Thursday, 3 September 2015

Pity Him Afterwards By Donald E. Westlake (T. V. Boardman, 1965, Bloodhound Mystery #499): Westlake Score and Review

NB: A version of this post also appears at The Violent World of Parker. Linked in Friday's Forgotten Books, 4/9/15.

It may not have been a banner year thus far for book blogging chez Louis XIV/Existential Ennui – and certainly not at The Violent World of Parker, where, this post included, I've managed just two posts this year; some co-blogger, huh? – but it's been a bloody good year for book collecting. I've had three books at the top of my wants list for the past four years (and more like five or six years in the case of two of them), and one by one, over the past few months, I've managed to cross them all off. First came a 1957 Cresset Press edition of Patricia Highsmith's classic The Talented Mr. Ripley (albeit sans dust jacket, compensated for by the addition of a facsimile jacket); then a 1965 Michael Joseph edition of perhaps P. M. Hubbard's finest novel, A Hive of Glass (albeit an ex-library copy, compensated for the additional acquisition of an uncorrected proof of said); and now this:


Pity Him Afterwards, published in hardback in the UK by T. V. Boardman in 1965 (the year after the US Random House edition). The fifth of Donald E. Westlake's novels to be published under his own name, until a fortnight ago (when I won this copy on eBay, for seventeen quid), Pity Him Afterwards was the only one of the eight Westlakes in total published by Boardman that I didn't own. Doubtless that will mean little to most folk, even those with an enthusiasm for Westlake, but book collectors with an interest in crime fiction (or indeed longtime readers of Existential Ennui) will surely understand how collectable – and how uncommon and elusive – the Boardman Bloodhound Mysteries (of which Pity Him Afterwards is no. 499) can be.


A big part of that collectability is their dust jackets, almost all of which were designed by Denis McLoughlin, a body of work which comprises around 550 wrappers. (The Bloodhound wrappers are just one strand of McLoughlin's wider body of work; he designed another two or three hundred covers for Boardman besides and drew countless comics both for that publisher and for IPC and DC Thomson.) And of the seven jackets he designed for Westlake novels (the wrapper design for the final Westlake published by Boardman, The Spy in the Ointment, was taken from the US edition), Pity Him Afterwards is, I think, the best: arresting, dramatic, darkly evocative.


That the novel itself doesn't match up to its terrific cover is bit of a shame, because in truth it's not a patch on the earlier likes of The Mercenaries, Killing Time, Killy and especially 361. Parts of it are quite good – it's set in and around a summer stock theatre (a favourite motif of Westlake's; see also the pseudonymous sleaze novel Backstage Love and its two sequels and the Parker character Alan Grofield, whose background is in summer stock), and the passages dealing with the day-to-day running of said are surprisingly interesting and convincingly done. The problems come in the ludicrous characterisation of "the madman", the murderous escapee from a mental institution who drives the plot and who, preposterously, manages to get a job as an actor at the theatre (and then starts killing his coworkers). He's an utterly unbelievable creation, and the novel suffers whenever he assumes the role of point-of-view character.

Still, there's some decent characterisation elsewhere in the novel, notably in the shape of Eric Sondgard, captain of the Cartier Isle (where the theatre is located) police department during the summer months and humanities professor at a Connecticut college for the remainder of the year – a believably unassuming chap whose self-doubt almost causes him to hand off the case to the state police more than once but who through diligence and dogged determination eventually wins through. And then there's the whodunnit aspect of the book – Westlake deliberately obfuscates which of the actors the madman has assumed the identity of – which despite my general disinterest in such guessing games I must admit did, well, keep me guessing.


More importantly from my perspective, however, this copy of the Boardman edition of Pity Him Afterwards completes my set of Westlake Boardmans, so in that regards it's a thing to be prized. And particularly so in that dust jacket, which, though a little shabby, is presentable enough to take its rightful place in Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

God Save the Mark by Donald E. Westlake (Michael Joseph, 1968): a Westlake Score

NB: A version of this post also appears at The Violent World of Parker. Linked in Friday's Forgotten Books, 28/8/15.

