No, it's not a Halloween costume, gringo. We don't have that here. We have Day of the Dead. Wanna find out how it works?
The Long Escape was originally published 1948, and was the first of a trio of books written by David Dodge starring his investigator character Al Colby. The cover art by Robert Stanley depicts a scene that actually occurs in the narrative, but the book is not a western style adventure. It's a missing person mystery that starts in California, passes through Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, and finally settles in Chile. The man under the poncho is a sort of Chilean vaquero who loves horses and guns, and is a generally hostile guy. But Colby is not one to be easily bested. He may be a gringo, but he's fluent in Spanish, as well as the ways and means of Latin America. The Long Escape is a good book. Everything we've read by Dodge so far is good. In our opinion the second Colby outing, Plunder of the Sun, is even a bit better, but you can't go wrong with this particular author. We'll continue making our way through his catalog and report back.
Sam Spade chases danger in Dashiell Hammett story collection.
Run don't walk to find any Dashiell Hammett book. He's mandatory reading. In A Man Called Spade you get a tale about a boxer and the fight racket, three stories starring Sam Spade, and, “The Assistant Murderer,” in which Hammett introduces readers to detective Alec Rush, whose physical ugliness is surpassed only by his mental acuity. Hammett really liked the idea of crime solvers who came in unlikely packages. His Continental Op character was short and fat, while Rush had a face only a mother could love. Hammett, a former detective himself, was thin, dapper, and handsome, but he clearly identified with these characters and wanted to de-glamorize detectives. In so doing he became one of most popular authors of detective fiction who ever lived. Besides several nice stories, as a bonus this Dell paperback from 1950 with Robert Stanley cover art is also a mapback edition, as you see below. You have to appreciate how Dell included these maps even when the narrative dictated that they be minimal at best. A Man Called Spade is a good example. All the action in the title story takes place in a single house, and largely in a single room. But Dell gave readers a map anyway. Consistency counts. See alternate art for this book here.
Tarzan destroyed on social media after posting photo of himself with lion he killed for sport.
Tarzan and the Lost Empire, originally serialized in 1928 and ’29 in Blue Book Magazine, was entry twelve in Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan series, and some would say the concept had jumped the shark—and the lion—at this point. Basically, Tarzan stumbles upon a remnant of the Roman Empire hidden deep in the mountains somewhere in Africa and—as this 1951 cover by Robert Stanley depicts—is dragged into their coliseum bloodsports. In later books he'd venture to a subterranean world, find a city of talking gorillas, and fly a fighter plane for the RAF (maybe that one isn't so strange, since he had the civilian identity of John Clayton).
Burroughs was never mistaken for a great writer, but his Tarzan books sold millions of copies and the character remains one of the best known in pulp literature. As tough as he was, we doubt even the King of the Jungle could have survived social media. But Tarzan was not one with whom to trifle. We can totally picture an adventure where he goes to Silicon Valley to battle the forces of shame. It ends when he learns the evil mastermind is Mark Zuckerberg, swings on a DSL cable into Facebook, and lays waste to the place. “Shame me, Zuckerberg? Me Tarzan! You lame!”
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.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1969—Woodstock Festival Begins
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair, which was billed as an Aquarian Exposition, takes place on a 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. It would run for three sometimes rainy days and feature thirty-two acts performing at all hours of the day and night. Today the festival is regarded as one of the greatest events in popular music history.
1977—Radio Signal Arrives from Deep Space
An unidentified radio signal, nicknamed the WOW Signal for the notation a scientist made on a computer readout, is briefly detected by the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project's Big Ear radio telescope. Despite a month of searching the same section of space, the signal is never found again.
1912—U.S. Invades Nicaragua
United States Marines invade Nicaragua to support the U.S.-backed government installed there after José Santos Zelaya had resigned three years earlier. American troops remain for eleven years.
1936—Last Public Execution in U.S.
Rainey Bethea, who had been convicted of rape and murder, is hanged in Owensboro, Kentucky in what is the last public execution performed in the United States.
1995—Mickey Mantle Dies
New York Yankees outfielder Mickey Mantle dies of complications from cancer, after receiving a liver transplant. He was one of the greatest baseball players ever, but he was also an alcoholic and played drunk, hungover, and unprepared. He once said about himself, "Sometimes I think if I had the same body and the same natural ability and someone else's brain, who knows how good a player I might have been."
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