Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Que Todo es Imposible

Title : Que Todo es Imposible
Author : Paco Ignacio Taibo II
Cover art : Victor Stabin; Alberto Díez (design)
   [Mexico City : ROCA, 1995. Diseño de Portada : Alberto Díez. Illustración : Victor Stabin (collage).]

style ***
substance **
collectibility ***

Monday, December 19, 2011

Ases del Oeste 381 (1999)

Title : Ésta es Mi Ley!
Author : Keith Luger
Cover art : uncredited
   [Barcelona : Ediciones B, 1999. Ases del Oeste No. 381. First published, Barcelona, Bruguera , 1956.]
style **
substance **
collectibility ***

   I’d not heard of Keith Luger before stumbling across this book at a magazine stand outside the mercado in Mazatlán. And despite the Alglo-ish name, Luger was apparently an important figure in Spanish pulp circles in the 1950s and 1960s, with many westerns in particular to his credit. The front cover art for Ases del Oeste 381 presents a rather James Bondish tableau of sexy, partially undressed woman and cool guy in back tie holding a martini glass.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Seis Tumbas en Munich

Title : Seis tumbas en Múnich : [una historia criminal movida por la venganza]
Author : Mario Puzo
Cover art : uncredited
   [Barcelona : Ediciones B, 2009. Traducción : Luis Murillo Fort. Originally published in 1967 by the Hearst Corp. as Six Graves to Munich, under the pseudonym Mario Cleri]. 
style ***
substance **
collectibility *

A happy memento from a recent visit to the Guadalajara International Book FairPuzo’s Sies Tumbas en Munich sports a tasty neo-pulp cover which depicts a pistol brandishing tough guy in the foreground, along with two femmes fatales, all presented in garish colors, heavy on the yellows, bright reds and greens. It’s early Puzo, and though I’ve not read the book myself, I’m told it’s actually a pretty good story, a revenge tale which begins in WWII and takes place mostly in the 1950s in Germany. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Collección Pandora No. 74 (195?)

Title : Vengo a Saldar Cuentas
Author : Peter Randa
Cover art : uncredited
   [Buenos Aires : Malinca, 195?. Collección Pandora No. 74. Titulo deo original : Tous Frais Payés, Paris, Editions Fleuve Noir.]
style **
substance **
collectibility ***

   Of the recent spate of Latino titles Pandora 74 is probably the closest in mood and technique to the American vintage style. In particular the present title has a vaguely unfinished look so typical of much of the work of Barye Phillips. Once again, the cover art here alas is uncredited. Before this book I’d never heard of author Peter Randa. Apparently he was a fairly major figure in French detective fiction in the mid-Twentieth Century.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Collección Déborah No. 13 (1957)

Title : Fiebre de Venganza
Author : Jon Balmer
Cover art : uncredited

   [Buenos Aires : Ediciones Malinca, 1957. Collección Déborah No. 13. Titulo del original : Fever Hot. Traducción de Luis Caballero.]

style **
substance **
collectibility ***

   Fiebre de Venganza was originally released in the U.S. as a vintage sleaze title known as Fever Hot, written by Jon (Moment of Rapture) Balmer. The Argentine reissue has many appealing qualities. I especially like the wavy, intensely reddish quality of the girl's hair, which somehow matches her clothes perfectly and duplicates almost exactly the shading of the girl's hair from the first printing. Coincidence? Likewise, the guy smoking a cigarette is a nice touch as it recalls the cigarettes from the original. In sum, the alas anonymous cover for
Fiebre de Venganza is a very pleasing, eye catching design. However . . . a glimpse at the Exotic Novel original reveals that quite a bit of sizzle has been lost in the aesthetic translation. 
  P.S. Can anyone tell me about the mysterious goings on outside the window just beyond the ladder in the Colleccion Deborah version? 

