Thursday, 25 October 2012

A Custom Domain for Existential Ennui, and 100 Beautiful British '50s and '60s (and '40s and '70s) Dust Jackets


Hang up the bunting and balloons, uncork the champagne and let the drunken revelry commence, because with the addition of those Val Biro/Victor Canning wrappers the other day, I'm immensely pleased to announce that nearly seven months on from its inauguration, there are now 100 dust jackets on the Existential Ennui Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s permanent page. Woo-hoo! All very exciting, I'm sure you'll agree, and I'll be getting into how we got here and where we might be going next in a moment. But first, an announcement: to celebrate this centenary of spectacular cover art, I've gone and done something a bit radical to Existential Ennui – besides widening it and introducing a new subtitle, I mean. If you cast your eyes up to the top of your browser, you should be able to see that the URL of Existential Ennui has changed (if it hasn't, click on the masthead). Hitherto it was:

http://existentialennui.blogspot.com – or ".co.uk", or ".com.au", etc., depending on where you were in the world (Blogger, the platform on which EE resides, having introduced region-specific URLs last year). But henceforth, it shall be:

http://www.existentialennui.com/

That's right: I've registered a custom domain name. It's something I've been considering for a while now, probably ever since Existential Ennui began to find its feet in 2010 as, essentially, a repository of bibliomaniacal esoterica (not to mention baseless conjecture, bad puns and prolix navel-gazing – this post being a case in point), and by the middle of last year I'd pretty much decided I wanted to take the plunge. Unfortunately, when I went to register the domain name I desired – the one I now have, existentialennui.com – I discovered that it wasn't available. Turns out someone had bought it and was evidently looking to make some money out of it: if you keyed in that URL, you'd find a message to the effect that anyone interested in the domain name should contact the then-owners. I thought about inquiring into how much it would cost to buy it off them, whoever they were, but I figured that the very act of contacting them would put me in a weak negotiating position (yeah, check me, all Gordon Gekko) and I'd end up having to pay through the nose for the privilege of using a domain name I'd effectively already established though my own blood, sweat and tears (just Google "existential ennui" to see what I mean). Of course, I could have stuck a dash between "existential" and "ennui", or perhaps plumped for an address ending in ".net", or some variation thereof, but that didn't feel right either. So I elected to leave it and keep an eye on the situation, with a view to revisiting the idea down the line.

Fast forward to earlier this week, and on a whim I decided to check if whoever it was who had their greasy mitts on existentialennui.com had, by some miracle, relinquished their grip. And bugger me with a broom handle, they had: the domain was available through Blogger. So, quick as a flash (actually not that quick: I mulled it over again for another day), I nabbed it.

What this will mean in practical terms is probably – hopefully – very little: all being well, any links via the old URL will eventually redirect to the new one (although you might want to update your bookmarks – that is, if anyone has bookmarked EE – just in case). But to me, somehow, it makes Existential Ennui seem more permanent. Oh, I'm sure that isn't actually the case: websites, and especially blogs, are by their very nature transitory things, and should Blogger ever fall over or vanish, I expect EE will disappear along with it (although the British Library UK Web Archive version of EE should survive). Which I guess means it must be more of a psychological thing – something to do with ".com" feeling more like a proper website than ".blogspot.com". Whatever: as I write, the transition process is well underway. Be aware, however, that there may be some disruption and side effects – current ones being that:

a) it might look, at the moment, as though are two Existential Ennuis (as if one weren't quite enough): a ".com" version and a ".blogspot.com" one as well. Don't ask me why that is; by all accounts it's just a thing that happens when you buy a custom domain, and will, I'm reliably informed, correct itself in time. And:

b) all of the blogs I'd gathered together in my Other Fine Blogs blogroll sidebar disappeared, so I'm having to reconstitute the list; if there are any fellow bloggers reading this who know for a fact they were listed, give me a nudge and I'll reinstate you.

UPDATE: I've since noticed another side effect.


Anyway: to the Beautiful British Book Jackets. And although as a rule I try to resist any emotions as base and vulgar as pride (it goeth before destruction, apparently), I must admit I'm pretty pleased not only to have reached 100 covers, but with the page's reception. Certainly it's proved by far the most popular part of Existential Ennui, racking up seven-and a-half-thousand hits in its own right in under seven months, which ain't too shabby. Clearly the notion of showcasing some of the best examples of dust jacket design from the 1950s and '60s has struck a chord, and the innovation – such as it is – of listing the jackets under their designers rather than authors or book titles has resulted in multiple links from Wikipedia – witness the Wikipedia pages for, among others, Graham Greene's The Quiet American and A Burnt-Out Case, Michael Frayn's Towards the End of the Morning, Nevil Shute's On the Beach, Alistair MacLean's Ice Station Zebra and James Hadley Chase's I Would Rather Stay Poor. Indeed, whoever edited those last two pages even had the temerity to use my covers to illustrate them. Honestly. The cheek of it.


