There's nothing in her way except a huge red box.
Above you see a wonderful alternate cover for Nothing in Her Way by Charles Williams, with the great Robert McGinnis on the brush chores. We personally don't mind that Gold Medal covered McGinnis's femme fatale with a box of text, but we imagine McGinnis purists do. Considering this cover dates from 1963, it's perhaps a little too much to expect a publisher to feature a practically naked woman on a mainstream novel—and make no mistake, Charles Williams was a mainstream author who sold piles of books. Gold Medal obviously made concessions for the puritans, of which there have always been many in the U.S. But never fear. The case of the censored femme fatale was easy to solve. Just look below, where we've composited together a complete version, not to be found on any other website. Pretty good, no? We're not just pretty faces. See the earlier Gold Medal cover here.
She's going to get rich even if it costs everything you have.
Lionel White is a solid author, one we've enjoyed several times. In Marilyn K. he sets a challenge for himself. He takes the hoariest cliché—a stranded woman by the roadside with a suitcase—and runs with it as far and fast as he can. She's a mobster's girlfriend, the suitcase contains $350,000, she may have killed someone, she's possibly being chased by dangerous people, the hero should ditch her but she's a real sexpot, etc., etc. This is a film noir-style story in which the protagonist finds himself in deeper quicksand with each passing chapter. And as in film noir, he's moth-to-flame with a femme fatale who seems certain to destroy him. He needs to figure out if he's being set up, avoid murderous mobsters, try not to get arrested, and keep his dick in his pants long enough to have a good long think about all of the preceding. The last challenge is the hardest by far. In the end there's a twist—more of a switcheroo—that you'll see through immediately, after which the book resolves in suitably noir fashion. Despite some lapses this is a decent tale. But when White is on form, he's great. Marilyn K. is from 1960, and the cover art is by Harry Schaare.
Ugh. The last thing I remember is running out of Jell-O shots then washing down Jell-O powder with straight vodka. Sometimes I'm too smart for my own good.
Elmore Leonard once advised fledgeling authors to not write things readers tend to skip. He meant long descriptive passages and lengthy interior musings. Benjamin Appel's 1934 crime novel Brain Guy has a lot of both. The narrative is packed with paragraph after paragraph of description and rumination, many of them as long as a page. They're all stylishly written, though, so maybe Elmore should have added: “Unless you're really good at that sort of thing.”
His body was host to many disputing beings, walking drunken as if he were striding down some nebulous stairway of dream on queer missions, inevitable, sadistic. His head whirled and it wasn't from fresh morning but late night, his brain sick from wildness, now, suddenly lucid, or regretful, by turns melancholy, exalted, mournful, stolid. And all these moods knew one union, the walking forward of the body containing them.
That's stylish writing. It's also writing that doesn't tell you as much as it should. If this confident prose moved the story or helped us to understand the character better, we'd like it more. But too often neither happens, which means, even as well written as the book's long passages sometimes are, they try the patience.
Still, some of Appel's turns of phrase are epic. In one scene a character is stabbed to death and drops a bottle he's holding. Appel writes that it fell from the man's slack fingers and, “the ginger ale ran out from the narrow neck as if it too had been murdered.” All of this clever prose encompasses a nobody-to-somebody crime story that, at its core, could be more compelling, but we may try Appel again. He's fun to read.
Dashed hopes and bad dreams fuel classic pulp collection.
Above, a cover for Nightmare Town, which is a collection of four short stories Dashiell Hammett wrote for pulp magazines between 1927 and 1933. You get 1924's, “Nightmare Town,” best of the four tales in our opinion, which deals with a tough guy who fetches up in a lawless desert way station and soon finds himself in the middle of violence and murder. It's similar to Red Harvest, Hammett's novel of another town lashed by a bloody hellstorm, except this novella length tale ends almost apocalyptically. The other tales here are 1925's “The Scorched Face,” 1933's “Albert Pastor at Home,” and 1925's “Corkscrew.” All are good, though we think Hammett is better in longer formats. You get illustrations too. Those are not very good, objectively speaking, but you're buying this purely for the fiction anyway. Also, the 1950 Dell edition you see here is a collectible mapback edition, which is a bonus. But no matter what, Hammett always hits the spot—usually a major organ or artery.
I've already had nine episodes. Once I have you my season will be complete.
Above you see a cover for Mack Reynolds' Episode on the Riviera, published in 1961 by Monarch Books. If you check Reynolds' Wikipedia profile it tells you that he wrote five sex novels from 1961 to 1964, and that this is one of them. Everyone's got bills to pay, right? Well, we don't know about the other four, but this one isn't a sex novel, or even a sleaze novel. While the language is bit more frank than usual and a couple of then-esoteric acts are implied, it's actually a David Dodge influenced lightweight drama, and it's as confidently put across as anything Dodge ever wrote. Most of the action takes place at French Riviera casinos, beaches, and parties, and in main character Steve Cogswell's travel agency, one of whose customers a particular summer week is Nadine Whiteley, a woman determined to solve what she perceives as her own sexual problem by having an anonymous affair with any suitable swinging dick she stumbles across. Cogswell seems to fit the bill, but he has his own sexual quirks. Just when these two look set to get together, both their exes arrive from the U.S—Nadine's to blackmail her into marriage so he can get his mitts on her money, and Steve's to win him back after she's betrayed him with his best friend. While the sexual problems of both characters are imperfectly handled, overall this one is a winner, an easy and effervescent summer read.
Is it just me or is our fire, like, totally out?
