It was an invitation she couldn't refuse.
Our latest literary foray has been Lionel White's 1959 crime novel Invitation to Violence, but first let's acknowledge this brilliant cover. It's uncredited, but we love it—especially the lower quarter, with its sprinting gunman and finned classic car. The story hinges upon a car. Everyman Gerald Hanna drives by an early a.m. jewel heist in progress, but one in the midst of going haywire because two cops have stumbled upon it. There's a shootout in progress, men down, and one of robbers forces himself into Gerald's car to make a getaway. The robber has been shot in the head, and after a succesful escape from the scene of the crime keels over dead. Gerald dumps the body and—whaddaya know—is left with a bag of jewels worth $250,000. You could call this a case of right place right time, or wrong place wrong time. The first will be true if Gerald gets to sell the loot and ride away into the sunset, and the second will be true if he's in a Lionel White novel.
The jewels corrupt Gerald's ethics immediately and comprehensively. Instead of turning them in to the police he attempts to profit from them, and the difficulties he encounters are myriad, involving characters ranging from the sister of the dead thief, to the heist's silent backer, to two clever cops who think Gerald was one of the original thieves. Gerald is educated. He's an accountant by trade. He knows how to plan, think ahead, and weigh odds. But everybody is working against him, even his fiancée, who unwittingly throws a wrench into his scheme because she's angry at being stood up the night Gerald was just a little preoccupied by a mortally wounded jewel thief bleeding out in his Chevy. Right place right time, or wrong place wrong time? White writes happy endings sometimes, so it isn't actually a foregone conclusion how Gerald's story wraps up. But it's a foregone conclusion that it will be a crazy ride.
They say vengeance is a dish best served cold. But hot works fine too.
Vengeance Is Mine is Mickey Spillane's third Mike Hammer novel, and sees the violence addicted shamus lose his investigative license, then a close army buddy, then be haunted when a woman enters his life who resembles his fiancée Charlotte Manning, who he killed in his debut outing I, the Jury. This new woman is named Juno Reeves, and as Hammer attempts to avenge the murder of his friend, she provides an unnerving reminder of his past. She'll be even more unnerving in his future, but that's all we'll say about her.
On the subject of revenge best served cold, forget it. Hammer wants white hot vengeance right now. The stark difference between Spillane's approach and that of other crime authors is that he writes Hammer as so mean the character is actually odious, but that's his game, and as a reader you go in accepting it. Sometimes, as in I, the Jury and Kiss Me Deadly, it's pulp gold. Vengeance Is Mine is more like silver, however it does have an incredible punchline ending you won't forget. The cover art here is by Barye Phillips, part of a set he painted for the series. You can see the others here.
You paid the cover charge to get in. Now you have to pay the uncover charge or get out.
The brush behind this cover for Wade Miller's 1946 debut thriller Deadly Weapon was paperback vet Bob Abbett, and it's one of his better pieces in a portfolio filled with top efforts. The book is good too. It's about an Atlanta detective who drives to San Diego to avenge the death of his partner, and as befits such a concept, features excellent Sam Spade-like repartee between main character Walter James and a local cop named Austin Clapp. Some of the action is centered around a burlesque theatre and its headlining peeler Shasta Lynn, but the deadly weapon isn't a femme fatale, as implied by the art, but Walter James himself. The man is hell on wheels. He even uses his car to ram another auto and its occupants over a cliff. Overall, Deadly Weapon is well written, well paced, and well characterized (if a bit saccharine in the romantic subplot). Wade Miller—who was really Bob Wade and Bill Miller acting as one—started his/their career on a good note with this one.
Thompson's Town is the craziest patch of real estate west of the Potomac River.
Robert Maguire handled the cover work on this edition of Jim Thompson's Wild Town, which hit book racks in 1957. The pricing on this varies greatly. All we can say is please don't pay $450.00 for it, like one vendor was recently asking. We got ours—the same edition—for $15.
Set in the fictional boomtown of Ragtown, Texas, the tale's hard luck ex-con anti-hero Bugs McKenna lands a job as a hotel detective, but he's been funnelled into the position by the corrupt local deputy, apparently to serve nefarious—though unknown—ends. Is he to spy on the hotel owner? Participate in some shady plot involving a guest? Murder somebody? It could be anything, because the deputy who orchestrated the hiring is none other than Lou Ford, the main character of Thompson's 1952 tour de force The Killer Inside Me. If you haven't read it, long story short, he's a psychopath.