Exotic Novel 19 (1951)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ni Más Ni Menos Que un Asesinato

Title : Ni Más Ni Menos Que un Asesinato
Author : Jim Thompson
Cover art : uncredited
   [México, D.F.: Editorial Novaro, 1958. “Colección Nova-Mex.” First published in the U.S. as Nothing More Than Murder, 1949. ‘A Max Jacobson, M.D.’ p. 7. Traducción de: Jorge Peón Bolio.]

style ***
substance ***
collectibility ****

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Collección Caiman #203 (1962)

Title : Tiren a Matar (Ride a High Horse)
Author : Richard Prather
Cover art : Barye Phillips
   [México, D.F.: Editorial Diana S.A., 1962. “Primera Edición.” Collección Caiman #203. Traductor : Frederico Wingartz. Originally issued in the U.S. as Ride a High Horse;  subsequently reissued as Too Many Crooks.]

style **
substance **
collectibility **

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Site of the month

Books by Donald Hamilton: A Cover Gallery, a self- described work in progress, is a collection of classic Hamilton covers. My fave is the cover for the Gold Medal paperback original of Death of a Citizen. What a cover!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Collección F.B.I. No. 153 (1953)

Title : El Profesor
Author : Frank McFair
Cover art : uncredited

   [Madrid : Editorial Rollan, 1953. Collección F.B.I. No. 153.]

style **
substance **
collectibility ***

The Collección F.B.I. was a series of crime novels in the Fifties and Sixties released by the Spanish publisher Editorial Rollan. No. 153 was written by an author with the very Anglo sounding name of Frank McFair, about whom I can’t find much online, though he gets a nice representation of covers via a search in Google Images. Searching ABEBooks also reveals that he wrote quite a few mysteries in the 1950s. Apparently he contributed several of the FBI series. These novels are presumably about the exploits of the famous bureau with the same name. Given the era, could it mean anything else? Nonetheless, it's curious subject matter coming from a Spanish publisher.

Originally I thought the title of the book was just FBI; the conspicuous placement of the lettering on the cover implies as much. But no, FBI is the series. The book’s title is El Profesor. The man on the  front cover might be a good guy but the sunglasses and [pasted on?] mustache give him a sinister aura. A nice Hitchcockesque touch, the reflections of the figures in the sunglasses.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Colección Orquídea (1950?)

Title : La Equivocación de Colette
Author : Eveline Le Maire
Cover art : uncredited
   [México, D.F.: Editorial Albatros, 195?. “Colección Orquídea.” Originally published as La Méprise de Colette, Paris, Plon-Nourrit, 1914.]

style **
substance **
collectibility **

   Contrary to my original assumption, Equivocación de Colette has nothing to do with the famous writer of the same name. It seems that Eveline Le Maire was a between-the-wars author of women’s novels, and this one happens to have a fictional heroine named Colette. Regrettably, the front cover art is not particularly memorable; it’s dominated by a flat, mannequin-like rendering of the title character. By the way, what is that hobby horse/chess piece figure over her left shoulder? There’s no credit for the cover art, though the soft gray blob just beneath her right elbow may be a barely discernible outline of a signature. Pluses include the Deco lettering and quasi-Deco chair.
   The Colección Orquídea was a series of romance novels that Mexican publisher Albatros issued around mid-Twentieth Century, thus I place the date of La Equivocación at circa 1950. The cover's heavy doses of pink tips us off that the primary audience is female.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Collección Crimen No. 40 (1959?)

Title : Exiliado Político
Author : K. T. McCall
Cover art : uncredited

Mexico City : Editora Latino Americana, S. A., [1959?]. Texto completo. Titulo del original en inglés : M-MM-Minx. Versión el español de : José Villalba Pinyana. Collección Crimen No. 40. [Pseud. Audrey Armitage and Muriel Watkins. A Johnny Buchanan mystery.]

style **
substance **
collectibility ***

   “When you buy a book in one of the Donceles bookstores, no matter how much you pay for it, no matter what language the book is in or where it was printed, you feel good about taking with you a little piece of Mexico City history.” Kurt Hollander, “Mexico City's Literary Circle,” L. A. Times, 8 Nov 2009

   A recent visit to Mexico City resulted in a mini-haul of Mexican vintage pbs, thus the next few postings will have a Latino flavor. K. T.  McCall’s Exiliado Político is the first entry and gives us a good idea of the slightly different Mexican take on the tough style : a pistol-brandishing femme fatale dominates the lively cover, which is also noteworthy for its phantasmagoric combination of gaudy, slightly kitschy colors. The woman and the other characters - two tough guys scuffling - are rendered in a wooden, cartoonish style. Moreover, there’s a quasi-surrealistic collage effect as the giant woman’s body morphs into the two men and what appears to be a waterfront or boat setting. I’m not sure about the off-white blob beneath her hand -- rolodex? rumpled newspaper?

