Ditch the spacesuit, big boy, and I'll give you a totally different kind of terrain to explore.
This cover for Cyril Judd's 1961 Mars based sci-fi novel Sin in Space makes the book look like ridiculous sleaze but there's serious ambition here. We discerned this in the first five pages thanks to the undefined jargon, numerous made-up place names, and copious technical language that's supposed to understood through context. The nomenclature of life on Mars, the minerals that are mined, Mars Machine Tool, greeners, marcaine, and much more, are all woven together by Judd (a pseudonym for Cyril Kornbluth and Judith Merril) in an attempt to create a believable alternate reality of a human colony on Mars.
Earth has numerous problems and independence is thought by Mars colonists to mean an escape from those issues. But the colony has a few problems of its own. Most importantly, a stash of drugs has gone missing and if it doesn't reappear the consequences, both political and existential, will be dire. Meanwhile, even though forty years of colonization has turned up no Martian life, sightings of so-called “brownies” are on the upswing, but are dismissed as fantasies. Do these brownies exist? Well, they're more likely to turn up than the rampant sin of the book's title. Check out this passage, which we've edited a bit for brevity:
“You got born into a hate-thy-neighbor, envy-thy-neighbor, murder-thy-neighbor culture. Naked dictatorship and leader worship, oligarchy and dollar-worship. Middle classes with their relatively sane families were growing smaller and being ground out of existence as still more black dirt washed into the ocean and more hungry mouths were born and prices went higher and higher. How long before it blew up? The damned, poverty-ridden, swarming Earth, short of food, short of soil, short of metals, short of everything except vicious resentments and aggressions bred by other shortages.”
Does that sound like sleaze to you? Us either. Sin in Space is a serious book, but far less interesting than it should be, considering the fertile setting. Put it in the wildly misleading bin thanks to its title and the cover by artist Robert Stanley. We mentioned the drugs subplot. That's so far in the background it barely qualifies as a plot driver. The sin of the title actually refers to the fact that a reporter writes an article falsely telling everyone on Earth the Martian colony is a hotbed of vice, thus threatening its status. That's still not a good reason for the sensational title or titillating art, but we don't really mind. A piece of sleazy art—even misplaced—always brightens the day.
There's an actual iron maiden down here. Looking at it, I admit it's an unduly harsh thing to call you when I'm angry.
As you know by now, we're often drawn to books by the covers, and John Dickson Carr's Hag's Nook attracted us because of the instantly recognizable art by Robert Stanley. Well, you can't win them all. This is a gothic mystery featuring Dr. Gideon Fell, who would appear in more than twenty other novels. Fell is unique in crime lit. He's obese and gets around on two canes—which is actually a pretty good description of the book's plot. Carr would go on to become a legendary writer of golden age mysteries, so we don't doubt for a moment that he penned numerous excellent tales, but this early effort—1933 originally, with this Dell edition appearing in 1951—didn't get it done for us. What did get it done for us, though, is the dungeon feel of Stanley's cover art. He's one of the good ones. We remember the blog Pop Sensation once described his work as "rich and creamy," which was descriptively on the nose, we think. Check for yourself here and here.
We decided our immigration procedures weren't cruel enough, so we've made a few changes.
Robert Stanley does his usual expert job on the cover action and Robert Parker—not Robert B. Parker, but a different author who wrote only three novels—provides the narrative for Passport to Peril. The art here depicts the impending torture of a character named Countess Orlovska, and things get pretty uncomfortable for her. They get even worse for the protagonist John Stoddard. He'd merely intended to travel from A to B for personal reasons. Instead he gets tangled up in espionage when he purchases a false passport he assumes bears a made-up identity, but which actually belonged to a missing-presumed-dead spy. The spy's associates soon come calling. Considering the increased focus on immigration in many western nations, we saw this not only as a spy story but also as a saga about a privileged westerner ironically caught in a migratory wringer. Set in Budapest with all the Cold War intrigue the background suggests, this is pretty entertaining stuff from Parker. It originally appeared in 1951, with this Dell edition coming in 1952.
I'm not usually a quitter! But right now! I'm considering! Going back! To delivering pizzas!
And speaking of trains, above you see the cover of Lawrence G. Blochman's novel of foreign intrigue Bombay Mail, a murder mystery set in India and staged on a Calcutta to Bombay mail train. The lead character isn't actually a postal worker, but rather an investigator, Leonidas Prike of the British C.I.D., also known as the Criminal Investigation Department. This was Blochman's debut, originally appearing in hardback in 1934, which was the same year another celebrated trainbound mystery—Murder on the Orient Express—was published.
About that copyright date, by the way. Nearly every place you look will have Bombay Mail listed as arriving in 1934, but it may have appeared, at least in limited form, in 1933. We deduced this because the movie Bombay Mail, which was based on the novel, premiered in the U.S. in January 1934. We have a hard time imagining a debut novelist selling his book to movies before it hit the stores, so 1933 might be the actual publication date. One thing we're sure about, though, is this Dell mapback edition arrived in 1943, and the art is by Robert Stanley.
