Well, my herb garden died and my macramé is crap. Looks like betrayal and adultery are my remaining options for passing the time.
You know what's weird about Charles Williams' 1951 thriller River Girl? There's no river. The action takes place in a swamp, and several sloughs. Sloughs are sluggish side channels. It struck us as funny. Why not call the book Swamp Girl? That would fit both literally and figuratively, because the main character Jack Marshall gets swamped by trouble clear up to his neck. There's a funny line of dialogue about halfway through the book that encapsulates his dilemma. A character muses, “It just doesn't seem possible that in only eleven million years, or however long they've been here, men could have got as stupid about women as they have. They must have practiced somewhere before.”
Yup. What happens here is Jack Marshall, who's deputy sheriff of a southern town, stumbles across a woman living way out in an isolated corner of the local swamp, and is overcome with fascination and lust. We've met these isolated swamp women before in mid-century fiction, and they're always problematic. This one's name is Doris, and Jack wants her real bad, but she lives in a shack with her fisherman husband Roger, the two scratching out an almost feral existence. Why? It seems as if Roger is hiding from either the law, or some shady characters he double-crossed. That's all the opening our horny deputy needs to drive a wedge into the marriage—a dick-shaped wedge. He boats into the swamp to enjoy Doris's company whenever her husband is away, and when she finally agrees to run away with him everything goes wildly, ballistically wrong.
Concerning those ballistics, the hero reflects at one point: “No jury on earth would ever believe I'd had to shoot an unarmed man twenty pounds lighter and fifteen years older than I was just to defend myself. I could have stopped him with one hand.” In the scene, Roger was indeed unarmed, but had moved toward a gun that Marshall reached first. Under identical circumstances, an American cop today could shoot that person—multiple times whether they were unarmed or not—claim to have been afraid, and only an extraordinary set of circumstances would see the cop lastingly punished. But here in 1951 Deputy Do-Wrong is in a real pickle.
There's only one solution: via a complicated gambit he tries to make it look as if Roger has killed him and fled the state with Doris. The key to the scheme is that Roger's body must never be found, nor his own, nor can there be any sign of Doris ever again. Think he can pull it off? Then we've got some prime swampland to sell you at a nice price. Like submerged bodies, complications always pop up. In Williams' hands, those complications provide more than enough dramatic current to make River Girl a fun, swift read. As we've said about him before, he's as reliable as the Woolworth clock. Anything he writes will be at least decent, and often it will be excellent. We rate this one lower than his top efforts, but above what most authors were producing around the same time.
Wolf cops resort to kicking doors down after controversial court decision bans blowing houses in.
It's a prosaic way to conduct raids, kicking down doors as opposed to huffing and puffing and blowing entire houses in, but that's the way it goes. Reformists are never happy, though. Now they're trying to pass a law preventing wolf cops from dismembering and eating suspects under the full moon. Law enforcement's paws are practically tied at this point. Pretty soon they'll just have to let criminals go free. 1961 on this, with uncredited cover art.
I wouldn't call them raging so much as extremely reluctant to take no for an answer.
A little bit of vintage lesbian fiction today, Her Raging Needs, by Kay Johnson for Beacon Signal, 1964, with uncredited cover art. A libidinous young woman finds herself widowed, after which point she goes from to man to man, never satiated, until she finally crosses the line and jumps into bed with another woman. This one deserves points for the main character's name: Honey Bard. Amazingly, the book got reprinted in 1970 by Softcover Library.
Franco Picchioni is bad as in good.
Franco Picchioni's hits keep coming. Above is another cover from the respected Italian artist, this time for Georges H. Boskero's Il genio del male, number twenty-two in the crime series Il Cerchio Rosso from Edizioni MA-GA, 1965. The title translates to “evil genius.” In terms of Picchioni, we'll certainly go with genius. See more from him starting at this link.
Why am I on the beach this morning in lingerie and one shoe? Let's just say the ball didn't end at midnight.
This piece of art for Lee Roberts' If the Shoe Fits was painted by Robert McGinnis and it's one you see around often, probably because it's a top effort, at least in our view. In addition, the lettering is wonderful, with its two red dots over each “i.” The Crest Books paperback, we understand by looking around online, is usually copyright 1960, but our copy carries a date of 1959. The art relates to the novel only tangentially—missing high heels and whom they might fit are a key element, however they were worn by a fully dressed woman, not by a lingerie clad femme fatale. But as always the final result from McGinnis is amazing. It's possible he custom painted it for the story—with a bit of artistic license taken.
