Covers


COLLECTING PULPS: A Memoir
Part 19: Pulp Art
by Walker Martin


   I’ve talked before about how I love collecting the original pulp and paperback cover art and illustrations. My feeling is that every book and pulp collector should have at least one example of cover art in their library. I’m not recommending that book collectors go to the extreme that I have gone to with scores of pieces, but it’s a thing of beauty to have a pulp, paperback, or dust jacket cover art framed and hanging on your wall with your book collection.

   Recently Steve Lewis was visiting me, and he took over 30 photos, not only of the pulp art but also of other items in my house. This installment should give an example of how one long time collector has dealt with the addiction known as bibliomania. I’ve been at it now since I was a child in 1956. That’s over 60 years!

   This first photo shows me standing next to my most valuable painting, the cover of Black Mask, for February 1933 by Jes Schlaikjer. Normally, I never would have been able to afford this cover painting because it’s from the classic 1930’s period of Black Mask when the covers showed stark, violent scenes with just a few images. But the seller perhaps did not realize it was a Black Mask cover by Schlaikjer. Over my shoulder is a Lyman Anderson painting for an early 1930’s issue of Alibi.

   The second photo is a paperback cover painting by James Avati illustrating a scene from the novel, The Double Door, by Theodora Keogh. Avati was one of the very most influential cover artists in the paperback field, and he was widely imitated. Again, this was a painting that I normally would not be able to afford, but I bought it on credit from an art gallery in NYC.

   I’ve often taken out bank loans, used my credit card, paid on the installment plan, in order to feed my art and bibliomania addiction. I’ve never regretted my decision to buy books or art. What I’ve regretted are the books and art that I did not buy!

   This third photo shows a corner of my mystery paperback room and part of a Dell paperback rack. For decades I hunted for paperback racks from the forties and fifties and finally found five of them at a Windy City show several years ago. They were too fragile to be shipped, and it was two years before the dealer managed to find someone driving across the country in a van to deliver them to my house.

   Here below are three more photos of the mystery paperback room. I have the books shelved by alphabetical order except for my Ace Doubles and Dell Mapbacks. The Dell Mapbacks may be complete or close to it. I even found the crossword paperbacks and I wonder how they ever survived? Also pictured is my Bantam Books paperback rack which is in fine condition. The room is very crowded with books, just the way I like it!

   This next photo shows two of three large western pulp cover paintings that are hanging by the stairs to the second floor. Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s it was possible to buy western, detective and adventure cover art for very low prices. The three paintings were delivered by a long time collector named Chet Woodrow, who risked driving through a terrible New Jersey snow storm to my house.

   Price? A hundred dollars each. Back then I thought such prices were ridiculously low and I still think so. One funny thing about Chet was that he had the worse condition pulp collection that I’ve ever seen. The magazines looked to be in fine condition with nice covers and spines but when you tried to open them the interior pages were very brown and brittle and almost impossible to read.

   The Dime Western painting below is from the 1930’s and the artist is the great Walter Baumhofer. Many years ago at an early Pulpcon, I was talking to artist Norman Saunders, and I saw a car drive into the hotel parking lot. I said excuse me to Norman and ran outside where I asked the driver who was not even out of the car if he had any pulp paintings.

   He said yes and sold me this painting out of the trunk of his car for only $400. I then went back and showed Norman Saunders the painting that I just had bought in the parking lot and he couldn’t believe that I had just bought an excellent Baumhofer painting out of a car trunk.

   We then spent much of the convention in the hotel bar talking about pulp art. I tried to get Norman to sell me some of his paintings, but he was leaving them in his will to his children.

   The two bookcases below show part of my extensive DVD collection. I believe these are mainly film noir movies, another my addictions. The crusader painting is from a 1931 Adventure. I got it from the estate of A. A. Proctor, who was the editor of Adventure in the early 1930’s.

   Above is one of my favorite pieces of art. It’s a bizarre illustration by Howard Wandrei, the brother of Donald Wandrei. Howard died an early death of alcoholism, but he was a writer of pulp fiction and a sort of outsider artist. This piece fascinates me with its complexity and strangeness. Dwayne Olson has written at least three long book articles on Howard Wandrei, but he is an unjustly forgotten, excellent artist.

   The next photo shows me holding the February 1956 issue Galaxy. This is the actual magazine that I bought off the newsstand in Hoscheck’s Deli, and it so impressed me that I became the fiction magazine collector that I am today. It led to my present collection of thousands of pulps, slicks, and digest magazines.

   Above is a corner of my son’s former room. For thirty-five years Joe lived with us and then a couple years ago decided to get his own place and moved out. It did not take me long to move into his room and convert it into a library and art gallery!