  My impression of this cover is that it’s an earnest, well intended attempt to imitate the 1950s hardboiled style. However, it falls a little short due to its clumsiness and overall lack of polish. One can’t argue about those colors making an impression, though.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Portland Confidential

Title : Portland Confidential : Sex, Crime & Corruption in the Rose City
Author : Phil Stanford
Cover : Photographic collage
   [Portland, Or.: WestWinds Press, 2004. Paperback. Second printing. ISBN 1558687939. The subtitle pretty much says it all. Hollywood Babylon with feeling, if you will.]

style ***
substance ***
collectibility **

The subtitle says much of this delicious quasi-exposé of Portland’s colorful history – there’s plenty of sex, crime and corruption to go around. Focusing on the vintage years of 1935-1955, the eminently readable text presents Portland’s seedy underside through the many personalities of the era. And all without a trace of wholesome environmentalism or double lattés! The Rose City’s noirish little secret indeed has remained elusive, its seamier past being well hidden by the coifurred, cultivated face. However, present book delivers the dirty laundry in admirable fashion.

From its wonderful Weegee-like cover dominated by the imposing figures of Candy Reneé and Big Jim Elkins (different kinds of figures, each, to be sure!), through Stanford’s chatty text with accompanying tabloidy photos, the book is a pure delight. But what really makes the story stick is the coverage - often quite sympathetic - of the many colorful personalities in all their small-time glory. The luminaries include the aforementioned Ms. Reneé, “Diamond Jim” Purcell, Blubber Maloney, Little Rusty, Tempest Storm, and the ever-present Big Jim Elkins. Even Bugsy Siegel makes a fleeting appearance, stopping by to check out Portland as a place to build one of his casinos. Alas, it rained every day he was in town, so he set his sights southward to the sunny climes of Hollywood and Las Vegas, and the rest, as they say, is history.

If there’s a weakness, it’s that the book stops fairly abruptly, ca. 1957, and many questions linger. When exactly did Portland stop being a corrupt and vice-ridden town, and why? How did a place with such a shadowy history transform itself, relatively quickly, into an anti-sleaze mecca of coffee shops, used bookstores, and progressive thought? Who were the principals involved, and when did it take place? Most of all, can we hope for a sequel to sort out all the mysteries? For the moment, however, we’ll have to settle for savoring the current book, and indeed there’s much to savor. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Site of the Month

Noirboiled Notes "Pulp poems, book reviews, and other tidbits from the noirboiled world"
  Maintained by David Rachels, Noirboiled Notes is a blog on the literary side of noir; pithy commentary along with some good cover scans. A highlight is the ‘pulp poem of the week‘ excerpt. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Bantam No. 105 (1947)

Title : Our Hearts Were Young and Gay
Author : Cornelia Otis Skinner
Cover art : S. B. (Boomey) Valentine

[ N. Y. : Bantam, 1947. No. 105. "They invaded Europe" -- back cover.  Co-written with her friend Emily Kimbrough. Cover art by S. B. (Boomey) Valentine. Drawings by 'Alajalov.'  First published in hardcover, New York, Dodd, Mead & company, 1942. An early account of women traveling independently, Our Hearts is the story of two young women’s experiences traveling in France and especially Paris in the early 1920s.]
style ***
substance ***
collectibility **

  ''There is a noticeable trace of mild humor to Our Hearts Were Young and Gay, but it is very mild indeed, about as tasty as junket or cornstarch pudding. Why it should be a co-selection for December by the Book-of-the-Month Club is a dark mystery.'' -- Orville Prescott, review in the New York Times, 1942

