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.
All these books are on our bucket list.
When you look at paperback covers every day it's interesting the common elements you notice. Of late, we've noticed buckets. They pop up on backwoods and rural sleaze novels, usually in amusing fashion, often in the possession of hardworking women going about difficult chores while nearby men don't do dick. We'll just tell you—that's not the way it works around our place.
No need to be nervous. To a doctor your body is nothing more than a soft, seductive, infinitely pleasurable biological wonder.
More for the doctor sleaze bin, Roy Benard Sparkia's Doctors & Sinners, from 1960 for Pyramid Books. Sparkia was prolific in this genre, but he also wrote Build My Gallows High, which was the basis of one of the great films of the 1940s, the film noir Out of the Past, which starred Robert Mitchum.
Beautiful detective gets into a sticky mess in Los Angeles.
Even if you haven't read Honey West we bet you've heard of her. This Girl for Hire is the first novel starring one of the first female private eyes in popular literature. It was originally published in 1957, spawned ten sequels, a 1965 television show, and even a 2013 graphic novel. All of that began with This Girl for Hire, so we read it, and it's pretty bad. Not every published book—even popular ones—possess style or merit, and this one's buzz is undeserved. The plot is a bore, the humor is obvious, the dialogue needs a serious polish, and the sexiness so boldly touted in the rear cover blurb simply doesn't materialize. And finally—the cardinal sin—we don't get the impression matters improve in later novels. For better along these lines we recommend Peter O'Donnell's Modesty Blaise adventures. They deliver eroticism and action and most of them are actually pretty good. In fact, This Girl for Hire made us immediately retreat to our Blaise stash just to remind ourselves this concept could be done well. See below.
In the naked city there are a million reasons to kill and die.
In Dead End two crooked cops end up with a million dollars in dirty money and decide to ditch their jobs and flee the country. But their law enforcement colleagues are after them, so first they hole up in an old Prohibition hideout to let the heat dissipate. How long will they stay in this little room? As long as it takes. The older cop Doc suggests months. The younger cop Bucky is going crazy in days. You know for a certaintly that this partnership isn't going to end well. Lacy is up and down as a writer but this is him on the upswing. Originally published as Be Careful How You Live in 1959, this Pyramid paperback appeared in 1960 with cover art by Ernest Chiriaka.
I love fire escapes. I don't know if they've saved many lives, but they've helped me ruin quite a few.
Above is another cover for Ed Lacy's breakthrough detective thriller Room To Swing, with the hero lurking on a fire escape. They should change the names of those things, considering how often they're used for things other than escaping fires. The art here is by an unknown, and like the previous cover (though we didn't point it out at the time) shows a white detective. Or one that can be taken for white. But the main character Toussaint Marcus Moore is black. In fact he's so dark even his girlfriend gives him a hard time about it. Clearly both publishing companies knew the book would sell fewer copies with an identifiably black cover star. The whitewash is an ironic side note to a book that directly discusses racism, but mid-century book covers, even those having nothing to do with race, often deceived consumers, so this is not an anomaly. Both covers are high quality art pieces. See the other one here.
A Harlem detective learns the rules of engagement in pre-civil rights America.
Ed Lacy is credited by many as having created the first African American detective, Harlem gumshoe Toussaint Marcus Moore. Room to Swing is the novel in which this uniquely named character debuted. The set-up for the plot is also unique. The producer of an unsolved crimes television show called You—Detective! has located a fugitive she wants to arrest on air. She hires Toussaint to keep an eye on this ratings goldmine and make sure he's still around when she and her film crew are ready to spring their trap. Sounds simple, but in 1958 a black detective following a white man 24/7 will run into problems, considering he can't safely go to all the same places. Hell, he couldn't comfortably go to all the same places even today.
And if being a cop magnet isn't bad enough for Toussaint, having a white woman as a client is even more problematic, since they can barely be seen in public together. This is true even in New York and Ohio, where the action takes place. Although the northern U.S. was not part of the Jim Crow system, outside of large cities apartheid generally reigned. Small town Ohio is no different from Alabama for Toussaint. Even getting lunch or using a pay phone is often difficult. Speaking to a white man without calling him “Sir” generally leads to trouble, and being referred to as “boy” in return is standard practice. All of which raises the question: Why did this deep-pocketed producer hire a black detective at all? She has her reasons.
