So I couldn't help noticing all the notches on your bedpost. What are those about?
Today we have more elongation for you from the brush of grandmaster illustrator Robert McGinnis. This cover for the 1959 thriller Epitaph for a Tramp features one of his deliberately out-of-proportion femmes fatales, with a long lower half and a small head. He would stretch his girls to freakish lengths as time went by, but we especially like this phase from him. For an example of how unusual his women would get, check out these four examples we shared a while back. And if those intrigue you, there are also numerous examples of later McGinnis on the website of Hard Case Crime, with the best ones appearing here, here, and here.
Epitaph for a Tramp was written by David Markson, and the story involves a detective who finds himself drawn into danger when a mortally stabbed woman staggers through his door and dies. She's the tramp of the title, a woman who in one year of marriage cheated on her husband with—count em—thirteen men. Her cuckolded husband is occasionally sympathetic toward her, which is a bold writerly move for a period when most people—male and female—subjected women to ugly judgments for perceived sexual availability. But Markson was an ambitious author who would go on to become a celebrated literary figure with tales such as This Is Not a Novel and the acclaimed Wittgenstein's Mistress.
Here he does hard-boiled with a cleverness of phrasing that's rare, but often misses the mark too. For example, quips like, “Bare lightbulbs helped the hallway look like something other than the esophagus of a submerged whale,” just don't work. Sometimes a dim hallway can just be a dim hallway. But the story is reasonably interesting and the main character Harry Fannin fits the private dick mold well. As he tries to unmask a murderer he also unmasks a complex, troubled victim, a character who in our experience is unique in mid-century fiction. That's worth a lot, even if the book isn't perfect. We'll see if Markson did better with his second detective entry Epitaph for a Dead-Beat.
Good thing we're in a district that opted for in-person classes. This wouldn't be nearly as pleasurable via Zoom.
With R.V. Cassill's 1961 novel Night School we return once again to the time-honored pop fiction subject of teachers engaging in extracurriculars with students. Such affairs are nearly always frowned upon in these books, so don't go thinking these explorations represent any sort of endorsement. The authors generally come up with creative ways to get their protagonists into (and sometimes out of) seriously deep shit.
But as it turns out Night School isn't even teacher sleaze. It deals in serious fashion with a once-acclaimed novelist whose run of recent hard luck finds him teaching a dead end night school course where he must deal with an assortment of students and their various issues. There's sexual content, but not much. Sleaze novels can be quite fun, but there's little more disappointing than a novel that promises then doesn't get there.
But we weren't actually surprised Night School was more literary than the teaser suggests, because the legendary Robert McGinnis—the cover artist here—has never to our knowledge had his work front a sleaze novel (his romance covers don't count). We've shared several teacher sleaze covers over the years. If you want to see the best examples look here and here. And here too.
The deeper you go into this casino the wilder it gets.
Today we're circling back to James Bond—as we do every so often—to highlight these movie tie-in editions of Ian Fleming's Casino Royale. The movie these are tied into is not the 1963 original with Sean Connery, but the 1967 screwball version with David Niven as Bond and Woody Allen as Bond's nephew Jimmy Bond. If you haven't seen it, just know that it was terribly reviewed, with Time magazine calling it an “an incoherent and vulgar vaudeville.” These covers are derived from the Robert McGinnis Casino Royale movie poster, which is an all-time classic. McGinnis created two versions of the poster—one with text and one without, with the painted patterns on the female figure varying slightly. You see both of those below.
The paperback was published by both Great Pan and Signet, and the cover art was different for the two versions. The Great Pan version at top is McGinnis's unaltered work, but the Signet version just above was painted by an imitator, we're almost certain. We'd hoped to answer this for sure by visiting one of the numerous Bond blogs out there, but none of them have really discussed the difference between the 1967 paperback covers. That leaves it up to us, so we're going to say definitively that the Great Pan version was not painted by McGinnis. Whoever the artist was, they did a nice job channeling the original piece, even if the execution is at a much simpler level.
Moving back to the posters, if you scroll down you'll see that we decided to focus on the details of the textless version to give you a close look at McGinnis's detailed work. The deeper you go the more you see—dice, poker chips, glittery earrings, actor portraits, and more. If you had a huge lithograph of this on your wall and a tab of acid on your tongue, an entire weekend would slip past before you moved again. This is possibly the best work from a paperback and movie artist considered to be a grandmaster, one the greatest ever to put brush to canvas. If anyone out there can tell us for sure who painted the Signet paperback—or whether it is indeed McGinnis—feel free to contact us.
Hollywood gets wholly weird in Bill Gault's show business thriller.