All that said, the page hasn't developed quite how I envisioned. My original intention was to showcase jackets which typified the bold, duo-tone (or restricted palette), chiaroscuro style prevalent in the '50s and '60s, i.e. wrappers by the likes Val Biro, Denis McLoughlin, Donald Green, Peter Probyn and Roy Sanford. Right from the get-go, though, I muddied the waters by including Gavin Lyall's more illustrative jacket for his own The Wrong Side of the Sky (basically because I love it), and then further muddied them by including Peter Calcott's more graphic wrapper for Francis Clifford's The Naked Runner in the second batch. Still, even though these and subsequent additions, like Kenneth Farnhill's very simple designs for Agatha Christie first editions, perhaps diluted the original intent of the page, they're still fine examples of jacket design in their own right, and I don't regret their inclusion.


One thing I came to realise as I added more and more wrappers to the page was that I'd ever-so-slightly shot myself in the foot by restricting the period covered by the gallery to the 1950s and '60s. It dawned on me that there were plenty of examples of excellent illustrated design from the 1940s and 1970s too, which was why I elected to include the odd wrapper from the latter and earlier parts of those two decades, respectively. In retrospect I probably should have called the page "Beautiful Postwar Book Jacket Design" or something (although I maintain that the '50s and '60s boast far more fine examples than the decades either side), but the URL (are we back on those again...?) has already changed once – when I took off the redundant "Existential Ennui" prefix – resulting in broken links, so I was reluctant to change it again.


Tangentially related to that is a minor lament: I haven't yet got round to including any wrappers from novels by one of my favourite authors, Ross Thomas (unlike some of my other favourite authors – stand up Donald E. Westlake and Patricia Highsmith). The two best British Thomas wrappers, to my mind, date from 1970 – Wilson Buchanan's one for The Fools in Town Are on Our Side and Kaye Bellman's one for The Brass Go-Between – both of which I could, I guess, still add to the page – except I don't think I'll be venturing beyond 100 covers. Having that number of images on one page is already, I know, proving problematic for some viewers, and for my part I'm leery of continuing to monkey about with the page behind the scenes, for fear that I could, accidentally, delete the whole bloody thing (you may mock, but I've done that many a time before with draft blog posts).


And therein lies a conundrum: if I'm not going to expand or alter the page – and I reserve the right to change my mind on that one – where next? The obvious answer is, of course, a new page! Or perhaps pages, plural. For example, I've still got wrappers I've yet to unveil by Val Biro and Denis McLoughlin – the two artists represented by the greatest number of jackets on the current page – so it makes sense to dedicate a permanent page each to them, encompassing all of their work in Beautiful British Book Jackets, plus more besides. Alternatively, I could construct a more focused page, just highlighting those restricted-palette wrappers I had in mind for the extant gallery. I could even start a paperback cover page, although given that there are countless blogs and websites devoted to pulpy paperback cover art – which would be the area I'd concentrate on – that seems a little superfluous.


In the short term, I suspect Biro and McLoughlin are the most likely options, but I do have lots of books I've not yet blogged about which also boast lovely jackets by other designers, so there'll probably be at least one other page besides those at some point. As ever, if anyone has any suggestions or preferences, let me know via the comments. For now, though, go feast your eyes on 100 Beautiful British Book Jackets from the 1950s, 1960s – and beyond...

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Val Biro Dust Jackets for Four Victor Canning Novels (Hodder & Stoughton 1958–62); Lewes Book Bargains

I've written about the relationship between authors and cover artists – how, either through happenstance or design (the latter usually on the part of the publisher or author), a particular designer will wind up creating a run of dust jackets for a particular author – once or twice before, most recently in this post on Peter Probyn's jackets for three Francis Clifford novels. Given that dust jacket designer extraordinaire Val Biro produced in the region of 3,000 wrappers in his career, probably more than any other artist, it's perhaps unsurprising that there are many, many instances where he illustrated wrappers for multiple entries in various authors' canons. Indeed, thriller novelist Victor Canning doesn't even rank among those authors who could claim ten or even twenty or more Biro jackets to their names; to my knowledge, Biro illustrated the wrappers of just four Canning novels, towards the end of Canning's time at Hodder & Stoughton.