   I have over thirty-five pieces of art in the room and eight bookcases. I think I’m now in every room of the house with art and books. All five bedrooms, the garage which I converted into a library and gallery, the basement, living room, family room. Even the bathrooms and kitchen have art. If I had room I would build another house in the back yard. The large painting is from Detective Fiction Weekly.

   This is Paul Herman who has been friends with Steve Lewis and me for quite a while. He’s standing next to a western paperback cover painting.

   Above is a corner of dining room with a western painting by Sam Cherry. I love western art, but many collectors seem prejudiced against westerns. They are colorful, full of action, and not as expensive as science fiction or hero art.

   Below is another Dime Western painting by Walter Baumhofer showing a girl and cowboy blazing away, back to back. Art dealer Steve Kennedy owned it for many years and would never sell it, but one day he needed money, and I managed to talk him into selling it to me. I seem to remember me whining, begging, and crying. Collectors know no shame!

   I’ve told this story before in my article on collecting Western Story Magazine, but the painting below amazingly enough came from my next door neighbor! What’s the odds of a non collector moving next door and having a pulp painting? Took me years to talk him into selling it to me. It’s by Walter Haskell Hinton from Western Storyin the 1930’s.

   Above is a row of cover paintings. The first one is from Street & Smith Detective Story. The second one is a Spider cover which was repainted by Raphael Desoto, the original artist. The third one is by Wittmack from People’s.

   Another western from one of the Popular Publication pulps. I only paid $400 for it. In the background you can see in the laundry room three of the dozen or so preliminary drawings I have framed. The artist would make a preliminary sketch and if approved would then go ahead and paint the cover. Not many of these survived, but I love them and pick them up whenever I see them. Not many art collectors care about them, but I think they are of great interest.

   The next three photos show areas of my basement. The first is an almost complete set of Western Story. Of over 1250 issues, 1919-1949, I need only nine issues.

   The second shows some Ace High magazines and the third photo gives an idea of a corner of the basement. The basement is about 60 feet long by 30 feet wide. I’ve filled the entire area with shelving.

   In 1989 when I moved into this house I hired a contractor to turn the two car garage into a library and art gallery. These photos show some the area which I’ve filled with artwork, books, and pulps. All the neighbors asked me the same thing. “Why am I turning my garage into a library?” My response was why should I park my cars in my house? But who can understand non readers and non collectors?

   More photos of my converted garage taken from different angles. You can see some of the art hanging above the pulps.

   The final photo is of me and Steve Lewis. We have been friends for almost 50 years and I’ve been reading the various incarnations of Mystery*File for almost as long. Over Steve’s shoulder is a large painting from The Saturday Evening Post by Harold Von Schmidt. It’s from 1950 and illustrates a scene from a serial starring series characters Tugboat Annie and Glencannon. It was the only time they met in a story, but it has an interesting background.

   The Glencannon series were comedies and the Post readers found them hilarious. During the 20 year period of 1930-1950 there were over 60 stories written by the author, Guy Gilpatric. I’ve read them all and they are among my favorite stories. They have all been reprinted in omnibus collections and there was even a British TV series back in the 1950’s.

   Unfortunately there was a tragic ending to this comedy series. Gilpatric’s wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer and in a fit of depression they decided on a murder suicide pact. He shot his wife and then took his own life. Later there was a rumor or evidence that the doctors had made a mistake and made the wrong diagnosis.

   I obtained the painting from an art gallery by telling the owner that I’d like to get a painting showing my favorite series character, Glencannon. I was stunned when he said he knew where one was, and it turned out to be the best one of them all, the one where Glencannon meets Tugboat Annie. Von Schmidt is a famous western artist, and I’d never be able to afford one of his paintings, but since this was a non-western the price was a lot lower.

   So thanks, Steve, for taking these photos and also thanks to Sai Shanker for twice taking photos that unfortunately did not turn out as well. I love reading about the collections of other collectors and maybe this memoir on my art collection will make you decide to become an addicted, out of control bibliomaniac also! I’ve enjoyed the trip and it’s been a great ride…

MURDER AT 3 CENTS A DAY:
An Annotated Crime Fiction Bibliography of the
Lending Library Publishers: 1936-1967
by William F. Deeck


From the back cover:

    “Murder at 3¢ a Day is the first and only reference volume devoted entirely to the lending-library publishers that flourished from the mid 1930s into the 1960s. More than ten years in compilation, it contains full listings of mystery and detective fiction published under such imprints as Phoenix Press, Hillman-Curl, Mystery House, Gateway, Arcadia House, Dodge, and Caslon.

