That bimbo has no idea she can't get hair dye here. When her roots grow out we'll see if men still think she's so amazing.
We have other Wade Miller books to read, but we picked up this copy of 1960's Jungle Heat and moved it to the head of the line because the story is set in Malaya (now Malaysia), and the last book we read that the authors (Bob Wade and Bill Miller writing together under a pseudonym) set in an exotic country was phenomenal. Jungle Heat was originally published in 1954 under the name Dale Wilmer, with this reattributed Pyramid edition coming a bit later, and it finds Miller taking on the unexpected challenge of writing in first person from a woman's point-of-view. The lead character is Hollywood b-actress Roxy Powell, who is sent to Malaya with a small crew to shoot background footage for an upcoming jungle adventure. Never mind that a communist revolution is brewing. What Hollywood wants, Hollywood gets. Plantation boss Llewelyn Kirk, under whose roof Roxy and the crew are residing, is one of those characters who's colonial through-and-through but thinks that because he's been in Malaya for twenty years he isn't an invader and knows what's best for locals. Since the authors agree with this paternalistic sentiment, the narrative is steered—to an almost ludicrous extent—toward Kirk being correct. We won't get into any of it except to say that, generally, anti-communist fiction from the mid-century era was unavoidably propagandist. In this case the authors are basically correct in their regional political analysis, but gloss over important details and whiff on overarching points. For example, there's an interesting scene where a Malayan tells Kirk that he'd heard blacks in America are unjustly killed by whites. Kirk assures him it isn't true. We almost did a spit-take on that one.
Roxy first hates, then by a circuitous path, comes to adore Kirk. She's initially driven by her need for “respect,” which here doesn't mean respect as normally understood, but is instead code for sexual desirability. Because Kirk ignores her, she hates him. Therefore she embarks on a campaign to discover his humanity—i.e. his sexual attraction to her. Even if you didn't know the author, that's when you might suspect a guy—or two—was in the driver seat. Okay, so if the politics take liberties and the justification for romance is male fantasy in disguise, is the book any good? Well, sure. There's a nice jungle setting, a fun Hollywood sidebar, a backdrop of war in which enemies circle ever closer, a traitor hiding in the fold, and love blossoming amid chaos. With all that going for it, the book has to be good. But that said, Wade/Miller definitely wrote better.
A single hard look is worth a thousand threats.
Peter Held is another new author for us. He's a pseudonym used by sci-fi author Jack Vance. Take My Face was first published in 1957, with this Pyramid paperback coming in 1958 fronted by John Floherty, Jr. art featuring a clever upper body variation on the classic alpha pose. The book is about a teenaged boy whose face is burned and permanently scarred in a scooter accident. When he's later humiliated by four girls during a sorority initiation (one of whom had caused the original accident), he snaps and ends up in a reform school. The girls forget him and go on with their lives. Years later when the quartet start being murdered, there are no suspects—until someone remembers that long ago incident of youthful callousness toward the burned boy. But is he now grown up and committing the murders, or is something else going on? We thought Take My Face had a good premise, but it reads a bit dispassionately, which led to diminished involvement for us. We won't go running back to Held, but we won't run away either, should we encounter him again.
For every job there's a perfect tool.
In Ed Lacy's 1961 boxing drama The Big Fix, the fix is defnitely in, and in the worst way possible. Tommy Cork, a thirty-something middleweight boxer who in his prime battled Sugar Ray Robinson, becomes the pet project of a dilletante boxing manager who promises that with the best training, diet, and promotion Cork can reach the top again. Sounds good, but Tommy has unwittingly become the focus of a deadly scam, a plan to find some desperate boxer with a reputation for ugly losses, make a show of training him for high profile bouts, all the while taking out a life insurance policy on him, then having a hammerfisted accomplice kill him in the ring. Since the murder will happen before a crowd, there will be no suspicion of foul play, particularly for a pug known for fighting stubbornly and hitting the canvas hard.
But nothing is straightforward in Lacy's hands. Tommy's wife May, hopeful for a better life, gets into trouble with violent numbers runners, an aspiring writer sees the couple as the perfect pathetic characters to be the focus of a novel, an ex-boxer cop starts to get wise to the murder scheme, and other twists come from nowhere to infinitely complicate the tale. Despite the subplots, as readers you know the only fitting climax is one that takes place in the ring, and Lacy pushes the story inexorably toward that showdown, hapless Tommy facing off against a man who plans to kill him with a relentless assault, or if possible a single blow. If he's going to have help, he'll need to provide it himself. As usual, Lacy tells a good story. He's reliably full of excellent ideas. That also goes for Ernest Chiriacka, who painted the eye-catching cover.
The only way to survive is by rationing. I've come up with a plan. First we'll eat him, then I'll eat you.
