She knows there's trouble just around the corner.
Harry Schaare painted this cover for James McKimmey's 1960 novel Cornered!, which features a woman who's not only cornered but cold, we guess. We last encountered McKimmey back in March when we read his roadgoing thriller The Long Ride, a book we enjoyed. This effort concerns everywoman Ann Rodick, who has fled to a small town to avoid retribution from the big city gangster she put on death row with her trial testimony. She's been hiding for more than a year, but as the date approaches for the gangster's meeting with the hangman, she senses that she's never been in greater danger.
She's right about that—the ganster's most fervent wish is to know that Ann has died before he has, and a hitman has been tracking her for months. Now he's close, in the next county, then the next town, and soon, amongst her local acquaintances. But Ann also has two other serious problems: first, in her rush to change her identity she married an awful and abusive man; second, an amazingly sleazy neighbor has uncovered her secret and promises not to tell in exchange for sex. So while the paperback's cover says two men want Ann, actually three men do. Maybe the editors didn't read the book. Oh, and the town doctor is in love with her. So actually, four men want her.
The main character of this scenario can be argued to be the hitman, who has the unlikely name Billy Quirter. He's who the title of the book seems to refer to—McKimmey uses the word “cornered” to explicitly describe the situation in which Quirter finds himself, stuck in a small town with both his prey and the police alerted to his presence. But being cornered doesn't mean he can't get uncornered—all he has to do is fulfill his difficult mission. How he attempts to pull that off, and by what unexpected means he hopes to do so, is the drama that drives the latter half of the book.
Overall, we'd call Cornered! a success. It reminded us of a later author—Stephen King. We know that sounds strange, but McKimmey's broad stroke character development is very Kingian, flaws included. For example, the sleazy neighbor feels that if Ann knew enough to testify against a gangster it's because she must have been a denizen of organized crime herself, which, along with a dash of religious fervor, makes him believe she's evil and he has the right to demand anything he wishes from her. This type of fanaticism drives many King characters, from Margaret White in Carrie to Mrs. Carmody in The Mist to Annie Wilkes in Misery. We'd prefer more subtle motivation, but within the milieu constructed by McKimmey the character works. We've now had two good reads from him, which means we'll try another.
But it's just a bunch of white splatters. Is this all you managed to paint the two weeks I posed nude for you?
Our subhead is crude, but where else do you go with a cover like this? Cue the Pulp Intl. girlfriends: “White splatters? Not that far.” Maybe not, but hell, making up this stuff isn't easy. Speaking of which, Harry Davis's 1957 novel Portrait of Rene is about an artist named Lex Chaney who's not having an easy time. But his luck appears to change when he sells a portrait—the titular portrait of Rene—and the rich buyer, whose name is Ilse, hires him to administer art therapy to her invalid brother Paul. She lets Lex move into a property she owns where other friends and acquaintances of hers hang about as well. Lex finds himself in an environment of permissive behavior, and also of foreboding secrets having to do with inheritance, family history, and murder. Add in a layer infatuation and marital jealousy and you have yourself a recipe for trouble. We gravitated toward this particular book because we put together a collection of models and artists a while back and this fit right in. At least, we thought so, but the woman on the cover isn't a model—nude or otherwise—but the buyer Ilse. Close enough for us, though. See that collection here.
The beasts of the jungle are dangerous, savage, and human.
You'd never guess, but this cover for U.S. writer Jonathan Latimer's L'avventura nera is the 1956 Italian translation of his 1940 African safari novel Dark Memory. It was painted by Lu Kimmel, possibly borrowed from something he originally painted for a U.S. novel or magazine. We recently talked about this book in detail—a lot of detail—but long story short, it's about Yanks in Africa, and a difficult, dangerous safari that brings out the beast in its participants. It was great. Learn more? Click here.
Thanks for rescuing me. Don't untie me yet, though. First let me tell you about this kinky fantasy I've always had.
George Harmon Coxe's Murder in Havana was an easy buy for us—it was cheap and set in an exotic land. We were also drawn by its World War II backdrop, which made us fully expect Nazis, and we got them. The story concerns Andrew Talbot, who's in charge of a secret shipbuilding project. While he's out on the town someone breaks into his hotel room but somehow ends up dead five floors below. Talbot is relieved not to have been robbed of his top secret dox, but once he realizes the dead man hadn't been the only person in his room and his papers were photographed rather than stolen, he sets out to save his professional reputation and unmask the spies.
As required from this sort of tale, the hero meets a couple of beautiful women, interfaces fractiously with the local cops, gets knocked over the head, and drinks rum. Mysteries from this era can be wordy, but Coxe deserves credit—he keeps the action moving around Havana and avoids the pointless reiterations that can slow these books. The ending is fun, and multi-layered. There could be more local color and travelogue, and we aren't sure if we accept the idea of skeleton keys being purchaseable on the street, but overall Murder in Havana is quite entertaining. It was published in 1943 originally, with this Dell edition and its Barye Phillips cover art of a woman bound but incongruously smiling coming in 1950.
And the first lesson of tutoring is what, girls? That's right. We never talk about what we do in tutoring.
Above: Peter Bronson's The Sin Tutor from Brandon Books, aka Brandon House, which specialized in sleaze, often lesbian sleaze. This novel looks reasonably high grade, but there are excerpts from it online, and it's actually quite raunchy. Are we tempted? Of course. See more from Brandon House here and here.
Spillane's Mike Hammer finds beautiful trouble on a Deadly stretch of road.
