Seems naive now, but when I heard it was a recreational drug I thought it would make me spend more time outside.
Amazingly, if you go shopping for a copy of N. R. de Mexico's, aka Robert Campbell Bragg's 1951 novel Marijuana Girl, some vendors will try to charge you $200 or more. That's quite an ask for a flimsy old digest novel, but people must pay it, we guess. It certainly isn't the cover art of a hapless model that makes the book valuable. Is it the prose? Well, the book was good, in fact far better than we expected. It sets up as a drug scare novel. The main character, Joyce, goes through the full progression—i.e. youthful smalltown rebelliousness leads to a permissive lifestyle leads to the big city leads to drugs leads to harder drugs leads to prostitution and so forth. We didn't give anything away there—the rear cover provides all that information and more. We're even told Joyce hangs with jazz musicians (which you understand to mean non-whites) and trades “her very soul” for drugs, so you know where this all goes before you even reach the title page.
But Marijuana Girl also defies conventions of drug scare books. For example, it portrays nearly all the drug users as regular folks well in control of their intake. In fact, the two characters responsible for introducing Joyce to drugs are the same two who work hardest to get her off them. Other easy plot choices are avoided as well, which is rarely the case in 1950s novels with numerous non-white characters. But here's really why the book is unique—it goes into amazing detail about the process of consuming drugs. De Mexico zooms close during those moments, sharing the proper technique for smoking joints, clinically explaining how to use a needle, and how to pull blood back into the syringe to rinse out every last molecule of heroin. It's all there. This had to be shocking for 1951 readers, which we suppose is what boosts the book's value for modern collectors. Still, $200? We don't think Marijuana Girl, or any paperback, is worth that much, but it's definitely worth reading.
Low expectations can be a reader's best friend.
It must be offensively awful. A sleaze novel about slavery? With a focus on the harrowing middle passage that killed millions? But surprise—H.B. Drake's Slave Ship isn't sleaze. Though the uncredited front cover art suggests it, and the rear cover blurb says, “She used all the darkest arts of Africa to win the white sailor,” what you actually get here is an attempt at real literature in a Conradian vein, well written, even if the only true concern on display is for said white sailor. Slave Ship was originally written in 1936, which strikes us as a bit late for a tale with such a narrow emotional focus, but good prose counts for something.
Despite the book's inadequate helping of empathy for the enslaved, descriptions of the trade will send shivers through your body. Particularly vivid is the bit describing slaves kept below decks in heat and filth for days at a time, chained together on their left sides, with knees drawn up to accommodate the knees of the man behind, three hundred of them, lamenting their terrible fortune at white devils having targeted their coast. But of course Drake is more concerned with his hero, as bad luck befalls the endeavor and everything that can go wrong does, including incompetence, disease, British anti-slavers, and more.
What is Drake's point with this book? He seems to be saying that slavery is destructive for everyone involved. Hmm... well, eventually, maybe, but as of today, if you tally the fortunes made by southern slavers and northern banks, and consider the later generations that gained from this murder money, the universal suffering seems to be extremely late in coming—let alone the universal recognition of the slave trade as one of Amerca's two unforgivable foundational crimes. In any case, if your stomach is strong enough to endure violence and cruelty you might actually find Slave Ship worth a read.
First let me show you these, then I'll explain about your mean-ass cat, and that shovel in the yard.
We would often see Arthur Abram's 1952 thriller Badge of Shame online and for years wondered what the story was with the cover art. We learned it was painted by Walter Popp, but what exactly was he depicting with this bleeding woman exposing her injury? Well, we bought a copy and the mystery is revealed early. It has nothing to do with a mean cat. The woman here was deliberately cut by a sadistic thief during the theft of her $10,000 brooch. She hires the protagonist, tough guy Shep Duncan, to retrieve her jewelry, and on the cover she's showing him how she was disfigured by the robber. So plotwise, bad boy steals from nice girl, nice girl finds badder boy to get her property back. Simple, right? Well, not so much.
The story doesn't develop quite as expected. For the majority of the book Duncan wanders through New York City, hunted by both cops and criminals, running, hiding, climbing a bridge, riding a subway to Coney Island, all while looking over his shoulder for unseen pursuers and trying to puzzle out a mystery for which he has no clues. Leaving the lead completely in the dark is deliberate on the part of the author, but it still feels like a misstep. Adding to the book's issues are numerous typos and errors, including a character's name printed in reverse. When the entire hallucinatory adventure ends with the villain explaining the master plot to the tied up hero, it's just a letdown. Badge of Shame has a few thrills but it isn't a book we can recommend.
Whoops, wrong room. Unless you're the one who wanted the kilo of blow.
Sometimes when you're a cop crime comes right to you, such as on this cover for Lady Cop by J. T. Pritchard. This was a fast read. Basically, when her father's death is ruled a suicide, a woman comes to believe it was murder and joins the police force with the ultimate goal of finding the killer or killers. Pritchard has zero inclination to make a true mystery of this, so he takes the easy route of having the killer come to the heroine. Then, having put her in hot water, he again takes the easy route by having someone else save her ass. The provocative cover by Eddie Chan doesn't actually reflect a scene in the narrative. Lady cop is smart enough to lock her door. Conversely, girl wrestlers are not—the art came from 1952's Loves of a Girl Wrestler, below. See another cover for that at this link. Copyright on Lady Cop is 1955.