Well, I reckon it's about bleedin' time I pulled me bleedin' finger out and posted something at The Violent World of Parker, yeah? I mean, it's not like I've exactly been prolific on Existential Ennui of late, but at VWoP I haven't posted anything since October of last year. (I suppose I do have the excuse of a work-related upheaval at the tail end of 2014 and into 2015, but that's only going to get me so far as a defence.) I have, however, still been (sporadically) collecting Donald E. Westlake books, with the consequence that I've built up a bit of a backlog of Westlake Scores. Case in point:


God Save the Mark, first published in hardback in the UK by Michael Joseph in 1968 (the year after the US Random House edition). The fourth of Westlake's comical 'capers' (the preceding three being 1965's The Fugitive Pigeon, 1966's The Busy Body and 1966's The Spy in the Ointment), God Save the Mark is a curious entry in Westlake's British publishing backlist in that it was the only one of his books to be published in the UK by Michael Joseph. Up to this point his principal British publisher had been T. V. Boardman (who issued all eight of the prior novels penned under his own name in hardback in the UK); after this point his principal British publisher would be Hodder & Stoughton (heralded by Hodder's paperback imprint, Coronet, picking up the rights to the Richard Stark-written Parker novels in 1967 with Point Blank). But for one book, Westlake's principal British publisher was Michael Joseph, making Westlake a very brief stablemate of, among others, Dick Francis, Geoffrey Household, Ira Levin, John Wyndham, Adam Diment and Len Deighton (whose Only When I Larf is advertised on the back cover of God Save the Mark).


Why Joseph only published the one Westlake I couldn't say, but the transitory partnership did at least produce rather a nice dust jacket – not as striking perhaps as Denis McLoughlin's ones for Westlake's Boardman-published books, but certainly better than anything Hodder would come up with. The jacket design is credited to Carol Smith, about whom I can establish virtually nothing other than she possibly designed the cover for the 1965 Viking Press edition of Michael Faraday's The Chemical History of a Candle (originally published in 1861), bizarrely enough; but I've added her simple, stylishly typographical God Save the Mark wrapper to Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s nonetheless.


I've yet to read the novel itself, so I'm afraid I can't offer a review, but anyone wishing to read such a thing can always head over to The Westlake Review, which continues to do a sterling job in reviewing Westlake's oeuvre at length (sometimes extreme length). But I have read, and so can review, the next Westlake Score I'll be unveiling: the only one of those aforementioned Boardman-published Westlake novels that's heretofore been missing from my collection.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

It's a Battlefield, A Gun for Sale and Continental Paperbacks: Graham Greene Library Edition (Heinemann, 1959–60)

The response to my post last month on the 1959–60 Heinemann Library Edition of the Works of Graham Greene continues to be a source of unexpected delight. First there were the initial commenters on the post; then came additional images of Peter Edwards's wonderful wraparound wrappers for the edition from Henk Konings and Peter's daughter, Martina Weatherley; and now yet more images from Chris Fisher, Guy Pujol and Henk again.

Let's take a look at the images sent to me by Chris first – of the two Library Edition dust jackets that heretofore were missing from the original post (due to the fact that I don't – as yet – own either of these books myself):


It's a Battlefield, published into the Library Edition in 1959 (originally published by Heinemann in 1934), edition number L6, and A Gun for Sale, also published into the Library Edition in 1959 (originally published by Heinemann in 1936), edition number L10. Chris reports that he acquired all thirteen books in the Library Edition in one fell swoop four or five years ago from an eBay seller, paying about $80 for the lot, which sounds like a bargain to me. (Chris also reports that he's a Graham Greene collector rather than a book collector, and hadn't realised the Library Edition had become so scarce.) I've added his two wrappers to the Library Edition post, and to Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s, so now a complete set of all thirteen of Peter Edwards's dust jackets can be found in both those places.

