Fine, one last story. There once was an army of biting ants and they ate your husband's ballsack. Can we go back to the car now?
Fawcett Publications kept illustrator Barye Phillips mighty busy with its Gold Medal line, and here his work is yet again, on the cover of John D. MacDonald's 1952 thriller The Damned. The creekside setting doesn't actually capture the mood of the book, but it's a very nice, ominously serene piece of art. Beyond the cover readers will encounter MacDonald wrestling with what we considered to be a very literary concept. An automobile ferry develops various issues, leaving a long line of cars stuck at a Mexican river crossing most of a day and all of a night. Except for the few people who had driven there together, none know each other, but on that desolate roadside they interact in life-changing ways, ranging from budding love to betrayal to abandonment to sudden death. With more than a dozen stories interwoven, none are truly resolved, but most characters end up pointed toward destinies that can be guessed. As we've mentioned before, the farther you go back into MacDonald's bibliography the less didactic he tends to be. The Damned is his fifth novel, and its freshness of concept speaks to a writer spreading his wings and reveling in the purity of creative flight. This is the MacDonald we think newcomers to his work will enjoy most.
To a true hunter everyone is prey.
Richard Stark's, aka Donald E. Westlake's The Hunter, which was also published as Point Blank, is a landmark in crime literature, a precursor to characters like Jack Reacher. The standout qualities of this novel are its brutality and its smash cuts from set-piece to set-piece. As an example of the former, the main character, named Parker, basically scares a woman into committing suicide, dumps her body in a park, and slashes her face post-mortem as a way of foiling police attempts at identification. The latter quality, the narrative's disorienting transitions, is exemplified by a chapter that ends with Parker's hands mid-murder around an enemy's throat, and the next opening with him sitting in another enemy's house, holding a gun on him as he walks through the door. Westlake stripped away every bit of transitional prose he could in order to create breakneck pacing and heightened menace. Parker is not only dangerous, but is also emotionally barren. He feels nothing beyond the need to best his rivals. Permanently. Westlake's publisher knew The Hunter was something special, and convinced him to turn what was supposed to be a stand-alone novel into a series. Twenty-four entries in that series speak to its success. This first of the lot is highly recommendable. It came from Perma Books in 1962, and the excellent cover art featuring Parker's lethally large hands is by Harry Bennett.
No secrets here—de Wulf is de best.
Above is a cover from French publisher Éditions R.R., for Secrets, by author René Roques. Easiest way to get published: own the publishing company. We discuss that and other things about Roques in a bit more detail at this link. The art here is by Jef de Wulf, whose work we've shared numerous times. We love him. There's a lightness and ease to his pieces that few paperback artists achieve. We'll have more from him later.
Instead of fighting about this, let's compromise. My soul will go to church with you while my body stays in bed.
Julian Paul does top work on this cover for Richard Matheson's 1953 thriller Fury on Sunday. Paul painted some nice covers for men's adventure magazines as well, two of which we showed you here and here. We read this novel, and from a complex intro that hurries to introduce five main characters, it settles into a streamlined narrative of people stalked and held hostage by a madman. Of the captives—the coward, the tart, the everyman, and the good girl—we knew right away who would be killed, which dampened some of the suspense. Another problem is that the characters do not make the smartest decisions, sometimes to the point of straining credulity. If Fury on Sunday were a horror movie they'd all be murder bait, pretty much. For those reasons the book, Matheson's second, resides in the same not-fully-realized territory as his first, Someone Is Bleeding, also published in 1953. But in 1954 he would strike gold. That year he published I Am Legend, which is a sci-fi classic and became a movie four different times. We have that book lined up for later.
That was a real interesting story. I bet the cops would've loved to hear it.
Louis Malley's 1953 cop thriller Stool Pigeon might better be called “Stool Pigeons,” because it's about how crime solving hinges on a network of informants, and how reliable snitches make average detectives great. All the detectives in the book have their own, and they're sometimes kept so secret that nobody else on the police force knows who they are. If an informant's identity ever gets out they usually go from stool pigeon to cooked goose, as shown in the cover scene painted by James Meese. As we read this book we kept expecting one of the multiple stool pigeons to emerge as pivotal, and that's exactly what happens. We won't tell you which one proves most important, but we will say Malley takes a fresh angle on the typical cop novel and does it reasonably well.
Ignore the skull. That belonged to an old boyfriend.
Barye Phillips does nice cover work on this 1953 Gold Medal edition of 1950's Savage Bride, Cornell's Woolrich's bizarre tale about a man who marries a very young woman who, despite her tender age, harbors some shocking secrets. Without spoiling it, let's just say her unusually rustic upbringing results in serious marital problems. There are warning signs. She has weird dreams and speaks in tongues. But she's hot, so her husband overlooks that stuff. He soon finds himself enduring unimaginable hell. Even so, in our opinion he actually gets off lucky—because for a fleeting second we thought his wife was a reanimated mummy. Trust us, it wasn't an unreasonable guess. Things don't get quite that crazy, but they come close. This is one problematic spouse. Marry wisely.
The Sugar high doesn't last.
