Apr 082014
 
Paperback 761: Pocket Books 1098 (1st ptg, 1955)

Title: Guys and Dolls
Author: Damon Runyon
Cover artist: photo cover / unknown

Yours for: $15

PB1098

Best things about this cover:
  • Brando unsure about quality of doll's breath!
  • I sort of kind of love this art/photo hybrid. Also, the Vincent Price-esque title font. Random.
  • LOVE the full-body "fuck off, boys" pose of the be-stoled smoking doll. Classic.

PB1098bc

Best things about this back cover:
  • Well, it's … uh … not particularly soiled or torn. That's something.
  • "Master of the Main Stem" — not a phrase I'd ever really want to be called.
  • Lusty Slice was my favorite Slice Girl.

Page 123~

Dave the Dude is more corned than anybody else, because he has two or three days' running start on everybody. And when Dave the Dude is corned I wish to say that he is a very unreliable guy as to temper, and he is apt to explode right in your face any minute. But he seems to be getting a great bang out of the doings.

When your corned, a great bang is just the thing.

~RP

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]
Feb 242014
 
The Worshipped And The Damned, by William Hegner February, 1975  Pocket Books William Hegner, an unjustly obscure trash fiction master, published several novels in the 1970s, many of them paperback originals for Pocket Books. The Worshipped And The Damned is one of his later Pocket releases, after which he moved over to Playboy Books and then dropped off the map. I think I read an obituary
Feb 172014
 
Paperback 743: Pocket Books 342 (1st ptg, 1945)

Title: The High Window
Author: Raymond Chandler
Cover artist: E. McKnight Kuffer

Yours for: $8

Pocket320

Best things about this cover:
  • Well, they can't all be sexy. 
  • As abstract/representational hybrid covers go, this one's pretty cool (is there a word for that style? pretty common on '40s paperbacks). There's a nice dramatic interplay between that angry red building, with its crazily barred windows, and the lonely falling silhouette.
  • This guy's got a weird signature. Had to look it up. I think the letters read "E MCK K" (for E. McKnight Kuffer)
  • For a more, let's say, realistic version of this cover, see Paperback 91.

Pocket320bc

Best things about this back cover:
  • This description is just a mess of "things that might appear in a mystery novel." Not even much of an attempt to take it out of list form.
  • Not sure what number incarnation of the pocket kangaroo we're up to here, but I like this one, with the joey holding the book for bespectacled mom.
  • Other war-time books tell you exactly what postage you'll need to send the book to a soldier. Here, the plea is much vaguer. Can I "share" it with my diner waitress? She's in "uniform."

Page 123~

I felt myself getting pinched around the nose. My mouth felt dry. I needed air. I took another deep breath and another dive into the tub of blubber that was sitting across the room from me on the reed chaise-longue, looking as unperturbed as a bank president refusing a loan.

My new life's goal is to own a reed chaise-longue. Wait. Nope. On further research, it looks like a rickshaw for Victorian invalids, so I'm good.


~RP

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]
Feb 172014
 
Festival, by Bryan Hay June, 1973  Pocket Books This slim paperback original details the planning and development of a Woodstock-style rock festival. One thing the front and back cover don’t make clear is that Festival actually takes place in Canada; Toronto and a desolate area of western Ontario, to be exact. Another thing the front or back covers don’t make clear is how much of a bore the
Dec 062013
 
Paperback 725: Pocket Books 909 (1st ptg, 1952)

Title: TCOT the Lazy Lover
Author: Erle Stanley Gardner
Cover artist: Clyde Ross

Yours for: $7

PB909

Best things about this cover:
  • That dude has my ultimate respect. That is some top-notch lazy. Superfly PJs. Highball. Slippers. Smart green couch. He knows what he's doing.
  • That look in her eye is not lust. It's not annoyance. It's jealousy. Jealousy of his Red Hot Lazy.
  • I can't stop looking at her boobs, and yet I don't find them very interesting. What the hell?

PB909bc

Best things about this back cover:
  • That "Gossip … / and Murder!" heading would look great on a t-shirt.
  • Hmmm. I'm not sure we have the same definition of "crazy punchline."
  • What does it mean to be "lazy about making love"? I'm quite sure the images in my head do not match whatever happens in this book.

Page 123~

Mason took the pass Lieutenant Tragg scribbled, and went over to the detention ward. After a ten minute wait, he was taken in to see Mrs. Allred, who had quite evidently been aroused from a sound sleep and had had no opportunity to put on her make-up.

Wow. That must've been really hard on Mason.