Someone else who owns all thirteen books in the Library Edition is Guy Pujol, who left a comment on the initial Library Edition post recounting how he began collecting the edition two years ago and had managed to secure all twelve of the novels within two months (it took him another year to track down the sole non-fiction book, The Lawless Roads, mind). Guy also helped me fill in the Library numbers I was missing, and made mention of a variant binding in the edition – slightly smaller, and with pictorial boards rather than dust jackets. And, at my request, Guy kindly sent a couple of photos of his magnificent collection:


Something else Guy mentioned in his comment was the existence of continental paperback editions of Greene's novels which used Peter Edwards's Library Edition dust jacket illustrations for their covers. Thus far Guy's been able to identify two such paperbacks – The Power and the Glory and The Heart of the Matter – and lo and behold, shortly after Guy's comment appeared, Library Edition recidivist Henk Konings emailed me with photos of those very two books, which were published in 1961 by Heinemann/Nederland N.V.


My thanks to Henk, Guy, Chris and everyone else who's contributed to the Graham Greene Library Edition discourse. Keep those comments and updates coming.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

P. M. Hubbard, A Hive of Glass: First Edition (Michael Joseph, 1965), Uncorrected Proof (Michael Joseph, 1964)

One would be forgiven for thinking in the internet age that pretty much any edition of any old book a book-collecting body might desire would be (fairly readily) available online, if only said book-collecting body had sufficient funds. In fact some books still prove stubbornly elusive, irrespective of cost. I've been on the lookout for a 1965 British first edition of A Hive of Glass, perhaps the finest novel in cult crime/suspense writer P. M. Hubbard's queasily compelling canon, ever since Book Glutton got me into Hubbard's work four years ago, and though the occasional jacketless copy has hoved into view, a first edition in its wrapper has, until very recently, remained frustratingly out of reach. This has been especially maddening because there haven't even been any images of the British first's jacket available online, so I had no idea even what the thing looked like – an inexcusable state of affairs for a novel that I would consider to be among the ten best that I've read in the past half-dozen years.

Happily, I'm finally able to rectify that situation:


That there is the British first edition and first impression of A Hive of Glass, published by Michael Joseph in 1965 and purchased by me just last week. It's an ex-library copy:


but both book and jacket are in very good condition (despite having been borrowed from a Kesteven county library twenty-nine times over a five year period), with all pages (and indeed library dockets) present and correct and the wrapper quite bright and unclipped.


That wrapper, now added to Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s, was designed by Ivan Lapper, an artist and illustrator whose best-known book jacket work is probably the 1966 Bodley Head edition of Graham Greene's The Comedians but who has latterly found wider fame as a painter. Those familiar with A Hive of Glass will recognise the curious object on the front of the jacket as a Venetian tazza (albeit one with the embellishment of a lid); those unfamiliar with the novel and wondering what the bloody hell a tazza is and why it should feature on the cover will just have to go and read the book (or maybe my review – or better still John Norris's).


There is more to this particular tale of book collecting, however; because not only have I at long last laid my hands on possibly the scarcest book in Hubbard's backlist, I've also laid my hands on something which, I'd hazard, is scarcer still:


An uncorrected proof of A Hive of Glass. I've only ever come across one other proof of a Hubbard novel – 1964's A Picture of Millie, still listed on AbeBooks (for about £100) as I type – so this one is rather a rare thing indeed. (And I should just like to state for the record, for those who are au fait with the novel, that no murders were committed in the acquisition of this item.) What's really interesting about it, aside from the little errors one expects to find in proof copies –


compare page 17 of the proof (top) with that of the first edition (bottom; click on the images to see them larger) – is its copyright page. The stamped date on the card cover gives the pub date as 11 January, 1965 (and the price, scrawled in pen, as 18 shillings, as per the first edition's jacket flap); but on the copyright page, the year of publication (and copyright date) is given as 1964:


Whereas on the copyright page of the first edition, the year of publication (and copyright date) is given as 1965:


In a way I suppose that's fair enough: the uncorrected proof was indeed 'published' – in the sense that it was printed and distributed (in presumably a very small edition) – in 1964, whereas the first edition wasn't published – in the sense of being made available for sale to the public – until the following year. But it's not something I think I've seen before with a proof and a finished edition, and it does lend some credence to the notion that an uncorrected proof is the true first edition of any book. Which, at least in this case, it's hard to argue that it isn't.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

A Tom Ripley and Ripliad Chronology: a Timeline in Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley (Virago, 2015)


NB: Linked in Friday's Forgotten Books, 7/8/15.

