Thursday, 31 May 2012

Agatha Christie's At Bertram's Hotel, Desmond Cory's Feramontov and Timelock, and Roald Dahl's Sometime Never Join Beautiful British Book Covers

One would have thought, having reached a new milestone of 60 covers in the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery, that I might perhaps rest on my laurels, or at the very least pause for a moment's reflection. But oh no. I'm plunging merrily onwards, and have now added another four dust jackets to the page, beginning with a jacket designed by a man who already has one wrapper in the gallery:


Published by Collins in the UK in 1965, this is the British first edition of Agatha Christie's At Bertram's Hotel. As with the Agatha Christies I showcased yesterday, this copy isn't actually mine – it's from Rachel's splendid collection of Christies – but I wanted to include it in the Beautiful British Book Jackets gallery because its wrapper was designed by Brian Russell, who also designed the jacket for the 1962 Frederick Muller first edition of Desmond Cory's Undertow, which joined the gallery last week. And if you compare the two, there are definite similarities: the ever-so-slightly askew typography and rough edges on the black sea on the Undertow front cover are echoed by similar treatments on At Bertram's Hotel.


And speaking of Desmond Cory, a further two Cory jackets – for Johnny Fedora spy novels – have also joined the gallery, rephotographed from their original appearances on Existential Ennui: Klim Forster's cover for the 1966 Frederick Muller edition of Feramontov, and Abis Sida Stridley's one for the 1967 Muller edition of Timelock. Those two probably have more in common with the, shall we say, less subtle, less nuanced school of jacket design which would come to prevail in the 1970s, but there is, I feel, enough of the playfulness of the 1960s about them to warrant their inclusion, and with Timelock there's an additional link to At Bertram's Hotel: Sida Stridley's photographs illustrated the 1965 Woman's Own serialisation of the novel.


Finally, having set a precedent with the inclusion of Cecil Walter Bacon's lovely jacket for the 1970 Geoffrey Bles edition of P. M. Hubbard's Cold Waters, I've decided to add another wrapper which falls just outside the established remit of the gallery: that of the 1949 British Collins edition of Roald Dahl's Sometime Never – again rephotographed from its original appearance – designed by Stephen Russ, if only to illustrate that there were, of course, lovely dust jackets being designed before the 1950s, as there were after the 1960s. But I still stand by my assertion that the '50s and '60s were a golden age for wrapper design, and I'd suggest that you'd find more beautiful book jackets from those two decades than you would from the years either side – as I'm hopefully demonstrating.


And there are still more dust jackets to come, as I'll shortly be adding three jackets from children's books from the early 1960s – although the authors in question will already be familiar to regular readers of Existential Ennui...

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Kenneth Farnhill Dust Jackets for Agatha Christie Novels Third Girl, Endless Night and By the Pricking of My Thumbs (Collins, 1966/67/68) Join Beautiful British Book Covers

So then, as well as adding Kenneth Farnhill's splendid dust jacket for the 1964 Michael Joseph first edition of P. M. Hubbard's Picture of Millie to the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s page, I've also now bunged in three further Farnhill wrappers, bringing the total number of covers up to sixty. All three new additions wrap Agatha Christie first editions from the mid- to late-1960s, and while in comparison both to Farnhill's earlier Hubbard wrapper and to many other wrappers in the Beautiful Book Jackets gallery, they're quite simple designs – bright, flat colours and bold typography combined with a decorative motif (or no motif at all in once instance) – they are, to my mind, and in their own way, iconic. Certainly when I think of Christie novels, it's jackets like these that spring to mind, rather than, say, Tom Adams's more celebrated paperback covers.

All three Christie covers, I should point out, are courtesy of the lovely Rachel; I don't own any Agatha Christies myself, but hey: what's hers – as in Rachel's, not Agatha's – is mine, although I'm not sure the reverse is necessarily true. You can see the covers in question below, along with back covers and cases/jacket flaps for reference, but I'm not quite done with Agatha Christie yet, nor P. M. Hubbard, nor indeed the subject of last week's posts, Desmond Cory. Because I'll shortly be adding yet more wrappers to Beautiful British Book Jacket Design, including a Christie jacket by a designer who's already made it into the gallery, plus some children's novels, and more besides...


