Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I remind you that guilty verdicts are for the poor and powerless—and my client is neither.
Surely it's a bad sign that we can kid about the two-tiered justice system of the U.S. and none of you thought, even for a second, “Hey, that's not true!” But alas, we aren't here to deal with systemic injustice. P.I. is the name, and vintage goodies is our game. Alan Hynd's Defenders of the Damned has evocative and effective cover art, with its stern judge, beseeching attorney, and disinterested defendant, but it's uncredited, amazingly. The book consists of short biographies of three famous lawyers—Earl Rogers, Clarence Darrow, and William Joseph Fallon—focusing on the pulp style twists and turns of some of their most interesting cases, with all three attorneys portrayed as the type who weren't above a little trickery and rule bending. Hynd was the author of other non-fiction books, wrote for crime magazines like True Police Cases, and also had a nice run as a crime and mystery novelist with titles like Passport to Treason and Betrayal from the East. Defenders of the Damned was originally published in 1952, and the above Popular Library paperback edition came in 1962.
They also do crap in the garden, do shed on my dresses, and do tongue-lash their own buttholes then lick my face. What was I thinking?
Some folks are dog people, while others are not. We love dogs. But we'd never own one, for some of the reasons noted above. Add to those dubious qualities the fact that they do find corpses. At least in this case. Written by the duo of Richard Wilson Webb and Hugh Callingham Wheeler under the pseudonym Jonathan Stagge, The Dogs Do Bark is an English style mystery set in the U.S., and deals with events set into motion when a decapitated and disarmed body is discovered down a hole by a bunch of one percenters and their hounds out hunting foxes. This found trunk is later identified by a man whose daughter is missing, and the mystery that follows is as gruesome as its intro. It was immediately obvious that the father—an overbearingly pious type who spews Bible verses and declares that his Jezebel of a daughter has come to her inevitable end—might be wrong in his identification, and that's a narrative problem, but whatever, even if the central conundrum wasn't interesting, the story's gory aspects were (add to the list of doggie behaviors that they do eat severed arms). We gather that Stagge's tales were often shocking, so for that reason alone they may be worth another glance. We're always interested in a bit of gore. Originally published in 1936 as Murder Gone to Earth, this Popular Library edition appeared in 1951.
That totally slipped out. I don't know what happened. I meant to say I hate you. Dammit! It happened again.
The cover of Darling, I Hate You by T.S. Matthews tells you it was originally titled To the Gallows I Must Go. We consider that too much information, but yeah, this book is about a man whose latest sexual partner wants him to kill her husband. Matthews didn't write many novels, but he built a significant career as an editor, working at The New Republic and Time before jettisoning the U.S. to live in England, where he wrote books and moonlighted as a reviewer for New York Times. However, the above debuted in 1931. He wouldn't publish a second book for more than twenty-five years. This Popular Library edition from 1953 has pretty nice art, but sadly it's uncredited.
Don't look so smug, buster. I've had better.
Natalie Anderson Scott's 1955 novel Hotel Room was originally published in 1953 as The Little Stockade, and it's a tale set in New York City's infamous Hell's Kitchen, involving a woman named Marie who is made into a prostitute by a man she loves but shouldn't. This was Scott's follow up to her hit novel The Story of Mrs. Murphy, which instead of examining a woman stuck in the trap of vice examined a woman stuck in the trap of alcoholism. Unfortunately, this gritty follow-up wasn't as well received. But she still had a decent career, publishing several more books over the years.
Popular Library had the knack of getting artists who painted in the same general style—perhaps the company even required it. Sometimes that makes it hard to know who a cover artist is, but in this case it's Rafael DeSoto. Here he's painted a nimbus around the head of his female figure. We realized we'd seen the same effect before from him, for example here and here—and even here, if you look closely—so we had a scan around the internet to see how often that occurred. While DeSoto did it on some covers, we wouldn't go so far as to call it a trademark. Still, it's a cool effect on a very nice piece of art.
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.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1929—Stock Market Crashes
Black Thursday, a catastrophic crash on the New York Stock Exchange, occurs when the value of stocks suddenly declines and continues to decline for a month. The event leads to a subsequent crash in world stock prices and precipitates the Great Depression. This after famous economist Irving Fisher had declared that stock prices had reached a permanently high plateau.
1935—Four Gangsters Gunned Down in New Jersey
In Newark, New Jersey, the organized crime figures Dutch Schultz, Abe Landau, Otto Berman, and Bernard "Lulu" Rosencrantz are fatally shot at the Palace Chophouse restaurant. Schultz, who was the target, lingers in the hospital for about a day before dying
. The killings are committed by a group of professional gunmen known as Murder, Inc., and the event becomes known as the Chophouse Massacre.
1950—Al Jolson Dies
Vaudeville and screen performer Al Jolson dies of a heart attack in San Francisco after a trip to Korea to entertain troops causes lung problems. Jolson is best known for his film The Jazz Singer, and for his performances in blackface make-up, which were not considered offensive at the time, but have now come to be seen as a form of racial bigotry.
1926—Houdini Fatally Punched in Stomach
After a performance in Montreal, Hungarian-born magician and escape artist Harry Houdini is approached by a university student named J. Gordon Whitehead, who asks if it is true that Houdini can endure any blow to the stomach. Before Houdini is ready Whitehead strikes him several times, causing internal injuries that lead to the magician's death.
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