That old quote is true. Since I got into politics I've had quite a few fellows in bed and most of them were strange.
In Winchell Barry's Scarlet City ambitious anti-heroine Lora Paton insinuates herself into the inner workings of a big city's political and vice machines by using her own inner workings on various lustful men. Her constant sexual activity leaves her by turns empowered and embittered, depending on how her scheme to get her main man into the governor's mansion is going at any given moment. If she can get him elected, they'll marry and live on the taxpayer's dime happily ever after. But is he playing straight with her? Hint: politicians are generally scum.
Scarlet City is pretty frank stuff from Barry, who was in reality longtime television writer Leo Rifkin. Through various plot covolutions he manages to get Lora in bed with five different men, each a rung on her ladder to the top. The book was originally published in 1953, with this Beacon edition coming in 1960. It was also reprinted in a 1954 issue of Daring magazine, so its mix of easy sex, political chicanery, and strange bedfellows must have done well on newsstands. It's not going to be studied in any creative writing classes, but we'll admit we liked it.
I'm down to my last few bullets! Throw those egg salad sandwiches we brought for lunch! Maybe those will slow them down!
When we first saw Eric North's 1955 sci-fi thriller The Ant Men the first thought we had— Well, actually, the second thought. The first thought was: “Oh, this is a must read.” Our second thought was: “Highly centralized, conscienceless, conformist hordes seeking to overrun everything in sight? Hmm, wonder what that's a paranoid metaphor for?” But the book doesn't really have the anti-commie thing. It's sci-fi played straight about six unfortunate people who stumble upon a city of giant ants in the dead heart of Australia. To make matters worse, there are more than just ants out there. It's reasonably fun at first, but North slowly drives his own narrative south with an impossibly annoying Aussie bush guide character who exclaims, “Mamma mamma!” probably fifty times. Five would have gotten the idea across. Before long we were hoping the ants would eat him. The fact that they don't is the book's biggest flaw. Aside from that it's decent, but certainly not among the better sci-fi novels of the period. This MacFadden-Bartell edition has art by Jack Faragasso.
Haven't we seen her somewhere before?
Looks like West German publisher Paul Feldmann Verlag was yet another company that jumped on the celebrity photocover bandwagon, using an image of of British actress Diana Rigg for Auf den Spuren des Syndikats, which means “in the footsteps of the syndicate.” Rigg is, of course, best known for playing ass kicking Emma Peel on the beloved British television series The Avengers, and the photo used here was borrowed from a promo image made for the series.
Auf den Spuren des Syndikats was part of Feldmann's series PFV-Krimi. Author Henry C. Scott was credited with numerous books, but we knew he was a pseudonym just based on his improbably vanilla name. Color us surprised to learn that rather than a German author masquerading as a yank, it was a guy named Walter Arnold. Seems like Walt could have just written using the vanilla name he was born with, but what do we know?
We found this book cover on the German blog Leihbuchregal, which you can visit at this link, if so inclined. It will be helpful if you can read German. Paul Feldmann Verlag published many other books with borrowed celebs, which if you visit here regularly you know is a phenomenon we've noted, um, auf den. See a couple of good examples here and here. 1969 copyright on the above.
Ditch the spacesuit, big boy, and I'll give you a totally different kind of terrain to explore.
This cover for Cyril Judd's 1961 Mars based sci-fi novel Sin in Space makes the book look like ridiculous sleaze but there's serious ambition here. We discerned this in the first five pages thanks to the undefined jargon, numerous made-up place names, and copious technical language that's supposed to understood through context. The nomenclature of life on Mars, the minerals that are mined, Mars Machine Tool, greeners, marcaine, and much more, are all woven together by Judd (a pseudonym for Cyril Kornbluth and Judith Merril) in an attempt to create a believable alternate reality of a human colony on Mars.
Earth has numerous problems and independence is thought by Mars colonists to mean an escape from those issues. But the colony has a few problems of its own. Most importantly, a stash of drugs has gone missing and if it doesn't reappear the consequences, both political and existential, will be dire. Meanwhile, even though forty years of colonization has turned up no Martian life, sightings of so-called “brownies” are on the upswing, but are dismissed as fantasies. Do these brownies exist? Well, they're more likely to turn up than the rampant sin of the book's title. Check out this passage, which we've edited a bit for brevity:
“You got born into a hate-thy-neighbor, envy-thy-neighbor, murder-thy-neighbor culture. Naked dictatorship and leader worship, oligarchy and dollar-worship. Middle classes with their relatively sane families were growing smaller and being ground out of existence as still more black dirt washed into the ocean and more hungry mouths were born and prices went higher and higher. How long before it blew up? The damned, poverty-ridden, swarming Earth, short of food, short of soil, short of metals, short of everything except vicious resentments and aggressions bred by other shortages.”
Does that sound like sleaze to you? Us either. Sin in Space is a serious book, but far less interesting than it should be, considering the fertile setting. Put it in the wildly misleading bin thanks to its title and the cover by artist Robert Stanley. We mentioned the drugs subplot. That's so far in the background it barely qualifies as a plot driver. The sin of the title actually refers to the fact that a reporter writes an article falsely telling everyone on Earth the Martian colony is a hotbed of vice, thus threatening its status. That's still not a good reason for the sensational title or titillating art, but we don't really mind. A piece of sleazy art—even misplaced—always brightens the day.
Some guys just can't see the warning signs.
