I'm not worried. I know something you don't. I'm the star of an entire series.
Above, a 1959 cover painted by James Meese for John Ross MacDonald's 1950 thriller The Drowning Pool. We looked at a 1951 cover for this a while back, but rather than talk about the story made some dumb jokes and called it a day. So about the book. The novel features franchise detective Lew Archer trying to solve a drowning murder while dealing with a family torn apart over an inheritance. Liking the book is a matter of liking the character. Archer is cynical, quippy, and pretty rude most of the time—in short, a typical mid-century fictional detective. And therein lies the issue. He's standard, which means the mystery needs to be unique, but instead it's a drop-off from the series debut The Moving Target. It's not bad, though, and consensus is the eighteen Archer adventures improve as they progress. We'll see, because we plan to keep reading them. Hopefully Archer will make us glad he survived this gun to his head.
Sun, sand, and an unusually high homicide rate.
Of all the covers we've posted on Pulp Intl., these two—the first from U.S. publisher Dell, and the second from British publisher Consul—are among the most interesting. Both illustrate books called Murder in Majorca, both feature a female figure partly obscured by foreground blinds, and both have in the background the lower legs of a man walking into the room. But Michael Bryan and Paul Tabori are different authors, and these are different tales. Is that not weird as hell? We've always wanted to read these books because Majorca, aka Mallorca, is one of the great garden spots on Earth. We've been several times and it always recalibrates us perfectly. Also, there isn't much murder there, despite the titles of these books, which is a nice add-on to the sun, sand, food, bars, architecture and beautiful people.
Michael Bryan was in reality Brian Moore, and also wrote as Bernard Mara. His Murder in Majorca appeared in 1957. Paul Tabori was in reality Hungarian author Pál Tábori, and his Murder in Majorca came in 1961. How did these two uncredited covers get to be virtually identical? No idea. Sometimes when a book was reprinted overseas a second artist was commissioned to do a riff on the original cover, such as here. So maybe the second piece was for a re-issue, but it fell through, and the art was lying around when Tabori wrote his book. That's a wild-ass guess that has very little chance of being correct, but we just know these two fronts can't be similar by coincidence, so that's all we've got by way of explanation. Maybe you have a better deduction, or even the facts. If so, we'd love to know.
When an evil mastermind plans to take a bite out of the Middle East, only Modesty Blaise stands in his way.
Above you see a cover for Peter O'Donnell's Sabre-Tooth, his second Modesty Blaise novel, and as with the first book Modesty Blaise, Fawcett Publications managed to land Robert McGinnis for the cover chores. He chose a scene from the narrative in which Blaise uses “the nailer,” a move in which she walks into a room topless, and in the split seconds gained by shock and awe, proceeds to kill everyone in sight. This could only happen in an erotic style adventure, but instead of keeping things as light as the debut novel, O'Donnell veers in a darker direction. There's still plenty of waxing about his main character's physical beauty and sexual prowess, but in terms of actual plot, he takes things in a radically non-erotic direction, and in so doing attempts to show just how far Blaise will go in her pursuit of justice. We won't say what she does, or whether it's realistic, but we'll hint that if a mainstream writer did it today it would spark an online conflagration the intensity of an Australian wildfire.
One thing O'Donnell does well is villains and their henchmen. In this book the main malefactor is a brutal would-be king named Karz who plans to invade and take over Kuwait. His top henchmen are Lok and Chu. Get this: they're twins born conjoined at the shoulder. They lived much of their lives that way, grew to hate each other, but learned to fight and defend themselves in tandem as a matter of mutual survival. When they were finally separated they realized they had no purpose apart, and now go about wearing a leather harness that keeps them conjoined. They still hate each other, but also give each other purpose. As killers they fight back to back and side by side, switching configurations, baffling opponents. That entire concept is O'Donnell in full flower. Take Karz and his twin killers, add the Kuwait takeover, sprinkle in an international mercenary army holed up in an Afghan stronghold, and finally fold in equal portions of Blaise and deadly sidekick Willie Garvin, and you've got yourself a thrill ride worth reading.
What can I say? My parents taught me to always demand more.
Above, classic sleaze from Gordon Semple, Man-Crazy Hussy, aka Blonde Temptress, 1954, from Croydon Books. Often these novels seriously examined ’50s stereotypes, particularly those concerning what was appropriate sexual behavior for women, but the authors had little control when their serious stories were given crazy titles and wrapped in titillating covers. We can't tell you whether this novel is an attempt at real literature or if it's pure sleaze, because we aren't going to pay thirty bucks for it. We never go above ten dollars per—including shipping. But we're tempted. The art here is by Bernard Safran. See another example of his work here.