Gringo adventurer goes down South American rabbit hole looking for Inca treasure.
Pulp fiction, genre fiction, crime fiction—call it what you want. Basically, none of it will ever win a Pulitzer Prize, but it can be mighty enjoyable when done just right. Plunder of the Sun is faster than fast pulp-style fiction from To Catch a Thief author David Dodge. The rough and tumble protagonist Al Colby tries to unravel the secret of an Inca quipa—an ancient numero-linguistic recording device—which may tell the location of an impossibly huge hoard of gold. The tale speeds from Santiago, Chile to Lima, Peru and into the high Andes by boat, train, and tram to a climax on the highest lake in the world.
This is a confident yarn from an author who traveled widely in the countries portrayed, and his tale avoids the cultural judgments you often find in these types of novels. His descriptions of cities, hotels, and transport are unflattering but accurate, yet his treatment of the Peruvian and Chilean villains has no whiff of condescension. They're just the villains, nothing more—smart, tough, deadly, and motivated. The book's only flaw is its late turn toward romantic matchmaking. Still, it was a very good read. It became a movie of the same name in 1953, placed in a new setting, with Glenn Ford and Diana Lynn. The art on this 1951 Dell paperback is by Robert Stanley, and as a bonus it comes in a collectible mapback edition.
That wasn't you panting? Oh... Does that mean I don't excite you?
A. B. Cunningham wrote more than twenty mysteries starring small town sheriff Jess Roden, with Death Haunts the Dark Lane coming fourteenth. An heiress is murdered and the sheriff has to sniff out the killer—literally making use of tracking dogs, which is why you see a hound in Robert Stanley's cover art. The series was popular at the time, but isn't that fondly remembered today. But this Dell mapback edition from 1948, like all the company's mapbacks, is highly collectible.
Okay, okay, I'll take out the garbage when I get home. Just let me finish this other thing first.
Our subhead is a little inside joke with the Pulp Intl. girlfriends. But not really that inside, because inside jokes can't be figured out by outsiders, whereas this is pretty straightforward—we always forget to take out the garbage. The look on the woman's face is perfect. We see it constantly. Cover artist Robert Stanley used this type of guileless expression often. He really had painting it down pat. There's only one explanation for that—he forgot about the garbage all the time too.
Guys, I just saw some incredibly rare— Oh. I was going to say clownfish, but you two have those beat.
A shell collecting vacationer in Florida comes across a damsel in distress during a late night beach walk and she of course draws him into intrigue way over his head. Before he knows it he's stumbled across a corpse and gotten involved in a murder investigation, as the damsel seems less and less like she's in distress as opposed to causing it for others. Author Richard Powell was known for the wit he mixed into his mysteries, and Shell Game is heavy on the repartee—if light on actual mystery. This Dell edition appeared in 1951 and the fun cover art is by Robert Stanley.
He lives in a fetid swamp, has terrible grooming habits, and zero career prospects. But at least he listens to me.
David V. Reed’s, aka David Vern’s The Thing That Made Love was originally published in Mammoth Detective in 1943 as The Metal Monster Murders. The first paperback version appeared in 1946 as I Thought I’d Die, and the above version from New York City’s Universal Publishing and Distributing Corporation, which marketed digest sized paperbacks under the imprint Uni-Book, hit stores in 1951 with Robert Stanley cover art. What you get here is a man blamed for murder, but who claims the slayings were the work of a metal swamp monster. The women die battered, but with ecstatic facial expressions. Which raises the question—what exactly is happening to them? You can read a review of the book here.
Update: We learned that Stanley's cover art also appeared in 1952 on Florenz Branch's Whipping Room, for Intimate Novels. Often these cover reworks are clumsy, but we think this makeover is actually pretty good. Not as good as the original, but close.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1940—Trotsky Iced in Mexico
In Mexico City exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky is fatally wounded with an ice axe
(not an ice pick) by Soviet agent Ramon Mercader. Trotsky dies the next day.
1968—Prague Spring Ends
200,000 Warsaw Pact troops backed by 5,000 tanks invade Czechoslovakia to end the Prague Spring political liberalization movement.
1986—Sherrill Goes Postal
In Edmond, Oklahoma, United States postal employee Patrick Sherrill shoots and kills fourteen of his co-workers and then commits suicide.
1953—Mohammed Mossadegh Overthrown in Iran
At the instigation of the CIA, Prime Minster of Iran Mohammed Mossadegh is overthrown and the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi is installed as leader of the country.
1920—U.S. Women Gain Right To Vote
The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified despite heavy conservative opposition. It states that no U.S. citizen can be denied the right to vote because of their gender.
1958—Lolita is Published in the U.S.
Vladimir Nabokov's controversial novel Lolita, about a man's sexual obsession with a pre-pubescent girl, is published in the United States. It had been originally published in Paris three years earlier.
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