But it so happens that I now own all four of those books – all first editions, all bought in and around my hometown of Lewes (I think; I know The Dragon Tree came from Revive All under the Needlemakers and A Delivery of Furies from the Lewes Antique Centre, but I can't for the life of me remember where the other two came from – except that I'm pretty sure it was somewhere round this way). And since the Existential Ennui Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s permanent page needs just three covers to take it up to the magic number of 100, and Canning falls within the broad remit of Existential Ennui, and I'm an admirer (and collector) of Val Biro's work (there were nine of his covers on the page even before these additions), a Canning/Biro dust jacket gallery strikes me as an entirely apt way in which to reach 100 wrappers.

Apt in another way, too; because as the sharper tools among you might have noticed, while the Beautiful British Book Jacket page needs just three wrappers to get to 100, I'm presenting four in this post. Reason being, one of the jackets, for A Delivery of Furies, has already made it onto the page – in fact it was the cover I used to introduce the page aaaalllllll the way back in March of this year. So it's kind of fitting that it's here again – in an even more vibrant, re-scanned form – along with its brethren to celebrate the centenary (sort of) of Beautiful British Book Jackets. Obviously it was all planned right from the start...

Anyway, all of the covers in this post have now been added to the Beautiful Book Jackets gallery – but hold off on the celebratory cake, balloons, jelly and ice cream for the moment, because I'll be back in a bit with a proper "reaching the 100 dust jackets milestone" post, including some thoughts on how the page has developed from the initial concept, conjecture on where it might be going next, and, quite possibly, yet another special announcement. For now, though, enjoy the Biro/Canning jackets – and follow the links on each title for some insight into the books from the excellent, incredibly thorough Victor Canning website.


The Dragon Tree by Victor Canning (Hodder & Stoughton, 1958)


The Burning Eye by Victor Canning (Hodder & Stoughton, 1960)


A Delivery of Furies by Victor Canning (Hodder & Stoughton, 1961)


Black Flamingo by Victor Canning (Hodder & Stoughton, 1962); note Val Biro signature on front flap, obtained, in person, very recently...

Friday, 19 October 2012

Commander-1: The Life and Death of Author Peter George, alias Peter Bryant / Bryan Peters, co-writer of Dr. Strangelove; inc. Bibliography

NB: Featured as one of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.


Last week I posted a review of a 1961 Cold War spy thriller by British author Bryan Peters, The Big H, noting that although it was Peters's second novel under that moniker, he published a number of other novels both prior to and following it under different names, including his own: Peter George. During the course of my research for that post, something about George struck a chord with me. Though he only left a relatively small body of work – he took his own life in 1966 at the age of forty-two,[1] which, that being my current age, and George's birthday being a day before mine, I guess on a subliminal level might have been part of the reason I became so interested in him – his influence has extended far and wide, primarily through his best-known novel, Two Hours to Doom (1958), alias Red Alert. Written under another nom de plume, Peter Bryant, it was the basis for Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, the screenplay of which George co-wrote (with Kubrick and Terry Southern).


George – born Peter Bryan George in Treorchy, Wales on 24 March, 1924 – published nine novels in his lifetime (insofar as I've been able to establish; the bibliography at the bottom of this post is as complete as I can make it), including crime fiction, at least one P.I. mystery – Cool Murder, 1958 – and a short series of spy novelsThe Hong Kong Kill (also 1958) and the aforementioned The Big H. What's remarkable is that, of those nine novels, nearly half are preoccupied to a greater or lesser degree with nuclear conflict, whether it be The Big H – which, although ostensibly about heroin smuggling, actually has the threat of atomic war at its heart – or George's 1963 novelisation of his own screenplay for Dr. Strangelove. But it's the book that capped his career which is perhaps the most apposite as regards his life and, seemingly, his death: a long-out-of-print novel which I firmly believe is an overlooked post-apocalyptic classic, up there with the similarly realistic landmark dystopian likes of Nevil Shute's On the Beach (1957), Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon (1959) and Cormac McCarthy's The Road (2006).


Published by Heinemann in the UK in 1965 under a stark, photographic dust jacket designed by Paul Castell – the symbolic flower on the front of which predates by twenty years the more famous black flower from Troy Kennedy Martin's equally brilliant, also nuclear-themed Edge of Darkness Commander-1 is a bleak, unforgiving account of atomic war and its aftermath. An opening chapter set on Christmas Eve, 1965 juxtaposes a joyous shopping trip in New York with vignettes of interracial murder and rape in Johannesburg, Tibet and New York itself, along with glimpses of nuclear arsenals, climaxing with a blinding light in the sky. Subsequently, a flashback begins a subplot which reappears intermittently throughout the novel, relating the Chinese plan which instigates the conflagration; and then the action switches to the war room deep beneath the Pentagon, where the confusion of nuclear conflict unfolds in calm, and consequently horrific, fashion.