Trouble doubles when Bugs accidentally karate chops the hotel accountant out a window. The death was unwitnessed and is ruled a suicide—for the moment. Ford suspects foul play, but Bugs feels in the clear. Then someone starts to blackmail him, someone who says they were in the closet and saw the killing. Who is the blackmailer? Can Bugs outwit them somehow? He isn't that bright—a type Thompson specialized at writing—so his efforts to manage his difficulties are haphazard at best.
But maybe Bugs is brighter than he seems. He'll need to be, pitted as he is against Thompson's iconic Lou Ford, but in the end a woman may turn out to be his direst foe. That's not a spoiler—the cover text suggests that a femme fatale is pulling the strings, but even Bugs doesn't know who because he spends the book troubled by three. All of this makes for plenty of reading fun. Wild Town is no Pop. 1280—our favorite Thompson so far—but it's diverting enough. Another recommended effort from a deft architect of chaos and criminality.
All I remember is that I want everything that happened last night to happen again.
Above: a cover by Mitchell Hooks for Memory and Desire by Leonora Hornblow, whose name sounds too good to be true, but was real. She was born Leonora Salmon, but married Arthur Hornblow, Jr. in 1945 and became the proud owner of one of the great literary names of all time, though she wrote only two novels. This one deals with a Hollywood screenwriter and the affair he embarks on with a younger woman. Copyright 1958.
We better hurry if we're still going to give her mouth to mouth. She's starting to come around.
Above: Harry Schaare art for John Bartlow Martin's Butcher's Dozen, a true crime paperback dealing with six real world cases. Martin was well known as a political speech writer, diplomat, and ambassador, but true crime is an area into which he delved several times as an author, and to generally good reviews. This one was originally published in 1950, with the Signet paperback coming in 1952.
Don't cry, baby. They don't shoot horses. They take them to magical horsie land where they eat oats and apples forever.
Above: another cover for Horace McCoy's They Shoot Horses Don't They?, very different in mood from the 1955 Berkley cover we showed you earlier. This one was painted in 1938 by Tony Varady, who we've seen before illustrating a different McCoy book, No Pockets in a Shroud, published in 1948. We loved They Shoot Horses Don't They? on its own merits, but because it's a social and political critique it has extra resonance in an era when most people have lost faith in the American dream (don't shoot horses, and don't shoot messengers—it's simply true, that's all). We talk a bit more about the book here.
Gosh, another broken down wreck of a man. Well, tonight I'm not being picky, so get your game face on, champ.
Georges Simenon was an incredibly prolific author who wrote two hundred books, starting at age seventeen, striking gold in 1931 when he invented the character of Inspector Jules Maigret. While he rode the honorable inspector like a sturdy horse for scores of outings, he also made the occasional splash with stand-alone books such as Four Days in a Lifetime, which you see above. It was originally published as Les Quatre Jours du pauvre homme in 1949, and is a tale narrated in two sections about lowly François Lecoin, who starts with little but achieves success via underhanded and amoral means. It's a rise and fall story, and a particularly turbulent one. The Signet edition came in 1953 with cover art by Stanley Zuckerberg.
Knight falls in the City of Light.
We weren't impressed with Adam Knight's Sugar Shannon, but excellent Paul Rader cover art earned him another chance with Girl Running, published in 1956 by Signet. It has the built in advantage of being set in Paris, but in the end we have to conclude that Knight just isn't a good writer. Here's a sample, and note that when he says “stay alive” he's talking about staying awake:
I beat it back to the hotel, fighting hard to stay alive for a little while longer. I lost the fight. A shower only rocked me for a brief pause. Then the important muscles gave way and fatigue took me to bed for a cat nap. I told myself that I could sleep two hours. I phoned the desk to jerk me awake at about noon. Then Morpheus grabbed me.
Knight's main character goes to sleep three times in that paragraph—or twice, if we want to be generous. Also, the idea of a “cat nap” is incongrous with total fatigue. A cat nap is light sleep. Even sleeping for only two hours, he'd be dead to the world. The snippet is a microcosm of the book—messy, disarranged, and lacking flow and rhythm. So when it comes to Knight we'll call it a day. He's just not our thing.
She used the oldest game to become the newest player.
Once again art makes the sale, as we bought this copy of The Revolt of Mamie Stover thanks to its Robert Maguire cover. The blonde femme fatale is of course the Mamie of the title, an aspiring actress run out of Hollywood upon threat of death and booked onto a freighter headed for Honolulu, there to descend into the oldest profession and become a famed wartime prostitute known as Flaming Mamie. The story details her efforts to earn a mint, procure for herself a piece of Honolulu, and buy her way to respectability against terrific opposition from Oahu's Anglo bluebloods.