    “Included are dust jacket blurbs, settings, and leading characters for each title, as well as descriptions of jacket illustrations and names of the artists who designed them. Also included: an article about the lending-library trade written in 1939 by Charles S. Strong, who specialized in this type of novel; a tongue-in-cheek article on Phoenix Press mysteries by Bill Pronzini; brief biographies of many lending library writers; and selected period newspaper reviews of various titles.

    “Readers and aficionados alike will find a wealth of fascinating and often amusing information about this little known variety of crime fiction. Murder at 3¢ a Day is a must for any reference shelf.”

UPDATE:

   A supplement to the book can be found at www.lendinglibmystery.com/. Thanks to the collection of Bill Pronzini and his gracious generosity, this is an online compendium of all of the covers of the books included in Bill Deeck’s book, which was published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box Press in 2006.

   Bill Pronzini is adding to his collection all the time. Here below are the covers added in the past two months, missing from earlier versions of the website. Some covers are still missing. Check through the website. If you can fill in any of the gaps, please let Bill or I know!

CLINTON BESTOR – The Corpse Came Calling (Phoenix Press, 1941)


ADELINE McELFRESH – My Heart Went Dead (Phoenix Press, 1949)


EDGAR WALLACE & ROBERT CURTIS – The Mouthpiece (Dodge, 1936)


GWYN EVANS – Satan Ltd. (Godwin, 1935)


MARK HANSOM – The Shadow on the House (Godwin, 1935)


JACK MANN – Dead Man’s Chest (Godwin, 1935)


DONALD STUART – The White Friar (Godwin, 1935)


ANTHONY GILBERT – She Vanished in the Dawn (Mystery Houise, 1941)


ANNE TEDLOCK BROOKS – Undertow (Arcadia House, 1943)


BRETT HALLIDAY – Michael Shayne’s Long Chance. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1944. Reprinted in paperback many times, including Dell #325, mapback edition. 1949; Dell #866, 1956; Dell D416, 1961, McGinnis cover. (All three shown.)

   When the death of Mike Shayne’s wife Phyllis has him packing up shop in Miami, and ready to call it quits with his career as a private detective, his old buddy, reporter Tim Rourke, with a nose for news and an eye for a friend in trouble, starts him back on the right track with a job that takes him back to the old stomping grounds he was once run out of, New Orleans.

   And there, besides a nice girl or two to help chase away the blues, he finds himself hip-deep in a case of murder, complicated by police corruption and the dope-peddling racket in a city where life can be loose and easy and more.

   Shayne leads more with his head than he should, but he survives a long night of beatings, doped drinks and a rigged picture frame to pull off a decent bit of surprise trickery to nab the killer. The early Shayne novels were not far removed from the the glory pages of Black Mask magazine, and this tale, no exception, goes down as smoothly as a bottle of Monet cognac.

Rating:   B

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 2, No. 4, July 1978 (slightly revised).


COLLECTING PULPS: A Memoir, Part 14: Weird Tales
by Walker Martin


   Three years ago I discussed the Frank Robinson Collection auction which was organized by Adventure House. The biggest lot at that auction was the complete Weird Tales collection which sold for a quarter of a million dollars. Yes, that’s right, as in $250,000.00. Then we fast forward 3 years and again Adventure House held an auction for a complete collection of Weird Tales, only this time the set got zero bids. I believe a discussion of this auction will show not only what occurred and why one set sold and another set did not sell, but also we will learn how pulp collectors have changed over the years.

   As with the Frank Robinson auction, this recent auction which was held on May 1, 2015, also did not generate much comment on the various discussion groups that I visit online. I know as a long time fiction magazine collector, I certainly want to talk about such subjects, in fact I’m starved for conversation and I guess that’s one of the reasons that I continue to post my pulp collecting memoirs. People have been collecting pulps for over a hundred years now, ever since the first one was published in 1896. I’ve been at it for over 50 years and I feel it’s important enough for us to continue posting articles and commenting about what happened during the time these fiction magazines ruled the newsstands.

   I also feel it’s very important that we continue to support the two major pulp conventions, Windy City and Pulpfest. I’ve attended both over the years and have had many interesting conversations about the pulp era. At Windy City in April I had the opportunity to view the Weird Tales set which was on display behind the Adventure House tables. I also eagerly bought the $10.00 Weird Tales collection auction catalog. Published by Adventure House this is a 40 page full color description of the 274 issues. True, only 239 covers are shown but all are listed by condition in the back of the catalog. In addition to the 274 issues published during 1923-1954, the catalog also lists the 79 issues of the revived Weird Tales that were published during Summer 1973 to Spring 2014.