Leisurely gentle lovemaking? Oh, and I suppose all those cows I need to inseminate today can just wait, huh?
Many authors took on the challenge of writing about mental disability during the mid-century period. John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, Erskine Caldwell's Tobacco Road, and numerous other books touched upon it to lesser or greater degrees. Add H.M. Appel to the list. His character Lonnie, generally referred to in Brutal Kisses as “the half-wit,” finds himself the prime suspect in a murder mystery. Someone in town has taken an axe to sexually precocious Mazie Callahan, and several people had motives.
We'll say this much for the book—it's probably better than it has any right to be, considering its numerous unoriginal elements. Hard working old pa? Check. Virginal good girl? Check. Loutish local boy? Yup. Mandatory Saturday night dance? A cow that's like a member of the family? Check and check. Brutal kisses? Let's just say men are a rough sex to deal with. Though some, in this book as well as in real life, work hard to be better. The story finally culminates in an Agatha Christie style gathering of suspects, with the killer unmasked on the final page. But you'll know who it is long before then.
This was originally published in 1936 as The Farmer's Daughter, with this Uni Books abridged edition coming later (there's no copyright date inside). The uncredited cover art was retasked from an earlier book, and if you look below, you'll see it was altered as well as recycled. The original had a horse in the background, while the Uni edition has a— Well, we don't know what it is. A scene from the Saturday dance maybe. It's hard to tell because the cyan plate was printed askew, and the whole thing has a psychedelic look as a result.
In any case, Brutal Kisses is a reasonably entertaining expenditure of all-too-precious reading hours. Appel's take on mental disability would be considered offensive today, but you know offense is lurking before you go in, right? The best defense is to note it then put it aside, or else you can't read any of these old books. Appel's so-called half-wit Lonnie isn't going to win any prizes for realism or generate much from readers in the way of understanding or compassion, but he isn't nearly the worst written character of this type to be found in vintage literature. Not a ringing endorsement, we know, but it's all we can offer.
I love the way you wait for the hole to open then just pound it in there.
It's amazing how explicit sports commentary can be. In baseball you hear phrases like, “He shortened his stroke,” and, “He likes to go hard inside.” In basketball you'll hear, “He's always around the rim,” or variations thereof. But the winner has to be football, where you'll hear quite often, “His tight end was wide open.” Ben West's Confessions of a Co-Ed falls squarely into the sports sleaze niche of fiction, and the cover falls even more specifically into what we think of as locker room sleaze. We wouldn't go so far as to say it's an official genre, but we've noted many covers of this type.
Confessions was actually written by James W. Lampp using a pseudonym early in his writing career, and in this book he tells the story of a Broadway showgirl named Sally who enrolls in high school and pretty soon is distracting the football team so much they can't win games. As noted on the book front she's being paid by an organized crime ring. The idea is for the crooks to make a killing betting against the team, and of course the boys are pretty much powerless against Sally. But complications ensue when she finally comes across a player she actually likes—the studly quarterback. 1952, with cover art by Owen Kampen.
The way you're throwing yourself at this stranger, I'm guessing you and your cousin Cletus have called it quits.
White Trash appeared in 1952 from Universal Publishing and it was written by Beulah Poynter, who in addition to authoring many novels was a notable silent film actress and playwright. Obviously, this tale is from the oversexed hicks bin, with the required boozing and fighting intermixed. The story features a moonshining mother, Mattie, and her precocious teenaged daughter, Hagan, who are equally beautiful, popular, and available. But eventually a line is crossed and the community gets up in arms about these two. Think of the story as cut rate Erskine Caldwell with pretensions to Faulkner, and a violent climax tacked on. It was Poynter's last novel. The cover artist is uncredited.
American horndog experiences sharp cut in growth.
Above is the cover of the 1953 gringo-in-Havana thriller Cuban Heel by Steve Harragan, aka Bart Carson, née William Maconachie, which finds the lead character tangled up in political intrigue as well as the arms of a local beauty. We really like the title of this one, because the fact that a Cuban heel is literally a style of boot heel makes it a nice play on words. We also really like the art, which is by that master illustrator Uncredited. We know a bit more about the author, but as with so many pseudonyms, the story behind Harragan/Carson/Maconachie is a bit convoluted. We may return to it at some point, but not today.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1943—Philadelphia Experiment Allegedly Takes Place
The U.S. government is believed by some to have attempted to create a cloak of invisibility around the Navy ship USS Eldridge. The top secret event is known as the Philadelphia Experiment and, according to believers, ultimately leads to the accidental teleportation of an entire vessel.
1953—Soviets Detonate Deliverable Nuke
The Soviet Union detonates
a nuclear weapon codenamed Reaktivnyi Dvigatel Stalina, aka Stalin's Jet Engine. In the U.S. the bomb is codenamed Joe 4. It is a small yield fission bomb rather than a multi-stage fusion weapon, but it makes up for its relative weakness by being fully deployable, meaning it can be dropped from a bomber.
1969—Manson Followers Continue Rampage
A day after murdering actress Sharon Tate and four others, members of Charles Manson's cult kill Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. Manson personally orchestrates the event, but leaves the LaBianca house before the killing starts.
1977—Son of Sam Arrested
The serial killer and arsonist known as Son of Sam and the .44 Caliber Killer, is arrested in Yonkers, New York. He turns out to be 24-year-old postal employee David Berkowitz. He had been killing people in the New York area for most of the previous year.
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