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.]

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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.]

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   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.]

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   “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.