Always look your best for a crime spree.
Italian publishers Edizioni MA-GA strike again with another cover image by Franco Picchioni, this time for Jeff Kristopher's 1965 thriller 10 Lettere d'Amore. Kristopher is of course a pseudonym but we aren't able to discern for whom. We may have luck with that later, though. In any case, this is a cool image, and odd too, the way the fashionable femme fatale doesn't match her reflection. In the mirror she's leaning her head much farther to her right. We like that touch. But then we like everything Picchioni does.
If it bends, it's pulp. But if it breaks, it's parody.
Does the line in our subhead ring a bell? It's from Crimes and Misdemeanors, the 1989 Woody Allen film, spoken by Alan Alda, but applied to comedy. The quote is: “If it bends it's funny, but if it breaks it isn't.” That jumped into our heads when reading James Gunn's Deadlier than the Male. Gunn is described by New Yorker reviewer Clifton Fadiman as bloodier, nastier, and tougher than James M. Cain. Well, okay, but Gunn and Cain come at crime fiction from slightly different angles. Gunn is a good writer, though. No doubt about it. He plays with subtle alliterations, symmetries, and anastrophes that mark him as a skilled practitioner of his art. But can he write a murder book? Was he even trying? Was his primary goal to bend the genre, or to break it?
Deadlier than the Male has been described as a pulp parody but we aren't sure about that. Gunn comes up with some off-the-wall similes, but we don't see them as satirical. We think he simply wanted to push the established tropes of the crime novel a bit farther than usual. He wanted to write a femme fatale that was more of a femme fatale, and write deadpan cynicism that was even more so, to be more Cain than Cain perhaps, which we think Clifton Fadiman was correct to point out in his review. So then, returning to the question of whether Gunn's goal was to write a murder book, we think it was. It bends, but we don't think it breaks.
In terms of plot, what you have here is a woman who vows to unmask the murderer of her friend, while another woman decides to dig into the shady history of the man who's married her younger sister. Murderer and husband are the same man, and his plan is to get his mitts on his new bride's fortune, while of course avoiding any connection to the previous murder. Both women are metaphorically deadlier than the male, since both could be the ruin of the main male character, but their deadliness derives from loyalty, persistence, wiliness, and a lack of scruples. It's not's quite good versus evil, so much as scalpels versus hammer, which we thought was a cool approach.
But you know how you read something, know it's artful, yet fail to be fully engaged? For us this was one of those books. Is it a failure of the writer or the reader? We'll take the blame. We have certain tastes. By now, if you've visited Pulp Intl. often, you know what types of books get our juices flowing. If you tackle Deadlier than the Male you'll probably have the sense of reading something notable. And if you like to get under the hood you'll find a lot of stylish work inside. But will it get your pulse racing? Umm.. *looking over our shoulders to see if any literary critics are near* ...we doubt it.
Land ho! Shiver me timbers! Spring break ahoy! Pieces of eighteen year olds!
We've shown you many George Gross covers, all brilliant. This one is a little different for him. Morgan the Pirate was published by Dell in 1961 as a tie-in for the Italian adventure film Morgan il pirata, starring Steve Reeves, that indispensable icon of the sword and sandal era of the ’50s and ’60s. We haven't seen the movie, but this illustration has tempted us to queue it up. More than that, it makes us want to go raise hell somewhere. Actually, we had this one ready to go last year around this time when we had a trip planned, but we cancelled the travel and warehoused the image, figuring, okay, spring 2021. But the gag still doesn't really work, because there aren't any spring breaks (for careful people). But we don't want to sit on the cover another year, so here it is. Come on vaccinators, get to innoculating, so we can get to vacationating. Wooo! Shots! Shots! Shots!
Don't look at me that way. He was like this when I got here. I swear.
Above, a beautiful cover painted by Robert Maguire for Edgar Wallace's mystery Four Square Jane, originally published in 1929, with this Digit Books edition appearing in 1962. This one is short and fun. Someone known as Four Square Jane is executing clever heists against the rich all around London, and Chief Superintendent Peter Dawes is put on her trail. The only clues are a card Jane leaves at the crime scenes, each bearing her personal sigil. Dawes soon realizes that one person in particular seems to be financially damaged by the thefts, and when murder enters the mix, the stakes mount. This is an excellent classical style mystery from Wallace with a proto-feminist angle. The art here is a re-usage of Maguire's cover for Henry Kane's 1960 novel Private Eyeful, which you can see at the top of this collection of women standing over dead or dying men.
These shots are surprisingly revealing. This shaving thing you do—call me crazy but I think that could really catch on.
Above, a Barye Phillips cover for Bodies in Bedlam by Richard S. Prather, the second entry in his forty-one novel series (or maybe it was forty-two) starring detective Shell Scott, for Gold Medal Books, 1951. We have a couple, so we'll circle back to Prather and Mr. Scott a bit later.
Cain is guaranteed to deliver.
Above you see a Pocket Books cover for James M. Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice, the 1953 edition. It has art from James Avanti, and is very different from Pocket's 1947 edition, which we showed you here. Avati is an illustrator we don't run across that often, but his work is easily recognizable, and always very good. See a few more examples here, here, and here. Needless to say (but we'll say it anyway), The Postman Always Rings Twice is a book you should read.
What do you mean my squirming is throwing off your aim? Screw you! I hate this idea! When do we switch places?
