Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Patricia Highsmith's Carol, The Glass Cell, Those Who Walk Away and Ripley Under Water: First Editions on eBay

There's a Highsmithic (© Book Glutton) tenor to my latest lot of eBay auctions, in celebration of the release in cinemas this week of Todd Haynes's adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's 1952 novel Carol, alias The Price of Salt, a British first edition/first impression of which – the 1990 Bloomsbury edition of Carol, the first time the novel appeared under that title and the first time it had been published – under any title – in the UK – is among my eBay offerings:

Carol eBay auction

But there's also a British first edition/first impression of Highsmith's classic crime thriller The Glass Cell (Heinemann, 1965) on offer:

The Glass Cell eBay auction

And a British first edition/first impression of Highsmith's subdued but psychologically compelling Those Who Walk Away (Heinemann, 1967):

Those Who Walk Away eBay auction

And a British first edition/first impression of the final novel in the Ripliad, Ripley Under Water (Bloomsbury, 1991):

Ripley Under Water eBay auction

All four books are relatively uncommon in British first, have fairly low starting prices, and have appeared on Existential Ennui (and, in the case of Ripley Under Water, on Wikipedia; that's this very copy pictured on the novel's Wikipedia page) previously – Carol only a matter of months ago – although the usual caveats about whether that makes a blind bit of difference as regards desirability obviously apply. Further details concerning condition etc. can be found by following each link – oh, and I've also relisted that Pan paperback first printing of Ian Fleming's Bond novel The Man with the Golden Gun at a lower starting price; there were no takers last time, so here's another chance to grab it:

The Man with the Golden Gun eBay auction

All five auctions end on Sunday from about 7.30pm onwards, and all are UK-only affairs I'm afraid. Best of British if you decide to bid.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Touch by Elmore Leonard: Signed Inscribed First Edition (Viking, 1988); Book Review

There's an introduction in the 1988 UK Viking first edition of Touch – and, I expect, in other editions of the book too, not least the 1987 US Arbor House first – wherein Elmore Leonard explains why it took ten years for the novel to be published. Falling in Leonard's backlist between Bandits (1987) and Freaky Deaky (1988), Touch was actually written in 1977 "and, within a couple of months, rejected by more than a dozen hardcover publishers", as Leonard puts it. "The rejections were cordial enough; there was no quarrel with the prose. One editor called it, 'Probably the best writing you have done to date.' Another said, 'It is simply that the subject, no matter how well written it is, seems altogether mystifying.'"

Though the novel was finally accepted for publication in 1978 as a paperback original, so difficult to categorise did the publisher find the book that it languished on their shelves for a few years thereafter while they tried to work out what the hell to do with the thing. Eventually Leonard requested that the rights be reverted "and the publisher complied, probably with a sigh of relief"; Leonard then sold the book to Arbor House.

Leonard seems to concur with his original (non-)publisher in his introduction to Touch when he states that the novel is "way off-trail compared to what I usually write", and in terms of subject matter at least he has a point: the story is about a former Franciscan monk, a young man named Juvenal, who apparently possesses the ability to heal the sick and who displays stigmata on his hands, feet and side whilst doing so – not exactly Swag or The Hunted or City Primeval, then. However, in tone, style, meandering plot and above all in terms of characters, Touch is unmistakably the work of the writer of Swag (1976), The Hunted (1977),  City Primeval (1980) and especially classics like The Big Bounce (1969), Unknown Man No. 89 (1977), Split Images (1981), Stick (1983) and LaBrava (1983). In other words, it's an Elmore Leonard novel, and one of his very best at that.

It's worth noting too that despite the ostensibly off-beam subject matter, in true Leonard fashion there is still a con and a potential payday driving the narrative, although it's not Juvenal who's doing the conning, nor Lynn Marie Faulkner, the spunky record promotor with whom he falls in love, though she does initially seek him out at the Sacred Heart Center – the Detroit detox clinic where he works – for precisely that reason. Instead it's a pair of prime Leonard grotesques who want to use Juvenal for their own ends: Bill Hill, a medallion-wearing (bearing the legend "Thank You, Jesus") former church leader – he administered the Uni-Faith Church, which boasted "The World's Tallest Illuminated Cross of Jesus, 117 feet high" (plus "the Pilgrims' Rest Cafeteria and Gift Shop, where they sold Heavenly Hash candy, ten-inch battery-operated replicas of the World's Tallest Illuminated Cross of Jesus, WTICOJ T-shirts...") – who, with one eye on the likes of Billy Graham and the other on the Frost/Nixon interviews, perceives a way of turning a profit on Juvenal; and August Murray, stiff-necked, clenched-arse copy shop owner and commander of the Gray Army of the Holy Ghost, who seeks to recruit Juvenal to his righteous cause.