Third Girl by Agatha Christie (Collins, 1966), Kenneth Farnhill jacket design


Endless Night by Agatha Christie (Collins, 1967), Kenneth Farnhill jacket design


By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie (Collins, 1968), Kenneth Farnhill jacket design

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Book Review: Picture of Millie by P. M. Hubbard (Michael Joseph, 1964); Dust Jacket Design by Kenneth Farnhill

This second of two books by cult British suspense novelist P. M. Hubbard I'm showcasing is even scarcer than the 1970 Geoffrey Bles edition of Cold Waters I posted yesterday; at present there are only five copies of the book in question, in any edition, listed on AbeBooks. And not only that, but it's the rarest (and most expensive) of those editions that I've managed to acquire...


First published by Michael Joseph in the UK in 1964 (and by London House & Maxwell in the US that same year), Picture of Millie was Philip Maitland Hubbard's second novel for adults, following his 1963 debut Flush as May. To my knowledge there's only one copy of the Michael Joseph first of the novel available online at the moment, offered by an American dealer for around £100, but crucially the listing isn't accompanied by any pictures, so this is, I believe, the first time the Joseph dust jacket has been seen on the web. It was designed by Kenneth Farnhill, who designed many wrappers for Joseph, Collins and other British publishers from the 1950s to the 1970s, including a good number of Agatha Christie novels – on which more anon – and Sarah Gainham's Night Falls on the City.


Picture of Millie is set in the West Country resort of Pelant, where Paul Mycroft has taken his family on holiday, and where the seaside idyll is broken when Paul's children spot a body washed up on the beach. The corpse is Millie Trent, wife of Major Trent, and a topic of prattle and chatter among the holidaymakers due to her perceived easy virtues. Paul takes an active – and partly professional – interest in the police investigation into her death, talking to the men and women who knew her, slowly building up, well, a picture of Millie, although in truth we actually learn more about the various denizens of Pelant – vacationers and locals alike – than we do about the recently deceased Mrs. Trent.


It's a curious book in Hubbard's canon. There's little of the underlying menace that characterizes many of his novels, nor indeed of his preoccupation with remote, rural locales, although there is a lot of messing about in boats, which is another of Hubbard's abiding concerns. But what's really noticeable if you're familiar with Hubbard's work is that, in contrast to many others of the author's male leads, who are often amoral, occasionally unhinged, and frequently capable of violence (see later novels like A Hive of Glass, Cold Waters, etc.), Paul is essentially a decent sort. He has a mildly roving eye (Hubbard memorably describes a well-built teenage girl as being "virginal, massive in sky blue"), but he loves his wife and family and there's no sense of him straying from the straight and narrow – unlike some of the other husbands in Pelant, who may, or may not, have succumbed to Millie's charms.

Indeed, in the way it picks away at the repressed mores of the English middle classes – their frosty marriages, gossiping and habitual over imbibing – Picture of Millie brings to mind a less farcical version of Fawlty Towers, although there are one or two more unsettling sequences which hint at the Hubbard to come, especially towards the climax, which sees Paul pitched into the broiling sea and fighting for his life.


Kenneth Farnhill's evocative wrapper for Picture of Millie will, of course, be joining my Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery – along with the jackets in my next post. Because it just so happens that I have to hand some of the other dust jackets Farnhill designed in the 1960s, this time for novels by perhaps the most famous crime writer of them all...

Monday, 28 May 2012

Cold Waters by P. M. Hubbard (Geoffrey Bles, 1970); Dust Jacket Design by Cecil Walter Bacon (C. W. Bacon, or CWB)

After a second series of posts on Desmond Cory and his Johnny Fedora spy thrillers – and a Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s interlude – this week I'm returning to another Existential Ennui favourite: cult British suspense novelist P. M. Hubbard. I've had two runs of posts on Hubbard thus far – the first in May 2011, the second in November 2011 – and I've two further Hubbard first editions to blog about now – both very scarce in any edition, and the never-before-seen-online wrappers of each of which will be joining the aforementioned Beautiful British Book Jackets gallery. That said, however, this first book shouldn't, strictly speaking, really qualify for the gallery, but its jacket was designed by an illustrator who, aesthetically, very much belongs to that '50s/'60s heyday of dustjacket design...


First published in the UK by Geoffrey Bles in 1970 (a year after the US Atheneum edition), Cold Waters was Hubbard's ninth novel (including his two children's novels), and is a typically, quietly menacing tale set on a remote island (shades of the earlier A Hive of Glass there) in Scotland. Wyatt James's Annotated P. M. Hubbard Bibliography notes that the narrator, a married London businessman named Giffard, "is one of those cynical, depressed, but over-curious types the author does so well", and that "being that sort of Hubbard hero" Giffard sleeps with both his employer's wife and the maid.