Room to Swing won Lacy the coveted Edgar Award, though we wouldn't say the book is brilliantly written. But it takes readers into fresh territory for a detective novel, and Toussaint is portrayed humanistically and empathetically. The book exemplifies the idea that it's possible for anybody to write about anybody else, regardless of race. Unfortunately, it wasn't a luxury that was often afforded to any but white writers back then, but it certainly should have been. All sorts of insights might have been possible. Room to Swing has plenty of those, and if you can find this Pyramid paperback edition with Robert Maguire cover art, all the better.
We're here for the West Side Story audition. And you better understand this right now—we intend to nail it.
We've talked before about the amazing Harlan Ellison. We came to know him as an unparalleled sci-fi writer, but later discovered he was also a juvenile delinquency author. These gang stories were obscure curiosities for us, but through running Pulp Intl. we've since learned that Ellison's juvie fiction is a much discussed and much collected part of his output. Above you see the rare 1958 Pyramid Books edition of his first novel Rumble, later published as Web of the City, with an amazing cover by Spanish artist Rudy De Reyna. Consider this an Ellison trial run that made it into the light of day. Anyone familiar with him knows this will be a strange and violent tale, but the craftsman who gave the world stories like “All the Birds Come Home To Roost” is not yet in evidence. Plotwise, the protagonist Rusty is leader of a street gang and wants out while he's still young enough to make something of his life. Quitting is a savage and harrowing ordeal. Staying out is impossible thanks to his little sister, whose involvement with the gang pulls Rusty back into the life. Ellison is a guy who once claimed he never revised his work. That isn't true because Rumble was cut down and cleaned up by him, and became Web of the City. Everyone says the revised version is much better. Without having read it, we suspect they're right.
Fancy meeting an Aryan like you in a place like this.
We've talked about French author Louis-Charles Royer and mentioned the staying power of his novels, which enjoyed many English language reprints throughout the 1950s. Love Camp is Royer doing what he does best, which is exploring sexual niches and conjuring up romance in far flung locales. The story is as the art depicts—women are chosen for the honor of attempting to mate with Nazi soldiers in order to breed a master race. The program was known as Lebensborn, or Fount of Life, and was under control of the SS. The book interweaves the lives of characters brought to a lakeside monastery for some state sponsored bonin'. Some of them fall in love, others struggle with shame, one fights to preserve a female friend's virginity, and so forth, while the doctor who runs the show manages to knock up an eager young recruit only to later reject her and blame her pregnancy on another soldier. It's all exactly as titillating as it sounds, with women paraded naked before men, a lesbian matron having her way with rejected recruits, nude exercise sessions, and other indulgences, all under the dark Nazi aegis. There were many naziploitation books written during the mid-century period, and while it's probably a good thing the trend died, it really did lend itself quite well to exploring perversion and evil. But considering the Nazis' real world toll, such lightweight books can only minimize the horror. The Pyramid paperback you see here is from 1953 with art by Julian Paul.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1967—Apollo Fire Kills Three Astronauts
Astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee are killed in a fire during a test of the Apollo 1 spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Although the ignition source of the fire is never conclusively identified, the astronauts' deaths are attributed to a wide range of design hazards in the early Apollo command module, including the use of a high-pressure 100 percent-oxygen atmosphere for the test, wiring and plumbing flaws, flammable materials in the cockpit, an inward-opening hatch, and the flight suits worn by the astronauts.
1924—St. Petersburg is renamed Leningrad
St. Peterburg, the Russian city founded by Peter the Great in 1703, and which was capital of the Russian Empire for more than 200 years, is renamed Leningrad three days after the death of Vladimir Lenin. The city had already been renamed Petrograd in 1914. It was finally given back its original name St. Petersburg in 1991.
1966—Beaumont Children Disappear
In Australia, siblings Jane Nartare Beaumont, Arnna Kathleen Beaumont, and Grant Ellis Beaumont, aged 9, 7, and 4, disappear from Glenelg Beach near Adelaide, and are never seen again. Witnesses claim to have spotted them in the company of a tall, blonde man, but over the years, after interviewing many potential suspects, police are unable generate enough solid leads to result in an arrest. The disappearances remain Australia's most infamous cold case.
1949—First Emmy Awards Are Presented
At the Hollywood Athletic Club in Los Angeles, California, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences presents the first Emmy Awards. The name Emmy was chosen as a feminization of "immy", a nickname used for the image orthicon tubes that were common in early television cameras.
1971—Manson Family Found Guilty
Charles Manson and three female members of his "family" are found guilty of the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders, which Manson orchestrated in hopes of bringing about Helter Skelter, an apocalyptic war he believed would arise between blacks and whites.
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