Thereafter, for a while at least, the novel takes the form of a journal, written by James Geraghty, the commander of an unarmed U.S. Navy nuclear submarine, on board which, along with the crew, are three men and three women – the "guinea pigs". Kept in isolation, the guinea pigs are the focus of an experiment to assess how human beings will cope with deep space travel and colonisation, the aim being to deposit them on a desert island. Despite the fact that the war has very likely brought humanity to the brink of extinction, and against the advice of one of the doctors overseeing the experiment, Geraghty elects to persist with it, and from here on out the story alternates between Geraghty's tale and that of the guinea pigs.


Right from the beginning of Commander-1 there are clues that the novel was written swiftly and out of a genuine belief that nuclear annihilation was imminent. The first of the Chinese interludes references both the ousting of Russian premier Nikita Khrushchev on 14 October, 1964 and China's inaugural nuclear weapons test, which took place on 16 October, 1964; given that Commander-1 was published in 1965, it seems clear that George was deeply concerned about these developments and was urgently driven to address them in his fiction. The shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis also looms large over the novel, and is referenced repeatedly; as recently as the 1980s, when I was a teenager, the threat and fear of nuclear war was very real, so it's easy for me to imagine how much more immediate that threat and fear must have felt to George in the 1960s, post-Cuban Missile Crisis, post-Chinese atomic weapons testing.

George weaves fact into fiction throughout the novel. He makes references to real life non-fiction works on the likelihood of nuclear war (and, obliquely, to his own Two Hours to Doom/Dr. Strangelove), while in a long conversation on the island the guinea pigs discuss the likely, scientifically deduced outcome of an all-out MAD nuclear exchange, bringing in bacteriological warfare to boot (there's a mention of Porton, near Salisbury). He even references real people in the narrative, such as the strategists Herman Kahn and Thomas Schelling – the latter in fact a friend of George's.[2] That some of his fictional characters, including one or two of the guinea pigs, aren't terribly well-developed and are sometimes deployed as little more than mouthpieces to impart facts is, to my mind, the novel's only major flaw, and given what George is trying to achieve, forgivable.

As grim as all this is, however, astonishingly, the book becomes even grimmer as it draws to a close. George details the establishment of a quasi-fascistic system of government for the scant few survivors of the war, complete with drug-induced brainwashing and indoctrination and a nascent eugenics programme. This is driven by Commander Geraghty, a grotesquely compelling creation who will, ultimately, come to lend the novel its title. At the story's end there is at least a tiny glimmer of light, but even that is cruelly extinguished in the final two sentences.


Peter George died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head at his home in St Leonards – not far from where I live in Lewes – on 1 June, 1966;[3] his wife found him slumped in a chair with a discharged double-barreled shotgun between his knees.[4] It was reported at the time that he had been unwell and depressed;[5] later, the author Brian Aldiss, an acquaintance of George's, wrote that George "was a victim of the Demon Alcohol", that "He would start with a sip of whisky and wake up a fortnight later in a Glaswegian gutter, poor guy."[6] But Aldiss also stated that George was "suffering fear and pain about the threat of nuclear war", to the extent that it was believed by some that at the time of his death he was writing yet another book on the subject.[7]

That unfinished novel remains unpublished,* but Commander-1 certainly bears out Aldiss's hypothesis in its overwhelming sense of despair, hopelessness, and anger. But more than that, one event in particular in the novel acts as a chilling portent of George's fate. After finding his partner, Jane, dead of an overdose, one of the guinea pigs, Bill Evans – a man born, like George himself, in Treorchy – commits suicide by shooting himself in the head. Bill's haste to do the deed before he can be stopped presages the way George must have been similarly conscious of taking his own life before his wife could find him, but what's even more appalling is the way George describes the gruesome results – "the bloody pieces of bone and flesh and brain" that Bill's fellow guinea pigs, John and Arnie, have to bury, and this preceding passage: 

When they saw what was left of Bill's head they turned away. When they had recovered a little, but still not looking at the bodies, Arnie said, 'How did he do it?'

'Through the mouth,' John said. 'Oh my sweet Christ, though the mouth.'

The hurt and grief George's wife and three children must have felt at both his death and the manner of his demise is difficult to comprehend, especially in light of the fact that the Armageddon he dreaded never came to pass; but for me, this episode demonstrates not only how terrible, and terribly affecting, suicide is, but how powerful fiction in general, and Commander-1 in particular, can be.**


George was evidently – and justly – proud of Commander-1. He dedicated the book to Stanley Kubrick, and sent copies to his friends, as the author's bookplate affixed to the front endpaper of the Heinemann first edition I acquired shows:


The shame of it is that Commander-1 has been out of print for forty years, the last editions being Dell and Pan paperbacks in 1966. Doubtless there are many fine novels that over the decades have fallen through the cracks in our collective memory and slipped quietly out of print; indeed finding and spotlighting some of those books could be said to be the purpose of Existential Ennui. My hope, then, in writing this post, is that these words go some way towards rescuing one righteous, impassioned, often ferocious novel from semi-obscurity and raising it to its rightful position as a key work not only in Peter George's slight but fascinating canon, but in the wider pantheon of post-apocalyptic fiction.

