Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Signet 1755 (1960)

Title : Cobra Venom
Author : John B. West
Cover art : Jerry Allison 
[New York, Signet, 1960. No. 1755].
style ***

substance **

collectibility *

John B. West's Rocky Steele was a lively entry into the crowded field of private eye fiction in the late 1950s. According to one source, Steele was a P.I. so tough he made Mike Hammer look like Liberace [1]. But what was probably most interesting about this series was that author John B. West was a black physician practising in West Africa [2], as well as a part-time owner of a broadcasting company, manufacturing firm, and a hotel/restaurant chain, when he wrote the Steele thrillers. A good summary of the Rocky Steele aesthetic can be found here and here

Fittingly, the John B. West novels were rather well served by vintage cover art; even the mid sixties reissues, while lacking perhaps the naive, visceral charm of the Signet originals, nonetheless have a beguiling elegance of their own. 

For the featured title of Signet 1755, Jerry Allison's incredibly intense cover art nicely captures the grittiness of the character in dramatically chiarscuro-esque fashion. But for sheer over-the-top visuals nothing can compare to the usually restrained Barye Phllips' ultra-exploitative take for Taste for Blood.

[1] Max Allan Collins, History of Mystery, p. 148.

[2] Liberia, to be exact.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dell D298 (1959)

Title : Murder on Broadway (aka The Last Gamble)
Author : Hal Masur
Cover art : Victor Kalin 
[New York, Dell, 1959. No. D298. Front cover : Victor Kalin. 'First Dell printing, July 1959.'  First published in hardcover, Simon & Schuster, 1958, as The Last Gamble. Published in the UK as The Last Breath. Variant issue : back cover, advertisement for Paris Belts.]
style ***

substance **

collectibility *

Victor Kalin worked in a variety of venues but his vintage pb cover art is among the finest from the classic era. Kalin’s sensitive portraiture of beautiful women had a exceptionally luminous quality ..... indeed the the brightly lit, almost radioactive quality of the women suggest that they are about to burst into flames at any minute. This is in contrast to, say, the cover art of Robert McGinnis, who portrayed women in a cooler, more objective style. It also contrasts with Rudolph Belarski’s somewhat hokier glowing women effects for Popular Library in the early 1950s. The Belarski covers are of course classic examples of vintage cover art at its lurid best but somehow I prefer the leaner, more stylish Kalin look. I’m not enough of an expert on art technique to know what methods are used to get the effects but who cares when the results are this good.

In any case, while Murder on Broadway is a more subdued entry in the Kalin canon, it nonetheless is one of his stronger efforts; great touches abound : the girl’s subtle reflection in the mirror, the quasi-sfumato shadings. It all combines to create a minor masterpiece. We only have to compare to the covers of the later printings, released as The Last Gamble, to know that the Kalin magic is missing in these versions. More on Kalin’s cover art can be found here and here.
Dell D250
Dell 886

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Dell 346 (1953)

Title : No Mourners Present
Author : Frank Presnell
Cover art : Robert Stanley
  [New York, Dell, 1953. Mapback. No. 346.]

style **

substance **

collectibility *

Continuing with the fire/explosions subgenre is Robert Stanley’s fetching cover art for Dell 346, which despite a certain cartoonish, mannequin-like quality to the figures, packs a punch with the fire-draped upturned auto in the background. Overall, this one doesn’t quite have the panache of the previously cited Nightmare at Noon but it’s a strong late entry in the Dell canon nonetheless.

Morrow, 1942

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Dell 693 (May 1953)

Title : Nightmare at Noon
Author : Stewart Sterling
Cover art : Bob Hilbert
  [New York, Dell, 1953. No. 693. Pseud. Prentice Winchell.] 
style ***
substance **
collectibility *

Wow! Now this is what I call a cover. Bob Hilbert's gloriously over-the-top design is an unforgettable contribution to the fire/explosions vintage subgenre. 
Sterling was considered the ‘king of the specialty detectives,’ with Nightmare at Noon being a mid-range entry of the Fire Marshall Pedley series. The cover for Dell 693, with the girl's startled look (love those eyes!) amid the hellish backdrop of a wild explosion, is an absolute early 1950s classic, easily superior to the 1951 hardcover original.

E. P. Dutton, 1951