In common with many of Hubbard's novels, copies of Cold Waters are thin on the ground: there are currently only seven listed on AbeBooks, all bar one of those being the Atheneum edition – the exception being a Bles first in Australia. The terrific dustjacket on the Bles edition was designed by C. W. Bacon, who is, in fact, illustrator Cecil Walter Bacon (who also signed his work as "CWB"). The list of jackets Bacon designed from the late-1930s to the early '70s is impressive, but he's perhaps better known as a poster designer – including many for London Transport – and for his long association with the Radio Times. So while his wrapper for Cold Waters may date from 1970, stylistically it's very definitely in keeping with other jackets in Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960, which is why I've now added it to the gallery.

The second Hubbard dustjacket I'll be showcasing, however, does fall within the established '50s/'60s remit of the gallery, and wraps around a very early – and in some ways atypical – Hubbard novel – one which is pretty hard to come by these days...

Friday, 25 May 2012

Leonard Cooper's The Accomplices (Cresset Press, 1960; Hugh Walker Design) and Rosalind Wade's Ladders (Robert Hale, 1968; Val Biro Design) Join Beautiful British Book Covers

Well I couldn't very well leave the total at 53, now could I? I mean, what sort of a number is 53? Whereas 55, on the other hand...


Yes, having added three Desmond Cory dustjackets to Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s yesterday – the Johnny Fedora spy novels Dead Man Falling, Johnny Goes South and Undertow – I've now added a couple more wrappers, to bring the total up to 55. Both of those books are by authors who are largely overlooked these days: Rosalind Wade, who I wrote about back in 2010 (besides being an author herself she was the mother of thriller writer Gerald Seymour) when I found a signed first of her very scarce 1968 novel Ladders – the Val Biro-designed wrapper of which (rephotographed from its original appearance) you can see on the right – in a Lewes charity shop; and Leonard Cooper, the 1960 Cresset Press first edition of whose espionage novel The Accomplices can be seen above.

Cooper is remembered chiefly for his non-fiction these days – Kirkus have reviews up of two of his historical works, The Age of Wellington (Dodd, 1963/Macmillan, 1964) and Many Roads to Moscow (Hamish Hamilton/Coward McCann, 1968) – but he did write fiction besides, and The Accomplices is the second of only two mystery/suspense he wrote. I bought this copy – for £6, which struck me as a bargain, given that the only other copy currently available in the UK is going for £15 (the Cresset edition is the only printing of the book) – in Slightly Foxed on Gloucester Road (where I also bought Graham Lord's biography of Jeffrey Bernard). The fact that it's a spy novel obviously influenced my decision to buy it, and it also came with a little piece of publishing paraphernalia enclosed:


A review slip, which is precisely the kind of useless ephemera I always find fascinating. But it was the Hugh Walker-designed dustjacket that really caught my eye – a lovely example of that restricted-palette/high contrast/hand-cut-lettered style so prevalent in the '50s and '60s – see also Peter Rudland's wrapper for Anne Chamberlain's The Tall Dark Man, which I picked up in Slightly Foxed on the same visit, not to mention many others in the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design gallery.

And there'll be yet more beautiful book jackets joining the gallery next week – most likely a handful of covers wrapping first editions of P. M. Hubbard suspense novels, two of which have never been seen online before. Although, having said that, I'm off to see a book dealer acquaintance of mine at the weekend, so my plans may change...

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Desmond Cory's Undertow (Frederick Muller, 1962) Joins Beautiful British Book Covers

For the final Desmond Cory post in this current run, let's take a look at a first edition of probably the best of the Johnny Fedora spy novels, sporting a strikingly typographical dustjacket which I've now stuck in my Beautiful British Book Jacket Design gallery (along with the jackets of Dead Man Falling and Johnny Goes South) – and the book in question is one I've actually blogged about before...


Published in hardback in the UK by Frederick Muller in 1962, Undertow is the twelfth book in the Johnny Fedora series, and the first book in what's known as the Feramontov Quintet – the five books which close out the Fedoras, all of which feature Johnny's Russian nemesis, Feramontov. Which, of course, we're all well aware of, as I covered the Feramontov Quintet extensively during my initial run of Cory posts in January, as part of which run I reviewed Undertow. (In fact I've reviewed it twice: I subsequently re-edited my Existential Ennui review of Undertow for the Shots crime fiction website.)


So why am I returning to Undertow now? Because back then, the closest I could get to a true first of the novel was a 1963 US edition, and nice though that is, it was the Muller edition I really wanted – partly because my personal preference as a book collector is for British first editions (especially when the author is British, as Cory is), partly because I'm mentally unbalanced, but also because I ranked Undertow as the third best book I read in 2011 (beaten only by Anthony Price's The Alamut Ambush and Dan J. Marlowe's The Name of the Game is Death).