  Cornelia Otis Skinner had an acting and literary background via her East Coast upper-class upbringing which included an Ivy League & Sorbonne education. In addition to acting for the screen and stage, she wrote extensively, with her credits including both fiction and nonfiction books, as well as pieces for the New Yorker. Film buffs remember her as the sinister quack psychiatrist Miss Holloway in the quasinoir ghost story The Uninvited [1].  
  But as for Bantam 105 . . .  that’s some cover! Two nattily dressed women stroll down a Paris boulevard. Love those hats! Cornelia must be the one on the right. Admirers include Adolphe Menjou lookalike and baker (tailor?), and how about sneaking in a dog in the design! Cover artist S. B (Boomey) Valentine is a new name to me, about whom very little information seems available, online or otherwise. The style here is fairly representative of Bantam’s early look which favored flat, cartoonish figures. But this cover simply has a lot more energy and texture than the usual Bantam offerings of the period. In particular the perspective, tone, sensibilities and mostly the colors scream FRANCE! 

  Our Hearts clearly overshadows all of Cornelia’s other creative endeavors, even her considerable acting career. How to explain its nearly universal good press today, given the quaint and dated sensibilities? To a large extent it must be the very innocents abroad quality that’s so engaging to our more jaundiced eyes and ears. Indeed Our Hearts was fairly light and frothy even for its time; it appeared only a few years after the Great War and just before the more edgy travel writing of the 1930s and 1940s. It also stands as a lighter contrast to the more somber fiction of the period which had a travel element.   

  Curiously - a bit a trivia that only a librarian could love - spot checks reveal that the book is invariably classified by libraries as fiction though the subject matter is clearly personal recollections of a nonfiction nature . . . such are the mysterious whys and wherefors of library catalogers.

  In any case Cornelia remains a fascinating character and, Orville Prescott's aforequoted dissent notwithstanding, Our Hearts
ranks as her literary masterpiece and major creative contribution. 

   [1] This was a role with decidedly lesbian overtones, quite remarkable for the strait-laced Forties. Indeed viewed today from a seven decades distance, Cornelia’s brilliant performance leaves little doubt as to the character’s orientation*, and it’s a bit of a mystery that the film got past the censors. Which, in a roundabout way, brings us back to the present book, and we wonder if the ‘gay’ in the title refers to the term in the more contemporary sense (after all Our Hearts is the story is of two unattached women traveling together in the more open, less homophobic Twenties). But not the case -- the modern usage of the word didn’t take until 1965 or thereabouts, and thus the more prosaic explanation for the book's title is that it simply refers to the contents as being a lighthearted travel frolic**
A formidable character in The Uninvited
(with Gail Russell)
  Her entrance is a master stroke of subtlety and suggestion -- she sits imperiously at her desk in the inner sanctum of the gloomy, dungeon-like ‘retreat center‘ which she presides over. A gigantic, Laura-esque portrait of the deceased Mary Meredith looms over the massive office, while Wagner, Tristan & Isolde no less (Love & Death indeed!), gently wafts nearby (this is a nice ambiguous touch since it’s not made clear whether the music is source or background). Her high priestess chic clothes, stilted manner of speech, and severe hairstyle establish her as an exotic, mysterious character with quasi-supernatural powers, who exerts an unlikely, and uncanny, in any case decidedly malevolent hold over the film’s nominal heroine Stella and - even more so, and even more surprising - Stella’s pathologically protective but otherwise no-nonsense grandfather. This is paralleled by the hold, from beyond the grave, which Mary Meredith has over Miss Holloway, further contributing to the forbidden, diseased eroticism which hovers, hothouse-like (after all, they’re always talking about the strong scent of mimosa!) throughout the film and in particular is associated with Miss Holloway's obsession with Mary, and which seems to spill over to the other characters.