   So this was a major auction of perhaps the most talked about, most famous pulp title of them all. It was advertised on the Adventure House website, emails were sent out announcing the auction, and a full color catalog was available for only 10 dollars. Why was it a flop? Why no bids?

   Well, of course the most obvious reason is the fact that the minimum bid was set at $60,000. But if the Robinson WT set of three years ago sold for 250,000 dollars, how come this recent set could not attract $60,000? Well you know the old saying in real estate: location, location, location. In the pulp and book world, it’s: condition, condition, condition.

   The Robinson collection was almost perfect. White pages, newsstand fresh covers, complete spines. Weird Tales was called “The Unique Magazine”. Well, the Robinson set was truly “unique”, definitely the best condition set of Weird Tales in existence. It could and did command a premium price.

   So what was wrong with the set offered up for auction in May 2015? What prevented it from even getting one bid at the $60,000 minimum? The catalog described several good points such as blood red spines(they usually are faded), high quality paper, and custom made tray cases to hold each volume. When I viewed the set myself at the convention, I was impressed by all of the above. Unfortunately the following faults have to be mentioned:

1. The first 45 issues, March 1923 through June 1927 are bound in 10 blue volumes. Personally, I think using blue was a mistake. I have a set bound in red and it looks more impressive. But this is just a personal preference. The main problem with bound pulps is simply that many collectors won’t touch them at all. And those that will accept bound copies want a significant decrease in the usual price.

   In the first paragraph I mentioned how pulp collectors had changed over the years, and this is one example. It used to be that old time collectors, guys who actually bought the magazines off the newsstands, loved to have their pulps bound. It gave them a look of respectability and the garish magazines looked more like a sedate book that they could proudly display on their bookshelves without being sneered at by other collectors and even non-collectors. Pulp collectors nowadays don’t think like this at all. They want the individual issues and they don’t like them bound.

2. Because they are bound these first 45 issues, which are very rare and expensive, only rate a good or good minus as far as condition.

3. Most issues in the early 1930’s have Scotch tape or clear tape on the head and foot of the spines. This was another practice that many of the old time collectors followed. I’ve seen pulps ruined with masking tape, discolored scotch tape, and even electrical tape. One guy even used stamps to close tears in the cover. Pulp collectors back then evidently thought nothing of closing and repairing tears with all sorts of tape. Now of course collectors frown on the use of tape.

4. The tray cases are a very good idea and look nice. Unfortunately several of the cases show water damage.

   In my opinion, the above points prevented a high minimum bid and certainly explain why no one started off bidding at the $60,000 level. It’s too high a figure for a set in this condition. Perhaps a lower figure would have encouraged some beginning action and the final bidding might even have reached a high level. Perhaps a minimum bid of $20,000 would have been better but then again, you run the chance of the set going for such a figure and I guess the seller would consider that unacceptable.

   I used to have a set of Weird Tales for many years but that was back in the days when you could buy issues for $5.00 each. Back in 1968, when I was discharged from the army, I had two big goals in my life: to get a complete set of Black Mask and a set of Weird Tales . I managed to do both within a few years. Since then I’ve seen many extensive runs of WT and I’m not even sure that it’s that rare. It seems that everybody, like many SF collectors, saved their copies! It’s really a pretty magazine, a thing of beauty.

   My present set is not complete because I no longer care about the early issues of 1923-1925, most of which I find not that readable. My present set is a bound set from 1926-1954. I’ll tell the story about this set and it will illustrate the differences between the old time pulp collectors and the newer pulp collectors who never really bought any of the magazines off the newsstands.

   In the 1980’s, Harry Noble, who had been buying pulps since the early 1930’s, decided to put together some bound sets of his favorite SF and fantasy magazines. He did this with such titles as Astounding, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Fantastic Novels, Unknown Worlds, and of course, Weird Tales . He had trouble finding an inexpensive binder but finally found someone who would bind several magazines into one volume for a low price. Harry didn’t really care about the early issues, not only because they were not that readable, but also because they were too expensive for him to buy. But 1926-1954 he could handle and he started to his project one volume at time.

   But some of his issues were coverless and he borrowed copies from my set of individual issues and made color Xerox copies of the covers. There were at least a dozen, maybe more issues that were bound with Xerox covers. As a second generation pulp collector, I tried to talk Harry out of binding the pulps. Some of the issues were in really nice shape and it was a shame to see them bound with trimmed edges. But Harry was from the first generation of collectors and he liked the look of the bound volumes.

