Monday, December 31, 2007

Paperback 62: Due or Die / Frank Kane (Dell First Edition B174)

Paperback 62: Dell First Edition B174 (PBO, 1961)

Title: Due or Die
Author: Frank Kane
Cover artist: Harry Bennett

Best things about this cover:

  • It's got a lot going for it: redhead, cigarette, and alcohol all represented within about one square inch of the cover, plus fierce heels and a trench-coated dude looking on, wryly.
  • I think she is a monster. Why can't we see her face? Why?
  • Answer: she doesn't have one.
  • Actually, I think her face is some kind of hologram projector, and Johnny Liddell standing in the doorway is the resulting image: "Help me, drunken redhead, you're my only hope."
  • There is a Perma Books version of Hammett's The Glass Key that (if memory serves) looks Just like this cover. Frank Kane is no Dashiell Hammett, in case you're wondering.

Best things about this back cover:

  • "Kill Joy" - good idea. You meant Joy Behar, right?
  • I like Johnny Liddell's mug just peeping out of the wallet slot.
  • I also really like the line about the fat man in the phone booth. Now that's good cover copy.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

Paperback 61: The Dice Spelled Murder / Al Fray (Dell First Edition A146)

Paperback 61: Dell First Edition A146 (PBO, 1957)

Title: The Dice Spelled Murder
Author: Al Fray
Cover artist: photo cover

"Oh, dicey dice, I love you shoooo much ... no, silly, I'm not drunk. You silly die. You're silly. Yes, you are. I'm going to kick you with my toe, that's how silly you are... what's that you say? ... 'Murder?'"

Best things about this cover:
  • I believe that the first murder will be caused by the Gigantic Die falling out of the sky onto our, er, heroine.
  • Absurd lingerie of the most infantilizing, unsexy kind.

Best things about this back cover:

  • OK, they just took that one lame photo from the cover, cropped it in different places, blew up the cropped images, changed the angles, added some kind of woodblock print of one side of a die, tinted the images orange or red, and ... voilà! Cheap, cheap, cheap!
  • "Of Dice and Death" - "I know, let's make the first half of the teaser phrase a literary allusion, but then close with the good ole standby, DEATH! That makes total sense. I've got some more ideas too, boss. How 'bout?: 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of DEATH,' 'Call me DEATH,' or, my favorite, 'It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of DEATH."


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Paperback 60: Naked Ebony / Dan Cushman (Gold Medal 158)

Paperback 60: Gold Medal 158 (PBO, 1951)

Title: Naked Ebony
Author: Dan Cushman
Cover artist: Barye Phillips

Yours for: SOLD 5/22/08

"Hey, baby, be careful! This is my good pirate shirt!"

Best things about this cover:

  • These people are neither "naked" nor "ebony." Total rip-off.
  • I do love a woman-with-gun cover painting. Here, the gun is a kind of nipple-extension. In other cover paintings, it will stand in for ... other things. You'll see.
  • Could he be any closer to her? I'm not convinced her eyes can even focus on him when he's that close.
  • Is he going to hit her? Kiss her? Is he showing her his stigmata? Pulling a coin from behind her ear? The possibilities are endless, and every one of them justifies her shooting him.
  • Please notice the greatness of the fully painted cover. Edge-to-edge coverage - a complete painting where the graphic element is the real attention-grabber. This art-centered style of cover is why I started collecting in the first place.

Best things about this back cover:

  • Not the punctuation, that's for sure.
  • "Chari" - how do you pronounce that?
  • "Package of hell!" - somebody was still cutting his melodramatic teeth when he laid down that gem. Yikes.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Paperback 59: The Mighty Blockhead / Frank Gruber (Superior M655)

Paperback 59: Superior Reprint M655 (1st ptg, 1945)

Title: The Mighty Blockhead
Author: Frank Gruber
Cover artist: Uncredited

Best things about this cover:

  • Boring art, but one of the better titles of its time. Memorable, at any rate.
  • Frank Gruber was the poor man's ERLE Stanley Gardner. He could crank it out. He was a serious working writer, getting paid pennies a word to write in nearly every genre imaginable. He wrote a really informative book about working for the pulps called Pulp Jungle. Out of print, but possibly in your better libraries. I own a first edition, but I'm dorky that way.
  • Superior Reprints were bought up by, I think, Bantam, sometime in the late 40's. Remaining Superior books were then issued in dust-jacketed versions, which are Very Hard to come by. I think I have about 5 dust-jacketed paperbacks in my entire 2000+ book collection. One of them is Frank Gruber's Navy Colt, which I bought, in near perfect condition, for $4. Just writing that makes me smile.

