Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Two-fer Tuesdays: Mixed Messages Maybe?

A twice-monthly pairing of book covers that just seem to go together. Click on either of these images to open up an enlargement.

Never Love a Stranger, by Harold Robbins (Cardinal, 1964), the back cover of which can be found here; and Always Love a Stranger, by Roger Davis (Hillman, 1961), with the back cover posted here. Sadly, I don’t find credits for the cover illustrations on either of these novels. Can anyone identify their artists?

Monday, August 14, 2017

Because I Needed a Kane Fix …

Bullet Proof, by Frank Kane (Dell, 1954), the fourth novel in a series starring Manhattan private eye Johnny Liddell.
Illustration by Robert Stanley.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Two-fer Tuesdays: Uh, Is There a Third Option?

A twice-monthly pairing of book covers that just seem to go together. Click on either of these images to open up an enlargement.

Say Yes to Murder, by W.T. Ballard (Best Detective Selections, 1943), with a cover illustration by Peter Driben; Never Say No to a Killer, by “Jonathan Gant,” aka Clifton Adams (Ace Double, 1956), featuring a painting by an unidentified artist.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Because I Needed a Gault Fix …

Run, Killer, Run, by William Campbell Gault (Dell, 1955).
Illustration by Stanley Borack.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Two-fer Tuesdays: What’s Behind Door No. 1?

A twice-monthly pairing of book covers that just seem to go together. Click on either of these images to open up an enlargement.

Killer’s Choice, by Wade Miller (Signet, 1961), with a cover painting by Victor Kalin; Killer’s Choice, by Ed McBain (Permabooks, 1962), featuring an ilustration by Robert McGinnis (one of several he created for McBain’s 87th Precinct series).

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Monday, July 3, 2017

Because I Needed a John Dickson Carr Fix …

The Burning Court, by John Dickson Carr (Bantam, 1963).
Illustration by Robert K. Abbett.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

It’s Always Good to Have a Plan

Cover design by Will Staehle.

While contemplating the imminent release, in late July, of Killing Is My Business (Tor), Adam Christopher’s second novel in his speculative-fiction/crime-fiction series starring steely eyed, tough-talking robot private investigator Raymond Electromatic, I got to thinking about how many other imaginative yarns based in the realm of crime and corruption have included the word “business” in their titles. At least a good handful, it seems.

Click on the images below to open enlargements.

(Left to right) Murder Is My Business, by Brett Halliday (Dell, 1963); and Murder Is My Business (Hard Case Crime, 2010). Both editions feature cover art by Robert McGinnis.

No Business for a Lady, by James L. Rubel (Gold Medal, 1965); and No Business for a Lady (Gold Medal, 1950).

Bullets Are My Business, by John B. West (Signet, 1960)—the fourth book featuring Manhattan boxer-turned-private eye Aloysius Algernon “Rocky” Steele—with a cover illustration by Barye Phillips; and Strictly Business, by Eunice Brandon (Midwood, 1965), with cover art by Paul Rader.

Trouble Is My Business, by Raymond Chandler (Pocket, 1965), with a front likely painted by Harry Bennett; and Trouble Is My Business (Pocket, 1958), featuring cover art by Robert Schulz.

My Business Is Murder, by Henry Kane (Avon, 1957), with cover art by Robert Maguire; and My Business Is Murder (Avon, 1954).

The Venom Business, by Michael Crichton (Hard Case Crime, 2013), featuring a captivating illustration by Gregory Manchess; and Violence Is My Business, by Stephen Marlowe (Gold Medal, 1958), with cover artwork by Barye Phillips.

Bad for Business, by Rex Stout (Century, 1945); and “Pleasure Girls Are Big Business!” (True Cases of Women in Crime, January 1951), with a façade painting by Howell Dodd.

Dead of Summer

Today is the first full day of summer 2017—a perfect time to revisit Killer Covers’ extensive selection of vintage crime-fiction fronts linked to this season. Artists represented include Barye Phillips, Robert Bonfils, Robert McGinnis, Paul Rader, Mitchell Hooks, Charles Copeland, J. Oval, George Ziel, Harry Barton, and Charles Binger.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Father’s Day Links Round-up

• The fine Web site Atlas Obscura showcases a variety of pulp-era crime-fiction works featured at the Wolfsonian-FIU museum in Miami Beach, Florida, as part of an exhibition titled In the Shadows: American Pulp Cover Art. The display is scheduled to remain on view at the museum through Sunday, July 9.