. . . . .

PETER GEORGE BIBLIOGRAPHY

As Peter George
Come Blonde, Came Murder (T. V. Boardman, 1952)
Pattern of Death (T. V. Boardman, 1954)
Cool Murder (T. V. Boardman, 1958); later reissued in paperback under Bryan Peters alias (Mayflower, 1965)
The Final Steal (T. V. Boardman, 1962)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Corgi/Transworld, 1963): novelisation of George's own screenplay/original story
Commander-1 (Heinemann, 1965)

As Peter Bryant
Two Hours to Doom (T. V. Boardman, 1958); published as Red Alert in US (Ace, 1958), later retitled as such in UK

As Bryan Peters
The Hong Kong Kill (T. V. Boardman, 1958)
The Big H (T. V. Boardman, 1961)

According to this thread on the Golden Age Mysteries message board, Allen J. Hubin's Crime Fiction IV also credits Sons of Nippon, a 1961 war novel by Brian Peters – "i" instead of "y" in first name – to Peter George. However, George's son, David, told me that Sons of Nippon was not written by his father.
__________

[1] Some reports, including those at the time of his death, put his age at forty-one; see Doomsday Men: The Real Dr Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon, P. D. Smith, 2007; Associated Press, Yuma Daily Sun, Austin Daily Herald et al, 2 June, 1966
[2] Strategies of Commitment and Other Essays, Thomas C. Schelling, 2006
[3] Yuma Daily Sun, 2 June, 1966
[4] Waterloo Daily Courier, 2 June, 1966
[5] AP, 2 June, 1966
[6] "Kubrick – the Writer", Brian Aldiss, The Observer, 14 March, 1999
[7] Smith, 2007

Note: It appears that at one point Peter George's son had a website, on which was some memorabilia about his father (there's a broken link from George's Wikipedia page). Should Mr. George's son happen to read this post, I'd welcome any corrections, thoughts or additional information he might be willing to provide. 

* Addendum 1: Some months after I posted this essay, Peter George's son, David, did indeed contact me. Among other additional insights, which I hope to share at some point, David noted that there was no 'unfinished novel'; Commander-1 was Peter George's final work. Its original title was Nucleus of Survivors, leading to the belief in some quarters that George was working on another book bearing that title.

** Addendum 2: A year on from this essay's post date I was emailed by Madeline Weston, who was secretary to Tom "T.V." Boardman, not only the publisher of many of Peter George's books but his close friend too. Madeline still remembers "the morning [Boardman] came into the office severely shaken at the news of Peter's suicide. Peter had phoned him I think the evening before telling him he was going to take his life and there was nothing Tom could do to dissuade him." Shortly after that call George committed suicide. Madeline added: "The impression I got from my boss, Tom, was that Peter's time in the RAF had involved being in a job where he was one of those near the 'red button' that could start a nuclear attack, and I think this affected him greatly." My thanks to Madeline for these insights, and for granting me permission to publish them.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Book Review: Dance of the Dwarfs by Geoffrey Household (Michael Joseph, 1968): Michael Trevithick Cover; a Lewes Book Bargain

I've been chronicling the books I buy in Lewes, the East Sussex town in which I live and work (and from which I write tedious blog posts – like this one), for over three years now, introducing the catch-all headers Lewes Book Bargains and Lewes Bookshop Bargains around two years ago. In that time I've found some cracking books, mostly in the town's multitudinous charity shops, but this latest Lewes Book Bargain, which I nabbed in the Lewes branch of Oxfam just last week, may well be the biggest bargain yet:


A hardback first edition of Geoffrey Household's Dance of the Dwarfs, published by Michael Joseph in 1968. One of Household's scarcest books in first, the cheapest copy I've seen for sale in the UK is currently listed at £100, which is rather more than the £2.99 I paid for this one. Of course, I seriously doubt whether anyone would actually hand over £100 for a first edition of Dance of the Dwarfs – which is one of the reasons why I feel no guilt at having paid so little for this copy, the other reason being that, all told, over the past three years, I've paid out considerably more than £100 for books in Lewes' various charity shops – but even so: I was dead chuffed to find it, not least because I'm a great admirer of Household's work.


