A murder by any other name would kill as dead.
This is a rather pretty cover painted by Charles Copeland for E.M. Harper's 1960 novel The Assassin, the story of Alec Jordan, who's spared the guillotine in an Algerian prison but must repay the shadowy government operatives who freed him by murdering an Arab political figure. We've seen convicts turned into assassins a couple times in vintage literature. What sets this story apart is its many flashbacks to Jordan's youth, from the time he was witness to his moonshiner father's killing by cops, to being sprung from reform school to play high school football (seems someone always wants to put his skills to use), to his various war experiences.
The story begins in Paris, from which Jordan pursues his target to London and Vienna, world weary, haunted by the past, and hounded by the people who are operating him. There's, unsurprisingly, the requisite woman-from-his-past for whom he still has feelings—a beauty named Renée who married an Austrian count while Jordan was hors de combat. Conveniently, she's now a widow, but is reclaiming the past an option for Jordan? To survive but lose your soul, to resist corruption but be killed, to find redemption in love. You've read it before, and though Harper breaks no new ground plotwise, he wrote a contemplative iteration of the story that offers some enjoyment.
Listen, humans are a delicacy. They don't taste very good, but eating them is about status.
We wanted to revisit Dutch illustrator Piet Marée, whose style is so unusual it's very much worth another look. There's nothing biographical out there about him, as far as we can find. But we love his work. Een boodschap aan Garcia, which means, “a message to Garcia,” was written by Luc Willink, aka Lucas Willink, aka Clifford Semper, and published by Hague based Anker-Boekenclubin in 1950. How it relates to Elbert Hubbard's dramatized 1916 essay of the same name (which resulted in a 1936 Barbara Stanwyck movie) is unknown to us. We can tell you it's the same story—U.S. soldier Andrew S. Rowan carries a secret message from President William McKinley to Calixto García, a rebel hiding in the mountains of Cuba, before the Spanish American War. But the point here is Marée's art. We love it. We'll try to dig up more from him to share later.
If you don't get me out of here I'm a dead woman. The sheets are like sandpaper and the toilet has no seat.
Above is a cover painted by Bert Lannon for the 1948 novel Love Is a Surprise! by Faith Baldwin, a major author of romance flavored fiction who produced around one hundred books in a career than ran six decades, from 1921 to 1977. Lannon is a new illustrator for us. We like his style. The moment he's used for his illustration is also highlighted by editors in the intro page:
She stood in the prison cell, a steel bar in either hand, her face pressed against the metal. He bent his head, and before she could pull away, just managed to kiss her startled lips. “My fee,” he remarked – and went toward the waiting sheriff.
We haven't read Baldwin, but we expect we'll run into something of hers we want to check out eventually. In addition, some of her work was translated to the silver screen, resulting in such films as 1937's Portia on Trial and 1938's Men Are Such Fools. Lannon, conversely, doesn't seem to have been very prolific. There's a little gallery of his work at Flickr, which you can see at this link.
Maybe it's too soon to bring it up, but if you ever remarry maybe choose someone who isn't a Red Sox fan.
Awhile back we put together a small collection of vintage paperback covers featuring hanging figures. The above cover for Joseph Shearing's The Golden Violet is an addition to that group. Shearing was actually Margaret Gabrielle Vere Long, who earned acclaim writing numerous historical and gothic horror novels, with The Golden Violet part of the latter group. The cover on this Dell edition was painted by Barye Phillips. Side note: the Red Sox are going to miss the playoffs again, and they might even finish last. We're devastated—not. That's for you, Dan. With love, of course.
Cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good.
We enjoyed an excellent tale not long ago in John and Ward Hawkins' natural disaster thriller A Man, a River, and a Girl, which was also published as The Floods of Fear by Corgi Books, as you see above. The striking art on this edition is by John Richards. You can read more about the book here.
Horwitz Publications perfectly red the paperback market.
For a while we were tracking the possibly unlicensed usage by Australian imprint Horwitz Publications of celebrities on its paperback covers. We fell down on the job a bit. The last one we looked at was two years ago.
The red-haired model used above on Carter Brown's thriller No Halo for Hedy is Playboy centerfold and nightclub performer Colleen Farrington, who was the mother of actress Diane Lane. The book originally appeared in 1956, and the above reprint came in 1959. This photo used for the cover is rare. We've seen no other shot of Farrington in these capri pants. Presumably, at one point multiple frames from the session existed, but time disposes of such items. However, it can't diminish the beauty of this cover. You can see all of our Horwitz celeb covers by clicking here.
Revenge is a dish best served on land. Served at sea it might come back up the wrong way.
Mort Engle art fronts this Dell edition of Frank Kane's 1962 novel The Conspirators, the improbable tale of a tycoon named Howard Carter who takes an ill-fated yachting trip from New York City to the French Riviera and onward toward Crete and Turkey with his wife, lawyer, and various acquaintances. Carter is not a nice guy, while his guests are mainly sniveling, underhanded, and weak. Why then has he invited them onto his yacht? Good question. He plans to hold them helpless while the machinery of revenge churns. They tried to double-cross him on a land deal, which in reality was an elaborate loyalty test/entrapment he set up in the first place. He can't wait to see their faces when he reveals that they've profited nothing except maybe prison terms for embezzlement, and, stuck on the boat, they can do nothing to help themselves—except possibly beg for mercy.