~RP

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]
Nov 282013
 
Paperback 723: Pocket Books 6126 (PBO, 1962)

Title: Death Spins the Platter
Author: Ellery Queen (ghost-written by Richard Deming)
Cover artist: Al Brulé

Yours for: $11

PB6126

Best things about this cover:
  • And the award for worst mixed metaphor goes to …
  • I'm the DJ, he's the Piper?
  • Quit getting your grubby thumbprints all over the vinyl, lady. Unless it's one of them there braille records and you are deaf, in which case, carry on.
  • Looming background head is the best.

PB6126bc

Best things about this back cover:
  • I now want to name everything "Tutter King." 
  • Because King Tut was taken?
  • No one tutted better than he! Nary a one!

Page 123~

"Did you find fingerprints on the ice pick?"
'
~RP

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]
Nov 252013
 

Night Of The Phoenix, by Jack Cannon
September, 1989  Pocket Books
(Original publication June, 1975  Manor Books)

In 1989 Nelson DeMille decided to bring his Ryker series back into print, crediting himself as “Jack Cannon” with a note to the reader explaining that these editions were “revised and updated” by the author himself. The note to the reader also provides a little backstory on these books, briefly stating that the series started as Ryker with Leisure books before moving over to Manor and becoming Keller.

As part of the revisions New York “hero” cop Joe Ryker is here only referred to as such, and never as “Joe Keller.” It’s my theory that DeMille left Leisure because he got pissed off that editor Peter McCurtin published Ryker #3 under DeMille’s name, even though it was written by Len Levinson. Len explained this to me that McCurtin’s thinking was that Leisure owned not only the series but the rights to the author’s name. Doesn’t sound legally accurate to me, I mean DeMille was a real name, not a house name, but what do I know, it was the ‘70s.

But anyway shortly after this DeMille split from Leisure and went over to Manor, changed “Joe Ryker” to “Joe Keller,” and continued writing the series, which ran for a total of four volumes. Counting the two Ryker volumes DeMille published with Leisure (actually they published three by DeMille, but more on that below), that means the Joe Ryker/Keller books ran a total of six volumes, all of which were reprinted by Pocket in these “revised and updated” editions. Night Of The Phoenix originally appeared in 1975 as the third volume of Manor’s Keller series, but was the fifth (and thus penultimate) volume of the ’89 Ryker reprints.

Even this is screwy, though; as Marty McKee notes, Leisure actually published Night Of The Phoenix as the fourth volume of Ryker, titling it The Agent Of Death. Marty mentions that this Leisure edition features different character names than the Manor edition and also lacks a prologue which features so memorably in the Keller version of the tale (fortunately, the prologue is also in this Pocket reprint). So as Marty states, sly DeMille must’ve gotten paid twice for the same book…though if Len Levinson’s comments to me are any indication, DeMille probably didn’t get paid for either book, Manor and Leisure being notoriously reluctant to pay their authors.

Now that all that is out of the way, on to the novel itself. Night Of The Phoenix is along the same lines as the other DeMille Ryker I’ve read, The Hammer Of God. (A problem with all of these Ryker and Keller books is they're so goddamn expensive on the used book marketplace – hell, even the Pocket reprints are expensive, in some cases moreso than the original editions!) Rather than focusing on the action this genre is known for, DeMille instead delivers a police procedural that’s heavier on dialog and character.

And speaking of character, Joe Ryker is once again an arrogant, obnoxious prick, belittling coworkers and degrading superiors. Whereas Len Levinson made Ryker a whole lot more likable, DeMille’s (original) interpretation of the character is a hateful bastard, as repulsive as can be. Like Narc #4, this is another cop novel that takes place in the sweltering heat of a New York summer, and DeMille relishes in letting us know how sweaty and stinky his protagonist is – and talking about obnoxious, there are a few scenes where Ryker notes his own stink and will spread his arms so that others can smell him! So like I said, he’s a pretty repulsive guy.

As mentioned this Pocket reprint retains the prologue which was in the original Manor edition but removed from the Leisure edition. And truth be told, this prologue is the highlight of the novel; I could’ve read an entire novel about CIA assassin Morgan as he sits in ambush in some swamp deep in ‘Nam, targetting any unfortunate NVA or VC who might come his way. There’s a dark comedy afoot as we learn that Morgan is paid per kill, and, like Death Race 2000 or something, he’s paid in accordance to how important the person is he’s killed.

It’s late in the war and a CIA rep drops into the swamp to tell Morgan he’s no longer employed; the CIA rep further informs Morgan that he’s made the personal decision to kill Morgan and take the few hundred thousand dollars he’s amassed over the years in his Swiss Bank account. But Morgan ends up killing the rep and, stranded in the swamp (his sole companion a Vietnamese girl he wounded earlier due to a misfire and spent the rest of the night raping), begins walking his way out of the jungle.