   Harry worked on this project for almost 20 years, up until his death at age 88 in 2006. He had prior warning that his illness was terminal and at the 2006 Pulpcon he told me and several other friends that he was dying. He welcomed us to visit his house and buy his extensive collection of pulps, books, and vintage paperbacks. Which we did. I made four such trips buying his sets of Western Story, Astounding, Short Stories and other items.

   One day, at dinner at my house, a group of us were having dinner and the subject of the Weird Tales set came up. Harry said he wanted $10,000 for the bound in red years of 1926-1954. I pointed out that not only were the most expensive issues missing, but the set was bound which was a problem as far as value was concerned. Also I knew from personal experience that at least a dozen issues had Xerox color covers. I also remembered that there were a few other issues with pieces missing out of the covers.

   However, I said I was willing to pay $5,000 considering the flaws, etc. Another well known, veteran collector also said he thought it might be worth $5,000 but no more. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t even sure it was worth the 5 grand. Harry, who loved bound sets, was justifiably upset of course. In fact, he said he would throw them in the dumpster before selling them for $5,000. One of our friends got a laugh by saying to tell him which dumpster because he would be there.

   I figured that was that but a couple weeks later, I got a call from Harry. He had tried several other collectors and bookstores and no one would pay the $10,000. I’m pretty sure they would not even have paid the $5,000. Harry said if I still wanted them I could have the set for $5,000 and I accepted. He didn’t last much longer and died in December of 2006. So ended a 40 year friendship.

   But I still have Harry’s bound set and it looks beautiful bound in red in the master bedroom. But I’d still rather have them unbound!

Editorial Note: This video produced by Adventure House of the Weird Tales collection they were offering may not stay online for long, but at least for now, it is still up:

An inquiry from Bill Bickley:

Hello- I’m trying to identify what book the painting I purchased recently was used on…any ideas?? I thought it was a Mack Bolan or Nick Carter but have gone through most of those covers online to no avail. Do you know or perhaps know someone who has an encyclopedic knowledge of these types of books you can show or post this for others to see and offer opinions/answers?? Thanks!

WHAT IS GOOD COVER ART?
by Josef Hoffman


   In my view, the vast majority of cover illustrations for present-day crime novels are boring or even ugly, and that includes all subgenres. Worst of all are the uninspired photographic covers with images of a pistol or a knife, a house or a street, one or more people, especially if these have nothing whatsoever to do with the plot of the crime story.

   There is not much point in pining for times past, when covers were still drawn or painted and suggested significant scenes of the crime story. It would seem to be the wrong approach to simply imitate the style of the cover illustrations of the 1950s, for example; and this is also wrong even if the old crime novels are reissued.

   For instance, I hesitate to buy the recently published book containing the collected stories of the Black Mask author Paul Cain (The Complete Slayers), as I feel put off by the much-praised illustration by Ron Lesser on the cover. It shows a scantily clothed, sexy young woman with a cigarette and a gun, with which she appears to have just killed a man.

JOSEF HOFFMANN Paperback Covers

   My distaste for this cover illustration has nothing to do with “political correctness” or even prudery, but rather with historical consciousness. I would have preferred it if original cover illustrations from old Black Mask editions had been used for the cover of the book, for example as parts of a collage.

   It’s not as if I do not also enjoy so-called “GGA” (Good Girl Art), but only when it originates from the same period as the publication of the books. Back then it was something new, a daring venture that only just escaped the censors. Nowadays one is practically bombarded with pictures of more or less naked people everywhere. Relying on sexploitation to create cover art is dull and annoying.

   Taking a historical view, I can even appreciate such an extreme and infamous, frequently reproduced cover image as Rudolph Belarski’s The Doll’s Trunk Murder by Helen Reilly (Popular Library, # 211) from 1949. It is so bizarre and surreal that even any misogynist tendencies that might exist are neutralised aesthetically.

JOSEF HOFFMANN Paperback Covers

   The picture shows a pretty young woman tied to a chair. Her mouth is sealed with adhesive tape. Her blouse is open, revealing much of one breast. A male hand holding a knife approaches the woman. The observer cannot tell whether the intended use of the knife is to abuse the woman, to kill her, or to cut through her fetters. The picture has a thrilling, explosive effect.

   Such an image would have quite a different impact on me if it were painted and published now, in 2012. As mentioned, I am not talking about “political correctness” here, which is sensibly applied to political speeches, news and similar statements, but which has no place in artistic products, even if they are merely lurid entertainment.

   What I mean is a contemporary taste. A relatively good solution to the problem was found by Black Lizard Books in designing the newly reissued, old noir crime novels. The cover illustrations by Kirwan capture the sinister atmosphere of these crime stories without imitating the original covers, as is sadly the case with some of the covers in the Hard Case Crime series.