Best things about this back cover:

  • Nobody could rock the pencil mustache quite like Frank Gruber. You don't see them much anymore, but they were a staple of character actors (and pulp writers, I guess) from the 30s well into the 50s.
  • Here again, you see the convention of listing all the odd jobs that a writer did before he "hit it big." These jobs are at least within the plausibility ballpark.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Paperback 58: Orient Express / Graham Greene (Bantam 1333)

Paperback 58: Bantam 1333 (1st ptg, 1955)

Title: Orient Express
Author: Graham Greene
Cover artist: George Gross

"The story of a woman who struggled valiantly to hold up a giant, red wall!"


"The story of a woman who stood up to a marauding Lionel Train set!"


"The story of one woman's attempt to reach the On / Off switch
without drawing attention to herself!"

Best things about this cover:
  • Fabulous melodramatic art. Love the exaggerated expression of terror on her face.
  • Trenchcoat!
  • After a few shabby reprints, we're back in the sweet spot of my collection. 1955 is probably the high point for paperback cover art, and George Gross is one of the top artists of the period (God I love it when I can read the artist's signature on a cover - it's shocking how often the artwork goes unattributed). I'd venture to guess that the average quality of cover art for 1955 is higher than that for any other year, with a rapid decline thereafter. I may have to start assigning covers ratings in order to "prove" my assertions.
  • I had a student this past semester who looked an awful lot like this woman. She got an A-, which is pretty damned good in any class of mine.
  • Graham Greene is my hero. He made so-called "genre fiction" cool in the eyes of the so-called "literary" establishment. He writes a hell of a sentence. If I could have anyone's literary career, it would be Graham Greene's. His, or John O'Hara's.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Paperback 57: The Crime is Murder / Helen Nielsen (Curtis 6105)

Paperback 57: Curtis Books 6105 (1st ptg?, n.d. - circa 1970)

Title: The Crime is Murder
Author: Helen Nielsen
Cover artist: photo cover

Best things about this cover:

  • O my god, they killed Beethoven! You bastards!
  • A million bonus points to whoever can identify the piece of music featured on this cover.
  • Again, another ugly, post-1960 book. The only reason I own this is my minor, short-lived obsession with Helen Nielsen. She was a reasonably big name in (semi-) hard-boiled crime fiction in the 40s and 50s, but then, poof, gone. I'm really intrigued by women who wrote "tough guy" crime fiction before, say, Sue Grafton. This book appears to have little if anything "hard-boiled" about it, but female hardboiled writers from mid-century are hard to come by, so I snatch up their books whenever I (cheaply) can. Nielsen's writing was featured in the (wonderful, essential) mid-90s anthology Hard-Boiled (eds. Pronzini and Adrian).

Best thing about this back cover:

  • I'm not familiar with the use of "lay" in that last sentence. Or else ... I am familiar with it, and this book is a different genre than I'd imagined.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Paperback 56: This Girl For Hire / G.G. Fickling (Pyramid R-1151)

Paperback 56: Pyramid R-1151 (4th ptg, 1965)
Title: This Girl For Hire
Author: G.G. Fickling
Cover artist: Uncredited

Best things about this cover:
  • Honey West was a brief but important crime fiction phenomenon - an early, nakeder version of today's modern female detectives. See, Honey West lost her clothes a lot. It was her thing. Like ... a wordless catchphrase or facial tic or something. A girl's gotta do etc. See back cover.
  • My wife's first comment: "Is she pregnant?" - I believe the tenting of the coat is meant to convey motion, specifically a spinning motion as Honey West rounds on a would-be assailant. According to this drawing, she is a south paw. And she has broken the heel of her left shoe. And yet she persists. True grit!
  • Alliteration!
  • "This Gun for Hire" is a sensational film noir (1942) starring Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd.
  • "See her on 'Burke's Law' ... Whoops. We're sorry. While you blinked, 'Burke's Law' was canceled. Good bye."
  • Honey actually went on to have her own show. Go here for more than you ever wanted to know about Honey West.
  • Again, I hope you are noticing how covers get crappier, in general, after 1959. Too much text, not enough hot lady with gun, I say.

Best things about this back cover:

  • Well, if you're a feminist who happens to have no sense of humor ... then, nothing.
  • If you're a feminist who does have a sense of humor (like most I know), then you should find this hilarious. What did it take for a female detective to get some street cred back in the day? Now you know: a penchant for accidental nudity.
  • I have a way, way hotter version of this book that dates from the late 50's. Honey's not naked on that one, but she is more than two inches tall, at least.