This brings us to the “present,” clearly 1989 in this updated Pocket edition; I’m curious how much exactly DeMille revised, but the original Manor edition being so pricey I’m unable to compare the two printings. Anyway Ryker is called onto the case when a gruesome corpse is discovered; a former CIA agent is found sitting in his bathtub, killed by leeches. DeMille brings to life the nightmarish scene, with Ryker and his fellow cop “friend” Lindly looking in horror at the fat leeches as they float around in the bloody water – a scene which finishes on a bizarrely humorous cop movie-style joke when Ryker pulls one of the leeches out of the water and reads it its rights.

When the guy’s wife is later blown away by a sniper, Ryker is convinced something’s going on…his first clue being how his “stupid chief” superiors at the precinct sort of brush over how the Feds immediately swooped onto the crime scene and took away all of the evidence. Then CIA rep Jorgenson shows up and informs the cops that a rogue CIA assassin from the ‘Nam era is back and is hunting down the men who set him up. The assassin is of course Morgan, and Jorgenson delivers Ryker et al a background story that’s a little different from the “facts” as presented in the prologue. But then, Jorgenson makes it clear that he’s in the business of lying, thus making Ryker even more distrustful of the man and the entire situation.

But as mentioned Night Of The Phoenix is narratively identical to Hammer of God in that the novel is basically a dialog-heavy police procedural with none of the action or suspense a reader might want. There isn’t even much of a lurid element, other than the grisly crime scenes Ryker investigates, for example a later sequence where another former CIA agent who betrayed Morgan is found hanging above a building, the skin flayed from his corpse. As for sex, there isn’t any of that either, even considering a nonsensical bit where Ryker and his new partner Lentini hire a hooker for the night, even bringing her onto one of the crime scenes the next morning!

For the most part Night Of The Phoenix is comprised of Ryker snapping at his colleagues and superiors that there’s more to the Morgan case than meets the eye; he of course runs afoul of Jorgenson, who makes veiled threats that Ryker “knows too much.” Ryker’s certain that a member of Jorgenson’s CIA team is a turncoat, someone who is feeding Morgan intel, but Jorgenson continues to backpedal and spread mistruths. After a while Ryker’s also certain he and his partners will come under fire, so in one of the more unusual “plot twists” I’ve ever read in one of these novels, he decides to hell with it and goes on vacation!

For vacation Ryker settles on a rural farmland owned by his ex in-laws in Chicago. Both of them “old unconverted Nazis,” they live on a compound guarded by dogs and the old man has an arsenal in his basement, complete with machine guns, subguns, and even gatling guns. There’s a part where Ryker, Lindly, and Lentini look over the weaponry, suspecting they might need it when the inevitable CIA squad comes after them – Ryker has gone on vacation so as to escape any death squads that might be sent after him, but when Lindly follows after him Ryker knows the cat’s out of the bag and his hiding place has been uncovered.

But man, DeMille can’t be bothered to write an action scene. Forget about Chekov’s dictum; DeMille shows us a whole lot more than just a rifle above the mantle, but doesn’t use them in the third act or any other act. When the squad does show up that night, all we get is a somewhat tense scene where Ryker et al hear the dogs barking outside; they see some headlights; and then the car drives away! The next morning, despite finding all of the dogs dead, Ryker just decides to leave, telling Lentini to go start up the car…and Lentini’s killed in the ensuing blast, the CIA of course having wired the car to blow. You see, Ryker’s an idiot in addition to being an asshole.

Please skip this paragraph if you want to avoid the novel’s surprise. As the murders continue, Jorgenson doles out more info, like the fact that Morgan is a leper. Ryker starts to wonder how a guy with such a supposedly-ruined face could get around the city without anyone noticing him. And like Ryker you soon begin to suspect Jorgenson himself. This turns out to be the reveal – Jorgenson is actually the murderer, and he doles out the tale for Ryker at the very end of the novel. Long story short, Jorgenson himself was part of the CIA team that screwed Morgan over, and also as coincidence would have it Jorgenson happened to be on the base a jungle-ravaged Morgan stumbled into after surviving his betrayal in the prologue sequence. So Jorgenson finished off Morgan himself (throwing him out of a helicopter!) and now, these years later, has decided to cash in on the Swiss Bank account, after getting the various serial numbers from his old turncoat pals. So in other words the promised tale of a leper-faced CIA assassin running amok in NYC is denied us, DeMille once again going for more of a “realistic” approach. Dammit!