   Here is a link to Kirwan’s covers he did for Black Lizard. I do not like them all equally, as I find some of them too surreal, but most of them are well done. One I think is very good is the one he did for Black Friday, by David Goodis. The atmosphere is so hopeless and the colours are so cold that the picture suits the story.

JOSEF HOFFMANN Paperback Covers

   A complete collection of the Hard Case Crime covers may be found here. An example of one I consider bad is the picture of Lawrence Block’s 69 Barrow Street. It is rather unimaginative to put just a nude in the middle of the cover, not exciting at all.

JOSEF HOFFMANN Paperback Covers

   Much better is the cover art of No House Limit by Steve Fisher. These big dice in front of the picture symbolize chance in life and are significant for the novel.

JOSEF HOFFMANN Paperback Covers

   Perhaps the publishers’ art directors should look around at some comic artists in order to find new visual forms of expression that might suit crime novels. Admittedly, it costs more to pay these artists for their work (which should also require that they read the crime novel in question) than it would to simply use a more or less suitable picture from a photo archive, or to plunder one from the masterpieces of art history.

   It involves more effort and expense to create a new picture than to select one that already exists. By the way, it is only acceptable to use a painting by Caravaggio on the cover of a crime novel that is published now if the story deals with the robbery of such a painting, or is set during Caravaggio’s time.

   It might well be that I have suffered a surfeit of crime novel cover art and am therefore hypercritical. I know of no ideal solution. Perhaps some other crime lovers have better suggestions.

REVIEWED BY RAY O’LEARY:
   

ELLERY QUEEN Calamity Town

  ELLERY QUEEN – Calamity Town. Little Brown, hardcover, 1942. Pocket 283, paperback, 1945. Reprinted many times, in both hardcover and soft.

   When I first started reading Mysteries, back in the mid-60s, I pretty much devoured the earlier titles of the acknowledged “masters” of the Classic Detective Story (except for Erle Stanley Gardner, whom I ignored until the late 70s) so I probably first read this about a quarter-century ago. I turned to it again, just recently, because it was the only Ellery Queen selected by H. R. F. Keating in his 100 Best Books of Crime and Mystery.

   Ellery “Smith” comes to the New England town of Wrightsville to work on his new novel, and stays — due to Wartime housing shortages — in a house built by Mr. Wright for his daughter Nora, when she was going to be married … only just before the Wedding, her fiance, one Jim Haight, disappeared.

ELLERY QUEEN Calamity Town

   Shortly after Ellery takes up residence, however, the missing Haight returns, and it isn’t long before he and Nora are re-betrothed and then married. Ellery gives up the house, but as he and Nora’s sister are moving some of Jim’s things in, they discover three letters, dated for the forthcoming Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, in which he describes Nora’s illness and death.

   Sure enough, on Thanksgiving and Christmas Nora is ill, but come New Year’s Day, it’s someone completely else who buys the farm, a victim of Arsenic poisoning.

   Hard to say whether I figured out the solution of this one or just remembered it from my Salad Days, since the idea has been used since. The characters are credible, if not terribly deep, and the prose serviceable. Not as memorable as the three Queen novels on my list, but pretty good nonetheless.

Editorial Comment:   The top image is that of the hardcover First Edition. The lower one is one of the later Pocket reprints. I chose it because of the rare split-screen effect, one that I don’t believe was used very often by paperback publishers, then or now.

THE FRONT COVER:

ERLE STANLEY GARDNER TCOT Velvet Claws



THE INSIDE FRONT JACKET FLAP:

A MORROW MYSTERY


To Readers of Detective Stories:

   One day last December our editorial and sales departments agreed that too many mystery stories are being published in America and decided to accept no more such novels for at least six months. The next day two manuscripts were received. They were both by the same author. They were both detective stories. They were both accepted at once for publication.

   The Case of the Velvet Claws is one of those manuscripts. The second will be published in the fall. (*) And both sales and editorial departments claim the credit for being the first to prophecy that Erle Stanley Gardner will find a place immediately as one of the most popular authors of detective fiction.

   We hope that after reading this book you will agree we were justified in changing our minds.

(signed)   The Publishers.

* The Case of the Sulky Girl.

The Story

   Perry Mason, criminal lawyer, is retained by a much-too-beautiful woman who obviously is concealing more than she is telling. She has heard that Perry Mason not only a law unto himself, but that he never lets a client down. She has been indiscreet, and is involved in blackmail.