Imagine my delight, then (and really, at this point, that shouldn't require too much imagination on your part), when just the other week I stumbled upon a copy of the Muller first of Undertow whilst browsing the Oxfam Books website, on sale for a tenner. The dustjacket – designed by Brian Russell – has a piece missing from the back, but other than that it's in pretty good nick, and considering there are only three copies of the Frederick Muller edition of Undertow currently listed on AbeBooks – one missing its jacket and the other two in New Zealand (and not in as good a condition as mine anyway) – was quite the bargain.


I'll have more on Desmond Cory down the line, notably two special items which will feature in another run of posts I have planned. But next on Existential Ennui... actually I haven't quite made up my mind as to what will be next on Existential Ennui: it might be P. M. Hubbard; it might be Patricia Highsmith; or it might be something else entirely...

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Johnny Goes South by Desmond Cory (Frederick Muller, 1959); Johnny Fedora #10, S. R. Boldero Cover Art

On to the second of three first editions of Desmond Cory's Johnny Fedora spy novels I've purchased in recent months. And while this one isn't quite as uncommon as Dead Man Falling, it's tough to find a first edition which isn't ex-library...


Johnny Goes South was first published in hardback in the UK by Frederick Muller in 1959, under a dustjacket designed by S. R. Boldero. Now, for a change, I don't need to do any digging on the jacket designer, because that redoubtable researcher of books-related stuff Steve Holland has a thorough biography of Stephen Richard Boldero over at Bear Alley, including a nice selection of the covers Boldero painted for the likes of Corgi, Pan and Pedigree. I will add, however, that, closer to the concerns of Existential Ennui, Boldero also designed the dustjacket for the Souvenir Press edition of Kinds of Love, Kinds of Death by Tucker Coe, alias Donald E. Westlake (as Steve notes, Boldero had a long association with Souvenir Press, among other assignments designing the wrapper for Peter O'Donnell's 1971 Modesty Blaise novel The Impossible Virgin), and that his jacket for Johnny Goes South will of course be making its way into my Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery when I'm done with these Desmond Cory posts.


The story this time finds Johnny Fedora, freelance operator-cum-assassin for British Intelligence, in the province of Amburu on the Argentine/Chilean border. Amburu has declared independence from Argentina, and Johnny is called on to ensure the survival of the rival to the self-declared "Fuhrer" of Amburu, copper king Pablo Tocino. There's an instructive review of Johnny Goes South over on the A. V. Club, in which Keith Phipps dwells at length on the pacing – or lack thereof – of the novel, a common complaint with Cory's Fedora books, and something I addressed in my review of the twelfth Fedora adventure, Undertow (1962). But unlike other reviewers, Phipps gets that Cory wasn't "concerned about pacing at all", and admits that the novel is "gripping in its own way".


As well as being the tenth Johnny Fedora outing, Johnny Goes South is the fourth book in a quartet of similarly titled works beginning with 1956's Johnny Goes North, all of which, in their Muller editions, sport a gloved hand holding a compass on the cover.


But there's also a link to the aforementioned Undertow, in that in Johnny Goes South, Johnny hooks up with Tocino's daughter, Adriana, and it's at Adriana's Spanish villa that he's staying (with Sebastian Trout) in Undertow.


There are fifteen copies of Johnny Goes South on AbeBooks at present, but only three of those are the Muller edition, and all three are ex-library. Mine was an inexpensive eBay win, which, considering firsts of the Fedoras don't come up on eBay that often, was a nice piece of luck. But the final Johnny Fedora first edition I'll be showcasing was an even luckier find, and even more gratifying, as it's perhaps the best of all the Fedora novels...

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Dead Man Falling by Desmond Cory (Frederick Muller, 1953); Johnny Fedora #3, A. H. Eisner Cover Art

After a very scarce 1956 Corgi paperback edition of Desmond Cory's 1955 standalone spy thriller The Phoenix Sings, let's move on in this latest run of Cory posts to the first of three first editions featuring the author's laid-back secret agent, Johnny Fedora:


Published in hardback in the UK by Frederick Muller in 1953 – the same year as another, rather more famous fictional secret agent, Ian Fleming's James Bond, made his literary debut (in Casino Royale, as if you didn't know) – Dead Man Falling is the third Johnny Fedora adventure (and the fifth Cory novel overall), following 1951's Secret Ministry and 1952's This Traitor, Death. The story sees Johnny venturing to the mountains of Austria on the trail of Hitler's personal bodyguard, Karl Mayer, "seeking for the missing Von Huysen diamonds" – which is why the novel picked up the alternative title of The Hitler Diamonds for its 1969 US Award paperback printing.