*sigh* This was more fun before the social distancing thing.
Orrie Hitt turns his sleazolicious talents to the subject of nudism for the succinctly titled Nudist Camp, published by Beacon Signal in 1957. We're treated to the story of an Icelandic immigrant to the U.S. named Della who finds herself needing to earn her keep due to a looming divorce, and turns her patch of rural land into a nudist resort. Problem is her partner in this scheme is secretly planning to photograph the visitors and blackmail them with the prints. When Della finds out, she's aghast, and bends her efforts toward thwarting this rude plan, leading to a scheme to steal the photos and hopefully burn them. Mixed into the intrigue is a bit of romance, and lots of waxing rhapsodic about Iceland and its beautiful women. That part Hitt actually got right. We've been there, and the women do in fact often have perfect ivory skin. Despite these factoids, and the exploration of body-free culture, Nudist Camp is a preposterous tale, uninspiringly told, signifying very little. You know what would have made it a lot better? More nudity. Go and figure.
Our recommendation: Take the Fifth.
We read Jonathan Latimer's The Fifth Grave in its retitled incarnation Solomon's Vineyard and talked about the book a few years ago. That edition was from Great Pan and appeared in 1961. The Popular Library version you see above came in 1950 with art by the great Rudolph Belarski. We think back to this strange and dark novel often. At the time we thought it was very good but not a classic. Years later, considering how much it sticks in the head, maybe we'd better bump it up to the top tier, and once again recommend that you read this unusual tale. After digging around we finally got ahold of a couple of other Latimers and we're really looking forward to those. Can he possibly equal The Fifth Grave/Solomon's Vineyard? We'll report back.
I'll have to call you back. Something urgent just landed on my desk.
Above, yet another office sleaze cover from Greenleaf Classics, that most reliable of low rent imprints. Too Many Partners was written by John Dexter, a pseudonym for various authors, in this case one who remains unidentified. This was published in 1966 with Robert Bonfils art.
So, I'm off to that crucial business meeting with— Wow, that thing's transparent, isn't it? Well, money can wait.
Above, a beautiful Bob Abbett cover for William Campbell Gault's Sweet Wild Wench, published by Crest Books in 1959. Abbett used a still of Brigitte Bardot from the 1958 film En cas de malheur as his inspiration. It certainly worked on us—we wanted to read this entirely because of the cover art. The story deals with a promiscuous private eye named Joe Puma who's hired to look into the activities of a Los Angeles cult, but soon finds himself tangled up in two murders, multiple lovers, and various pulp fiction tropes, which his main character actually refers to in his interior monologues as being like “something out of the pulps.” We appreciated the meta touch, the narrative has a nice L.A. feel, and there's a pretty good fight scene about three quarters of the way through, but the long and winding mystery resolves with a fizzle. Two Gaults down, two meh results. We'll dutifully try another.
He's also managed to double his entendre.
Above, beautiful cover art by Jack Faragasso for Max Weatherly's The Long Desire, published 1959 by Zenith Books. Faragasso had an extensive career which you can learn about at his website. We also shared a couple of other pieces from him, here and here. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1914—RMS Empress Sinks
Canadian Pacific Steamships' 570 foot ocean liner Empress of Ireland is struck amidships by a Norwegian coal freighter and sinks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence with the loss of 1,024 lives. Submerged in 130 feet of water, the ship is so easily accessible to treasure hunters who removed valuables and bodies from the wreck that the Canadian government finally passes a law in 1998 restricting access.
1937—Chamberlain Becomes Prime Minister
Arthur Neville Chamberlain, who is known today mainly for his signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938 which conceded the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany and was supposed to appease Adolf Hitler's imperial ambitions, becomes prime minister of Great Britain. At the time Chamberlain is the second oldest man, at age sixty-eight, to ascend to the office. Three years later he would give way to Winston Churchill.
1930—Chrysler Building Opens
In New York City, after a mere eighteen months of construction, the Chrysler Building opens to the public. At 1,046 feet, 319 meters, it is the tallest building in the world at the time, but more significantly, William Van Alen's design is a landmark in art deco that is celebrated to this day as an example of skyscraper architecture at its most elegant.
1969—Jeffrey Hunter Dies
American actor Jeffrey Hunter dies of a cerebral hemorrhage after falling down a flight of stairs and sustaining a skull fracture, a mishap precipitated by his suffering a stroke seconds earlier. Hunter played many roles, including Jesus in the 1961 film King of Kings, but is perhaps best known for portraying Captain Christopher Pike in the original Star Trek pilot episode "The Cage".
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