Touch also touches on another abiding Leonard concern, especially around the period it was written (see also Unknown Man No. 89), that of alcohol abuse (the writer was a functioning alcoholic during much of the 1970s). But he's never judgemental about it, and nor is he, despite Bill Hill and August Murray's shortcomings, about the mystical or religious aspects of the story. "Touch is about accepting what is," he writes in the introduction, an attitude which would also inform his later novel, the Raylan Givens-starring Riding the Rap (1995), which features a psychic, Reverend Dawn (who also appears in 2009's Out of Sight sequel Road Dogs), about whom Leonard again offers no judgement. Certainly Juvenal's bizarre abilities seem genuine, best exemplified by a bravura midpoint scene in a church where Leonard (uncharacteristically) flits between five or six different character POVs in order to show Juvenal's miraculous power, and a climactic, brilliant, farcical TV interview conducted by a rictus grinning hairpiece-bedecked towering shit of a host which is about the best sequence I've read in a Leonard novel.

The copy of the Viking edition of Touch seen in this post (dust jacket design by Bet Ayer, jacket photo by James Walker), fairly recently acquired (and not to be confused with the copy I bought in Essex two years ago), is a signed one, inscribed by Elmore Leonard to a John Newland. I've no way of ascertaining whether that might be this John Newlanddirector and host of classic paranormal TV anthology series One Step Beyond, but given the subject matter of the novel, it would be rather fitting if it were (and would make my copy of the book an association one). In any case, it's a nice way to round off this current series of posts on inscribed books. I do have some more signed and inscribed books I've yet to blog about (including another Leonard one), but those will have to wait for the new year; apart from anything else, there are a couple of other Elmore Leonard books I'd like to post reviews of before I get to those.

Monday, 16 November 2015

John le Carre, Ian Fleming, Kingsley Amis, James Bond and George Smiley: Spy Fiction on eBay

No, your eyes do not deceive you: that is another 1974 Hodder first edition/first impression of John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy far left, which I've listed for auction on eBay along with a 1965 Cape hardback first edition/first impression of Kingsley Amis's The James Bond Dossier, a 1966 Pan paperback first printing of Ian Fleming's The Man with the Golden Gun and a signed 2013 Penguin/Viking first edition/first impression of John le Carré's A Delicate Truth. I make no excuses for listing a first of Tinker, Tailor mere weeks after listing another copy; I've documented the insanity which characterises my book collecting multiple times on Existential Ennui, so my having come into possession of more than one copy of this book – and indeed more than one copy of one or two others of the books that I'm selling – even given its/their scarcity, is entirely in keeping with the madness of Sun King Louis XIV.

Three of the books I've listed have featured in some capacity on Existential Ennui previously, with the exception of the Pan paperback of The Man with the Golden Gun, although since that now appears in this post, it's accurate to state that it too now appears on Existential Ennui – if that has any bearing on relative desirability, which I sincerely doubt. However, all four books – something of a spy fiction bonanza – are highly collectable, fairly uncommon and in rather nice condition.

Their eBay listings can be found here:

Existential Ennui eBay account

Or here:

Existential Ennui eBay page

Click through from either of those links to the individual listings for more information about each book – condition, starting price and so forth – but feel free to ask questions both here (my email address can be found in the sidebar) and on eBay if you're at all interested in any of them.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Right as Rain by George Pelecanos (Little, Brown, 2001): Signed Association Copy; Derek Strange and Terry Quinn Series Book 1

I'll have news on further eBay auctions very soon, should anyone be interested, but in the meantime I've some more inscribed books I'd like to blog about. Like this one:

An American first edition/first printing of Right as Rain by George P. Pelecanos, published by Little, Brown in 2001, dust jacket design by Paul Sahre incorporating a photograph by Michael Northrup. Pelecanos's ninth novel, it's also the first in his three-book series starring Washington, DC cops-turned-private investigators Derek Strange and Terry Quinn (there are a couple more books which feature just Strange), and details how the two met: Strange is hired to look into the shooting incident which left an off-duty black cop dead and saw Quinn leave the force. I liked it a lot, at least as much if not more than the other Pelecanos novels I've read (namely The Way Home, 2009, The Cut, 2011, and What It Was, 2012); it unfolds at a deliberately measured pace and Strange in particular is a compelling creation, a generally decent man whose major fault is an unwillingness to confront his own self-destructive tendencies.