As it turns out, however, Dance of the Dwarfs is a decidedly strange kettle of fish. Written in the form of a diary by agriculturist Dr. Owen Dawnay, parts of it are compelling, notably those detailing Dawnay's hunt for the eponymous "dwarfs" – or "duendes" as they're also referred to, although they turn out to be neither (and nor are they lizards, as the book's bizarre-sounding 1983 film adaptation apparently reveals) – through the Colombian jungle – unsurprising really, since the theme of man stalking beast in the wilderness is one Household returned to repeatedly (see Rogue Male, A Rough Shoot, etc.). These passages in Dance of the Dwarfs are as vivid as any others in Household's books, but set against that is some rum business concerning Chucha, a young Indian girl Dawnay shacks up with. This street urchin is sent to him by a friend for Dawnay's use, which is distasteful enough; but then towards the end of the novel Dawnay writes that he's "nearly twenty years older than Chucha", which, given that he's thirty-three years old, would make her thirteen or fourteen! That he eventually falls in love with her is no excuse, especially since, ultimately, being with him also seals her fate.


The striking dust jacket design on the Joseph edition is by Michael Trevithick, an artist and illustrator with a distinctive style who worked for Punch magazine and created covers for Penguin (including some Richard Gordon novels), but who's best remembered these days for illustrating the sleeve of Nick Drake's third and final album, Pink Moon (1972). (Trevithick was either the friend or boyfriend – depending on which account you read – of Drake's sister, Gabrielle.) Trevithick's wraparound wrapper for Dance of the Dwarfs is the 97th addition to the Existential Ennui Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s page, which means that there are just three covers to go before the page reaches the magic number of 100 dust jackets. And to get us there, it just so happens that I have three wrappers by one of my favourite cover artists waiting in the wings...

Monday, 15 October 2012

Book Review: The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury; Rupert Hart-Davis, 1952 (John Minton Cover); Corgi, 1955 (John Richards Cover)

Keep 'em peeled for that promised post on a special edition of the final novel by Peter George, co-writer of Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, but in the meantime, and continuing the quest to get the total number of covers on the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s page up to 100 (currently it stands at 95), here's a book I bought at the last-but-one Lewes Book Fair, and which I also own in a paperback edition – the contents of which differ slightly from the hardback – purchased at last year's London Paperback and Pulp Bookfair:


The Illustrated Man, a collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury, first published in the UK by Rupert Hart-Davis in 1952. This is actually the third impression of the British first edition, dating from 1958, but since I only paid seven quid for it, and jacketed second or third impressions start at around the £50 mark online, I'm not complaining. That wrapper was designed by John Minton, a very well known painter and illustrator linked with the twentieth century British Neo-Romantic movement (a school of art I'm quite keen on myself), and a number of whose works are held by the Tate, the British Council, and now, of course, by that similarly venerable institution, the Existential Ennui Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery. Ahem.


I was already pretty familiar with most of the stories in The Illustrated Man, having read them in various other Ray Bradbury anthologies over the years, but reading them again gathered together like this was quite instructive. For one thing, this time around I discovered new layers to some of them, such as "Kaleidoscope", which became less of a terrifying tale of being cast adrift in space and more of a meditation on mortality, regret and the importance of living life to the full. For another, I was struck by how Mars-centric many of the stories herein are. A number of them could have quite easily fitted into The Martian Chronicles – or The Silver Locusts, to give it its British title – Bradbury's second book, published just prior to The Illustrated Man – and indeed one of them originally did. Which brings me neatly to that other edition of The Illustrated Man:


The first British paperback edition, published by Corgi/Transworld in 1955 under a cover by John Richards. This version of the book was evidently printed using the US Bantam plates; not only is it set in American English – i.e. US spelling – but it contains eighteen stories, as opposed to the Hart-Davis hardback, which only contains sixteen:


Handily, the book's Wikipedia entry lists all the differences between editions, so I don't need to go into them here, except to note that anyone, like me, who owns the Rupert Hart-Davis edition of The Silver Locusts should be aware that "Usher II", which was omitted from that edition, can be found instead in the Hart-Davis edition of The Illustrated Man (but not in the Corgi paperback); and that not only is the table of contents in the Hart-Davis edition of The Illustrated Man different to the Corgi one, but the introductory prologue has been altered to account for having two fewer tales, changing

Eighteen Illustrations, eighteen tales. I counted them one by one.

to

Sixteen Illustration, sixteen tales. I counted them one by one.

So now you know.

So that was the 96th addition to Beautiful British Book Jackets – and as it turns out the 97th addition was also bought in Lewes; just last week, in fact, in one of this fair East Sussex town's many charity shops. And what's more, it may well have been the best Lewes Book Bargain yet...

