Sunday, May 17, 2015

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Montana Bad Man"

Montana Bad Man was a paperback original published by Pocket Books’ imprint Perma Books in 1957, which is the very edition that caught my eye. The artwork is starkly creepy as it washes from the muted color of a face to an ink drawing of a crumpling gun hand. A splash of red bandanna crosses both elements, and adds an intriguing abstraction of violence. The artist: Jerry Allison.

The opening paragraph:

“The big Schuttler freight wagon rocked along the ungraded road in the thickening gloom, creaking and rumbling ponderously behind the six-mule team.”

Roe Richmond was a pseudonym for Roaldus Frederick Richmond (1910 – 1986). He spent his life in New England; Vermont and New Hampshire, specifically. He started as a pulp writer—writing sports stories—and moved to paperbacks in the 1950s. His novels were primarily westerns. Contemporary Authors, in its brief biography of Mr Richmond, quotes the following—

“I have loved writing from boyhood. I cared for no other career once I learned I couldn’t make the Biggies in baseball, but most of my life I’ve had to work at other jobs in order to support myself and family.”   

This is the fifteenth in a series of posts featuring the cover art and miscellany of books I find at thrift stores and used bookshops. It is reserved for books I purchase as much for the cover art as the story or author.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

THE VIOLENT ENEMY by Jack Higgins (Hugh Marlowe)

The Violent Enemy is the film title for Harry Patterson’s 1966 novel A Candle for the Dead. A title that lasted well past the film’s fade to black, and still adorns its covers. It is Mr Patterson’s nineteenth novel. It was published in hardcover by Abelard-Schuman as by Hugh Marlowe, and it is one of only a few of Harry Patterson’s novels to remain out of print in the United States until the recent ebook frenzy.

Sean Rogan is an Irishman serving 12 years in a British prison. He is “Irish” to his is prison mates, and on the outside he is an Organization man, which is to say IRA, convicted of arranging prison breaks for his compatriots. The troubles are largely over, the Organization faded away, and Rogan is awaiting a pardon from the Home Secretary. The pardon never arrives, and Rogan’s old boss, Colum O’More, arranges the logistics for his final break out.

O’More has a plan to get the Organization moving again, but he is ill and desperately needs Sean Rogan’s help to pull it off. The plan is to steal a load of paper currency marked for destruction in a rural town in England’s Lake District. The job is simple, but the talent O’More brought in are the kind for treachery, which, along with betrayal, is the novel’s main tenant.

The Violent Enemy is something of a transitional novel in Harry Patterson’s work. It is similar in story and style to his early novel Cry of the Hunter—the lead characters are similar and the plots are mirror images—but Enemy’s characters, particularly Sean Rogan, are developed more expertly. There is much in Rogan that would appear in Mr Patterson’s later character Liam Devlin, and the female lead, Hannah Costello, is a composite for Mr Patterson’s abused, but lovely, strong, and virtuous woman featured in many of his best novels. A character that, more than any other, I associate with Harry Patterson’s work.

It is also transitional in its use of language. The prose is less adorned with elegant, striking and almost beautiful, passages than most of the early novels. It is starker, and standard. It fits the novel, but I wanted for a passage that forced itself to be reread. There were a few very nice moments, mostly dialogue, which is unusual for Mr Patterson—

“‘A fresh start makes old friends of bad ones,’ he said. ‘A proverb my grandmother was fond of.’”   
And, in response to a prison guard’s optimistic job satisfaction—

“‘I’d rather be the devil,’ Sean Rogan said with deep conviction.”

The Violent Enemy’s plot is, as always with Harry Patterson, smooth, complete with nothing left dangling, and familiar. Its pace is not perfect—it builds slowly with a few hiccups, but the climax is executed brilliantly. It is far from Mr Patterson’s best work, but it is a very capable and enjoyable thriller.

