Grand theft auto, first degree murder, and concealment of a corpse, eh? Well, you've paid your debt to society. Hop in!
Above: the front and rear covers of Whit Harrison's Girl on Parole, for Venus Books. We would've bought this, but the seller was asking more than three... Excuse us for second—Hahahahahaha..! *wiping tears away* Sorry, he was asking more than three-hundred dollars. We buy a lot of books but you know our rule—never pay more than it costs for a train to Paris. Remember, we live in Spain, so we're talking thirty euros. We've gone as high as forty a few times, but that's our absolute ceiling for a single paperback. Nine times out of ten we pay seven or less. Anyway, Girl on Parole is from 1953 and the art is uncredited, but it's probably by Herb Tauss, who was painting for Venus during the period and whose style is a perfect match. Check what we mean here and here.
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.
There are a lot of members, but they all come away satisfied.
Arthur Adlon's Key Club Girl is pretty limp for a sleaze novel. If we planned to resell it we'd be depressing its value by saying that, but we can't lie—it has no spark. It's about a virginal woman named Lena who's unable to consummate relationships with a series of men, including her husband. She solves the problem with the help of an eager man named Lee and the behind the scenes action at the Golden Key Club. She doesn't end up with Lee, though. Her husband Quentin, who was so disappointed when he learned on the wedding night that Lena abhored sex, and has since divorced her, ends up with her after all. We won't bother with more of a plot summary. Life's short, we have these sleaze novels coming in all the time, and most of them are better than Key Club Girl. The art on this, however, is sublime. It's what enticed us to buy it. Paul Rader painted it, and if you look closely you'll see a topless reflection in the vanity mirror, and in the background, way back, a man straddling a chair. Nice work.
Some people wait for success to come. Some people go out and grab it.
Lou Marchetti painted this cover for Chance Elson by W.T. Ballard, and as always does a good job. This came in 1958, and by then Ballard, who had been publishing since the days of Black Mask magazine, was an extremely experienced author. All that practice shows as he weaves the Depression-era tale of a Cleveland nightclub owner who's driven out of business and town by the mafia and crooked cops, fetches up way out west in a wasteland city called Las Vegas, and tries to build a hotel/casino empire. His rival in this endeavor turns out to be the same mafia thug who precipitated his departure from Cleveland.
There's an interesting subplot here involving Elson taking in an orphaned girl of fourteen named Judy, who grows into a beautiful woman and the main love interest. Because she had escaped from a reform school, he at first passes her off as his younger sister, but as she nears adulthood it's pretty clear to most that Woody and Soon-Yi—oops, we mean Chance and Judy—have something more than guardian/ward feelings for each other. As you might suspect, in the deadly game of dueling casinos that develops between Elson and the mafia, she becomes the pawn.
Chance Elson has a timeline that runs for over a decade, so the book moves beyond the boundaries of most crime thrillers into life story territory, and a major theme concerns whether Elson, who's trying to keep a growing Las Vegas from being overrun by organized crime, can win that battle without becoming as bad as those he seeks to thwart. Or more to the point, his business dealings hinge upon ruthlessness, but his personal dealings and opportunity for true love hinge upon becoming a better human being. Are there flaws in the book? Well, we weren't happy with certain aspects of the woman-in-danger subplot. But like we said, Ballard was experienced. His fictional retelling of the rise of Sin City is expert work.
You can make it, honey. Just imagine the future satisfaction you'll get blaming me for coming here in the first place.
This is a dramatic piece painted by Ed Emshwiller for Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth's 1955 novel A Town Is Drowning. Did Emshwiller run out of paint, or is the fact that the town in the background is a mere ink drawing symbolic of its fragility and impermanence? We're pretty sure it's option two, and the result is a very striking cover, with some nice color bleeds as one of its main features.
The story is exactly as the title suggests, with fictional Hebertown, located somewhere in the American northeast, being hit by precipitation from a hurricane that sends the local river well over its banks to destroy large portions of the town. The rains and flooding are over by the halfway mark, at which point Pohl and Kornbluth focus on various aspects of social collapse, from infrastructure breakdown to looting.
