The Lethal Sex

the lethal sex 1959

This important (and overlooked for decades) 1959 anthology was reissued by The Mystery Writers Of America in 2018, and is available in print and Kindle editions. Something tells me equal representation for women writers wasn’t top of mind for editors, publishers or even the MWA sixty years ago.

The original paperback edition showcases a wonderful Robert McGinnis cover illustration, though in keeping with the times and then prevailing trends, it’s a needlessly sexy picture for the deliciously dark but not necessarily saucy content of the 14 stories selected by MWA Grandmaster (though not at the time this book was done) and editor John D. MacDonald, who only broke out of the pulps himself and into the big time (relatively) just nine years earlier with The Brass Cupcake, then went on to bigger success with The Executioners, filmed as Cape Fear in 1962, and of course, his long running Travis McGee P.I. series. MacDonald provides a terrific introduction as well as lead-ins for each of the fourteen stories written by women, some of them full-time mystery/crime fiction writers, some working in other genres from science fiction to romance and even children’s books. MacDonald adopts an appropriately apologetic stance, noting that some of the talented writers in the anthology deserved much wider recognition.

Some did get it (back then, at least), while some, sadly, did not. So there are some names I’ve never heard of and been unable to learn more about. And there are luminaries from that era, like Margaret Millar, the 1956 Edgar Award winner for Best Novel, who wrote more than two dozen mystery novels including three different series. Somehow Millar (previously Margaret Sturm) managed to snag Mr. Kenneth Millar in between pounding out successful novels, the Mister better known as ‘Ross MacDonald’, hard-boiled maestro of Lew Archer fame.

Death In High Heels Montage

And there’s the incredibly prolific Christiann Brand, who wrote more books than I can count, with multiple mystery series, stand-alone novels, general fiction, children’s series and more. Her Death In High Heels (above) is a favorite. In fact, The Lethal Sex gives fair representation to U.S. as well as UK writers like Brand. The book was published later in Britain, though from the look of it, lost some of the stories along the way.

The LEthal Sex UK Edition

The complete US edition of The Lethal Sex also included stories by Ursula Curtis, Bernice Carey, Margaret Manners, Anthony Gilbert, Jean Potts, Miriam Allen DeFord, Gladys Cluff, Carolyn Thomas, Neda Tyre, D. Jenkin Smith, Veronica Parker Johns and Juanita Sheridan. I had a crumbling 1959 paperback bought on Ebay in a bulk-books purchase which barely made it through an initial reading, so I was thrilled to see that it was re-issued, and in mighty handsome packaging this time, even if it’s not a McGinnis painting. Look for this one. It’s a worthwhile read.

The Lethal Sex 2018 Edition

 

In Comes Death

In COmes Death 1951 copy

This 1952 paperback edition of Paul Whelton’s In Comes Death is actually an abridged version of his 1951 hardcover (also released in the UK in 1952), the last in his six-book Garry Dean series, Dean a tenacious, hard-nosed reporter for Belle City’s Press Bulletin.

In Comes Death Hardcovers

Here Dean witnesses a young woman faint right in the courtroom when she hears that her boyfriend, Leo Parrish, will be charged with manslaughter for the hit and run death of one David Muriel out on deserted Frog Lane. She knows he’s innocent, and although Dean’s editor and the police are sure Parrish is their man, the reporter investigates, coming up against some mighty dangerous types determined to frame young Parrish for the murder, and racing to protect Parrish’s girlfriend when she’s marked for death as well. The cover art (uncredited, as best I can verify) depicts an actual scene from the novel (now there’s a rarity!) with the real killer stealthily creeping up on the girl, about to strangle her with one of her own stockings.

Other novels in Paul Whelton’s Garry Dean series included Call The Lady Discreet, Women Are Skin Deep (AKA Uninvited Corpse) and Pardon My Blood.

Paul Whelton montage

 

Don’t You Weep, Don’t You Moan

Dont You Weep Dont You Moan

Don’t You Weep, Don’t You Moan by Richard Coleman, a 1955 paperback edition shown here. I don’t know if it’s really “A novel of raw desire”. Originally published in 1935 and garnering good reviews at that time, even at the New York Times Book Review (still out there online), it might be called a torrid soap opera with literary leanings and set in Charleston, South Carolina’s African-American community.

Dont You Weep Dont You Mpan Cover 1935 - 1955

I assume the title’s a nod to the old spiritual, which was also turned into a folk song by Pete Seeger (“…Oh Mary, don’t you weep, tell Martha not to moan”). I don’t know the artist on this one, and couldn’t even trace it on a reliable go-to site like pulpcovers.com, but the illustration is handsome.

Gil Brewer Revisited

The Red Scarf-A Killer is Loose

The latest Mystery Scene magazine e-newsletter included Ben Boulden’s “2018 Reissues Roundup: Some Of The Best Books To Hit The Page (Again)”, starting with Stark House Noir Classics, nice looking trade paperbacks ranging from $17.95 – $21.95 US, most with reproductions of vintage postwar illustrations for their cover art (not necessarily the cover art from the novels’ original editions, though) and usually double books (two novels). Boulden’s article features Stark House’s republished version of two Gil Brewer novels, The Red Scarf and A Killer Is Loose from 1958.