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Paperback 55: The Luciano Story / Sid Feder and Joachim Joesten (Popular Giant G155)

Paperback 55: Popular Giant G155 (1st ptg, 1956)

Title: The Luciano Story
Author: Sid Feder and Joachim Joesten
Cover artist: N/A

Best things about this cover:

  • "Ripped from the headlines ... literally! Ripped! Look at the jagged edges!"
  • Extra! Extra! Extra!, this cover blows.

Best things about this back cover:

  • Now we're talking: "Hi, I'm Lucky. I like booze. And cigarettes. And probably dames."
  • "Underworld Overlord" - looks like some copywriter is bucking for a promotion!
  • "In breezy journalese..." - I didn't know "journalese" could be "breezy." Does the Buffalo Courier-Express know that "journalese" is characterized by (and I quote) "clichés, sensationalism, and triteness of thought"?
  • Speaking of "hack" writing, I dare you to "hack" your way through that first sentence. I mean, just try saying it out loud and see if you have any @#$#-ing idea what the author is trying to say.


Thursday, December 13, 2007

Paperback 54: Nero / Frank Castle (Avon T-521)

Paperback 54: Avon T-521 (1st ptg, 1961)

Title: Nero
Author: Frank Castle
Cover artist: Uncredited (but possibly James Meese - see if you agree)

"Man, why does Nero get all the hot semi-naked chicks, while I gotta wear this silly pants-less uniform with 75-lb headgear? It's not fair. I'm telling mom."

Best things about this cover:

  • Yet another example of the nipple-free female - the great unheralded malady of mid-20th-century America (and ancient Rome, I guess)
  • Love the emperor's expression and pose: "That's right. I'm the emperor. Naked ladies love me, not you. Whaddya gonna do about it, Mr. Feather-headed No-Pants? Nothing. Peel me a grape, that's what you're gonna do."
  • Spine reads: "A Historical by Frank Castle" - I love when I can comment on a book's spine. They really knew how to use the Whole Book back in the day...
  • The cover is well and truly beautiful, actually. The colors, the composition ... I'm telling you, this cover isn't spectacular, but walk into any Barnes & Noble and check out the front table and you'll see how badly modern book design / cover art suffers by comparison. This painting is rich in color and detail. It's textured. It's fundamentally not cooked up in some advertising lab.
  • Sword = drooping phallus = sad Centurion
  • I don't require much of my novels ... as long as they are "throbbing."

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Paperback 53: Croydon 57

Paperback 53: Croydon 57 (PBO, 1954)

Title: Love-Crazy Millionaire
Author: Gordon Semple
Cover artist: Bernard Safran

Best things about this cover:

  • Wow, this guy really loves boats.
  • Are they on a boat? Because they are both oddly listing toward my left.
  • She appears to be very drunk - I cannot imagine her speaking in anything but very slurred speech. Also, her hands are quite mannish. And no one that blond should have eyebrows that black.
  • That man is one of the grosser-looking men in paperback cover history. He has a weirdly soft baby face with greasy, patchy old-man hair and an oddly hairy and wrinkly neck.
  • "Office wife" is a great 1950's concept. Many paperbacks "worry" aloud about this phenomenon.
  • Artist's signature right across the back of the chair - Bernard Safran was a very accomplished illustrator and artist. For more on his career, go here.

Best things about this back cover:

  • Wow, the writing is really, truly horrible.
  • I'm going to start saying "Wanna bet, Sue!?" any time I want to sound menacing.
  • "Queerly, it intrigued her" - hmmm, now I'm interested.


Friday, December 7, 2007

Paperback 52: Popular Library G517

Paperback 52: Popular Library G517 (1st ptg, 1961)

Title: A Race of Rebels
Author: Andrew Tully
Cover artist: Mitchell Hooks

Yours For: $8 (SOLD - 4/18/08)

Best things about this cover:

  • She has the most orgasmic mouth in (non-porn) paperback history; that, or she is singing.
  • Some blurbs are prescient - others ... not so much. "Good as Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms" must surely have been the last think Robert Ruark ever said as a literary critic, or generally credible human being.
  • "A Race of Rebels" - Which race? "You know ... brown folks ... live where it's hot ... always getting riled up and killing people ... that race!"
  • I like how the rebels are basically ornamentation for our giant, white-hot white couple.
Orgasm Mouth: "Honey, we're surrounded by a race of rebels. I'm scared."
Burt Lancaster: "It's OK, we're like giant white gods to them - shut up and kiss me!"
I'm telling you, Nothing on the front or back cover tells you much of anything about where these so-called "rebels" are rebelling. Palm trees suggest the tropics. Maybe Central America. It's like the publishers don't want you to know? I mean ... check out the ambiguity on the back cover copy. It's like Location: Exotic!