While it skimps on the action and the sleaze, Night Of The Phoenix is still rather well-written, with DeMille bringing his characters to life, in particular his slimy protagonist. There’s good dialog and funny stuff too, though nothing on the un-PC level of Hammer of God. Speaking of which I don’t think DeMille removed too much of such material from this revised edition, as evidenced in an early scene where Ryker goes on about how black people hate cold weather. It’s just that in this installment Ryker’s moreso just a regular asshole instead of a racist and sexist asshole.

I’d like to read more of DeMille’s Ryker and Keller novels, whether in the original editions or these “Jack Cannon” reprints, but the prices for them are too prohibitive. However the post-DeMille Ryker novels from Leisure, credited to Edson T. Hamill, are fortunately much more affordable, so I’ll be reading them next.

Oh, and as for these Jack Cannon/Pocket reprints, each of them have similar covers, of this shades-wearing "cool" cop who in no way shape or form resembes Ryker or anyone else in these books.  In fact, the covers look like stills from the sequel to Cobra that Sylvester Stallone never gave us.
Sep 182013
 
Paperback 697: Pocket Books 935 (1st ptg, 1953)

Title: Out From Eden
Author: Victoria Lincoln
Cover artist: Tom Dunn

Yours for: $7

PB935

Best things about this cover:
  • FRANK!
  • An interesting variation on the typical Great Girl Art cover—this is more like one of those annoying modern covers where the women are always facing away or their heads are out of frame and possibly there is mist or water. If you think I'm kidding, just want into what they call a "book" "store" and look around.
  • Any sexiness she brings to this cover, the schlubby painter dude totally takes out of it.
  • I am having a Hate/Love relationship with that mug in the foreground.

PB935bc

Best things about this back cover:
  • Are there different varieties of Edens? An Eden of Pancakes, maybe?
  • "Raffish"—wow, that's not a word you see .... ever. Cool.
  • So that must be Jessica on the cover. She seems nice.
  • I don't want to know the "special and painful way" Todd learned about love because I am quite sure the version in my head is much better.

Page 123~

"You mean a is to b as c is to d?" again the intelligence faded. "How could you? They're letters and arithmetic is numbers."

"A frank and moving story of a naked girl who learned algebra."

~RP

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]
Sep 162013
 

The Smuggler #4: Mother Luck, by Paul Petersen
November, 1974  Pocket Books

Our cable lineup features a retro-programming network called MeTV; the other month they were playing a Donna Reed Show marathon, and after each commercial break they’d have a “Paul Petersen Remembers” segment, where Petersen would talk about being a child actor on that show. I bet I was the only person in the viewing audience who thought to himself, “Hey, that’s the guy who wrote that scene in The Smuggler #2 where a black sadist murdered a girl and then raped her corpse!”

At any rate the Smuggler series continues to search for a genre. Whereas the first volume was a boring origin story, the second installment was filled with clunky writing, outrageous sadism, and super-explicit sex scenes. Then the third volume veered from standard spy fiction to gritty, Narc-esque inner city crime before ending with Mind Masters-style supernatural stuff, all in the same book. Now this fourth volume is just a straight-up spy drama, with none of the sensational elements of the previous two novels. There isn’t even a single sex scene for poor old hero Saveman!

It’s curious that two volumes were published per month: volumes 1 and 2 both came out in September, 1974, and volumes 3 and 4 came out two months later. According to the copyright page (as well as the Catalog of Copyright Entries), the books really were written by Paul Petersen, along with a co-writer named David Oliphant (who was apparently an editor), but given this accelerated rate of publication and the disparity between installments, I figure these guys had to have been trading off on the writing duties.

Enough dithering -- Mother Luck is a return to the bland and boring nature that was the first volume. After the wild extremities of the previous two installments this one was really hard going; I kept waiting for some bizarre sadism or extreme sex scenes to occur, but there’s hardly anything of the sort…the narrative just plods along, Petersen (or Oliphant?) spending more time on character and scene-setting, as if he is writing a Robert Ludlum-style thriller instead of the latest volume of a series that previously featured a scene where a dude had a mask with a rat in it strapped over his face.

Eric “Smuggler” Saveman when we meet him again is deep in the icy water beneath a Russian gun manufacturing plant, where using his one-man sub he’s able to infiltrate the place, kill a pair of guards and stage their corpses so it looks like an accident, and finally gum up the manufacturing works. Meanwhile a young nuclear physicist named Michael Brock steals a shipment of radioactive waste, which contains enough plutonium for his mysterious needs. In a third and even more initially-unrelated plot, two older physicists are about to fly from Paris, and after receiving his latest orders Saveman is flown to Paris so he can catch the Pan Am flight they’re on.