Disaster-triggered social regression has been written many, many times. Some of the best efforts along those lines kill the soul to even read. A Town Is Drowning is a decent pop fiction undertaking on a non-apocalyptic but still somewhat harrowing scale. It isn't bad, but we think it's a little too impersonal. We'll concede that the authors' ambitions were to have a large array of people to show many different perspectives, but that makes getting to know them—hence caring about them—difficult. At least two characters could have been ditched to allow others to come to the fore.
But what do we know? Pohl and Kornbluth collaborated half a dozen times, so they clearly loved the result. They would go on to much acclaim, with Pohl peaking with the Hugo and Nebula Award winner Gateway, and its sequel Beyond the Blue Event Horizon. A Town Is Drowning is not on that level but it's interesting to catch Pohl here early in his career.
But you can't refuse, or I'll release your shameful sex tape and you'll be ruined. How does becoming a reality star change that? And what the hell is it anyway?
We became interested in the thriller Blackmailer because it was by George Axelrod, who would later go on to become one of Hollywood's most respected screenwriters, scripting such films as Bus Stop, Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Manchurian Candidate, and How To Murder Your Wife. Some reviewers really like this novel, but we thought it was middle-of-the-pack. The bones of the story are good. It's about a publishing executive offered one of the world's most famous author's final, posthumous manuscript—which we quickly learn may not be genuine. The reasons the ultimate villain wants it published are unexpected, but we think Axelrod should have ended up with a better final result. Even so, he supplies the usual thriller ingredients—some twists, a couple of beautiful women, a few beatdowns, and a lot of drinking—which means Blackmailer is worth a read. This edition came in 1952 from Fawcett Publications and Gold Medal Books, and the cover art of a woman lounging with the world's largest pillow is uncredited.
Let me go! I can save her! I just need a good nurse, a set of woodworking tools, and a shoehorn!
We already shared a 1952 Pocket Books cover for Ellery Queen's The Dutch Shoe Mystery, but this 1959 Pocket Books art by Jerry Allison goes a different direction, so we have a different, equally silly take on it. The Pulp Intl. girlfriends didn't get the joke last time, we suppose because they aren't old enough to know the same useless things we do, so we'll offer the reminder that a traditional Dutch shoe is made of wood and known as a clog. The Dutch Shoe Mystery features no clog that needs removal, just a ruptured gall bladder. Before the doctor can perform the operation, the patient, a millionairess who founded the hospital, is strangled with a piece of wire. Suspects: a few family members and the immediate medical staff. The “Dutch” in the title comes from the name of the hospital: Dutch Memorial. The “shoe” comes from the standard footwear of surgeons: white canvas moccasins which are the sole (oops) clue. Third in the Ellery Queen series, the authors Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee (aka Daniel Nathan and Manford Lepofsky) basically update the classic locked room mystery by staging it in a medical facility. Good? Well, they published more than thirty subsequent Queen capers, so take that for what it's worth.
Is sex déjà-vu a thing? Because I feel like we've lived this before. Try not to finish so fast this time.
Above: a cover for Val Munroe's Lisette, painted by Darcy, aka Ernest Chiriacka for Beacon Signal, 1962. We were surprised when we discovered this was Munroe's Carnival of Passion under a different title. Since the name of the main character is Lisette rather than Liz, we didn't guess it was the same book, and you'll also notice the cover doesn't mention a carnival. Luckily we didn't pay for this because it was available for download on Archive.org. By the way, the story wasn't the only thing repeated here. The art was later paired with Dee Winters' 1965 sleazer The Swingers, as you see below.
Poor baby. If I'm making you cry now, just wait. I've got shit planned for you that'll really unleash the waterworks.
We said we'd get back to Paul Connolly's and here we are. This cover for his 1952 novel Tears Are for Angels was painted by Barye Phillips, and though skillful as always, it's deceptively plain for a book laden with doom, steeped in pending disaster, and populated by lost souls suffering in self-made hells. What you get here is a man named Harry London, whose shoot-first reaction to adultery comes at the heavy price of his amputated arm and his wife's life, due to his attempt to kill her lover going horribly awry. After two years of drinking himself into oblivion his chance for revenge comes along in the person of his dead wife's friend Jean, who signs onto London's long delayed murder scheme. The book is a clinic in noir style, with characterizations pushed to the very darkest levels, like something James M. Cain thought up, then went, “Naaah! Too downbeat!” Self loathing and hate fucks make the book overwhelmingly malicious, then comes the wild murder scheme, which has WARNING! DISASTER AHEAD! across it in flashing letters. Additionally, the task Connolly sets for himself here is to make a beautiful woman's attraction to a drunken, reeking, one-armed ogre of a man seem plausible. He failed, as almost any writer would, but we have to give him credit—even though the romantic interaction between his leads is ridiculous, he makes turning each page an exercise in dread. That takes talent. Tears Are for Angels is a fascinating read.