But there was something about the book that we couldn't put a finger on at first. If we'd read it in 1951 when it was originally published, it might have been clearer, we figured, but as it stood we weren't sure what underlying point Huie was trying to make until halfway through, when—aha!—we realized The Revolt of Mamie Stover is an allegory for the liberal assault against old world American values. At least that's the conclusion we reached. Just to be sure we double-checked on the internet and—aha!—allegory, liberal assault, and so forth.
However, like certain other mid-century novelists considered to be sociologically incisive at the time, Huie was working from incomplete information. The worth, order, and ever escalating prosperity he suggests industrious white men created out of primitive chaos are ending with a whimper under the assaults of climate change, soil depletion, de-industrialization, species extinction, tax evasion, unregulated financial speculation, and cynical war. Raping nature is simply a counterproductive enterprise. The science on that is settled. Trickle down economics don't trickle. That's settled too. Those industrious men built nothing that wasn't going to collapse anyway due to the laws of physics and corrupt economics.
But as we said, Huie couldn't have known that, so within his allegory America is going to hell in a handbasket due to the aforementioned liberal democratization. Or more to the point—give everyone equal rights, and the ungrateful bastards will actually use them to change things. Mamie Stover, barred from all the nice sectors of Honolulu because of her supposedly shameful profession, revolts against and smashes the prohibitions imprisoning her in second class citizenship—and as a result opens the door for native Hawaiians to burst their confines too and ruin whites-only Waikiki Beach.
Huie presents a choice between an orderly but racially repressive society and a disorderly democratic society, but he gets the reasons for disorder wrong. Disorder derives from deprivation, not democratization. Few people get bothered over what others achieve or possess if they feel themselves to be getting a fair shake. But make them feel they've been cheated and they'll assign blame. This is really what the industrious men figured out: the underclasses normally look upward for reasons their lives aren't improving, but it can be prevented if some of them can be made to feel they've been fucked over by others of them. If a racial element can be injected too, all the better. Once discord is established, even people who know better have to join the fight, if only to defend those unfairly under attack.
But while The Revolt of Mamie Stover is built around a moribund allegory, Mamie's personal story makes it a page turning book. You root for her—though it should noted she's no true protagonist. Huie gives readers a masterclass in racism, expressed repetitively and explicitly. Hawaiians, Japanese, Chinese, and other peoples you'd see around the islands are referred to mainly by slurs—not typical anti-Asian slurs, butrather by that age-old slur for African Americans. Nice, right? It pops up, we'd estimate, fifty times in a short book. And Mamie is even more racist-mouthed than the rest. Once she gains access to the tony districts of town, she plans to punch down on all these undesirables. And she's going to enjoy it, she makes clear. She's prostituted herself to gain status—why should she care about anyone who wasn't willing to sacrifice as she did? A tale this ideological naturally makes you wonder what the author's personal beliefs were. Huie was complicated. While working as a journalist he involved himself in one of the most infamous racist murders of his era, and not in a good way. But he counted among his acquaintances Zora Neale Hurston and Roy Wilkins. He was probably not a bigot by 1950s standards, but in writing about class and race he was uncompromising, and his foundational assumptions about society were wrong. He could have written The Revolt of Mamie Stover with far less ugliness and it would have worked fine, but that never would have occurred to him. He saw ugly realism and reflected it. In that way he was a true writer. Before you read the book—if indeed you do—you'll have to consider that. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1955—Rosa Parks Sparks Bus Boycott
In the U.S., in Montgomery, Alabama, seamstress Rosa Parks refuses to give her bus seat to a white man and is arrested for violating the city's racial segregation laws, an incident which leads to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott resulted in a crippling financial deficit for the Montgomery public transit system, because the city's African-American population were the bulk of the system's ridership.
1936—Crystal Palace Gutted by Fire
In London, the landmark structure Crystal Palace, a 900,000 square foot glass and steel exhibition hall erected in 1851, is destroyed by fire. The Palace had been moved once and fallen into disrepair, and at the time of the fire was not in use. Two water towers survived the blaze, but these were later demolished, leaving no remnants of the original structure.
1963—Warren Commission Formed
U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson establishes the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. However the long report that is finally issued does little to settle questions
about the assassination, and today surveys show that only a small minority of Americans agree with the Commission's conclusions.
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