   The case is immediately complicated by murder, and Perry Mason finds himself as busy keeping clear of the law himself as he is in saving his client. The action is swift, dramatic, convincing. The handling and solution of the case are well developed and logical — perhaps because the author is a practicing lawyer with a trained legal mind.

   Mr. Gardner’s writing has a style and personality of its own. His characters are colorful and vital. The lawyer, Perry Mason, and his charming secretary, Della Street, we believe, will become famous characters to all detective story enthusiasts.

WILLIAM MORROW & COMPANY
386 Fourth Avenue        New York



THE INSIDE BACK JACKET FLAP:   A detailed synopsis of –In Time for Murder, by R. A. J. Walling, a mystery novel also published by Morrow.

THE BACK COVER:   A statement of the philosophy of the publisher relative to detective fiction, and a list of the titles they had recently published:

R. A. WALLING
   Stroke of One
   –In Time for Murder
CHARLES G. BOOTH
    Those Seven Alibis
    Gold Bullets
CHRISTOPHER BUSH
    The Case of the April Fools
    Cut Throat
WALTER F. EBERHARDT
    A Dagger in the Dark
ROGER DENBIE (upcoming)
    Death on the Limited (April 1933)

COVER PRICE:   $2.00.

NOTE: Thanks to Bill Pronzini and Mark Terry for the cover images used to provide the information above.

REVIEWED BY J. F. NORRIS:


ANN CARDWELL – Crazy to Kill. Mystery House, hardcover, 1941. Black Cat Detective #10, digest paperback, 1944. Harlequin #22, Canada, pb, 1949. Macfadden 35-119, paperback, 1962; Uni-Books reprint, no date. Nightwood Editions, softcover, Canada, 1990. The book was also converted to an opera with this title by James Reaney, Sr., and John Beckwith; it was performed in Canada in 1989.

ANN CARDWELL Crazy to Kill

   Earlier this month there was a post of a review of this book by Canadian author Ann Cardwell. The review by Bill Deeck ended with a tantalizing sentence trailing off in an ellipsis of ambiguity. “One of the rare mysteries with a mental institution setting and one of the rare… But that mustn’t be revealed.” We were all puzzled. What did Bill Deeck mean?

   I ordered a copy and when it arrived last weekend read the very short novel rather quickly. The book, a paperback published by an outfit called Uni-Books, was littered with typos and punctuation errors but most infuriating of all the characters’ names kept changing — sometimes within the same paragraph. I don’t have any other copy to compare this with so I can’t tell where these errors came from, but it still drove me batty.

   One of the murder victims is called Tim but he when he is first introduced his name changes from Tim to Tom in the span of one line. Later in the book he is referred to as Tom again and then Tim a few lines later. The narrator, Agatha Lawson, is once called Miss Lawrence which is the first name of one of the police detectives. Miss Lawson is also once called Miss Wilson — the name of one of the nurses in the hospital. On the rear cover of the book Dr. Holman is rechristened Dr. Holden by someone who clearly didn’t read the book.

ANN CARDWELL Crazy to Kill

   The blurb on the back also downplays the lurid murder story and instead focuses on a very minor incident involving a jealous lover’s triangle among two nurses and a doctor — although two doctor’s names are mentioned and a fourth nurse’s name is thrown into the works.

   You can imagine how this was more than just a minor distraction like an occasional typo that may pop up in even a leading paperback publisher’s book. I even began to wonder if this was intentional. After all, Agatha Lawson is a mental patient and this could have been a clever manipulation of truth and delusion on the author’s part. Then I discarded that thought and did my best to overlook the errors and typos. The story was engaging enough and I ought not to let minutiae like that get the better of me

   So to the story. Miss Lawson narrates a tale of a crazed murderer on the loose who is killing staff members and attacking patients seemingly at random. No motive seems clear. The multiple methods of murder (stabbing, bludgeoning, strangling) only reinforce the suspicion of a homicidal maniac at work.

   I have to admit having been trained so well in the contemporary thriller trope of the “unreliable narrator” that I was skeptical of much of what Miss Lawson told the reader. I wasn’t sure I was getting the real facts and played closer attention to the other characters’ speeches and behavior.

ANN CARDWELL Crazy to Kill

   Agatha is also obsessed with leaving the institution and seems more concerned about passing her “sanity exam” than with the murderer in their midst. Yet somehow she is allowed to serve as a Watson to the two police detectives in charge of the investigation. As she tells Lt. Hogan, “It takes a thief to catch a thief,” implying that she knows more of the ways of the patients than an outsider would.