 ** Although at least one source suggests a mildly lesbian subtext. 
Black Dog & Leventhal reissue, 2005

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Mysterious Press 0-445-40709-3 (1986)

Title : Seeds of Treason
Author : Ted Allbeury
Cover art : Rolf Erickson (design); Sonja Lamut, Nenad Jakessivic (illustration)
   [N. Y. : Mysterious Press, 1986. Published in hardcover by The Mysterious Press. First published in U.K. by New English Library.]
style **
substance **
collectibility *

Spy vs. spy
The cover of Mysterious Press’s paperbound reissue of Seeds of Treason is nothing special; it’s a pleasingly eye-catching design which gets right to the Cold War bonafides of the story (I just love all that red!). But what is most of interest in Seeds is the discovery of espionage writer Ted Allbeury. From all accounts he was a relatively major figure in the post Ian Fleming/Graham Greene era of spy fiction but alas largely forgotten today. 
In any case Seeds is a very late in the day Cold War thriller, conventional but supremely competent, with serviceable characters, a tight plot and well-textured settings. But most notable is Allbeury’s lovingly drawn, convincingly detailed accounts of the mechanics of the spy business in all their rather mundane le Carré-esque glory [1]. 
[1] And sometimes not so mundane, as in the intellectually exotic concept of stochastic processes which figures peripherally in the story. Author Allbeury came by his espionage expertise honestly and it shows; think Peter Wright’s Spycatcher as fiction and you get an idea of the general tone and content of Seeds of Treason.

New English Library hardcover edition

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Site of the month

At Elisa Rolle’s page page her Behind the Cover gallery has some nice vintage era cover scans accompanied by richly detailed commentary .... the posts include lesser known cover artists like Ann Cantor and Denis McLoughlin.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Gilded Man

Title : The Gilded Man
Author : Carter Dickson
Cover art : Nicky Zann
   [N. Y. : International Polygonics Ltd, 1989. Pseud. John Dickson Carr. (Library of Crime Classics). A Sir Henry Merrivale mystery. Cover art : Nicky Zann. First published in hardcover, N.Y., Morrow, 1942. Also issued as Death and the Gilded Man.]

style ***
substance **
collectibility *

Nicky Zann’s cover for the reissue of the Gilded Man must rank as one of the creepier examples of retro-vintage. International Polygonics did an entire series of classic mystery reprints in the late 1980s and early 1990s, most of them with quirky, offbeat covers, a number of them done by Nicky Zann. Unfortunately it seems that the company went out of business around 1995. However, their books are still very much available.

Pocket Books, 1947
Pan, 1961

Berkley, 1966

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Chronicles of Nana

What is one to make of Pocket Books’ 1941 edition of Emile Zola’s Nana with its lurid cover of a torch singer in a transparent white dress? It’s back-cover blurb declared, “she squandered fortunes, ruined lives, with sublime contempt and abandon -- yet her disease-ridden days were spent in squalor and oblivion.” Is this art or trash?
   -- Paula Rabinowitz, Black & White & Noir : America’s Pulp Modernism, pp. 81-82.


Emile Zola’s classic novel Nana has been well served by the publishing industry [1]; even the most cursory glance at LibraryThing or Google Images reveals covers which likely number in the hundreds. Classic era vintage, modern, and all shadings in-between have gotten into the act, but for vintage pb buffs the sine qua non are the two, alas anonymous, ‘scandalous’ covers from the unlikely source of Pocket Books, which was usually conservative in its cover art. Both versions depict the title character in all her (more or less) unclothed glory, and it's debatable which one is actually the more risqué cover. The 1945 printing is particularly effective with all those voyeuristic, tuxedoed silhouettes in the darkened theater. A nice creepy touch.

Anyway, perhaps the folks at Pocket thought better of the racy treatment and reverted to form in the 1954 Pocket Cardinal reissue, which is pretty tame in comparison. Avon's take on Nana’s Mother is similarly bland [2], the décolletage-rich depiction of the title character notwithstanding. And speaking of restrained, there are a couple of James Avati sketches (later used for Bantam 2811) posted by the redoubtable Piet Schreuders. While technically proficient they fall far short of the Pocket covers in sizzle.

