Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Paperback 409: The Party Was the Pay-Off / Elisabeth Sanxay Holding (Mercury Mystery 175)

Paperback 409: Mercury Mystery 175 (n.d. — early '50s, 1st ptg)

Title: The Party Was the Pay-Off
Author: Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
Cover artist: Stefan Salter

Yours for: $30


Best things about this cover:
  • Aside from the fact that someone once used this book as a coaster (ugh), the book is lovely, square, bright. I think of Salter as more of a high-end illustrator than a dynamic cover artist, but I like his work nonetheless. Subtle, graceful, impressive.
  • Can't decide if I like "Too Many Bottles" or "The Party Was the Pay-Off" better as a title. Thankfully, I own both versions, so I'm good. Not sure why they changed the title to get away from bottles and then made the cover concept all about bottles ... but they did, so there.
  • Holding does suspenseful domestic drama better than anyone I know.

Best things about this back cover:

  • This book is interesting if only for the fact that the protagonist, James Brophy, is a writer, and Holding has unique insight on the profession, as someone who had to deal with the implications of the pulps (working-class, male-oriented, low-paying) /slicks (middle-class, female-oriented, much better-paying) divide:
"But I'm no celebrity," he had explained. "So far , I've worked mostly for the pulps. I'm just beginning to break into the slicks."

She had wanted to know what the pulps were, and what the slicks; she had wanted to know what he was working on then; she had listened with an interest he had never before encountered.

"I think artists ought to be taken care of," she had said.

Brophy believed that he was a pretty good writer, and that someday he would be a very much better one, but he was not inclined to think of himself as an artist.
  • Lulu's very name tells you everything you need to know about her. Pretty, bouncy, status-conscious, not the brightest — all in all, a poor match for Brophy. And quickly dead.
Page 123~
She spoke in a tone that was almost preposterously lofty. But that's the way she feels, poor devil, thought Brophy. Anything she does is right. Has to be, because she can always bring out such a noble motive.

"So don't worry, Jimmy," she said, with a pleasant social smile, and turned away to mount the stairs, followed by the matron.


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Sean Brodrick said...

I hate the cover. A bunch of pill bottles? Please. This is a book that would have really been helped by a lurid, pulp-esque cover.

Rex Parker said...

NOT Mercury Mystery's style. They are selling to a ... somewhat slicker crowd. You can see what I mean by having a look at the other MM title I have posted (by another great writer) here.


borky said...


I've found the motive and solved the case!

Page 123: "don't worry, Jimmy," she said, with a pleasant social smile, and turned away to mount the stairs, followed by the matron.

She mounted the stairs, she mounted the matron, but she didn't mount Jimmy!

DemetriosX said...

The pill bottles are OK, I suppose, though they work better with the original title. But what's with the postage stamp motif? It doesn't seem to have anything to do with the story, based on the cover copy and your pull quotes.

DemetriosX said...

And then I followed the link in your comment and see that it's a motif for series. Not sure I like it, but I can see it working in the era.

Todd Mason said...

As you probably know, MERCURY MYSTERY and its sibling imprints were spinoffs from ELLERY QUEEN'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, and like that magazine, were meant to help keep H.L. Mencken's political/cultural magazine AMERICAN MERCURY afloat...much as, earlier, BLACK MASK magazine was founded to help fund Mencken's earlier project THE SMART SET going. Cornell Woolrich and Dashiell Hammett published in both the earlier magazines, even as James M. Cain did in both the MERCURY and EQMM...

Todd Mason said...

BTW...the cover artist was Mercury Press stalwart George Salter, not Stefan as noted above...