The cover art on this Planetmonk Books digital re-issue of Charles Willeford's 1956 novel Wild Wives enticed us with its faux-vintage look, plus the fact that this particular publisher has resurrected a few amazing old novels. This story was surprisingly one-note. You get a San Francisco gumshoe who crosses paths with an unhappily married femme fatale who's trouble with a capital T, and to that volatile mix is added a murder and 10,000 hidden bucks. The result is perfunctorily executed by Willeford. It's more frank than you'd expect, both in terms of violence and sex, and it's unusual for the hero's accepting attitude toward a gay character, but overall this isn't one of Willeford's, aka W. Franklin Sanders', top efforts. He's done well in the past, though, so we're confident about returning to him later.
He'll make you love him even if it kills you.
Patricia Highsmith's reputation demands that you read any book of hers you find, so when we ran across This Sweet Sickness we knew it would be good. Originally published in 1960 with this paperback coming from British publisher Great Pan in 1963, she tells the story of another troubled man à la her famous Tom Ripley novels. Here we have David Kelsey, in love with a woman who, inconveniently, is married. No problem, though, because obstacles mean nothing. He's determined to win his prospective love's affections, ignoring the fact that she's both unavailable and uninterested.
The book is told from the perspective of this dangerously deluded man, and his mental dissonance, deftly written by Highsmith, is cringe inducing. In Kelsey's head, everything is proof his love is returned. When the woman he desires is kind, it encourages him. When she's resistant, he assumes she isn't acting of her own accord, but instead is being pressured by her husband. There's nothing she can do—literally nothing—to dissuade Kelsey from the idea that his love for a woman obligates her to love him back. It all leads pretty much where you expect—to conflict, terror, death, and the high, lonely ledge of insanity.
It's fascinating to us that the U.S. born Highsmith was unappreciated in her own country, despite her breakthrough at age twenty-nine with Strangers on a Train. Well, considering she spent her life writing novels while residing mainly in France and Switzerland, we doubt she suffered much from the neglect. She's well remembered now, and deservedly so. This Sweet Sickness is an interesting and relevant book, and we highly recommend it.
Unstoppable forces meet immovable opinions in John D. MacDonald's novels.
John D. MacDonald is a polemical writer. We've jumped around his lengthy bibliography enough to be intimately familiar with his strong opinions about a wide ranging array of subjects. His basic approach is, “I've thought about this social phenomenon/cultural development/historical factoid much more carefully than anybody and here's the ironclad dogma I've developed about it.” Which is fine, we guess. His observations about the inexorable direction of civilization remain insightful half a century later. We've built a house of cards and MacDonald took pains to point that out, with intelligence and some wit. But in seven books we've read, which he wrote in three different decades, he consistently cheats when writing about people, choosing in general to portray them as weak willed cardboard cutouts so they serve as foils for his sociological philosophizing.
This, more than any other reason, is why so many contemporary readers say MacDonald's writing hasn't aged well. But in our opinion he's still worth reading. There's real menace in his work, which is job one for a thriller author. In 1953's Dead Low Tide his hero is suspected of using a spear gun to skewer his boss, seemingly over either a real estate project or the man's slinky wife, and someone may be setting him up for the crime. His actual prospective love interest, a longtime neighbor, is drawn into the mess in her efforts to provide an alibi. MacDonald dishes out the twists, despairs the loss of Florida wilderness to fast-buck builders, and laments what's in the hearts of men. It's a good book, but you don't need us to tell you that. The man sold a skillion novels for a reason. We're moving on to The Executioners after this, which is the source material for the film adaptation Cape Fear, and we have high expectations.
You'll need to use some deodorant before I do anything like that again.
1964's The Mark of a Man tells the story of a mill worker in a dead end town who has simple desires, but whose girlfriend wants him to show more ambition. You know that's a recipe for trouble. Collier's prose is better than normal for Midwood, according to one review we read, but we're more interested, as usual, in artist Paul Rader, who was showcased on scores of Midwood covers and is great here as well. We've featured him often, but if you're unfamiliar with his work we suggest you behold his genius here, here, here, and here. You'll be glad you did.
Paperback publishers double down on a legendary model.
Bettie Page has long been an inspiration in multiple media, and you can include paperback art on the list. These two covers for authors Day Keene and Jack Moore, published in 1959 and 1962 respectively, use Page's instantly recognizable form to draw the eyes of newsstand browsers, a tactic we assume was a wild success. We love both of these. There are even others from the period. The artist on both of these is the legendary Unknown, by far the most prolific mid-century paperback illustrator of all time. We'll doubtless run across more from the same genius later.
Then artichoke prices collapsed and we had to do something drastic or lose the land. This fetish thing really saved us.
Above, a cover for the 1966 sleazer Fetish Farm, by Ken Gardner, author of Sex Hospital, Night Lust, and Sex Hostage. You've heard of cruelty free farms? This one is the opposite, but at least no animals are harmed. The art on this is by Gene Bilbrew, who we've written about plenty. Learn about him here and here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1940—Trotsky Iced in Mexico
In Mexico City exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky is fatally wounded with an ice axe
(not an ice pick) by Soviet agent Ramon Mercader. Trotsky dies the next day.
1968—Prague Spring Ends
200,000 Warsaw Pact troops backed by 5,000 tanks invade Czechoslovakia to end the Prague Spring political liberalization movement.
1986—Sherrill Goes Postal
In Edmond, Oklahoma, United States postal employee Patrick Sherrill shoots and kills fourteen of his co-workers and then commits suicide.
1953—Mohammed Mossadegh Overthrown in Iran
At the instigation of the CIA, Prime Minster of Iran Mohammed Mossadegh is overthrown and the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi is installed as leader of the country.
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.
It's easy. We have an uploader that makes it a snap. Use it to submit your art, text, header, and subhead. Your post can be funny, serious, or anything in between, as long as it's vintage pulp. You'll get a byline and experience the fleeting pride of free authorship. We'll edit your post for typos, but the rest is up to you. Click here
to give us your best shot.