But Carter hasn't considered that this disloyal crowd might fight back. They might, for example, knock him over the head and toss him overboard. We didn't blame them a bit for deep-sixing him. Carter is one of the meanest characters we've come across in fiction. There's an Ayn Randian shading to his portrayal, and you already know we hate Rand's objectivist horseshit. The land swindle was even over a parcel named Galt, just to make Kane's thinking clear. In any case, sending Carter over the side is not the end of the conspirators' problems, but we won't tell you more of the plot except to say that it's malarky. But Kane can write, so the story comes across mostly okay. We can't say we were enamored of him repeatedly describing one of the characters—a blonde woman—as “the snowtop.” That's just bizarre. But all authors have quirks. The Conspirators is an entertaining voyage.
It's you and me, baby, ’til death do us part. What's your name again?
Here's a quick quiz for you. Is the following passage from a crime novel or a romance? There was one truth between us, one truth that would never be untrue. Whatever this animal thing inside me was, there was something inside her that was a mate for it. I felt that nothing could ever change that. It had to be brought alive again. It had to live and burn its own fire and be electric with its own voltage.
Those lines are from Richard Himmel's 1950 thriller I'll Find You, aka It's Murder, Maguire, first in a series of books starring mobbed up Chicago lawyer Johnny Maguire. The passage illustrates something we've noted before—that crime novels and romance novels sometimes intersect. Fictional tough guys occasionally fall head over heels in love, and when they do, the prose describing that love—in some author's hands—can be as overwrought as what you'd find in any romance novel.
In this story, Maguire, who must be one of the dumbest smart characters in crime fiction, falls for a deceased friend's wife who later fakes her own suicide. While the police believe she's dead, he never buys it, and risks his career and safety to locate her. He finds her living under a new identity and refuses to let her get away from him again—which is exactly as stalkerish as it sounds, considering he barely knew her before she vanished. She eventually submits to his overbearing attentions, but sadly, malign actors may ruin their love story.
It's surprising to us that there was a sequel, but Himmel's crime-romance must have struck a nerve with the reading public. It didn't strike one with us, but we didn't dislike it. We felt that it was eye-rollingly saccharine, and we found Himmel's dialogue a bit stilted. On the plus side, Maguire is funny at times, and his friend-with-benefits relationship with a supporting character named Tina has the potential to be engaging, assuming she hangs around. We'll see what develops in book two.
I've studied organ rejection extensively. Trust me—mine is compatible with your body.
Yes, it's still more medical sleaze—1968's Second-Year Intern by Val Munroe, from Softcover Library with an uncredited cover. We told you we'll never run out of these, nor of stupid shit to say about them. Munroe, aka Frank Castle, wrote one of the better sleaze books of the 1950s in Carnival of Passion, which we discussed here. And here, actually. We'd love to see what he can do in a hospital setting, but with more than a hundred books to read, well, sometimes you have to say no.
De Wulf makes space among French paperback artists.
This is a nice cover for 1957's Lucile et la volupté, by Albrecht Jhonn for Les Presses de la Nuit. The woman here holding a paint brush against a blank white background looks rendered in mostly colored pencils, with a watercolor assist in the hair. We like the suggestion that she painted the author's name, but the signature that matters here is that of prolific cover artist Jef de Wulf, who signed this mostly empty piece on the lefthand edge. He and certain other French illustrators worked in a simple style compared to most of the names in U.S. paperback art, but there's a breeziness to their output that we enjoy. Obviously, French illustrators like Aslan, Jean David, René Caillé, and others are comparable to anyone, and their highly accomplished art is collectible, but French publishers were also willing to embrace this sort of sparse, spacious visual style.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1964—Warren Commission Issues Report
The Warren Commission, which had been convened to examine the circumstances of John F. Kennedy's assassination, releases its final report, which concludes that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed Kennedy. Today, up to 81% of Americans are troubled
by the official account of the assassination.
1934—Queen Mary Launched
The RMS Queen Mary, three-and-a-half years in the making, launches from Clydebank, Scotland. The steamship enters passenger service in May 1936 and sails the North Atlantic Ocean until 1967. Today she is a museum and tourist attraction anchored in Long Beach, U.S.A.
1983—Nuclear Holocaust Averted
Soviet military officer Stanislav Petrov, whose job involves detection of enemy missiles, is warned by Soviet computers that the United States has launched a nuclear missile at Russia. Petrov deviates from procedure, and, instead of informing superiors, decides the detection is a glitch. When the computer warns of four more inbound missiles he decides, under much greater pressure this time, that the detections are also false. Soviet doctrine at the time dictates an immediate and full retaliatory strike, so Petrov's decision to leave his superiors out of the loop very possibly prevents humanity's obliteration. Petrov's actions remain a secret until 1988, but ultimately he is honored at the United Nations.
2002—Mystery Space Object Crashes in Russia
In an occurrence known as the Vitim Event, an object crashes to the Earth in Siberia and explodes with a force estimated at 4 to 5 kilotons by Russian scientists. An expedition to the site finds the landscape leveled and the soil contaminated by high levels of radioactivity. It is thought that the object was a comet nucleus with a diameter of 50 to 100 meters.
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