French illustrator Jef de Wulf painted so many covers for Editions de l'Arabesque that he was almost an in-house employee, and here we see him again on the art chores for Paul S. Nouvel's 1960 thriller Crapahut. You also see the original art, and can see the hole left for the publisher's logo, because why waste paint when you don't have to? Crapahut, of course, translates into English as “outhouse.” Actually, that's not correct. We don't know what crapahut means. We think it's a place. A place you can smell from miles away.
Update: We got two answers on this, the first from Jo:
About the book named Crapahut, I can tell you it's a soldier's training, very hard and difficult. It's a slang word used first by military people (warrior's path?). You can use it also to speak about a long and difficult hiking in the mountains without any military sense.
The second answer came from Jean-Marie:
«crapahut» from military slang, we have the verb «crapahuter» that means: walk, during war or battle if possible… with haversack very heavy, with arms, with ennemy all around, into jungle, for 5, 10, 20 kilometers. Very hard. «Ha! qu’est-ce qu’on a crapahuté avant d’arriver à Danang,,, »
Thanks, Jo and Jean-Marie. Another mystery solved.
I said I need to stretch my legs. I didn't say you need to stand there and stare at them while I do it.
The cover blurb makes James McKimmey's The Long Ride sound as if the trip taken involves a total of one woman and three men. Actually there are seven travelers, headed cross country to San Fransisco, three of whom are involved in a bank robbery and murder in different ways. Obviously, there's the robber. There's also the person whole stole the loot from the robber. And there's—well, we won't say, because this is a good tale that deserves to surprise you. It reminded us tangentially of John D. MacDonald's The Damned, though the ensemble here is much smaller. However, the crucible aspect is similar. In The Damned everyone is stuck at a closed river crossing, whereas here everyone spends much of their time in a station wagon (with a motel or two mixed in). We read a review of this that said the three main characters ending up in the same car defied credulity. That person must have skimmed the book. It makes perfect sense that they're together, as does every other aspect of the plotting. The only flaw for us was an over-written lonely heart librarian, but otherwise we thought The Long Ride was a thrill ride, not long at all, if anything too short. This Dell paperback is from 1961 with leggy art from Bob Abbett.
Oh, come on, we're not that bad. Most of the guys we date are married. They'd tell you their wives are the ones that are out of hell.
Above, Girls Out of Hell! by sleaze vet Joe Weiss, published in 1952 by Falcon Books. Weiss was also behind such titles as Gang Girl, Love Peddler, and Forbidden Thrills, for which he paired up with Ralph Dean. All those books will cost you a pretty penny. The question is whether it's because of the often excellent cover art on sleaze digests—this one is by George Gross—or because of the literary content. We intend to find out soon.
A blackmailer takes on a murderer and learns he probably should have stayed in his weight class.
We picture Charles Williams coming up with the idea for The Big Bite in the shower. We generally have our best ideas there, so why not him? But wherever he was it was a eureka moment. He probably stopped whatever he was doing—dinner with friends, walking the dog, pleasuring his wife—and without a syllable of explanation sprinted for his writing desk. Friends sit there baffled wondering who's going to cover the check, dog ends up in the pound, wife is left frustrated and has to finish herself off. But that's the price you pay for associating with artistic types—sometimes an idea has to come first. As Williams' story develops, it isn't just his idea for the novel that's ingenious, but his main character's eureka moment within the narrative too.
Professional football player John Harlan is driving his convertible and is forced off the road by a second car. Both cars crash. The driver of the second car is killed, his head smashed in. But Harlan soon learns that the crash was a deliberate murder attempt, though not aimed at him. It was a case of automotive mistaken identity. He subsequently learns that the man who tried to kill him and died in the second car was himself murdered—not killed by the accident as the police presumed. There had been a third car, and from that car came a killer who administered a coup de grâce. Harlan learns all this and decides to blackmail that killer as recompense, because the accident has ruined his football career. He wants $100,000.
We know Williams was proud of himself for coming up with this automotive shell game that leads to blackmail. You know how? Because although his main character keeps referring to his scheme in terms like, “If everything worked out the way I planned...” and, “This was precisely what I needed to happen...” he never explains exactly what his plan is. As readers you have to watch it unfold, and be impressed that this big lug of a gridiron meathead is so smart. But the snag is—and there's always a snag—Harlan doesn't know anything about his blackmail target. He just knows the person owes him for a lost career. But because he hasn't bothered to learn anything about this killer, he has no idea what he's actually up against.
The Big Bite is Charles Williams' ninth book, coming in 1956, and at this point, five years into his career as a novelist, he's in cruise control. His concepts are excellent, his execution close to flawless. If there's any misstep at all it's that he sacrifices some of what he's built over the course of the novel for an ending that's ironic rather than realistic. We've seen this malady strike mid-century crime novels before, but up until that point Williams has a major winner here. Also in the winning category is the cover art by Arthur Sussman. It mirrors the protagonist's master plan perfectly—deceptively simple, yet ultimately ingenious. We highly recommend this book.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday
records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
1923—Yankee Stadium Opens
In New York City, Yankee Stadium, home of Major League Baseball's New York Yankees, opens with the Yankees beating their eternal rivals the Boston Red Sox 4 to 1. The stadium, which is nicknamed The House that Ruth Built, sees the Yankees become the most successful franchise in baseball history. It is eventually replaced by a new Yankee Stadium and closes in September 2008.
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