The Violent Enemy was produced as a film in 1967. It was directed by Don Sharp (Alistair MacLean’s Bear Island, 1979), and starred two pretty good actors as Sean Rogan and Colum O’More—Tom Bell and Ed Begley, respectively.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

No Comment: "Save the Last Dance for Me"

“‘Well, the wife—I’m not sure you ever met her, gal from Sioux City I met when I was doing my printing apprenticeship up there—anyway, she was raised as an evangelical.  And what with one thing and another she kinda got me interested in the whole thing. She always says you should feel bad when you go to church. And I tried ‘em all—Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian. But they always tried to make you feel good. But bad’s the only way you know your religion’s workin’ for you. When you feel terrible.’”

—Ed Gorman, Save the Last Dance for Me. Worldwide paperback, 2003 (© 2002); page 118. Dialogue between John Parnell and Sam McCain.

No Comment is a new series of posts featuring passages from both fiction and non-fiction that caught my attention. It may be the idea, the texture, or the presence that grabbed my eye. There is no analysis provided, and it invariably is out of context—since the paragraph before and after are never included. 

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

SPLIT IMAGE by Ron Faust

Split Image is best read cold, and this review is loaded with spoilers. Read ahead at your own peril and rest assured it is fantastic.

“It occurred to me—and this was my first conscious thought upon ‘awakening’—that the crows did not object to the carnage. Of course not. They were scavengers and were impatiently waiting their opportunity. Even so, I could not entirely dispel the notion that they were judging me—small black magistrates, feathery clerics.”

The idea is Andrew Neville’s; a failed playwright, three early critical successes and nothing since, making his living as an editor of a corporate newsletter. On a whim he travels to the woods of northern Wisconsin to the primitive hunting cabin of a friend. It is autumn, and deer are in season. He takes an old bow and its matching arrows from the cabin. He doesn’t expect a kill, but when a buck cuts his trail a lusty greed overtakes him. The deer is wounded, and while tracking it Andrew comes to a man cleaning a buck.  

Andrew believes the deer is his, but the man calmly and reasonably claims it. The two have a cold exchange of words; at the end Andrew kills the other. He doesn’t remember the actual killing, but Andrew knows he did. He cleans up the cabin, disposes of the clothing and other evidence and returns to Chicago. A few days later he learns the man’s identity, and realizes, for the first time, he once knew the man. They were in the same theater company, and while Andrew failed as a writer his victim found significant success in Hollywood.

Andrew, after meeting his victim’s widow at the funeral, calculatingly insinuates himself into the dead man’s life. He moves into the boat house on his wooded estate, wears his clothes, befriends his only child, and smoothly woos his wife. The only hold up is a despicable man named Roland Scheiss—

“‘Scheiss means ‘shit’ in German, doesn’t it?’”

—hired by the murdered man’s parents to prove his widow, and by extension, Andrew Neville killed him. Scheiss is loathsome. He is filthy, crude, and corrupt. His game is blackmail, and he begins calling Andrew at odd moments of the night threatening, cajoling, taunting. Andrew remains calm, but his sanity begins to unravel; he converses with his victim in the dark hours, and small meaningless events begin to weigh heavily, and finally his narrative turns suspect; is the tale truly as it is being told, or is the reader being deceived?

Split Image is a fine novel. It is dark, riveting, and curious. It is as much literature as commercial. It weaves an enticing mixture of Edgar Allan Poe—think “The Tell-Tale Heart”—Alfred Hitchcock, and a 1950’s Gold Medal novel. Andrew Neville is a cold, almost empty narrator, who is as interesting, and enigmatic as any character in popular literature. The prose is sparse, poetic and meaningful. It is also satisfying, thought-provoking, and damn good.      

Split Image is Ron Faust’s tenth published novel. It was published in 1997 by Forge as a hardcover. It is currently available as a trade paperback and ebook from Turner Publishing.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

STRIP FOR MURDER by Max Allan Collins

It is 1953, and comic strips are big business. Jack Starr, “vice president, chief troubleshooter and occasional bottle washer” for Starr Newspaper Syndication Company is on the job. Starr specializes in comic strips, and its biggest player is Sam Fizer’s Mugs O’Malley, but Starr is in negotiations to pick up a new strip from another big hitter named Hal Rapp, which could be a problem since Fizer and Rapp despise each other.