Between the covers, Roberts, aka Robert Martin, spins the tale of a smalltown murder. Young playboy Paul Anway has his head bashed in while sitting lakeside in his convertible, and certain people had reason to hate him—the gamblers to whom he owed four grand, the two women he was dating, the jilted boyfriend of one, a sleazy detective hired for strongarm work, and possibly others. As it happens, all of them had the opportunity to kill Anway, a feat achieved though the gimmick of having him tailed to the secluded site of his eventual murder by three cars at the same time, with two of the drivers unaware that they're involved in a coincidental caravan. It sounds strange, but it works, particularly because the existence of these tails is revealed only in flashback.
The one person who isn't tailing Anway is the protagonist Clinton Shannon—local doctor, county coroner, and all around nice guy. Conceiving Shannon as both a trusted doctor and a city official allows Roberts to provide the character access to almost every event that occurs, a useful trick in a murder mystery. Shannon makes a couple of decisions that might raise an eyebrow—rashly disclosing confidential evidence to the victim's father, for example—but for the most part Roberts writes him as exactly the sort of capable hero stories like this rely upon. With its likeable lead and involving plotline, we think If the Shoe Fits will fit your reading list.
When you think about the enormity of the sky and the vastness of nature doesn't it make taking off your blouse seem insignificant?
Above, a cover for Chris Harrison's sleaze novel Sex Ranch, published by Midwood Books in 1968, the last year the company was active. The art is unsigned but it's the work of the masterful Paul Rader, who we just saw yesterday. But we brought him back because he's one of our favorites. Hell, he's a favorite of anyone who follows vintage paperback art. Not only is he a top notch illustrator, but his work has given us many opportunities for enjoyable riffing. You can find some amusing efforts here, here, here, and here.
Whatever floats your corpse.
Art by Paul Rader fronts this copy of Samuel A. Krasney's A Mania for Blondes, a police proceedural dealing with two women drowned in Philadelphia's Delaware River, and the investigation to bring a killer to justice. The protagonist here is vice detective Ben Krahmer, who learns that both victims appeared in nudie reels. The clues lead down the rabbit hole of illicit porn and toward a mysterious suspect witnesses think looks like Zorro—but who Krahmer soon realizes may be a member of Pennsylvania's traditionally garbed Dutch community. Procedurals sometimes—as is the case here—fail to provide deep characterizations, but the mechanics of the investigation are interesting. Krasney constantly refers to his protagonist as “the Morals man”—capital M—which we found weird, but we thought this outing was solid overall and we liked the Zorro imagery. Even so, we probably won't go looking for more from Krasney unless we run across him cheap. There are, after all, so many paperbacks, and so little time.
We better hurry if we're still going to give her mouth to mouth. She's starting to come around.
Above: Harry Schaare art for John Bartlow Martin's Butcher's Dozen, a true crime paperback dealing with six real world cases. Martin was well known as a political speech writer, diplomat, and ambassador, but true crime is an area into which he delved several times as an author, and to generally good reviews. This one was originally published in 1950, with the Signet paperback coming in 1952.
If anyone's going to impress her by magnanimously paying an exorbitant restaurant bill it's me!
This issue of Adam magazine hit newsstands in July of 1968, and our header refers not only to the two brawlers on the cover, but to the fact that this issue bore the smashing weight of something heavy for years, a fact made clear by the six rusty pressure dents that go clean through the magazine. Maybe the owner used it to level a work table in his garage, which we can't approve of as proper usage for the greatest men's magazine in Australian history, but even so, the scans mostly came out okay. Adam covers, which were usually painted by Jack Waugh or Phil Belbin, are always nice, but of special note in this issue is interior work from an excellent artist who signed only as Cameron. You'll find two efforts below. The editors didn't see fit to (and rarely did) credit artists in a masthead, so Cameron's full identity will remain a mystery. At least for now.
The cover illustrates Roderic J. Fittoc's “Gentleman's Agreement,” about rivarly and adultery among the smart set, but the more interesting tale is Victor Blake's “Dead Girls Can't Run.” The cool title gets an opening reference in the story, and a callback. First, concerning a tragedy in the main character's recent past, Blake writes, “But now Zelda is dead and Bertie is blind. He lost his eyes and lost his girl—but don't go thinking she came running back back to me. Dead girls can't run.” As the story devlops, the narrator is betrayed into prison by woman named Nikki. Though there's nothing good about being locked up, he figures at least he can enjoy picturing how graceful and athletic Nikki is, espeically when she runs. That pleasure would be ruined if he were free, because he'd have to kill her, and dead girls can't run. Double duty for the title phrase. We liked that. Twenty-nine scans below.