When a series of novels – especially a series published over an extended period and featuring the same lead character throughout – evolves in the mind of the reader from being merely a diversion or, at the upper end of the scale of interest, a fascination, to becoming a full-blown obsession, the minutiae of the fictional world being depicted starts to assume more of an importance than it perhaps otherwise would (or should). Take a particular passion of mine: the five Patricia Highsmith novels starring Tom Ripley – the Ripliad. Aspects of Tom's world to which I've devoted more thought than is entirely necessary (or healthy) include Tom's politics (leftish, for the most part), the social scene around his home in Villeperce-sur-Seine (agreeable, for the most part, although also snobbish) and the state of Tom's garden at Belle Ombre (a curious one that, when I struggle to summon much interest in my own garden beyond a desire to sit in it on occasion). But probably the facet of the Ripliad I've pondered most frequently is its chronology.

In publishing terms, Highsmith's intermittent series spans thirty-six years, from 1955's The Talented Mr. Ripley to 1991's Ripley Under Water, and the world depicted in each novel reflects the era in which it was written, from the 1950s mise-en-scene of Tom's debut to the presence of CDs and microwave ovens in his swansong. But in the internal chronology of the series, little more than a decade elapses between The Talented Mr. Ripley and Ripley Under Water. We're told in the the novels that Tom is twenty-five years old at the time of Talented; that he's thirty-one in the second instalment in the Ripliad, 1970's Ripley Under Ground; and that the events of Ripley Under Water take place about five years on from Under Ground – which, if Talented is indeed set in 1955, would mean that Under Water is set in 1966. And yet the world outside Belle Ombre's windows marches on through the 1970s and into the early 1990s.

Fellow Ripley enthusiast Craig D noted in the comments to my Tom Ripley Reread post on Ripley Under Ground that he "once read an interview with Highsmith in which she... jokingly [said] that she 'cheated' with the timeline", so I suppose one really shouldn't read too much into the mutable nature of the Ripliad chronology. But of course that doesn't prevent unhinged individuals like myself from dwelling on it – and nor does it stop other folk from offering their own interpretations of it.


One such recent one, the most detailed I've come across – it proffers season as well as year for when each novel is set, plus locales – appears in the 2015 Virago hardback edition of The Talented Mr. Ripley (a copy of which was kindly sent to me by Virago's Editorial Director Donna Coonan, to whom I can only apologise for the nitpicky nature of what follows), appended to John Sutherland's new introduction to the novel. On one level it's an entirely reasonable piece of work: each of the dates it gives is informed by the surroundings in each novel – which, as I've noted, reflect the period in which each novel was written – and certainly in the case of Ripley Under Ground and 1974's Ripley's Game, the chronology further reflects the info Highsmith imparts in the latter: that just six months elapse between those two books.


Where the chronology starts to become problematic – at least for a lunatic like me – is in the concrete dates it gives for the four novels post-Talented (which the chronology maintains is "set in early 1955", which is fair enough). For Ripley Under Ground and Ripley's Game, the settings are given as, respectively, "summer 1968" and "late 1968 and early 1969", which tallies roughly with when the novels were written but would make Tom around thirty-eight, as opposed to the thirty-one he says he is. The fourth book in the Ripliad, 1980's The Boy Who Followed Ripley, I don't believe offers any indication of how long after Ripley's Game it's set (I could be wrong; it's two years since I last reread it), but the chronology states it's "set in summer and early autumn 1978", which would make Tom about forty-eight – markedly older than the novel seems to suggest he is. Lastly, the date for Ripley Under Water is stated as "summer and autumn 1988"; that would make Tom an unlikely fifty-eight and mean that thirty-three years have elapsed since the events of Talented.