A lot of Gil Brewer material deals with regular folks who are particularly unlucky, whether with money, jobs, love, marriage, you name it, and such is the case in The Red Scarf.

The Red Scarf Montage

Roy and Bess Nichols’ roadside motel looks out on a planned highway that never was built, so now they’re deep in debt, unable to borrow any more from the bank or family, and Roy’s taken to drinking too much. Doing just that at Al’s Bar-B-Q one night, Roy hitches a ride home with Noel and Vivian Teece, a bag man and his girl who’ve had a few themselves. When an accident kills Noel (or so it seems) Vivian grabs their satchel of mob money and holes up in Cabin No. 6 at Roy’s hotel, where Roy obsesses over the bag of dirty loot tied shut with her red scarf, even as the law and some very dangerous gangsters start to sniff around.

The Red Scarf

I’d read some Gil Brewer before, including Hard Case Crime’s edition of The Vengeful Virgin and Wild To Possess/A Taste Of Sin, another Stark House double. Brewer (1922 – 1983) was a Florida writer who usually set his fairly bleak tales in familiar turf, all of them a kind of ‘sun-drenched’ noir that neglects the glitz of Miami Beach for back roads, small towns, roadhouses and hot sheet hotels instead. My own work has me constantly stuck in a 1959 mindset, so some more late 50’s/early 60’s era Gil Brewer ought to go down swell right now.

Going To Glendale?

2019 Los Angeles Vintage Paperback Show

While I’m about to step out for some quick Saturday AM errands (which might include a bookstore stop…maybe) I’m not planning any two thousand mile treks this weekend. Anyway, there’s an annual vintage pulp, paperback and collectibles show ‘round these parts each Spring, if I was so inclined. I’ve gone to a couple of these shows to see the original cover art and illustration art exhibits, but kept my credit cards safely tucked away in my wallet. Fortunately, (being a fan of retro illustration and postwar crime fiction) I’m rarely gripped by the collector frenzy, which can be as dangerous as a gambling addiction for the weak-willed. But for those of you in the Los Angeles area, the Vintage Paperback Collectors Show & Sale in Glendale this Sunday sure looks like the place to be. And I do like that Robert McGinnis illustration chosen for their poster!

Kill Me, Sweet

Kill Me Sweet 1960 - Cover Art

Jess Wilcox – actually ‘Jessica Wilcox’ – was one of Morris Hershmann’s many pen names, which also included Evelyn Bond, Sara Roffman, Janet Templeton and Lionel Webb.

Most of the female pseudonyms were used for 1960’s era gothic romances (you know, those familiar ‘girl running from house’ novels) and some historical romance ‘bodice rippers’, but here ‘Jessica’ was shortened to a gender-neutral ‘Jess’ for Kill Me, Sweet …which really is a pretty cool title.

Kill Me Sweet 1960

This 1960 paperback original is an Elvis Horn novel, perhaps intended to be the first in a series. Hershmann/Wilcox’ Elvis Horn was a private eye with a peculiar handle (Elvis?), especially since he was intended to be a suave and debonair operator like Peter Gunn or The Saint. In Kill Me, Sweet, Horn’s vacationing in Las Vegas when he’s hired by a mob boss and sent back east to look for a missing New York nightclub owner. The private eye’s search takes him to Paris (and a romance with one Anne Jones) and then to Rome (and another romance, this time with Karen Albert) and some bruising run-ins with mysterious thugs along the way. Morris Hershmann – Jessica/Jess Wilcox’ 1960 Kill Me, Sweet may not have earned a series and may even be a forgettable book, but it sure had a great title, and lucked out with some terrific cover art that ought to help it live on among genre fans.

As for the cover — I’d have assumed a Robert Maguire illustration based on the composition: specifically, the figure’s stance and against a vignetted background, which is something Maguire did on a number of illustrations. Even the woman’s face and hair style are reminiscent of other Maguire covers. But the brushwork? Okay, maybe not. But this book isn’t shown on the Maguire website checklist, and I’d trust that way more than any assumptions of my own. Maybe some vintage paperback and illustration expert can weigh in?

The Master At 101 Years

Kiss me Deadly

Shame on me, but I screwed up my post scheduling, so this was meant to appear on Saturday.

A belated birthday acknowledgment to Frank Morrison Spillane, better known as Mickey Spillane, born 101 years ago on March 9th, who sadly left us in 2006. Loved by readers, resented by writers (to this day), reviled by critics, spoofed by himself and many others, the man was actually an instrumental part of building the postwar paperback marketplace. I’ll argue that he played a part in revitalizing — maybe even redefining —  the hard-boiled private eye novel for the second half of the twentieth century, and along the way, sold a mere 225 million books.