I came across this copy in the bargain basement of Any Amount of Books on Charing Cross Road, London, at the start of the year, priced at £4 – possibly at oversight on the part of the proprietors, who perhaps overlooked the presence on the title page of Pelecanos's signature and an accompanying inscription – "With admiration" – to his fellow crime novelist John Harvey:

Now, it's fair to say that signed Geoge Pelecanos books aren't exactly hard to come by: AbeBooks alone lists well over a thousand books flat signed by Pelecanos, with prices starting at a few pounds, and I imagine there are hundreds more available on eBay, Amazon Marketplace and on the websites and physical premises of any number of bookshops. (I myself own two flat-signed Pelecanos first editions: the aforementioned What It Was and a 2005 British first edition of Drama City). However, books which have been both signed and inscribed by Pelecanos – if that's the sort of thing which floats your boat (which it does mine) – are in rather shorter supply – there are more like 70 of those listed on AbeBooks at present – and signed and inscribed association copies are positively uncommon, with, as I type, just two such items listed online, one priced at over £150, the other at over £300. So I'm pretty pleased with my four quid score.

By the way, the postcard resting on the 'Also by' page, depicting William H. Johnson's Going to Church, hails from the Smithsonian American Art Institution in Washington, and was slipped inside the book, which makes me wonder whether it was enclosed by Pelecanos himself – being, as he is, a resident of DC – or perhaps by Harvey on a visit to the city; indeed, maybe that's how the book came to be inscribed.*

One of the blurbs on the back of the book is by Elmore Leonard, a writer of whom Pelecanos is an admirer – among his favourites are Valdez is Coming (1970), which actually gets a mention in Right as Rain (Terry Quinn, who's working in a used book store, tells Derek Strange it's "just about the best" western), Swag (1976) and Unknown Man No. 89 (1977; Pelecanos references that one in The Cut) – and also, arguably, his most direct descendant, both stylistically and in terms of subject matter and even characters. (Two of the bad guys in Right as Rain, Ray Boone and his "daddy", Earl, wouldn't be out of place in a Leonard story.) And it's to Leonard that I'll be turning next, with an inscribed copy of a brilliant and unjustly overlooked novel, written in the mid-1970s but not actually published until the mid-1980s.

. . . . . . . . . .

* Addendum: Shortly after I posted this I made contact with John Harvey on Twitter. John confirmed that the postcard was his – "that artist has long been a favourite" – and furthermore that George Pelecanos was also a favourite and that John hadn't intended to part with this copy of Right as Rain at all; it had got mixed up by mistake with a bunch of unwanted books – "rejects & doubles, or so I thought!" – that John sold a year or so ago. In light of which, I've offered to return Right as Rain to John, and John has kindly agreed to inscribe one of his books for me. Exactly which book, I'll reveal down the line.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Existential Ennui on eBay: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Point Blank and Pity Him Afterwards

At long last I've finally gone and done something I've been promising to do for bloody ages: I've listed some books for sale on eBay. All three books have featured on Existential Ennui at various points, and two of them have even featured on The Violent World of Parker too – not that either of those facts are especially salient or will make a blind bit of difference as regards determining whether or not the books sell or, if they do sell, how much they sell for, I'm sure – I mean, why should whether a book has made an appearance on a little-read blog collecting blog – and a better-read crime fiction website – and indeed sat on the shelves of the proprietor of the little-read book collecting blog for, ooh, a good few years, in any way impact its relative desirability? – but I just thought I'd mention it. Er, at length.

The books are as follows:

A first edition/impression of John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy, published in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton in 1974, as seen on Existential Ennui here, here and here (among other posts), eBay auction here;

A British hardback first edition/impression of Richard Stark's Point Blank, alias The Hunter, published by Allison & Busby in 1984, as seen on Existential Ennui – and, no doubt, The Violent World of Parker – all over the bloody place (I can't be fagged to find all the posts) but certainly on the British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s page, eBay auction here;

An American first edition/impression of Donald E. Westlake's Pity Him Afterwards, published in hardback by Random House in 1964, as seen on Existential Ennui here and here and The Violent World of Parker here, eBay auction here.

I suppose they're all quite obvious books in a way: better known titles (although less so in the case of Pity Him Afterwards) by authors who are firm favourites on Existential Ennui. But they're all collectable first editions of a sort, and they all have low starting prices – £4.99 in each case – so they're a good way for me to test the waters, to see if it's going to be worth my while to persist with selling on eBay. If they do well, I have other, more obscure delights waiting to be listed (not least some more Westlake books).