We've mentioned before that when you see the name Charles Williams on a book buy it. Unless it's the wrong Charles WIlliams. Fires of Youth was published by a fly-by-night imprint known as Magnet Books in 1960 and credited to a Charles Williams, but who was actually James Lincoln Collier, who happened to choose for a pseudonym the name of an actual working, thriving thriller author, for reasons we cannot ascertain. Obviously that created confusion and still does, but this is definitely not the Charles Williams who wrote such great thrillers as Hell Hath No Fury and Dead Calm. Magnet Books didn't last long, and in just a year or two was out of business. In true pulp style, at that point a man named Don Robson, who was languishing in Her Majesty's Prison Dartmoor in Devon, England, found Fires of Youth in the prison library, retyped the entire text, presented it as his own work, and in 1963, with the help of the prison's credulous governor, managed to get his plagiarism published in Britain as Young & Sensitive. The book won the Arthur Koestler Literary Prize, which had been established to recognize creative output by British convicts, but Robson's robbery soon came to light. It's a funny story, and you can read a good account of the tale at this link.
You're soaked. Good thing I was here to lend you my jacket. Now let's go somewhere and get you out of those wet clothes.
Bad luck. It's laid many a pulp protagonist low. In the 1938 thriller You Play the Black and Red Comes Up, written by Richard Hallas, aka Eric Knight, luck never seems to run the way the main character wants. The cover art on this 1951 Dell edition is by Victor Kalin, and depicts a scene in which the narrator Dick Dempsey gives his coat to a woman who has emerged naked from the sea. The fact that Dempsey is on the dock at that moment seems like the best possible luck, but luck can start good then turn bad, start bad then turn worse, and in all cases end up mockingly ironic. At one point Dempsey is trying his best to lose at roulette and the wheel hits black eleven times in a row, as he disbelievingly keeps letting his pile of cash ride. Then when he finally shifts it to red he's stunned when the wheel hits that color too.
The money that's causing Dempsey trouble isn't the fortune he won gambling—it's the fortune he stole during a robbery. In classic Damoclean style this loot hangs over him the entire book. He can't give it back, can't confess, and can't leave it behind. He just knows, like in roulette, whatever he does will turn out to be the wrong bet. You Play the Black and Red Comes Up is one of those books that was out of print for a while, but we can see why it was revived. Besides having the best title of possibly any crime novel ever written, its late-Depression, southern California setting makes a nice backdrop for weird events, bizarre characters, and outlandish existential musings. Critics of the day were divided on it. Was it homage to hard-boiled fiction, or a parody of it? To us it seems clearly the former. In either case, Hallas's tale has its flaws, but it's tough, spare, and very noir, all good qualities in vintage crime fiction.
*sigh* I'm still confused how I was charged for not having something.
They say possession is nine tenths of the law, but that last tenth can get mighty interesting if the thing you don't possess when the cops come along is, for example, identification, or clothing, or, apparently morals. Paul Hunter's 1961 novel Morals Charge deals with an eighteen-year old named Nancy who is lusted after by her mother's boyfriend, falls into the clutches of a big city racketeer, is jailed on a morals charge and abused by cops intent on using her to snare bigger prey. Paul Rader handles the cover work here, and it's a typically excellent effort. Mid-century paperback art would be far less entertaining without him, and though everything he does is great, if you want to see some of our favorites, check here, here, here, and here. We also have a mini-collection here.
Everyone said we were crazy to breed bite-sized cattle, but wait'll they taste how juicy and tender they grill up.
Edna Ferber is one of the more significant figures in American literature, a unique, sometimes political author who won a Pulitzer Prize for her groundbreaking 1926 novel So Big. We did one of those Facebook favorite book lists during the lockdown and So Big landed in our top twenty. Ferber wrote other notable books, including Showboat (yes, that one), Cimarron (ditto), and Giant, the 1952 Fawcett Cardinal edition of which you see above with Stanley Borack cover art. Rock Hudson and James Dean would of course make the film version an all-time classic. Ferber occasionally had doubts she'd be a success, but became one of the most popular and respected authors of her era, which just goes to show, whether it's books or bite sized cows, good ideas often win in the end, even if you have to hire a tiny cowboy to do the hands-on work.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1934—Queen Mary Launched
The RMS Queen Mary, three-and-a-half years in the making, launches from Clydebank, Scotland. The steamship enters passenger service in May 1936 and sails the North Atlantic Ocean until 1967. Today she is a museum and tourist attraction anchored in Long Beach, U.S.A.
1983—Nuclear Holocaust Averted
Soviet military officer Stanislav Petrov, whose job involves detection of enemy missiles, is warned by Soviet computers that the United States has launched a nuclear missile at Russia. Petrov deviates from procedure, and, instead of informing superiors, decides the detection is a glitch. When the computer warns of four more inbound missiles he decides, under much greater pressure this time, that the detections are also false. Soviet doctrine at the time dictates an immediate and full retaliatory strike, so Petrov's decision to leave his superiors out of the loop very possibly prevents humanity's obliteration. Petrov's actions remain a secret until 1988, but ultimately he is honored at the United Nations.
2002—Mystery Space Object Crashes in Russia
In an occurrence known as the Vitim Event, an object crashes to the Earth in Siberia and explodes with a force estimated at 4 to 5 kilotons by Russian scientists. An expedition to the site finds the landscape leveled and the soil contaminated by high levels of radioactivity. It is thought that the object was a comet nucleus with a diameter of 50 to 100 meters.
1992—Sci Fi Channel Launches
In the U.S., the cable network USA debuts the Sci Fi Channel, specializing in science fiction, fantasy, horror, and paranormal programming. After a slow start, it built its audience and is now a top ten ranked network for male viewers aged 18–54, and women aged 25–54.
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