But then the plane is skyjacked! This whole scene comes off as so arbitrary and just goes on and on. Saveman’s cover is as “Eric Nichols,” a qualified pilot who comes from money in Connecticut – all this will be further drilled into us later on. Also on the plane, posing as a stewardess, is Belinda, a gorgeous black agent who trained with Saveman back in the second volume. Anyway we see how much the times have changed; skyjacking is seen by Saveman and the others as an annoying fad, and the hijackers, Muslims from Oman, treat everyone nicely and promise that no passengers will die as they divert the plane to Algiers. There’s even a bit where Saveman doubts that the hijackers would kill themselves by crashing the plane; too bad these original-model terrorists were slowly fazed out by the current mass-murderers of today.

After killing the terrorists, Saveman talks the passengers into roping up the slain hijackers and tossing them out onto the tarmac as the plane passes over the Algiers airport, as a warning against future hijackings! I don’t see Pan Am being too hapy about this, but at any rate Saveman (still posing as Eric Nichols) is now a celebrity and we must endure endless and padded scenes where he talks to airline reps, the passengers, and finally reporters as they interview him.

The boring, padded nature continues as now the brunt of the narrative is concerned with Saveman’s new identity. He hooks up with his dad, Doc Saveman, who’s also part of the “Nichols” cover, and also Marge, a blind lady who is posing as Doc’s wife and thus Saveman’s mom. This bit is just bizarre because Saveman is so unsettled over the thought of having a mom again, as his real one died so long ago, and he keeps psyching himself up to go meet her in their cover home and etc, etc…I mean, like it’s all real life and not just part of a plan cooked up by General Velasco, the head of Saveman’s agency, ZED.

There follows more banal stuff as Velasco, whose ZED standing of course is top secret, comes out to the public in his normal guise as a reclusive multi-millionaire; he informs Saveman that all this is a ruse so as to get himself kidnapped. This finally goes down in one of the novel’s few action scenes, with Velasco captured and Saveman freeing himself long enough to blow away a separate detachment of kidnappers. But the boss of ZED has been abducted, and now Saveman has to find him, and plus there’s that cache of plutonium, and Michael Brock’s mysterious plans…by this point we are well over a hundred pages in, and the plot of Mother Luck still has not jelled.

Saveman spends the majority of the final quarter sitting in ZED headquarters and gathering data; finally they track the abducted Velasco to Oman, and Saveman heads there. Turns out a billionaire named Drummond is behind it all, and he’s looking to take over this portion of Oman and etc…then there’s this arbitrary WTF? part where Drummond gives himself a wine enema(!) while he orders the also-abducted Belinda to blow one of his men as he watches…and this guy Belinda’s blowing turns out to be gay – gay for Drummond, in fact – and this bizarre but brief scene gets even more bizarre as Drummond mounts Belinda and the gay dude mounts Drummond!

In fact Belinda gets more action (so to speak) than Saveman, taking out the villains with a broken champagne bottle; Saveman himself shows up after the fireworks. And that’s that! We go back to ZED headquarters for a long, anticlimatic denoument in which a traitor is outed…and meanwhile Doc Saveman’s really in love with Marge, his fake wife, so why not get married for real? It’s all just so…I don’t know, stupid.

Here’s hoping the next volume isn’t so bland and forgettable. I’d even be happy for a return to the outrageous sadism and kinkiness of the second volume after the snoozefest that was Mother Luck.
Aug 242013
 
Paperback 687: Pocket Books 8 (3rd ptg, 1939)

Title: The Way of All Flesh
Author: Samuel Butler
Cover artist: Uncredited

Yours for: $21

PB8

Best things about this cover:
  • "What're *you* lookin' at?"
  • Her stockings are nuts. Horizontal red stripes? When was that a thing?
  • This is the most pristine early Pocket Book I own—from the first year of the mass market paperback industry's existence. There are two signifiant scuff marks on the spine edge, but otherwise, it's shockingly pristine. Permagloss intact and everything. Trust me when I say 1939 paperbacks are rarely found in this state anymore.

PB8bc

Best things about this back cover:
  • That Shaw quote is one of the best things I've ever seen printed on a back cover. The literary equivalent of "this is why we can't have nice things."
  • "Now Ready." It's so adorable how *new* the paperback was at this point. 

Page 123~
One would have thought she had sowed enough of such religious wild oats by this time, but she had plenty still to sow.
"Religious wild oats" is not a phrase I ever expected to see.

~RP

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]

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