• Editors at Literary Hub have gathered together some of their favorite risqué book covers from literary fiction. “[W]hile racy covers are expected for works of erotica,” they explain in an introduction, “literary covers like to create a little shock and awe sometimes too—and when they do, they also tend to be sneakily suggestive, in ways that compel us to keep looking, whether with their titles or their—ahem—representative iconography.”

• Which brings us to this eye-catching collection, in Pulp International, of artist Harry Barton’s numerous paperback book fronts showing men kissing women’s necks.

• You’re likely familiar with the dramatic final scene, from Planet of the Apes (1968), in which an astronaut played by Charlton Heston, having landed on earth in the distant future, discovers the destroyed Statue of Liberty. But did you know that hasn’t been the only time writers and artists have imagined Lady Liberty’s ruin?

• Backchannel examines the power of typography, which it says “can signify dangerous ideas, normalize dictatorships, and sever broken nations. In some cases it may be a matter of life and death. And it can do this as powerfully as the words it depicts.”

• And The Guardian observes that while “the digital revolution was expected to kill traditional publishing,” things haven’t quite turned out that way. Print books, it declares, are now “more beautifully designed and lovingly cherished” than ever.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

McGinnis Lands on the Runway

Brett Halliday’s Never Kill a Client and Murder and the Married Virgin (both from Dell, 1963); artwork by Robert McGinnis.

From Vogue magazine:
Miuccia Prada is known for pulling together disparate references, and her Fall 2017 collection did not disappoint on that front. Among the looks on her runway in Milan tonight were a series of prints pulled from paperback novels of the ’60s, drawn by renowned illustrator Robert E. McGinnis. Looks 30 to 34 featured McGinnis’s depictions of bombshells in various states of alluring undress, each featured on the covers of mid-century books by Brett Halliday (and one by Erle Stanley Gardner) with salacious titles like Murder and the Married Virgin and Never Kill a Client. Titillating! McGinnis’s artwork was also featured in Prada’s set this season, with some of his famous works collaged in the Via Fogazzaro show space alongside modern photography and maps.
(Hat tip to Art Scott.)

Monday, May 1, 2017

Because I Needed a McBain Fix …

Lady, Lady, I Did It! By Ed McBain (Permabooks, 1962).
Illustration by Robert McGinnis.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Duped: “Situation—Grave”

The latest installment in Killer Covers’ “haven’t we seen this front someplace before?” series. Previous entries are here.

Spanish painter Joan Beltrán Bofill (1939-2009) isn’t exactly a household name, at least on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Yet he left behind a handsome and wide-ranging wealth of canvases—plus a quantity of attention-grabbing paperback fronts that aren’t always linked to his portfolio. According to a Web site called Tutt’Art,
[He] was born in Barcelona. Joan attended the prestigious Casa Lonja, where several artists from the Catalan School, including Picasso, had also studied. It was here that Joan studied drawing, painting, composition, and theory of color. Joan also studied at the Sant Jordi Fine Arts School in Barcelona.

Considered by many to be the foremost Spanish contemporary Impressionist of today, Beltrán Bofill paintings evoke memories and feelings of previous centuries. In Bofill’s sensuous, free brushwork and lively colors, as well as his choice of subjects, one is reminded of Renoir, Monet, and Munch. But, although the influences of many artists are brought to mind, Bofill succeeds in creating a very distinctive style and beauty of his own. His work cascades with light, color, and rhythm of movement, which results in creating in the eye of the beholder a sense of beauty and tranquility. Dating back to 1972, Joan Beltrán Bofill has had one-man exhibitions in Palma, Barcelona, Valencia, Madrid, Monaco, Paris, New York, Chicago, Palm Beach, and Tokyo.
Tutt’Art offers various examples of his Impressionist efforts, and they’re well worth scrutinizing. However, it’s the artistic mastery Bofill brought to his work on book fronts for European publishers during the second half of the 20th century—usually under the pseudonym Noiquet (or Portada Noiquet)—that interests us here. In addition to creating jackets for Enid Blyton children’s stories and Zane Grey Westerns, Bofill fashioned striking covers for novels by Erle Stanley Gardner, Agatha Christie, Earl Derr Biggers, and the astonishingly productive Carter Brown (aka Alan Geoffrey Yates).