All three auctions finish on Sunday 8 November around 7pm, and all three are UK only affairs, I'm afraid; I may offer international shipping on future auctions (if there are future auctions), but for these initial ones I wanted to keep it simple. There's information about the condition of each book in each respective listing, but anyone looking for more details can either ask me questions on eBay itself, or post a comment below, or drop me a line on the usual Existential Ennui email address (see the contact details in the sidebar on the right) and I'll respond as swiftly as I'm able.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Author Donald MacKenzie's Crime and Spy Thrillers, 1956–1993, Feat. the Raven Series, The Kyle Contract and a Bibliography

Donald MacKenzie (1918–1993) is one of those authors who, if you're into classic and vintage crime fiction and you frequent secondhand bookshops, chances are you'll have come across at some point, and yet about whom there is scant information online – this despite, in MacKenzie's case, having published three dozen novels and two volumes of autobiography over the course of a four-decade career. (The Canadian-born MacKenzie does have a Wikipedia page, but it's in French.) So far, so unremarkable: there are scores of crime writers who, like MacKenzie, have largely slipped from the collective consciousness.

What makes MacKenzie unusual among his crime-writing brethren is that he genuinely knew of what he wrote: those aforementioned two volumes of autobiography, Fugitives (1955, US title Occupation: Thief) and Gentlemen at Crime (1956), published at the start of his literary career, detail his prior career – as a convicted criminal; initially a confidence trickster, then a share-pusher and finally a robber.

The back of the dust jacket of the British first edition of MacKenzie's debut novel, Nowhere to Go (Elek, 1956) – which, incidentally, was made into a film by Ealing Studios in 1958 (the novel, not the dust jacket) – offers synopses of both of MacKenzie's non-fiction titles (click on the image above left to read them), while the back of the dust jacket of the British first edition of his third novel, The Scent of Danger (Collins, 1958) – the first of two books to star burglar Macbeth Bain – features an amusing potted biography (widely quoted online, invariably unattributed):

Born in Ontario, Canada, in 1908 and educated in England, Canada and Switzerland, for twenty-five years MacKenzie lived by crime in many countries. "I went to jail," he writes, "if not with depressing regularity – too often for my liking." His last sentences were five years in the United States and three years in England – and they ran concurrently. He began writing and selling stories when in an American jail and says, "I like writing and hope to keep at it till I die. I like travel, kippers, American cars, Spanish suits, ice hockey, prize fights, walking, flowers, sun, dogs, Brahms, horseback riding, settling old scores, people who like me. I don't like meat, cocktail parties, Spanish gin, policemen, most judges, talk about things I don't understand, pompous people, good losers, or writers who 'spell it out' for you.

"I try to do exactly as I like as often as possible and I don't think I'm either psychopathic, a wayward boy, a problem of our time, a charming rogue, or ever was."

MacKenzie's canon can be divided roughly into two strands: those novels which feature as their leads criminals or former criminals, including two short series (the Macbeth Bain series and the Henry Chalice/Crying Eddie series, which comprises three books); and an extended series of crime/spy thrillers starring ex-copper turned international troubleshooter John Raven. MacKenzie's writing is characterised by a noirish sensibility, an economical style and clipped, deadpan sentences.

I guess you could call him a stylist, except that he's not (in my opinion) quite up there with the likes of, say, Richard Stark or Elmore Leonard. From the little I've read of him and the contemporaneous review excerpts I've seen – where comments range from "One of the few British crime writers who investigates the psychological make-up of his characters in a convincing way... smacks not a little of Graham Greene in its mild pessimism and pathos" (Books and Bookmen on The Scent of Danger) to "The action is splendidly developed... and the climax breathless" (the Oxford Mail – probably Anthony Price then – on Night Boat to Puerto Vedra) to "A craftsman's job" (The Sun on Dead Straight) – I'd say MacKenzie was a sharp, stylish writer, but not an easy one to warm to, his novels as likely to be penned from the perspective of an unsympathetic recidivist as from that of a policeman.