Friday, 12 October 2012

Public Service Announcements: Changes to Existential Ennui, and the London Paperback and Pulp Bookfair, Sunday 28 October, 2012

All being well, next week I'll be posting that promised Peter Bryan George piece, and I'll also hopefully be adding to the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s page, with two lovely Lewes-bought illustrative wrappers which will edge the total number of covers on the page ever closer to 100. But before all that, and to round off the working week, a couple of announcements...

ITEM 1: You may, or may not, have noticed some minor changes to Existential Ennui this week, namely a slight widening of the blog and a new subtitle. The former I've been meaning to get round to for a while now; computer screens are a lot wider these days, so it seems daft to unnecessarily restrict the width of EE, especially when it makes it easier to position two book covers side by side in a post. The latter is also something I've been mulling for some time; to my mind the old, rather prosaic subtitle of "Crime and spy fiction, SF, book collecting, comics" had become a bit stale, and wasn't properly explaining what Existential Ennui is all about. So instead I've settled on the more narrative, yet still descriptive "The chronicle of an obsessive book collector*: crime, spy, suspense, thrillers, SF, comics". I think it does the job, and hey: it's tailor made for any eventual Existential Ennui blook. Ahem.


ITEM 2: If you'd care to cast your minds back to November of last year, you might recall my having written about the books I bagged at the 2011 London Paperback and Pulp Bookfair. Well I'm pleased to say the event is returning again this year, and will take place on Sunday 28 October at the Park Plaza Hotel, near Victoria Station. For anyone interested in old crime fiction, spy fiction, science fiction, horror and western paperbacks and pulp magazines, it really is an event not to be missed, and I'm reliably informed – by book dealer Jamie Sturgeon, who'll be hawking his splendid wares at the show – that horror editor Stephen Jones, acclaimed artist Les Edwards and fantasy author Adrian Cole will all be in attendance and signing. More importantly than that, however, I'll be there, so if you see this lanky streak of piss wandering about:


come and say hello. Although not in the first hour. I'll be too busy rifling through boxes of paperbacks.

Until next week.

* Since changed to the more alliterative "The chronicle of a compulsive book collector..." Although I reserve the right to change it back again, or indeed change it to something else entirely – "chronic book collector"**, perhaps. I'm mercurial like that.

** And indeed that's what I did change it to. Told you.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Denis McLoughlin Designs: The Big H by Bryan Peters, alias Peter Bryan George (T. V. Boardman, 1961); Book Review

Time for one last (for now...) Denis McLoughlin dust jacket-sporting T. V. Boardman thriller before I move on to other matters. Although as it turns out, those "other matters" will concern the author of this particular book...


The Big H by Bryan Peters, published in hardback in the UK by T. V. Boardman in 1961. This is the second of Peters's two published novels, the first being The Hong Kong Kill (T. V. Boardman, 1958), which introduced the stars of The Big H, British agent Anthony Brandon and CIA operative Jess Lundstrom. Or rather, it's the second of Peters's two published novels under that particular moniker – because in fact Bryan Peters is a pen name of Peter Bryan George, a Welsh-born writer best known for his 1958 novel Red Alert, which itself was written under another pseudonym: Peter Bryant. Originally titled Two Hours to Doom when Boardman published it in hardback – complete with a spectacular Denis McLoughlin mushroom cloud illustration on the dust jacket – it's an account of "the first two hours of World War III", and was famously turned into a film in 1964 by Stanley Kubrick: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, the screenplay of which George co-wrote.


Nuclear paranoia characterizes much of George's slim body of work, including The Big H, which is ostensibly about a Russian plot to embarrass America by flooding the country with heroin, and finds agent Brandon tasked with posing as a heroin dealer in order to infiltrate the Los Angeles criminal gang at the centre of the conspiracy. Gaining the trust of mob boss Agostino proves trickier than Brandon expected, however, beginning with a card game which recalls James Bond's battle against Le Chiffre in Casino Royale – difference being, Brandon plays to lose, although the net result is essentially the same, i.e. a spot of light torture.

It's a well-constructed Cold War thriller, closer in tone to Desmond Cory's Johnny Fedora novels maybe, or Edward S. Aarons's Sam Durell series than Ian Fleming's Bond books: tough, downbeat and with a dogged, determinedly unglamorous lead. It also has an unusual structure: long chapters are punctuated by shorter segments detailing the interrogation of a Russian spy by US Air Force officers, the significance of which only becomes clear late in the novel. It's that intermittent scene that Denis McLoughlin has chosen to illustrate in striking fashion on the dust jacket, combining it with – what else – a big red "H", prefiguring McLoughlin's type treatment on the wrapper for the 1962 Boardman edition Donald E. Westlake's 361.