With Death Out of Focus, which is our third reading of Bill Gault, aka William Campbell Gault, we're thinking he can be moved into the trusted bin. He once more documents the decadent ins and outs of Southern California, this time centering his tale around a movie production. When director Stephen Leander's leading man ends up in the wreckage of his car at the foot of a cliff in Pacific Palisades and police call it an accident, a determined insurance investigator launches his own inquiry and begins turning up what looks like evidence of murder. Leander joins forces with the insurance guy to uncover the truth. Fun to read, quick of pace, and quirky the way a Hollywood thriller should be, Death Out of Focus takes various Tinseltown archetypes—the aging actress, the tyrannical producer, the sexy ingenue, the loyal industry wife—adds money motivations and showbiz ambitions, and ends up with a nice concoction. Like a typical Hollywood movie, it doesn't strive to be unique or lofty, but with so many literary duds out there, good enough is good enough. This Dell edition is from 1960 and the cover is by Robert McGinnis.
There's nothing in her way except a huge red box.
Above you see a wonderful alternate cover for Nothing in Her Way by Charles Williams, with the great Robert McGinnis on the brush chores. We personally don't mind that Gold Medal covered McGinnis's femme fatale with a box of text, but we imagine McGinnis purists do. Considering this cover dates from 1963, it's perhaps a little too much to expect a publisher to feature a practically naked woman on a mainstream novel—and make no mistake, Charles Williams was a mainstream author who sold piles of books. Gold Medal obviously made concessions for the puritans, of which there have always been many in the U.S. But never fear. The case of the censored femme fatale was easy to solve. Just look below, where we've composited together a complete version, not to be found on any other website. Pretty good, no? We're not just pretty faces. See the earlier Gold Medal cover here.
You think you're the first spurned woman to try shooting me? Baby, that's how my ex-girlfriends all say hello.
Above is the Fawcett Publications 1967 edition of Richard Stark's, aka Donald E. Westlake's landmark crime thriller Point Blank, which was originally published in 1962 as The Hunter and was first in the long-running Parker series. Parker was one of the cruelest and most sociopathic anti-heroes in mid-century literature. The Robert McGinnis cover makes him look like some kind of sophisticated rogue, but don't let the art fool you—Point Blank is rough stuff. You like Jack Reacher? Reacher has the personality of a yoga instructor in comparison. This was our first Parker, but we've read another since and it looks like we're going to have a long, entertaining relationship with this character.
When an evil mastermind plans to take a bite out of the Middle East, only Modesty Blaise stands in his way.
Above you see a cover for Peter O'Donnell's Sabre-Tooth, his second Modesty Blaise novel, and as with the first book Modesty Blaise, Fawcett Publications managed to land Robert McGinnis for the cover chores. He chose a scene from the narrative in which Blaise uses “the nailer,” a move in which she walks into a room topless, and in the split seconds gained by shock and awe, proceeds to kill everyone in sight. This could only happen in an erotic style adventure, but instead of keeping things as light as the debut novel, O'Donnell veers in a darker direction. There's still plenty of waxing about his main character's physical beauty and sexual prowess, but in terms of actual plot, he takes things in a radically non-erotic direction, and in so doing attempts to show just how far Blaise will go in her pursuit of justice. We won't say what she does, or whether it's realistic, but we'll hint that if a mainstream writer did it today it would spark an online conflagration the intensity of an Australian wildfire.
One thing O'Donnell does well is villains and their henchmen. In this book the main malefactor is a brutal would-be king named Karz who plans to invade and take over Kuwait. His top henchmen are Lok and Chu. Get this: they're twins born conjoined at the shoulder. They lived much of their lives that way, grew to hate each other, but learned to fight and defend themselves in tandem as a matter of mutual survival. When they were finally separated they realized they had no purpose apart, and now go about wearing a leather harness that keeps them conjoined. They still hate each other, but also give each other purpose. As killers they fight back to back and side by side, switching configurations, baffling opponents. That entire concept is O'Donnell in full flower. Take Karz and his twin killers, add the Kuwait takeover, sprinkle in an international mercenary army holed up in an Afghan stronghold, and finally fold in equal portions of Blaise and deadly sidekick Willie Garvin, and you've got yourself a thrill ride worth reading.
The view is amazing but the amenities are sorely lacking.
Charles Williams has made us love seagoing thrillers, so whenever see a book that seems to be along those lines, we grab it. When we saw this Robert McGinnis cover for Basil Heatter's Virgin Cay, we were immediately sold. And in fact, the novel feels like a lost Charles Williams tale, thanks not only to its aquatic focus, but the fact that it's written to a nearly Williamsian skill level.
