Thursday, July 8, 2010

Dell 414 (1950)

Title : Cleopatra's Nights
Editor : Allan Barnard
Cover art : Ray Johnson
  [Dell Publishing Company Inc., New York, August 1950. First paperback edition. Dell # 414. “The Life and Loves of the Queen of Egypt.”]

style ***
substance **
collectibility **

This rare venture by Dell into historical fiction has the added crossover appeal by being a representative – at least marginally so – of that popular if not so easily definable genre of vintage sleaze. However, as was the case in so many paperbacks from the golden era, the racy promise of the book’s cover is never quite delivered in the contents.
Nonetheless, Dell 414 has much to recommend; the various chapters are well-written, even poetic, and Ray Johnson’s lush cover art balances just the right amounts of glamour and luridness, representing a nice departure from Dell’s earlier, non-realistic designs. Best of all, this was one of the last of the company’s famed mapbacks, and this map’s a doozy – the known world, ca. 30 B.C. (i.e. Middle East & the Mediterranean), “where the pagan Queen of Egypt lived and loved.” The usual suspects -- pyramids, sphinx, Paros lighthouse -- they’re all there.

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