Christmas is a holiday for most of you, and for us too, so in the spirit of giving, we're putting up several posts today. But don't worry about us being hunched over our desks—like you, we're with friends and loved ones, probably tipping back a tall glass of cava at this very moment. We pre-wrote everything last week. We'll cover the gamut of what we do here—fiction, movies, femmes fatales, crime, and whatnot. This hardback sleeve for Mickey Spillane's Kiss Me, Deadly was produced by British publisher Arthur Baker, Ltd. in 1952. We don't often feature hardback art but this one struck us, not only because of its semi-abstract style, but because the unknown artist chose to illustrate the first instant of the book. This is the first sentence: All I saw was the dame standing there in the glare of the headlights, waving her arms like a huge puppet and the curse I spit out filled the car and my own ears. After the narrator Mike Hammer avoids running her over, she ends up in his car—naked under that trench coat—and that's where the problems start. It's a top notch novel, as we discussed in detail almost a decade ago. Give yourself a gift and read it.
Is this a subsidiary of the love cult I was in back in '53? If it is, then I've already had my whipping.
Above: a cover for Harry Whittington's Love Cult, published in 1962 by Lancer Books. This is an unusual case in mid-century fiction. The book is a reprint of the 1953 novel of the same name by William Vaneer, which was written under a pseudonym by James W. Lampp. Somehow the folks at Lancer got mixed up about that and attributed the book to Whittington. Embarrassing. We wonder if Lancer had to compensate Whittington in any way. You might assume the compensation would be to remove his name from this piece of low rent sleaze, but Whittington wrote plenty of books of this type this himself, so Love Cult definitely didn't hurt his reputation. Interested in what it's about? We tell you here.
Anything could happen there and it usually did.
We're drawn to books about places we know, so Camilo José Cela's The Hive was a natural. Originally published in 1950 and titled La colmena, the tale is largely set in a Madrid bar known as Doña Rosa's Café. There are also scenes set in apartments, streets, and other cafés, as Cela explores the lives of more than three-hundred characters in brief sketches, slowly weaving these warp and weft strands into a tapestry that ultimately represents a single character—Madrid circa 1943. Maybe that doesn't sound thrilling, but we liked it. Cela was economical yet vivid, like here, at closing time for the café:
Within half an hour the café will be empty. It will be like a man who has suddenly lost his memory.
And here, about a boy who survives by singing on the street:
He is too young in years for cynicism—or resignation—to have slashed its mark across his face, and therefore it has a beautiful, candid stupidity, the expression of one who understands nothing of anything that happens. For [him] everything that happens is a miracle: he was born by a miracle, he eats by a miracle, has lived by a miracle, and has the strength to sing by pure miracle.
Cela was a fascist, a supporter of Francisco Franco's dictatorship. His beliefs came with contradictions, for example he worked as a censor for the government, was himself banned so that The Hive had to be published first in Argentina, yet remained loyal to the regime that had financially and reputationally harmed him. He even became an informer. In Cela's writing there's humor, but also coldness, a sense of observing small and pathetic people. For someone born into material comfort in a Spain where many families retain unearned wealth for hundreds of years, his subtle judgements came across to us as cruel, the product of a person who looked closely at everyone but himself. The book isn't overtly political, though, which makes it easier to focus on the skill that eventually won him a Nobel Prize.
The edition you see here is from Ace Books in 1959 with an uncredited cover. We went back and forth on this artist. We want to say it's Sandro Symeoni, but we don't have enough cred to make that call definitively. It looks like some of the items he painted, but publishing companies sometimes sought art of similar styles, or directed illustrators to produce something similar to what another artist had provided. During the late 1950s and early ’60s Ace Books had many covers in this general style. That said, compare the close-ups below. The first is from the above cover, and the rest are from confirmed Symeonis. If The Hive wasn't painted by the same person, then whoever did paint it went beyond merely working in a similar style—he was a thief.
Okay, no peeking. And this time I mean all of you.
Above: Raymond Connoleer's set-in-Mexico 1965 crime novel Morte d'un idolo, which was published by Edizioni MA-GA's series Federal Bureau of Investigation Stories. Connoleer is a pseudonym but we couldn't dig up his real name. Lot of that going around lately. The unusual cover is uncredited, but it's Franco Picchioni for sure, yet another great illustration from a unique talent. See a few of his best here, here, and here.
It doesn't look like much on the outside but it has excellent bones.
Let's revisit Karoly Grosz today, shall we? Above you see his brilliant dust jacket for J.B. Priestley's The Old Dark House, Grosset & Dunlap's 1932 photoplay edition, which is to say it contains production shots from the horror movie it inspired. The book originally came out in 1928 with very different art. Grosz's cover is almost identical to the film poster, but with the colors changed to predominantly lavender instead of black. Both efforts are top notch. If you want to see more from one of the illustration masters of his era, take a look here. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1949—First Emmy Awards Are Presented
At the Hollywood Athletic Club in Los Angeles, California, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences presents the first Emmy Awards. The name Emmy was chosen as a feminization of "immy", a nickname used for the image orthicon tubes that were common in early television cameras.
1971—Manson Family Found Guilty
Charles Manson and three female members of his "family" are found guilty of the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders, which Manson orchestrated in hopes of bringing about Helter Skelter, an apocalyptic war he believed would arise between blacks and whites.
1961—Plane Carrying Nuclear Bombs Crashes
A B-52 Stratofortress carrying two H-bombs experiences trouble during a refueling operation, and in the midst of an emergency descent breaks up in mid-air over Goldsboro, North Carolina. Five of the six arming devices on one of the bombs somehow activate before it lands via parachute in a wooded region where it is later recovered. The other bomb does not deploy its chute and crashes into muddy ground at 700 mph, disintegrating while driving its radioactive core fifty feet into the earth, where it remains to this day.
1912—International Opium Convention Signed
The International Opium Convention is signed at The Hague, Netherlands, and is the first international drug control treaty. The agreement was signed by Germany, the U.S., China, France, the UK, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Persia, Portugal, Russia, and Siam.
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