  • Again, I have to ask: Where Are We?* It's like the publishers know Americans hate politics and can't find countries on maps anyway. Apparently, all the reader wants to know is: will it be "frank"? (where "frank" = "loin-stirring")
  • "Frank, blunt, toughly tender" = that's what she said

*Answer: Cuba

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Paperback 51: Royal Giant 27

Paperback 51: Royal Giant 27 (PBO / PBO)

Title: Confessions of a Psychiatrist / The Woman He Wanted
Author: Henry Lewis Nixon / Daoma Winston [!!??]
Cover artist: Uncredited / Uncredited [but apparently signed "Uppwal..."]

Best things about this cover (where to begin!):

Confessions of a Psychiatrist:

  • I love how the halo of light makes her look angelic, while the positioning of her hands ... let's just say that the less disturbing act she seems to be pantomiming involves strangling children.
  • "You are getting sleepy ... hey, it's working!"
  • Are they in a boudoir, or his office? Or does it matter anymore?
  • What kind of bed is that? It's very low, and appears to consist only of a frame and a giant pillow.

The Woman He Wanted:

  • Boobs! Blood! Yikes!
  • LOVE the woman on the couch: "Best seat in the house! I'll just lie back here, cross my legs awkwardly, kick over my glass of whiskey, smoke a cigarette, and watch the brutality."
  • "Daoma Winston" - I wanted to say that that is the ugliest, worst pseudonym ever, and yet ... "She" appears to have gone on to a long and successful career writing gothic / horror / fantasy stuff. Who knew? Notice how this bibliography of "her" work does not quite stretch back to The Woman He Wanted.

Best things about this back cover:

Copy writing at its histrionic, purply best:


  • "Strange rite of nudity" - Nudity has its own rites now??? I am so behind the times.
  • "Titillating treatise" = racy alliteration
  • "Unblushing frankness" = code for sex sex sex - actually (a side note) "frank(ness)" is common in cover copy for books about all kinds of, let's say, "non-normative" sex-related behavior and conditions (e.g. gayness, transvestism, trans-sexuality, etc.). As I've said before, Kinsey gave this weird license to the publishing world to let loose with "educational" sex fiction.


  • He works at a "filling station" ... and he's "a crude man" ... HA ha
  • STELL!! STELL!! (shout heard in sex-reversed version of "A Streetcar Named Desire")
  • In case you missed it, his name is .... Stell. WTF?
  • "... taunting him to splurge his passion on one of his other women" = too "frank" for my taste


Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Paperback 50: Mysterious Press 40827-8

Paperback 50: Mysterious Press 40827-8 (1st ptg, 1989)

Title: Fireworks: The Lost Writings
Author: Jim Thompson
Cover artist: Stephen Peringer

Best things about this cover:

  • Not a lot - I've included this in my collection only because it contains a bunch of otherwise unreprinted Jim Thompson stories. I also wanted to give you a sense of the deterioration of cover painting as an art form. This is done with computers, and it's pretty unimaginative and uncatchy. I do, however, love the work that Mysterious Press has done keeping old hardboiled writers alive and in print. One of the editors of this collection, Robert Polito, wrote the great Thompson biography, which I've mentioned before. You should read it.

I should add that I called this book a "first printing," even though it's unclear to me what to call it. It reads "First printing: August, 1989," but those numbers at the bottom of the publication page have the "1" missing, which makes me think this is a second printing of a first edition. Modern ways of determining first, second, etc., are overly complicated and bug the crap out of me.


Sunday, December 2, 2007

Paperback 49: Ballantine 236

Paperback 49: Ballantine 236 (PBO, 1957)

Title: Gunsmoke
Author: Don Ward
Cover artist: photo cover

Best things about this cover

  • "I Was A Sunburned Frankenstein"
  • Wow, colorization could really wreak havoc with your skin back then. Marshal Dillon looks like he just completed an overly lengthy stint at the tanning salon. You live in the DESERT, Marshal. Just walking around outside should give you all the color you need.
  • I'm not sure this cover could be less interesting if it tried. "I am ... walking toward you ... I am huge ... that is all."
  • Love the CBS "Eye"

Best things about this back cover

  • Copy writer should be fired - you don't open your promo with the passive voice, for god's sake.
  • Further, of course it "is remembered." If I'm reading this book in 1957, then I "remember" it from Last Night, When It Was On.
  • "Movie goers" is two words now? Walker Percy's not going to like that one bit.