become one of the foremost practitioners of the form, but Patricia Wentworth's 1941 mystery In the Balance, also published as Danger Point, features old style art. It's still pretty effective, in our opinion. The novel is a murder-for-inheritance tale, fourth in a series of more than thirty capers starring private investigator Maud Silver. But Silver doesn't make much of an appearance in this, instead influencing events from a distance. The star of the story is fragile rich girl Lisle Jerningham, whose wealth is coveted by one or more family members and close friends.
Lisle is really something. We lost count of how many times “the colour rose to her cheeks,” but that sort of stuff—along with pulses racing, feeling faint, and thoughts awhirl—is a package deal with these traditional whodunits. Is the book any good? We enjoyed it. Trembling English flowers are the opposite of our usual femmes fatales, which makes them refreshing changes of pace, especially when well written. You, on the other hand, might feel differently. In the Balance is of its place and time. That place and time is polite, stuffy, upper class Britain before the ravages of World War II. Hard-boiled pulp fans should proceed with caution.
Our recommendation: Take the Fifth.
We read Jonathan Latimer's The Fifth Grave in its retitled incarnation Solomon's Vineyard and talked about the book a few years ago. That edition was from Great Pan and appeared in 1961. The Popular Library version you see above came in 1950 with art by the great Rudolph Belarski. We think back to this strange and dark novel often. At the time we thought it was very good but not a classic. Years later, considering how much it sticks in the head, maybe we'd better bump it up to the top tier, and once again recommend that you read this unusual tale. After digging around we finally got ahold of a couple of other Latimers and we're really looking forward to those. Can he possibly equal The Fifth Grave/Solomon's Vineyard? We'll report back.
First of all, hell no. Second, why are you wearing lipstick? And third, crushed strawberry is not your color.
When it comes to mid-century fiction, basically all the guys had problems respecting women's boundaries. There are so many covers of the above type we could curate an entire collection. We can't think of any others, however, where the guy looks like he's wearing lipstick. We checked a few other examples of this one online, just in case this look was courtesy of some kid with a crayon, but he's wearing that crushed strawberry in all of them. Not that we disapprove. More guys probably should do it. We've done it, and it was fun, if not even educational. But maybe we're drilling too deep into this subject. Boundaries we were talking about, right? So, Mike Moran was aka Ben Kerr, Jonas Ward, and Thomas Wills, and this book deals with a private eye who takes a job bodyguarding a boxer who's run into problems as the night of a big bout approaches. Reviews are mixed to middling. But this cover opens the door to all sorts of discussion, which makes it worth sharing. 1953 on this.
You're too late. We all got dressed ten minutes ago.
Above, The Naked Hours by Wenzell Brown, for Popular Library, 1956, with unusual bright green art by an unknown. We knew nothing about the book or the author, but this cover, battered as it is, attracted us, so job well done there. The book is good. A guy with a serious alcohol problem goes on a bender and wakes up in a strange bed with a girl he doesn't remember meeting. But she's sexy as hell so he embarks on an affair with her that evolves into a half-serious plot to kill his rich wife. Once he realizes the plot is real, he can't get out because the original transgression—that of his infidelity—will get him divorced and booted out of the Upper Manhattan good life if it becomes known. So he keeps trying to finesse his way to a solution, which involves outsmarting two hitmen intent on spousal murder. Odds on getting out unscathed are not good, but in effective crime fiction the odds should never be good. Nice one from Brown. We'll be looking for more.
Arizona Jim? Never heard of him. I'm New Mexico Clarence. Totally different guy.
Above, Arizona Jim, by the prolific Charles Alden Seltzer, 1949, for Popular Library. A preacher named Jim McDonald shows up in the town of Red Rock and has to deal with a gang of local outlaws led by Flash Haddam. Usually, facing lawless thugs would be a big job for a preacher, but it's only a disguise—Jim is really a government lawman. Classic motifs, including romance with a local good girl. The paperback is fronted by cover art from an unknown.
You'll get nowhere fast with this book.
Popular Library made a habit of retitling novels if they thought the original was too esoteric. Many companies did it, but Popular Library had some notorious instances, including changing Ian Fleming's Casino Royale to You Asked for It. Speed Lamkin's The Easter Egg Hunt appeared in 1954 to reviews that ranged from cool to tepid, which was probably all the excuse Popular Library needed to rebrand and pulpify it for paperback release. Thus a year later Fast and Loose hit bookstores in a blaze of golden color from the exemplary brush of cover artist Rafael DeSoto, who was one of the top paperback illustrators going. This effort is typically flawless, and features the trademark textural background that makes his work so identifiable, such as here and here.
We gave Fast and Loose a read. You notice the cover quotes some reviewer or other saying the book is James M. Cainish. Lamkin is like Cain the way papier mache is like origami. They're both things you do with paper, but that's about it. Lamkin is more from the Capote or Fitzgerald schools of authoring. His book is also very similar to Ramona Stewart's forgotten novel The Surprise Party Complex, though Stewart's book came later. But both deal with the events of a summer in Hollywood. Where Stewart focuses on a trio of aimless teens, Lamkin writes about adults who, though they're producers, actors, and writers, are equally aimless, partying the days and nights away.