As with all of Cory's 1950s/early-1960s novels, Dead Man Falling is hard to come by in any edition (save the recently issued ebook edition, that is): there are currently only three copies of The Hitler Diamonds available on AbeBooks, all from American sellers, and one copy of the Muller hardback of Dead Man Falling, although that's sans-dustjacket, and the seller's based in New Zealand. Which, oddly enough, is where my copy came from: namely Gaslight Collectables in Burra, which looks like a charming shop to visit – or indeed to buy, as it's apparently up for sale. Hmm... I wonder if they have any other first editions that'll be of interest to me...?


There's no credit for the splendid dustjacket illustration – which will shortly be joining my Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery – but there is a signature at bottom right: Eisner. That's not, however, and before you go getting too excited (as I did, briefly), comics legend Will Eisner, but rather one A. H. Eisner, about whom I've been able to determine little in the way of biographical information, but a small amount of bibliographic detail: he illustrated jackets for, among others, Ursula Bloom's No Lady in the Cart (Convoy, 1949) and Chester Himes's Lonely Crusade (Falcon Press, 1950) and did interior illustrations for Ethel Mannin's So Tiberius (Jarrolds, 1954) and Florence Hightower's Dark Horse of Woodfield (Macdonald, 1964/Puffin, 1973). Judging by the style I'm guessing that Eisner also designed the attractive front endpaper map in Dead Man Falling:


The author blurb on the jacket back flap offers some intriguing insights regarding Desmond Cory: that he "lives in a welter of books, gramophone records and typewritten manuscripts, and claims that his stories are as untidy as he himself" – something I touched on in my review of the later Johnny Fedora novel, Undertow (1962) – and that "he composes straight on to the typewriter" and that, ghoulishly, "he really is very fond of blood". Meanwhile, over on Amazon, Jan Heart's Customer Review of Dead Man Falling notes Cory's "marvellous writing style" and the novel's "ingenious plot", and reveals that Jan decided to try the book as a result of seeing Undertow in a top ten books of 2011 list, as compiled by "influential critic of thriller novels... Existential Ennuie" (sic). Ah, the awesome power of influence I wielde (sic)...


Moving on, and next in this series of posts I'll be showcasing the final Johnny Fedora novel to be published in the 1950s – the fourth book in a quartet of similarly titled works which sent Johnny to every point of the compass...

Monday, 21 May 2012

The Phoenix Sings by Desmond Cory (Corgi Paperback, 1956)

Having added a couple more Desmond Cory dustjackets to my Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s page (alongside eight other new additions, bringing the total up to fifty), I figured it was about time I returned to Mr. Cory and his Johnny Fedora spy novels, chiefly because I've tracked down some more hard-to-find Fedora first editions, which I'll be showcasing later in the week. Before we get to those, though, let's take a look at a non-Fedora novel:


This is the Corgi paperback edition of The Phoenix Sings (cover art uncredited), published in the UK in 1956, a year after the Frederick Muller hardback. A standalone work, it's the first-person account of Adam Vane, a down-on-his-luck former British intelligence operative in Antwerp, who is recruited by a shady associate to smuggle diamonds to Amsterdam, consequently finding himself caught up in a deadly game of espionage. The official Desmond Cory Website has a little more about the novel here, including the fact that it was turned into a movie, Mark of the Phoenix, in 1958, directed by Maclean Rogers.


I spotted this copy on eBay and managed to nab it for £1.20 (plus postage, obviously, which took the total up to a staggering £2.35), which was quite the bargain, not least because The Phoenix Sings is virtually impossible to find in any edition; there is currently one copy of the Muller hardback on AbeBooks, but it's lacking a dustjacket, and there are no copies for sale whatsoever on Amazon Marketplace. See, as I mentioned in my initial Desmond Cory post in January, although Cory's novels are slowly being turned into ebooks, physical copies of many of his books are in decidedly short supply – with the honourable exception of the later Johnny Fedora novel Undertow, which is available as a print-on-demand paperback (and ebook) courtesy of Mike Ripley's Top Notch Thrillers imprint.


Certainly the next Desmond Cory novel I'll be showcasing – a very early Johnny Fedora first edition, one of three Fedora firsts I'll be blogging about in quick succession – is extremely uncommon, so much so that I had to go all the way (electronically speaking) to New Zealand to secure a copy...