There's no easy answer to this: Highsmith evidently did cheat, so it's impossible to reconcile the setting and surroundings of each novel with Tom's age in each. But by affixing such (relatively) firm dates to each book, the new chronology practically invites the scrutiny of those of us for whom the Ripliad has become, let's say, an abiding preoccupation.


Still, for the vast majority of the readership, who I imagine tend not to dwell on such things – which is to say they have a firmer grasp on reality and more of a sense of perspective than I seem to – the chronology will doubtless prove to be little more than a momentary diversion. And at least it's not as problematic as the year the otherwise learned Professor Sutherland calculates in his introduction for Tom's birth: 1934. Now how on earth did he arrive at that conclusion...?

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Patricia Highsmith, Sour Tales for Sweethearts, and The Talented Mr. Ripley (Virago, 2015)

I've managed to put together a – I think – pretty decent collection of signed and inscribed Patricia Highsmith books over the past few years – eight books in total, three of which I've yet to unveil on Existential Ennui (they're coming, I promise). But the very first signed/inscribed Highsmith book that I bought still holds a special place in my affections: a 1977 Heinemann first edition of Little Tales of Misogyny. In small part that's down to what a bargain the thing was – it only set me back a fiver – but mostly it's the nature of Highsmith's inscription on the front endpaper: a warm expression of "New Year's greetings" to two friends, featuring a little drawing of a glass of fizz and a description of the book as "sour reading – for sweet spirits".


That copy of Little Tales of Misogyny was my inspiration to collect further signed and inscribed Highsmith books, but little did I know when I blogged about it and its inscription three years ago that it would also prove inspirational – in an admittedly minor capacity – in the creation of a Highsmith publication itself; this one:


Sour Tales for Sweethearts, a 32-page pamphlet published by Virago in January of this year. Virago acquired the rights to Highsmith's backlist in the UK in 2013, and have been steadily reissuing her works as e-books and paperbacks – and, in one instance, hardback – ever since, all with rather nice playfully typographical covers. When it came to reissuing Little Tales of Misogyny at the start of this year, to accompany it Virago concocted Sour Tales for Sweethearts, a showcase-cum-promotional item intended to sit beside bookshop tills, featuring four stories from Little Tales of Misogyny: "The Hand" (the gruesome, blackly comic scene-setting opener to Little Tales of Misogyny), "The Invalid, or, The Bed-Ridden", "The Fully-Licensed Whore" and "The Female Novelist" (that last one an unusual entry in Highsmith's canon, in that it's written in the present tense).

I noticed listings for Sour Tales for Sweethearts popping up on eBay a few months back (I tend to keep a close eye on listings for Highsmith books on eBay), and wondered at the time what it was. Its title also rang a vague bell, although I must admit that at that point I didn't quite comprehend why. It was only more recently, a couple of weeks ago in fact, that I made the connection – or rather, the connection was made for me: the title of Sour Tales for Sweethearts was directly inspired by Patricia Highsmith's inscription "sour reading – for sweet spirits" in my copy of Little Tales of Misogyny.


This I learned from Virago's Editorial Director, Donna Coonan, who emailed me to share some very kind words about Existential Ennui in general and my multitudinous Patricia Highsmith posts in particular, which Donna had come across during her research into Highsmith whilst acquiring the author's rights. Following our email exchange, Donna sent me a copy of Sour Tales for Sweethearts, along with a copy of Virago's new hardback edition of The Talented Mr. Ripley, which boasts a fetching case sporting a design by textile designer Marian Mahler and a fine introduction by critic, academic, Ripliad enthusiast and Highsmith aficionado John Sutherland.

It also boasts something I don't believe I've come across before: a Tom Ripley chronology, giving fairly specific dates – season as well as year – for when each of the five Tom Ripley novels is set. I think that merits a separate post though. For now, let me just say thank you to Donna for the copies of The Talented Mr. Ripley and Sour Tales for Sweethearts; it's a thrill to add such a striking edition of Talented to my Highsmith and Ripley collection (and so soon after finally acquiring a first edition too), and to know that in the shape of Sour Tales I've made a small contribution to the wider Highsmith library.