For me that makes him a more interesting writer – that and his colourful background – but I suppose it might be one reason why he's less celebrated than some other classic crime writers; certainly he merits more coverage online than has heretofore been the case – hence this post and its bibliography, the most detailed and accurate yet assembled for the web (to my knowledge). Still, MacKenzie can at least claim to be currently in print, courtesy of Orion's Murder Room imprint, although the dust jackets illustrating this post are actually taken from first editions of the novels, a stack of which I acquired from book dealer Jamie Sturgeon and some of which boast handsome jacket designs by, variously, Ionicus (alias Joshua Charles ArmitageThe Lonely Side of the River, Hodder, 1965), William Randell (The Scent of Danger, Collins, 1958) and Edward Pagram (Nowhere to Go and The Juryman, Elek, 1956/57; some more of his work can be seen here). I've added all three of those artists' MacKenzie wrappers to Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s, which marks the debut of Ionicus and Pagram on that page. (I've also added Pagram's wrapper for the 1965 Hodder edition of Patricia Carlon's Crime of Silence, which I suddenly remembered whilst writing this post that I had sitting on my shelves.)

I also took off Jamie's hands three signed and inscribed copies of MacKenzie first editions:

Two Raven novels – Raven and the Paperhangers, published by Macmillan in 1980, dust jacket photograph by Bill Richmond (whose work also appears on the covers of books by Victor Canning, Elmore Leonard and Patricia Highsmith), and Nobody Here by That Name, published by Macmillan in 1986, dust jacket illustration by Martin White – both of which may well have been inscribed to the same two people (I can't quite make out the names; suggestions in the comments please), and:

The Kyle Contract, published by Hodder in 1971, dust jacket design uncredited but which may well be by Gordon King. A solid, compelling but sober (and sobering) standalone novel, set in California, about two ex-cons, one a failing screenwriter, attempting to put the screws on a wealthy Hollywood director who framed the screenwriter for the murder of the director's wife, the inscription in this one is rather intriguing:

It reads: "I loved her but she never knew it – Donald May '71". I wonder who the recipient of that one was...? Anyway, I've added the jackets of all three of those signed books to British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s.

NB: This post linked in the 30/10/11 Friday's Forgotten Books round-up.

Donald MacKenzie Bibliography

Standalone Novels
Nowhere to Go (Elek, 1956); US title Manhunt
The Juryman (Elek, 1957)
Dangerous Silence (Collins, 1960)
Knife Edge (Collins, 1961)
The Genial Stranger (Collins, 1962)
Double Exposure (Collins, 1963); US title I, Spy
Cool Sleeps Balaban (Collins, 1964)
The Lonely Side of the River (Hodder & Stoughton, 1965)
Three Minus Two (Hodder & Stoughton, 1968); US title The Quiet Killer
Night Boat from Puerto Vedra (Hodder & Stoughton, 1969)
The Kyle Contract (Hodder & Stoughton, 1971)
Postscript to a Dead Letter (Macmillan, 1973)
The Spreewald Collection (Macmillan, 1975)
Deep, Dark and Dead (Macmillan, 1978)
The Last of the Boatriders (Macmillan, 1981)

Macbeth Bain Series
The Scent of Danger (Collins, 1958); US title Moment of Danger
Dead Straight (Hodder & Stoughton, 1968)

Henry Chalice and Crying Eddie Series
Salute from a Dead Man (Hodder & Stoughton, 1966)
Death Is a Friend (Hodder & Stoughton, 1967)
Sleep Is for the Rich (Macmillan, 1971); paperback title The Chalice Caper

John Raven Series
Zaleski's Percentage (Macmillan, 1974)
Raven in Flight (Macmillan, 1976)
Raven and the Ratcatcher (Macmillan, 1977)
Raven and the Kamikaze (Macmillan, 1977)
Raven Feathers His Nest (Macmillan, 1980); US title Raven After Dark
Raven Settles a Score (Macmillan, 1979)
Raven and the Paperhangers (Macmillan, 1980)
Raven's Revenge (Macmillan, 1982)
Raven's Longest Night (Macmillan, 1984)
Raven's Shadow (Macmillan, 1984)
Nobody Here by That Name (Macmillan, 1986)
A Savage State of Grace (Macmillan, 1988)
By Any Illegal Means (Macmillan, 1989)
Loose Cannon (Macmillan, 1991)
The Eyes of the Goat (Macmillan, 1992)
The Sixth Deadly Sin (Macmillan, 1993)

Fugitives (Elek, 1955); US title Occupation: Thief
Gentlemen at Crime (Elek, 1956)

NB: Some sources credit MacKenzie with another two novels: Harrier! (Granada, 1983) and Thunderbolt! (Panther, 1984); however, according to Steve Holland those were actually penned pseudonymously by Christopher Priest.