   I hesitate to go into the sometimes complicated plot any further. Bill’s review does a good job of mentioning the salient points. Let me just say that Cardwell did a good job of misleading the reader. There are several surprises that caught me off guard leading up to the final revelation of the killer.

   The final twist may not be a huge surprise but it was the perfect ending to a story that reminded me of a few of those British anthology horror films of the 1970s like Asylum and The House that Dripped Blood. Cardwell may well have created a minor classic in the subgenre of the homicidal killer mystery.

   A review of other books published prior to 1941 might even prove that her book is a first of its kind. I cannot think of one earlier than this with a similarly constructed story although there are a handful with that rare … ah, but that must not be revealed. Deja vu, eh?

Editorial Comments:   As far as I know, Uni-Books was one of those repackaging companies that bought up rights to books from other publishers and put new covers on them but more or less kept the text block the same. They then sold the books as the equivalent of instant remainders, dumping them off to drugstores and supermarkets to sell at whatever discount they chose.

   The cover of the Macfadden edition, done by Ronnie Lesser, continued the “nurse” theme of the Black Cat version, but there’s still that menacing shadow standing in the doorway as a reminder that there is a mystery involved.

   The Uni-Books cover, however, the lowermost of the three you see here is purely a generic one with nurses only. Unless you read the small print (the same as on the Macfadden), you’d never know it was a mystery. (Well, there is the title, of course.)

   They’re not exactly unknown, but to fans of Michael Avallone in the US, they might as well be. Perhaps it’s only a tease, but British mystery bookseller Jamie Sturgeon has sent me cover images of two of the three Avallone crime novels published only in England. (An earlier version of this post stated that all three are Ed Noon adventures, but only #2 and #3 are.)

1. The Killing Star. Robert Hale, 1969. Dust wrapper by Eileen Walton:

MICHAEL AVALLONE

Blurb: Five housewives butchered, horribly mutilated and on each terrible occasion, the unknown killer had marked the symbol of the Star of David on the door. What ancient and horrible vengeance was reaching out from the graves of Europe to announce a greater crime?

   Follow Detective Sam Swope on one of the most remarkable cases ever to tax the powers of “police procedure.” Learn as Sam Swope does that Death has many faces but the most savage mask of all has to be the one that comes in the guise of friendship, service and love. This is a raw and brutal book that is as contemporary as the morning’s murder.

Beginning the first chapter: High Noon. Now. Vietnam, race riots, Civil Rights battles. Taxes, irreverent movies, LSD trips for the unsophisticated and the foolish. Teenagers unsettled about how to cut their hair, how to dress — how to look. The cheats, the frauds, the second raters are having a field day at the expense of the victims. Music is struggling to sound coherent. The voice of the country is fighting the echoes of the unconstitutionality, alien reverberations and the shouts of doom from all sides.

   The Left, the Right and Dead Centre are at destructive odds. The big clocks, the little clocks and fifty million wrist watches toll and tick towards Infinity. Take a rocket to the moon, vote Medicare and honour thy father and mother as thyself and meanwhile – look out for Number One!

   The place. Your City and mine… Steepled, skylined, smog-filled, crime-filled and throbbing with immediacy. Concrete and common clay. General Motors products crowding the byways, jet planes thundering overhead, forests of T.V. antennae stabbing the unfriendly sky. What’s in it for me?

   This is the battle cry of the metropolis. The sun, the moon and the stars have no chance for survival. Poetry, Beauty, Honesty are but dreams. The winds, the rains, the storms lash and howl through the canyons of the skyscrapers. The Crooked City never sleeps. It is a big zoo, vibrating with the footsteps of the great white hunters. The metropolis is in the cross-haired sights of annihilation […]

2. The Big Stiffs. Robert Hale, 1977. Ed Noon.

3. Dark on Monday. Robert Hale, 1978. Ed Noon.

MICHAEL AVALLONE

Blurb: The incredible crime wave began with a mysterious after-midnight telephone call to Manhattan Private Eye extraordinaire, Ed Noon – a death S.O.S. from an Irish dancer who looked Chinese. Then came the locust plague of poison-pen letters, a lethal swarm of brutality and terror which metamorphosed into an ugly chain of slaughtered Broadway showgirls.

   All of which made Noon a Monday worrier – the Ed Noon of the pre-President’s agent days, the Noon who still slept on the couch in his office, when the hit musical DRAGON TIME playing to SRO audiences on Times Square, was also the playground of one of the most viscous killers Ed Noon had ever encountered. A killer whose name would not be found in a fortune cookie…



BONUS: The Flower-Covered Corpse. Robert Hale, 1969, preceding the Curtis US paperback edition (1972).

MICHAEL AVALLONE

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