This eye-catching cover for Adam Knight's 1960 mystery novel Sugar Shannon was painted by an uncredited artist. The image lured us toward a purchase, and reading the book we immediately discovered that the main character is supposed to be a sort of Honey West clone. We didn't think much of This Girl for Hire, the book that introduced West to the world, so a derivative version was probably never destined to thrill us. And indeed, the whole thing—which involves the title character and her sidekick Gwen trying to solve two murders in the New York City art underground—is pretty silly, and more than a little condescending. For instance, Knight makes constant references to Sugar's “girlish instincts,” “womanly intuition,” and “feminine corpuscles" (huh?), suggesting his investigative reporter heroine works less by logic than by a sort of gender-based magic. Sugar Shannon was supposed to be the first book of a series, but it turned out to be a series of one. That says it all.
But it's important to make sure the pain is someone else's.
American author Frank Kane is well known for his many Johnny Lidell detective mysteries, which appeared from from 1947 to 1967. The Living End, from ’57, sets the world of detectives aside and tells readers about aspiring songwriter Eddie Marlon's meteoric rise from assistant at a radio station to the biggest disc jockey in New York City. Along with that, naturally, comes the usual doses of greed, betrayal, hubris, and the sowing of the seeds of his own potential destruction.
The cover art by Victor Kalin depicts the moment Marlon's ascent begins. A big shot record exec whips an ambitious singer until she's close to death, slumped shirtless in a chair. Marlon is called in to take the blame. It's a huge risk, because if she dies he's up the creek, but if she doesn't he'll be rewarded with anything he wants, which is his own radio show. The singer survives, keeps her terrible abuse a secret because she wants a career in music too, and Marlon gets an on-air slot and is soon rising through the ranks of FM radio deejays. The whole incident feels a bit Weinsteinian, which makes it all the more visceral.
But did we mention those seeds of destruction? Getting to the top is hard, but staying on top is harder, particularly when you've stepped on so many people. The Living End is a good book, but one thing we didn't like was Kane's insistence on constantly—sometimes four or five times in a few pages—referring to Marlon as “the thin man.” Everyone within the narrative calls him “the kid.” So why not use that as his non-name reference? Strange. But otherwise, decent work, and a fun depiction of the payola days of FM radio. Apparently Kane revisited the music industry with a novel called Juke Box King. We'll try to find that and report back.
It's taken weeks to get here, but it will be worth it—in that fabled place I am told are stores that have shoes, boxer-briefs, bug repellant, and more.
We shared a Robert Stanley cover for Edgar Rice Burroughs' wild adventure Tarzan and the Lost Kingdom a while back. We'd be doing a disservice if we didn't also share the brilliant Frank Frazetta art used for Ace Books on its 1962 re-issue. Frazetta is an artist about whom there is no debate. He was a genius.
First of all, hell no. Second, why are you wearing lipstick? And third, crushed strawberry is not your color.
When it comes to mid-century fiction, basically all the guys had problems respecting women's boundaries. There are so many covers of the above type we could curate an entire collection. We can't think of any others, however, where the guy looks like he's wearing lipstick. We checked a few other examples of this one online, just in case this look was courtesy of some kid with a crayon, but he's wearing that crushed strawberry in all of them. Not that we disapprove. More guys probably should do it. We've done it, and it was fun, if not even educational. But maybe we're drilling too deep into this subject. Boundaries we were talking about, right? So, Mike Moran was aka Ben Kerr, Jonas Ward, and Thomas Wills, and this book deals with a private eye who takes a job bodyguarding a boxer who's run into problems as the night of a big bout approaches. Reviews are mixed to middling. But this cover opens the door to all sorts of discussion, which makes it worth sharing. 1953 on this.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1917—First Jazz Record Is Made
In New Orleans, The Original Dixieland Jass Band records the first ever jazz record for the Victor Talking Machine Company in New York. The band was frequently billed as the "Creators of Jazz", but in reality all the members had previously played in the Papa Jack Laine bands, a group of racially mixed performers who helped form the basis of Dixieland while playing under bandleader George Laine.
1947—Prussia Ceases To Exist
The centuries-old state of Prussia, which had been a great European power under the reign of Frederick the Great during the 1800s, and a major influence on German culture, ceases to exist when it is dissolved by the post-WWII Allied Control Council comprised of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union.
1964—Clay Beats Liston
Heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay, aged 22, becomes champion of the world after beating Sonny Liston, aka the Dark Destroyer, in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. It would be the beginning of a storied and controversial career for Clay, who would announce to the world shortly after the fight that he had changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
1920—The Nazi Party Is Founded
The small German Workers' Party, or DAP, which was under the direction of Adolf Hitler, changes its name to the National Socialist German Workers' Party. Though Hitler adopted the socialist label to attract working class Germans, his party in fact embraced mainly anti-socialist ideas. The group became known in English as the Nazi Party, and within the next fifteen years expanded to become the most powerful force in German politics.
1942—Battle of Los Angeles Takes Place
A object flying over wartime Los Angeles triggers a massive anti-aircraft barrage
, ultimately killing 3 civilians. Initially the target of the aerial barrage is thought to be an attacking force from Japan, but it is later suggested to be imaginary and a case of "war nerves", a lost weather balloon, a blimp, a Japanese fire balloon, or even an extraterrestrial craft. The true nature of the object or objects remains unknown to this day, but the event is known as the Battle of Los Angeles.
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