Bofill/Noiquet was also responsible for the captivating paperback façade embedded at the top of this post, featuring a young brunette in her underwear, kneeling on what appears to be a bed. It comes from UK publisher Roberts & Vinter’s 1962 edition of Situation—Grave. As I understand it, that thriller was first released in 1949 as Sweetheart, Here’s Your Grave, but was retitled when another British house, Alexander Moring, brought out its own softcover edition in 1958. It was one in a plethora of popular works penned by Stephen Daniel Frances, once acclaimed—under the pseudonym Hank Janson—as “England’s best-selling mystery writer.”

I’ve mentioned Frances several times in this blog. That South London-born clerk turned journalist turned author concocted a succession of tough-guy tales—rich in American pulp-fiction vernacular, though Frances himself reportedly never visited the States—starring a Chicago-based newspaperman-cum-detective also named Hank Janson. (As legend has it, Frances selected the forename Hank because it rhymed with Yank.) The earliest of those quickly churned-out crime yarns was When Dames Get Tough, which debuted in 1946. New entries continued to appear until the 1970s, though by then their crafting had been handed over to lesser fictionists, and “the series had become near pornographic in content,” as Lee Server remarks in his Encyclopedia of Pulp Fiction Writers.

The books often carried memorable titles, among them Slay-Ride for Cutie (1949), Hotsy You’ll Be Chilled (1951), Blonde on the Spot (1949), Broads Don't Scare Easy (1951), Skirts Bring Me Sorrow (1952), Sugar and Vice (1958), and Hell’s Belles (1961). And a number of them boasted fairly revealing artwork by Reginald Heade, which—combined with the stories’ violence and sexual suggestiveness (there were frequent mentions of “clinging sheer stockings and ripped ‘knickers’”)—eventually landed the Janson books afoul of British obscenity laws, though by then Frances had decamped with his profits for a life of leisure in Spain. (He died of emphysema in 1989.)

During the middle of the last century, “Hank Janson’s sexy crime thrillers were the hottest thing around,” recalls Colin Dunne in a 2014 piece for the Daily Mail. “The American writers Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett had elevated the hard-boiled ’tec story into something like poetry, but Hank turned up the violence and the sex and took it back downmarket. Right down.” British crime writer John Harvey, creator of the Charlie Resnick series and a Hank Janson fan in his youth, writes in his introduction to the recent double release of two early novels, Amphetamines and Pearls & The Geranium Kiss, that “The first hard-boiled crime novels I read were written by an Englishman pretending to be American: Stephen Daniel Frances, using the pseudonym Hank Janson, which was also the name of his hero. With titles like Smart Girls Don’t Talk and Sweetheart, Here’s Your Grave, the Janson books, dolled up in suitably tantalizing covers, made their way, hand to hand, around the school playground, falling open at any passage that, to our young minds, seemed sexy and daring. This was a Catholic boys’ grammar school after all, and any reference to parts of the body below the waist, other than foot or knee, was thought to merit, if not excommunication, at least three Our Fathers and a dozen Hail Marys.”

Bofill/Noiquet contributed two cover illustrations that I know of to the Hank Janson line, both of them commissioned by Roberts & Vinter: one for the 1963 edition of Second String (shown above, on the right), and the other for Situation—Grave. I don’t find any full-length reviews of the latter novel online, but a Web page devoted to Janson first editions mentions that its plot is “set in Hollywood—the action switching from studio to marijuana den, and with intimations of the making of a snuff movie.” Classic lurid storytelling.

Apparently, I’m not the only person to have been impressed by Bofill/Noiquet’s Situation—Grave front, with its elegant brushstroke work in gouache. A version of his illustration later graced an issue of a Finnish, digest-style “cheapo paperback series called Max Strong,” named after a fictional Australian detective whose exploits—“excitement of a different kind”—were composed, in large part, by editor-author Frank Sydney Greenop (aka Robert Dudgeon) and designed to capture a readership on the scale of Carter Brown’s. In his write-up on this publication, Finnish blogger Juri Nummelin headlines it as having been distributed in 1954, though the wrapper date says 1965. He goes on to explain that the cover story, Murhat ovat epämiellyttäviä (translated as Murder’s So Unpleasant) was the work of “Frank Struan”—real name Graham Fisher—who was “born in 1920 … [and] used the Frank Struan pseudonym in a series of stories that were published in the legendary British magazine called Tit-Bits in the early ’50s.” As to the tale’s plot, Nummelin calls it “a mock-American hard-boiled crime novel with a private-eye hero called Johnny July.”
In this outing, Johnny July is hired to guard a wealthy business man, but he dies—in a closed room!—before July gets a chance to make out just from whom the man’s supposed to be guarded ... There are two beautiful women involved in the case, the young bride of the deceased and her sister who seems to be after the man’s inheritance. Or some such. … It's an one-hour entertainment, nothing more. There are notable gaps in the plot and Johnny July isn’t a very interesting character, but I didn’t really mind, as the stuff went on with some speed. There are many references to Chandler. The city of the story is Bay City, Chandler’s fictional city, and Johnny July is mugged and taken to a mental institute to be held there just like [Philip] Marlowe in Farewell, My Lovely.
You’ll note I wrote that a “version” of Bofill/Noiquet’s art introduced Murder’s So Unpleasant. That’s because, if you look closely at the book front on the left, you’ll realize that the image has been flipped from the way it appeared on Situation—Grave, turning Noiquet’s signature at the bottom of the picture backwards. And the scantily clad brunette is now holding a gun, whereas that same hand—formerly her right, now her left—had previously been clutching her left bicep. I have no idea whether Bofill was commissioned to make this modification to his painting, but I’d guess it was executed by somebody else. It’s well done; however, 20th-century publishers of “cheapo paperback series” rarely coughed up the dough demanded by famous artists to alter their compositions for second use.