You knew those Reese's Cups were mine but you ate them anyway! Was it worth it? Well? Was it worth it?
This is a rarity on mid-century paperbacks—the strangler on Edward Vebell's cover for the 1951 thriller The Candy Kid is the protagonist. We almost never see one like this where the aggressive male isn't the villain, but it happens. In this case, he thinks the femme fatale has murdered his cousin. But he gets ahold of himself after a few seconds and gives her a chance to convince him that he's wrong. Telling you that isn't a spoiler, because the rear cover text reveals the murder anyway, and the hero's reaction isn't a turning point within the plot. He's pissed. But he gets over it.
The Candy Kid was written by the respected Dorothy B. Hughes, and she sticks close to the American southwest she explored in books such as 1946's Ride the Pink Horse. Here her main character, José “the Strangler” Aragon, is randomly selected on the streets of El Paso by upper class beauty Dulcinda “Sore Neck” Farrar to do a shady favor—take an envelope to across the border to Ciudad Juarez and exchange it for a package to be returned to her. She's chosen him because he looks like an itinerant laborer, like someone who needs, “un poco dinero.”
Actually, though, Aragon is a well-to-do rancher. He'd just gotten back from cowpunching when Dulcinda saw him, and he was sweaty and covered in grime. The whole thing was a joke to him. Based on her assumption, he'd pretended to be an immigrant day laborer, planning to reveal himself as a man of means to the pretty gringa later. But he takes more and more interest in this package business, and ends up performing the errand. Then the package is stolen from him.
What follows is a mystery involving a Greek crime kingpin, murder and revenge, twists and surprises, and unsolved crimes across the border. The odd title of the book comes from Dulcinda's name. Everyone calls her Dulcy, which in Spanish sounds like “dulce,” which means “sweet,” which causes one of the Mexican characters trying to remember her name to say, “that candy kid.” It's an involved journey. But then so is the tale.
We'll just come out and say it isn't Hughes' best, but she's always a fascinating author, particularly here, where she deftly captures the border atmosphere and attempts to portray a Mexican-American character who speaks Spanish and is comfortable on either side of the Rio Grande, yet is culturally distinct from his cousins down south. Some of those interactions have subtle class tensions that make them among the most interesting in the book. Other areas of the story are less successful. The biggest flaw is character motivation—Aragon has no compelling reason to get involved in Dulcy's troubles until his cousin dies, at the halfway mark. Following through on a prank just isn't enough.
But you can't fault the level of technical skill on display, although Hughes writes in an unusual style filled with comma splices: It would have been funny, he was always the one who delayed the crowd, he knew everyone from Chihuahua to Mesa Verde. It works fine, which proves that if done just right an author can break any rule they want. Well, almost any rule. A crucial one for genre fiction is: make sure your protagonist really wants something. Even Hughes wasn't able to break that one and get away with it.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1920—U.S. Women Gain Right To Vote
The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified despite heavy conservative opposition. It states that no U.S. citizen can be denied the right to vote because of their gender.
1958—Lolita is Published in the U.S.
Vladimir Nabokov's controversial novel Lolita, about a man's sexual obsession with a pre-pubescent girl, is published in the United States. It had been originally published in Paris three years earlier.
1953—NA Launches Recovery Program
Narcotics Anonymous, a twelve-step program of drug addiction recovery modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous, holds its first meeting in Los Angeles, California.
1942—Blimp Crew Disappears without a Trace
The two-person crew of the U.S. naval blimp L-8 disappears on a routine patrol over the Pacific Ocean. The blimp drifts without her crew and crashes in Daly City, California. The mystery of the crew's disappearance is never solved.
1977—Elvis Presley Dies
Music icon Elvis Presley is found unresponsive by his fiancée on the floor of his Graceland bedroom suite. Attempts to revive him fail and he's pronounced dead soon afterward. The cause of death is often cited as drug overdose, but toxicology tests have never found evidence this was the case. More likely, years of drug abuse contributed to generally frail health and an overtaxed heart that suddenly failed.
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