Things heat up when Fizer is found dead in his Waldorf-Astoria residential suite. It is staged as a suicide, and poorly at that; Fizer is right handed, but the gun is in his left, and the suicide note is a comics-style inked affair (making handwriting analysis useless). The obvious suspect is Rapp, but Jack is skeptical and with his “troubleshooter” fedora firmly in place, his private eye license in his back pocket, he starts his own investigation.

Strip for Murder is cleverly plotted, humorous—tongue firmly in cheek from beginning to end—whodunit with a twist that needs reading for believing. It is heavy on dialogue, in a good way, and the descriptions of 1950’s New York, Broadway in particular, and the syndication business are great fun. The prose is spirited in a smooth and whimsical manner—

“Maybe ten seconds later, Maggie stuck her head in; more than her head, the uppermost, most exposed part of her. Very distracting neckline, that red gown.”

Even more distracting, Maggie is his widowed step-mother, and President of Starr Syndicates. His boss, you could say. The characters—from Maggie to Hal Rapp to a Police Captain named Chandler—are charmingly eccentric and make a compelling juxtaposition to Jack’s hardboiled tendencies. A relationship that generates more humor than black eyes.       

Strip for Murder is the second in Max Allan Collins’ comic book trilogy; subsequent to A Killing in Comics (2007), and prior to Seduction of the Innocent (2014). It was originally published in 2008, and Dover Mystery Classics has brought it back as a very nice trade paperback with all the trimmings—fully, and very nicely, illustrated by Terry Beatty.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"Desert Island Discs": Interview with Jack Higgins

A few years ago I stumbled across an old BBC radio interview, or more accurately conversation, with writer Harry Patterson. It is from a program called “Desert Island Discs”. The host is a smooth voiced man named Roy Plomley, and it was broadcast December 18, 1981.

The conversation meanders across several topics, including Mr. Patterson’s early life, military service, and writings. The talk is done between short music pieces selected by Mr Patterson, and it includes a nice mixture of jazz, big band, and classical. The music is enjoyable, but the interview is a real treat.

A favorite moment is when Mr Patterson discusses his fondness for a band leader named Al Bowlly. Mr Patterson wrote Bowlly, as a background character, into his 1972 novel The Savage Day. The Savage Day was Mr Patterson’s first bestseller, and afterwards he included—at least through 1981—a cameo for Al Bowlly in each of his novels for luck. A recurring character I have never noticed.

A few interesting facts. The Eagle Has Landed was translated into 43 languages, including Welsh. The Harry Patterson novels published after The Eagle Has LandedThe Valhalla Exchange, and To Catch a King specifically—were written for his American publisher Stein and Day and could not include the Jack Higgins name, likely due to contractual issues. The book he would want on a deserted island: The Four Quartets by T. S. Eliot.

The interview runs approximately 48 minutes, and it is well worth a listen. Mr Patterson also appeared in a “Desert Island Discs” episode broadcast March 5, 2006; unfortunately the online stream is currently unavailable. It is also very much worth seeking out.     

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Needle in a Timestack"

Needle in a Timestack was a paperback original published by Ballantine Books in 1966, which is the very edition that caught my attention. It is a collection of ten early Robert Silverberg stories. The artwork is intriguingly reminiscent—to my naïve eye—of Wassily Kandinsky’s expressionist paintings. It is vivid, stark, and muted; a contradiction that works well. The artist: Richard Powers (1921 – 1966).

The opening paragraph, of the story “The Pain Peddlers”:

“The phone bleeped. Northrop nudged the cut-in switch and heard Maurillo say, ‘We got a gangrene, chief. They’re amputating tonight.’”

Needle in a Timestack includes the following stories: “The Pain Peddlers” (1963), “Passport to Sirius” (1958), “Birds of a Feather” (1958), “There was an Old Woman—“ (1958), “The Shadow of Wings” (1963), “Absolutely Inflexible” (1956), “His Brother’s Keeper” (1959), “The Sixth Palace” (1955), “To See the Invisible Man” (1963), and “The Iron Chancellor” (1958).

This is the fourteenth in a series of posts featuring the cover art and miscellany of books I find at thrift stores and used bookshops. It is reserved for books I purchase as much for the cover art as the story or author.