Crime Reads Screen Cap

Crime Reads editor Molly Odintz has a very interesting piece at Crimereads.com, “The Ten Best And Pulpiest Mickey Spillane Covers”  – do log on and check it out. The covers shown here aren’t the ones Odintz presents, and some might say her choices aren’t anywhere near as pulpy, weird or downright pervy as some Spillane covers can be. Molly Odintz acknowledges that while commercial success should never be a measure of literary merit, Spillane’s recent centennial and various authors (Max Allan Collins key among them) arguing for a reassessment of the writer’s importance begs for publishers to reissue his work, but in different cover art, “…so that folks like me will actually want to read him in public. Can you imagine bringing one of these on the subway?” But she continues, and this is crucial to understanding Spillane and his work: “But Mickey Spillane didn’t care about what people thought of his cover designs, or the literary merit of his books, and paid no attention to any censorial judgments whatsoever, so perhaps the best way to celebrate the iconic writer’s birthday would indeed be to bring one of these on the subway – and not care what anyone thinks”.

Vengeance Is Mine

Odintz showcases ten Spillane covers she considers particularly weird, pulpy or tawdry. Anyone familiar with postwar pulp magazine and paperback cover art may consider them surprisingly tame. I’ll concede, Spillane’s One Lonely Night was almost always packaged with particularly disturbing cover art of a bound and partially stripped woman. The 1960’s – 70’s era Spillane reissues followed that period’s trend towards photo cover art, and typically employed provocatively posed near-nude women with no relation to the title, story or…well, anything at all, simply beckoning to the reader with ‘come-hither’ expressions. Some European editions of Spillane novels went way beyond anything that would be allowed in the U.S. market. And the fact is, many 1950’s era mystery/crime fiction paperbacks (and certainly the remaining pulps from the same era) can completely out-weird, out-sex, out-perv most any Mickey Spillane cover art, with one after another depicting menacing thugs and lover-boy private eyes threatening or otherwise taking advantage of a gallery of women-as-victims and women-as-eye-candy, invariably undressed or undressing in fetishistic detail, restrained, terrified…or often as not…dead.

One Lonely Night

Do we blame the writers? The publishers, their art directors, the illustrators? Do we blame the culture of the time? Do we blame anyone at all, or do we just recognize that they’re artifacts from another era? Don’t ask me…I’ll have to leave vexing questions like that to smarter folks than I. But I won’t apologize for appreciating Mickey Spillane. I have all of the Mickey Spillane novels, with doubles and triples of a few from different eras, along with the unfinished works completed by Max Allan Collins, some few books about Spillane, the complete Mike Hammer comic strip book and sundry other Spillane items. Call me a fan.

The Body Lovers

While I don’t ride the subway, I fully understand what Molly Odintz is saying, and there are more than a few (maybe most) of my Spillane books that I’m not too eager to whip out in the coffee shop, just so I can watch fellow patrons ease their chairs away from me. But the same goes for other vintage paperbacks I have, and quite a few contemporary books, now that I think of it.

Cheap used bookstore copies of the first few Mike Hammer novels were actually what lured me into the mystery/crime fiction genre in the first place, and for that I’ll be forever grateful. Spillane’s no-nonsense prose and plot-first writing style guides me in my own humble writing attempts, particularly whenever I get ‘writerly’. I don’t know if, like Molly Odintz, I’d like to see Mickey Spillane’s body of work reissued in ‘tamer’ packaging, or just as she speculates, if the hard-boiled crime fiction master’s work indeed should be reissued, but in cover art that celebrates all the violent, sexy, tawdry, pulpy storytelling each book contained.

The Long Wait

 

The Brass Halo

the brass halo jack webb

Around the time of the publication of John D. McDonald’s The Brass Cupcake in 1958, there was a slew of other books with ‘Brass’ in their titles. Coincidence? Publishers scrambling to capitalize on the success of one particular book? Who knows.

Just one of many was Jack Webb’s (no, not the actor/director/producer Jack Webb of Dragnet fame) The Brass Halo, originally published in hardcover in 1957, then in paperback in 1958. Jack Webb (1916-2008), who also worked under the pen name John Farr, wrote 9 Golden-Shanley mysteries between 1952 and 1963 featuring homicide detective Sammy Golden and and unlikely sidekick, kindly Catholic Priest Father Shanley. In this book, the duo team up to solve a less-than-honest private eye’s murder after he’s found knifed in a nightclub torch singer’s dressing room, the chanteuse gone missing.

The Brass Halo

I haven’t read it, and will confess that my interest in the book is less about Webb’s novel and more about Robert Maguire’s cover art, this particular cover illustration among the artist’s best, in my opinion.

Blues For A Dead Lover

Blues For A Dead Lover albert nuetzel cover 1962

Never read it. Never even saw an actual copy. For all I know, it might be wonderful…or unreadable trash. A lot of vintage sleaze and retro-racy crime novels are, after all. (The latter, that is.)

But I absolutely adore that title, Blues For A Dead Lover. And the saucy cover illustration by Albert Nuetzel ( 1901 – 1969) on this 1962 Uptown Books paperback is pretty nice too. Nuetzel was a movie studio artist and painting instructor in Los Angeles, and unlike this cover art example, best known for his science fiction pulp magazine and paperback illustrations.

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