So just out of curiosity, why aren't you paddling an Uber? Seems like everyone else is.
This spectacular cover for Thomas Sterling's Murder in Venice was painted by James Hill, an artist of obvious skill but one we rarely encounter. The book was originally published in 1955 as The Evil of the Day, with this beautiful Dell edition coming in 1959. Sterling tells the tale of a man named Cecil Fox who invites three guests from abroad to his Venetian mansion in order to pretend he's near death and tease them with the promise of inheriting his wealth. These three guests are people he's not had much contact with in recent years, which makes the game even more delicious for him, the way the trio feel plucked from their lives of obscurity to possibly be gifted wealth and status. Factions form and subterfuges abound, but everything is thrown into disarray when one of the guests is murdered. Was it to eliminate a possible inheritor? To add intrigue to the game? Or for other, unguessable reasons?
Go with option three. The whole point of murder mysteries is to be unguessable. Murder in Venice is a pretty good puzzler, with a small set of curious characters and a few forays into the Venetian night. Sterling gets inside the head of his protagonist Celia Johns quite effectively. She's the personal assistant to one of the invitees, and thus has no skin in the game. She just wants a fair wage for a fair day's work. At least that what she says. Her host Mr. Fox, on the other hand, seems to think everyone is corruptible, and everyone is money hungry—it's just a matter of baiting the hook in the right way. He thinks he knows most people better than they know themselves, and he doesn't see Celia as any sort of exception.
While Murder in Venice is a mystery, it's also a minor sociological examination of what it means to some people to be rich but face losing their money, and what it means to others to not value money at all. Sterling scored a success, but interestingly, he borrowed the idea from Ben Johnson's play Volpone, which premiered way back in 1606. Sterling was up front about his inspiration, and within his novel the play even makes an appearance on a drawing room shelf. Frederick Knott, who wrote the famed plays Wait Until Dark and Dial M for Murder, later adapted Sterling's novel into a 1959 play called Mr. Fox of Venice. The next year the book was published in France as Le Tricheur de Venise and won Sterling the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for foreign authors. And finally, Joseph Mankiewicz combined the original play, Sterling's novel, and Knott's play into a 1967 movie called The Honey Pot.
When material gets recycled to that extent, it's usually good, and Sterling does his part. He was a diplomat before becoming an author and lived in Italy for years, so we would have liked more color from someone who obviously knew Venice well, but he's an interesting writer even without the aid of scenery, as in this moment of musing from Celia: She said, “my sleep,” as though it were, “my dress,” or, “my ring.” It belonged to her. Every night had a certain amount, and if she lost it she was frantic. She had forgotten that sleep was not a thing, it was a country. You couldn't get it, you had to go there. And it was never lost. Sometimes you missed a train, but there was always another coming after. In the meantime, neither the green hills nor the nightmare forests ever changed. They stayed where they were and you went to them. And sooner or later you would go and not come back.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
2009—Farrah Fawcett Dies
American actress Farrah Fawcett, who started as a model but became famous after one season playing detective Jill Munroe on the television show Charlie's Angels
after a long battle with cancer.
1938—Chicora Meteor Lands
In the U.S., above Chicora, Pennsylvania, a meteor estimated to have weighed 450 metric tons explodes in the upper atmosphere and scatters fragments across the sky. Only four small pieces are ever discovered, but scientists estimate that the meteor, with an explosive power of about three kilotons of TNT, would have killed everyone for miles around if it had detonated in the city.
1973—Peter Dinsdale Commits First Arson
A fire at a house in Hull, England, kills a six year old boy and is believed to be an accident until it later is discovered to be a case of arson. It is the first of twenty-six deaths by fire caused over the next seven years by serial-arsonist Peter Dinsdale. Dinsdale is finally captured in 1981, pleads guilty to multiple manslaughter, and is detained indefinitely under Britain's Mental Health Act as a dangerous psychotic.
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