The main character Charley Thayer works for Life magazine, though never has work to do. He observes the celestial bodies in the orbit of wealthy Clarence Culvers, who has the best party house in Beverly Hills and is determined to make his young, volatile wife a star. The people in this crowd are shallow, selfish, and bigoted, and since Lamkin spent time in L.A. we can assume he's relating what he observed, or at least thought he observed. Frankly, these folks are all so tedious that when the expected tragedy finally occurs it's a relief to have one less horrible person in the world, even a fictional one. Speed needed a limit—to about two-thirds the number of pages. Then Fast and Loose might have worked.
Without getting too technical, you have a condition known as vaginitus neglectus. But there's a treatment for that.
More for the medical pulp bin, sleaze subset: Doctor Paradise, by Jay J. Dratler, with a physician who likes to practice internal medicine with his patients. Check a couple of other fun medical examples here and here.
Here's to us waking up bewildered and trying to piece together tonight from fragmentary memories and vague sensations of shame.
Above, a cover for Robert Tallant's Mrs. Candy and Saturday Night. Basically, a woman who runs a New Orleans boarding house filled with unusual renters and a ghost decides to throw a party, which turns out wilder than she expected and leads to some startling revelations about the occupants. Written to span twenty-four hours, the book was well received enough to spawn two sequels, Love and Mrs. Candy and Mrs. Candy Strikes It Rich. The success was not a surprise. Tallant was born in New Orleans, was already experienced writing about it through other published books, and obviously loved the place, quirks and all. If you're looking for real Crescent City feel in a mid-century novel, with jambalaya, voodoo, and all the rest, Mrs. Candy and Saturday Night is it. It's originally copyright 1947, with this Popular Library paperback with Earle Bergey cover art coming in 1951.
We both said many things last night. By light of day and from a perspective of total sobriety let's admit none of them were true.
The couple on this cover for Gertrude Walker's So Deadly Fair look less than thrilled to be together, but that happens, right? It was painted by Rafael DeSoto, and the book tells the story of a femme fatale who frames a guy for murder—her own. That sounds like we just spoiled the plot but the bulk of the narrative actually deals with what happens when the protagonist is paroled ten years later and has not, shall we say, reached a state of closure about how things went down. Revenge is a dish best served cold, especially when the recipient is your ex. Originally published as a hardback in 1948, this Popular Library edition appeared in 1952.
We're both starving, and frankly, the way he's behaved he's given us absolutely no reason not to eat him.
During the mid-century period, high quality cover art was seen as the key to paperback sales, thus many types of books received makeovers. Aussie novelist Ronald McKie's The Survivors is an example. You'd assume it was fiction but it's actually the true story of the Battle of Sunda Strait, which occurred in Indonesia between the islands of Java and Sumatra during World War II and pitted two Aussie cruisers against a major Japanese naval force. During a battle in which the outgunned Aussie ships fared better than could have been reasonably expected, both were sunk. In the aftermath a group of stranded men battled innumerable hazards in an attempt to survive. The book sprang from the handwritten account of an Aussie sailor who spent four years in a Japanese POW camp. He was a friend of McKie's, and when the author read the dairy pages he immediately decided to write a full accounting of the battle. As far as we know nobody ate anyone, but raft rides get pretty rough. The Survivors came out in hardback in 1953, with this Popular Library paperback appearing in 1954.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
The United States detonates a nuclear bomb codenamed Fat Man over the city of Nagasaki. It is the second atomic bomb dropped on Japan. 40,000 to 75,000 people are killed immediately, with tens of thousands more sickening and dying later due to radiation poisoning. The U.S. had plans to drop as many as seven more bombs on Japan, but the nation surrendered days later.
1969—Manson Followers Murder Five
Members of a cult led by Charles Manson murder pregnant actress Sharon Tate and coffee heiress Abigail Folger, along with Wojciech Frykowski, Jay Sebring, and Steven Parent. The crimes terrify the Los Angeles celebrity community, and even today continue to fascinate
the worldwide public.
1963—Gang Pulls Off Great Train Robbery
A fifteen member gang robs a train of £2.6 million at Bridego Railway Bridge, Ledburn near Mentmore in Buckinghamshire, England. Thirteen of the fifteen are later caught, but some subsequently escape from prison, and one, Ronnie Biggs, is only recaptured in 2001 after voluntarily returning to England.
After two years of public outcry over the Watergate scandal, U.S. president Richard M. Nixon announces to a national television audience that he will resign, effective the next day. Vice President Gerald R. Ford completes the remainder of Nixon's term.
1947—Journey of the Kon-Tiki Ends
Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl's balsa wood raft the Kon-Tiki, smashes into a reef in the Tuamotu Islands after a 4300 mile (7000 kilomteter) journey from South America. Heyerdahl was attempting to prove—in rather circuitous fashion—that South American natives were descended from Pacific Islanders.
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