[1] A good sampling of Zola covers can be found here
[2] Avon returns to lurid form, however, with Piping Hot, a (spurious?) Nana-esque title from the Zola oeuvre

Friday, July 1, 2011

Dell 896 (1954)

Title : The Butcher's Wife
Author : Owen Cameron
Cover art : William Rose
  [Cameron, Owen. The Butcher’s Wife. N. Y. : Dell Books, 1954. No. 896. Cover art : William Rose. First published, Simon & Schuster Inner Sanctum, 1954.] 

"Two lovely ladies on his mind, and two dead dames on his hands." – front cover.

style ***
substance **
collectibility *

  I confess to not being familiar with author Cameron or cover artist William Rose.* Cameron apparently wrote some mystery novels in the 1950s set in California. For the Dell reprint of Butcher's Wife, cover artist Rose provides a knockout cover, quite an improvement over the rather bland hardcover original. The woman in the foreground is rendered in loving detail featuring peach and off-orange tints for her dress [which is nicely matched in the lettering], along with a pouting mouth and a defiant upturn of the head. The shadows in the background of a man carrying a [presumably] naked, dead woman, help to conjure up a sinister, macabre atmosphere. 

* A little research reveals artist Rose to be yet another of the 1950s unsung heroes of vintage cover design. His covers tend to be a synthesis of Mitchell Hooks-like expressionism and James Meese naturalism.   

Inner Sanctum, 1954

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Site of the Month 2

  Pulp Curry. "Crime, hard-boiled and curried."
   Commentary on crime fiction and film which focuses on Asia and Australia. Maintained by Andrew Nette. Has a nice representation of Australian pulp covers from the 1950s and 1960s. One of my favorite posts is Executives behaving badly : sixties Australian pulp part 2.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Avon T-135 (1956)

Title : The Moon Pool
Author : A. Merritt
Cover art : Art Sussmann
  [N. Y. : Avon, 1956. No. T-135. 'Compete and unabridged.']

style ***
substance **
collectibility **

Art Sussman’s cover art for Avon T-135 is a good example of the stylized, collage-like, and vaguely expressionistic aesthetic favored by cover artists and art directors in the mid and late 1950s. If the present cover doesn’t quite have the Good Girl Art panache of the earlier Avon #370, it nonetheless can be appreciated as a well-heeled representative of the late vintage style. The cover of Avon T-135 also scores points by sneaking into the design a fully unclothed naked woman [1], which was pretty risqué for the 1950s, even within the science fiction context. At this late date Avon was still pushing the envelope! [2]

  [1] To be precise, and though the image is hazy, she seems to be wearing high heels, a curious adornment given the science fiction setting.

  [2] Avon Books always liked to test the limits of cover art decorum. Science fiction, and the Merritt novels in particular, gave them some of their best vehicles to do so. Along with Moon Pool, in the 1950s they published a series of Merritt sci-fi/fantasy novels which featured covers with scantily-clad or fully-unclad [if slightly obscured] heroines in peril -- The Ship of Ishtar, Dwellers in the Mirage, Metal Monster, and, perhaps most memorable of all, Seven Footprints to Satan. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Berkley D-2012 (1959)

Title : Messalina
Author : Vivian Crockett
Cover art : Robert Maguire
  [N. Y. : Berkley Books, 1959. Berkley Diamond #D2012, 2nd Printing, October 1959. Robert Maguire, illustrator. “Complete and unabridged.” First published, London, Jonathan Cape, 1924.]

style ***
substance ***
collectibility **

Ancient Rome’s ultimate wicked witch certainly doesn’t lack for fictional depictions. Berkley D-2012 is a sizzling entry in the Messalina sweepstakes by an author with the unlikely name of Vivian Crockett, with Robert Maguire’s front cover art displaying comparative restraint compared to other versionsBy the way, what’s with the gesture? You may kiss my hand & leave? 

There is no story. There is no plot, no sequence of events, no development of character and no clash of wills.... the contents of the book must amaze any trained classicist."  -- Edward Lucas White, The Nation, 1924.

Messalina looks to me like the kind of book that is supposed to give old men a glittering eye, and which wears, as protection, the cloak of history.” Review (anon.) of original hardcover edition, Chicago Daily Tribune, Dec. 20, 1924, p. 12.