The set-up is great. A guy washes up on a chi-chi Caribbean Island after his sailboat sinks, and his appearance from out of the sea, a stranger in a community where everyone knows each other, gives one resident the idea to entice him into a foolproof murder plot by promising him enough money to buy another boat. Since the castaway is not rich, and it would take him a lifetime to save for a replacement vessel, he's mightily tempted. It's from there that things get complicated.
The art on this Gold Medal paperback, in addition to its obvious beauty, reveals an important aspect of the plot—woman alone on an isolated hump in the sea with little more than a can of water. But how do we get from a shipwrecked sailor to a woman marooned on an island? Well, if you look at the rear cover, it's clear someone deliberately leaves her there. We won't say more. Nice effort from Heatter, definitely worth a read.
I think this book will win me the ignoble prize.
Robert McGinnis shows his unique skills again, this time on a 1960 cover for The Girl on the Best Seller List by Vin Packer, who is in reality the prolific Marijane Meaker. The art is a hair misleading, since the author character in question is well into middle age, and is an everyday woman, not a lithe McGinnis beauty. It's important, because the reason she writes a book in the first place is because her dreary existence in a medium sized town filled with depressingly mediocre people becomes unbearable. When she slams virtually everybody she knows, including her own husband, the townsfolk get plenty angry. Revenge may be on the agenda. A vindictive author and a town full of dreary people means there's nobody truly worth rooting for in the story, but Best Seller List is still interesting as a chronicle of a rural enclave that's had its illusions of goodness ripped apart. If you find it cheap, it's worth a read.
McGinnis sells sea tale with a seashore.
West German publishing company Heyne Bücher makes good use of art by Robert McGinnis on the cover of Der Flamingo Mörder, which was a translation of Charles Williams' 1958 novel The Concrete Flamingo, aka All the Way. This beachy painting originally appeared in Argosy in April 1961 as an illustration for Ed Lacy's story "The Naked Blanco,” but it's a perfect match for Williams, who became a gifted crafter of oceangoing thrillers, among them Dead Calm, And the Deep Blue Sea, Scorpion Reef, and Aground. And yes, we know, by the way, that technically (not even technically, but actually) a fowl is a bird domesticated for its eggs, which flamingos aren't, but you try thinking up headers for these posts for eleven straight years. Anyway, the entire McGinnis painting from which the cover art was borrowed is below. And as always you can learn more about everyone involved by clicking their keywords at bottom.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1926—Aimee Semple McPherson Disappears
In the U.S., Canadian born evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson disappears from Venice Beach, California in the middle of the afternoon. She is initially thought to have drowned, but on June 23, McPherson stumbles out of the desert in Agua Prieta, a Mexican town across the border from Douglas, Arizona, claiming to have been kidnapped, drugged, tortured and held for ransom in a shack by two people named Steve and Mexicali Rose. However, it soon becomes clear that McPherson's tale is fabricated, though to this day the reasons behind it remain unknown.
1964—Mods and Rockers Jailed After Riots
In Britain, scores of youths are jailed following a weekend of violent clashes between gangs of Mods and Rockers in Brighton and other south coast resorts. Mods listened to ska music and The Who, wore suits and rode Italian scooters, while Rockers listened to Elvis and Gene Vincent, and rode motorcycles. These differences triggered the violence.
1974—Police Raid SLA Headquarters
In the U.S., Los Angeles police raid the headquarters of the revolutionary group the Symbionese Liberation Army, resulting in the deaths of six members. The SLA had gained international notoriety by kidnapping nineteen-year old media heiress Patty Hearst
from her Berkeley, California apartment, an act which precipitated her participation in an armed bank robbery.
1978—Charlie Chaplin's Missing Body Is Found
Eleven weeks after it was disinterred and stolen from a grave in Corsier near Lausanne, Switzerland, Charlie Chaplin's corpse is found by police. Two men—Roman Wardas, a 24-year-old Pole, and Gantscho Ganev, a 38-year-old Bulgarian—are convicted in December of stealing the coffin and trying to extort £400,000 from the Chaplin family.
1918—U.S. Congress Passes the Sedition Act
In the U.S., Congress passes a set of amendments to the Espionage Act called the Sedition Act, which makes "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces, as well as language that causes foreigners to view the American government or its institutions with contempt, an imprisonable offense. The Act specifically applies only during times of war, but later is pushed by politicians as a possible peacetime law, specifically to prevent political uprisings in African-American communities. But the Act is never extended and is repealed entirely in 1920.
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