Joan Beltrán Bofill wasn’t as prolific a book-cover painter as some of his contemporaries (he probably reserved his energy for his Impressionist masterpieces). However, he created a number of excellent specimens of the breed. Below are eight more of my favorites. Click on the images for enlargements.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Because I Needed a Gardner Fix …

The Case of the Hesitant Hostess, by Erle Stanley Gardner (Pocket, 1959). Illustration by Charles Binger.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday Finds: “The Halfbreed”

Another in our growing line of vintage book covers we love.

The Halfbreed, by Al James (Midwood, 1961).
Illustration by Robert Maguire.

When I first saw this paperback front, I presumed that—based on the young woman’s dark hair and braids, and the vibrantly hued blanket draped across her hip—she must be this story’s titular “halfbreed.” But I was wrong, as evidenced by the back-jacket copy:
Sin—Southern Style!

They entered the water together, wading in until the warm surf swirled around their knees. Wanda raised her face to his, her gentle features contorted with passion.

Frank kissed the open mouth and felt her pleasure vibrate through his body. His hand slid around her waist and she trembled as he moved the palm, slowly, softly. She thought of her husband, Ben, her worn-out, rich old man, and suddenly it didn’t matter that he could give her nothing but money. Frank, her handsome halfbreed, was here now, and he was all man!!!

She broke the kiss. “We were going swimming,” she reminded. Her panting was audible.

“We are swimming,” Frank answered.

“I don’t want to swim, anyhow,” she moaned, twisting in his arms. “You know what I want.”

“Yes, I know,” Frank said, and he leaned her downward, down toward the sand …


Turning the Florida Everglades into a Jungle of Sensuality!!!
Yuck! (Or, more appropriately in this case, Yuck!!!) That’s terrible writing, even for publisher Midwood Books, almost too dreadful to retype here. And not all that illuminating. Since I don’t own a copy of The Halfbreed, I can only assume that the mixed-blood Florida male who makes young Wanda’s blood race must be part Native American (rather than half-black, as was the case with other sleaze paperbacks that intended to shock mid-20th-century Americans). The South has a long history of interracial sexual consorting—not always acknowledged—and in the humid environs of the Sunshine State, those temptations might only be heightened.

Or at least that’s what “Al James” would have you believe. As I mentioned in a post from two years ago, which focused on a cover boasting no fewer curvaceous charms than this one, James was one of several pseudonyms behind which labored Albert James Hjertstedt, the son of seemingly inexhaustible fictionist Gunnar Hjerstedt, better known under the byline “Day Keene” (To Kiss or Kill, Dead in Bed, Too Hot to Hold, etc.). The younger Hjertstedt never surpassed his father in terms of literary output, but as Al James he racked up plenty of credits in crime-fiction periodicals (everything from Trapped Detective Story Magazine and Sure-Fire Detective Stories to the higher-prestige Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Manhunt), and copies of his novels—including Child Bride (1961), The Lover (1961), and The Shameful Breed (1973)—can still be unearthed from the dustier corners of well-stocked used bookstores.

I, myself, would love to find a copy of The Halfbreed in good condition, though I’d be buying it for the Robert Maguire cover alone. The chances of my actually reading it? Unlikely!!!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Because I Needed a Christie Fix …

The Mystery of the Blue Train, by Agatha Christie (Pocket, 1963).
Illustration by Harry Bennett.