Well, our three castaways—Harold Dixon, Gene Aldrich, and Tony Pastula—are still floating on the high seas, and the situation has gone from bad to worse. They'll get out of this dilemma yet, though. Only a minor spoiler there, since The Raft—which details thirty-four days spent stranded at sea by three downed flyers—is a World War II biography, not a novel, and the tale is well known. But if you're unfamiliar with it, what you get is hot days, cold nights, constant soakings, several capsizings, a loss of gear, food, and hope, and an extraordinary—by which mean stranger than fiction—ending. This particular copy looks like it spent thirty-four days at sea too, but it's the best we could find.
Ed Spingarn takes readers on a bumpy ride down mammary lane.
Robert Maguire painted the cover for Ed Spingarn's 1957 novel Perfect 36, and came up with something beautiful and colorful that drew our eye. The tagline—A revealing and riotous story of the bosom business—did the rest of the sales job. The book tells the story of nineteen-year-old Rosalie Gershon, who's determined to make something of herself professionally, and, thanks to her outstanding figure, stumbles into the ladies undergarment business. Seems she's a perfect model for the newly created Brooklyn Bridge Bra, designed along architectural principles. Rosalie wants to succeed, but she's also a virgin with insistent hormones, and the high rolling fast talkers of the NYC fashion business are lining up to take her on her first mattress ride.
In other words, what you have here is a virtue-in-danger novel, but one that's better than most. Will Rosalie give in, and if so to whom? The poor but sincere co-worker? The business mogul's slick son? The rich man who offers her mink coats? Everybody wants her and they'll play dirty to get her. Only in fiction is it so difficult being gorgeous. As the plot develops, Rosalie's virginity—actually her possible lack of it—becomes worth potentially $100,000. It's an unlikely twist, and Rosalie's an unlikely character, but Spingarn manages to make her sympathetic, and he does it by using high quality literary skills and (we suspect) inside knowledge of the fashion industry. We'd read him again, for sure, but unfortunately Perfect 36 seems to be the only novel he ever wrote.
Okay... love you too... too tight... need to breathe now...
This is a classic cover from highly respected paperback artist Ernest Chiriacka, aka Darcy, one of his very best. He specialized in couples. Embracing couples, smooching couples, angry couples, pensive couples, but in most cases his work has the same sort of feel you see above. We've put together a collection to show you in a bit. In the meantime, let this excellent example whet your appetite, and remember—if you love somebody set them free.
We've been seeing each other for a while now. I've decided you can start coming up the front stairs.
Above, a Jim Bentley cover for L.K. Scott's Backstairs, 1953 for Pyramid Books. Bentley also worked for various men's adventure magazines, including Stag, for which he illustrated the James Jones story “The Knife” in December 1957. Jones, you may remember, wrote From Here to Eternity. We'll see if we can dig up more from Bentley later.
Let's briefly consider someone else's feelings. How do you think your rejection of my inappropriate sexual advances made me feel?
We thought we'd exhausted the supply of therapist sleaze novels, but not quite. Above you see The Glass Cage by Edward Ronns, which is about a Park Avenue shrink who finds himself in sticky situations with upper crust women. This was published in 1962 with Bob Abbett cover art. We don't have our shrink sleaze covers keyworded, which means if you want to see the others we'll have to usher you to them ourselves. They're to be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.
You play with fire you're bound to get burned.
We're in reliable literary territory today—Thompson territory. A Hell of a Woman was originally published in 1954, with this Pyramid edition coming in 1962. The story resembles James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, as an amoral opportunist is driven by lust to plan a murder. Who is the “hell of a woman” from the title? There are two candidates. The main character Frank “Dolly” Dillon love-hates his wife, so maybe it's her. But on the other hand, it's for his young mistress that he plots to kill an old lady and steal her stash of $100,000, so it's probably her. $100,000 is an unlikely amount of money ($967,000 in today's dollars) to be stashed in a spinster's house, and of course there's a reason for that, but you'll have to read the book to find out. That will involve descending into the troubled and self-destructive mind of yet another Thompson anti-hero, but you won't regret it—this is a nice effort from one of the kings of pulp.
Forget it, buster. You look good now but we both know there's a useless tub of lard just dying to get out.
Careful girls—inside every hunk there's a pot-bellied sofa sloth waiting for an opportunity to emerge. All it takes is beer and time. John Garth's Hill Man, published in 1954 by Pyramid Books, concerns opportunity as well. It deals with an opportunistic country boy who marries and beds his way into property and riches. Garth was a pseudonym used by Janice Holt Giles, who under her real name wrote numerous historical novels set in Kentucky. Hill Man isn't a historical novel. It fits more into the long tradition of rural dramas we've talked about often. The cover art on this particular example is by Julian Paul.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
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.
1954—Joseph McCarthy Disciplined by Senate
In the United States, after standing idly by during years of communist witch hunts in Hollywood and beyond, the U.S. Senate votes 65 to 22 to condemn Joseph McCarthy for conduct bringing the Senate into dishonor and disrepute. The vote ruined McCarthy's career.
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