McLoughlin's dust jacket for The Big H has now, of course, joined his other wrappers on the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s permanent page (taking the total number of covers thereon up to a tantalising 95). And if you take a look at the back cover:


You can see that Boardman have picked out four books from the same year as The Big H "by new authors, whom we believe will be the best-sellers of the future". Unfortunately Boardman's prediction didn't quite pan out: Larry Harris, a.k.a. Laurence Janifer, did make a name for himself in science fiction, but Eric Bruton isn't terribly well remembered these days, and Harry Olesker, after publishing three novels, embarked on a career in film and television before being killed in a motorcycle accident in 1969. Donald Westlake, however, did, as we're all doubtless well aware, do rather well for himself, The Mercenaries being one of over a hundred books he published in his lifetime.

As for Peter George, he took his own life in 1966, publishing one final novel before he died. And it looks as if I might have secured a very special copy of that book, so I'll be blogging about that very soon indeed, as well as exploring George's life and career a bit more and assembling a full Peter George bibliography – the first time, I believe, one has appeared online...

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Denis McLoughlin Designs: Amateur Agent by Christopher Adams, alias Kenneth Hopkins (T. V. Boardman, 1964); Book Review

NB: Featured as one of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

I've just two further T. V. Boardman thrillers to blog about before moving on to other matters – both of which happen to be spy novels hailing from the early 1960s; both of which were written by British authors under non de plumes; and both of which boast dust jackets designed by Denis McLoughlin which will, of course, be making their way onto the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s page. Let's take a look at this one first:


Amateur Agent by Christopher Adams, published in hardback in the UK by T. V. Boardman in 1964 (British Bloodhound Mystery #467). "Christopher Adams" was an alias of Kenneth Hopkins (1914–1988), an author who published seven crime novels and mysteries under his own name from 1955 – The Girl Who Died (Macdonald) – to 1963 – Campus Corpse (Macdonald) – plus one pseudonymous spy thriller – Amateur Agent. But Hopkins was also a critic, a man of letters and a poet, as a footnote in the third volume of C. S. Lewis's Collected Letters reveals:

[Hopkins] ...was born in Bournemouth, and after leaving school at the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to a builder's merchant. In 1938 he set out to sell his poems from door to door. He eventually made his way to London where he came to know the anarchist and publisher Charles Lahr and his circle at Lahr's Red Lion Street bookshop. After serving in the Second World War he worked as the literary director of Everybody's, a magazine concerned with social justice. Later he lectured on English literature and taught creative writing at several North American universities. [Hopkins published a book about one of his visits to the States, A Trip to Texas, in 1962.] His autobiography, The Corruption of a Poet, was published in 1954. His championship of the cause of the Powys brothers... reached its zenith with his biographical appreciation, The Powys Brothers (1967). He was an active member of The Powys Society.


Hopkins's background as a poet can certainly be glimpsed in Amateur Agent. A lively location-hopping tale of mistaken identity, wherein Jim Stone, a British car salesman vacationing in Mexico, gets mixed up in a plot to transport military plans to Cuba, the novel comes across as a more violent version of North by Northwest, but some of the descriptive passages are quite striking, especially those set around Teotihuacan. Indeed, Hopkins paints vivid pictures of all of the novel's various locales, and mixes smart-alec banter with jarring scenes of torture and bloodletting, all of which serve to keep one on one's toes throughout. It's a shame the book, like all of Hopkins's novels, has fallen out of print; the Boardman edition was its only outing and it's consequently become quite scarce (AbeBooks lists just three copies at present, one of those lacking a dust jacket).

Still, at least we all get to gaze upon Denis McLoughlin's evocative wrapper for Amateur Agent – which has taken its rightful place in the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design gallery – and as a result of this 'ere post there's now a little more information about both the novel and its author available online. And I'll be providing a similar service with the next post too, as we head back to 1961 for a Cold War espionage tale by a novelist who was obsessed with nuclear annihilation...

Friday, 5 October 2012

Denis McLoughlin Designs: The Siamese Coup Affair by Sidney Weintraub (T. V. Boardman Bloodhound Mystery #447, 1963)

NB: Featured as one of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

In the unlikely event that there's anyone out there eagerly awaiting the next instalment in the Great Tom Ripley Reread, I'm afraid you'll have to wait a while longer yet: for some reason I'm finding the fourth book in the series, The Boy Who Followed Ripley, heavy going. Nothing to do with the novel itself – at least, I don't think it is; I suspect I'm just a bit burned out with the intensive reading and note-taking those Ripley posts have ended up requiring. Anyway, the net result is that the next essay probably won't appear until the end of next week at the earliest, so you'll just have to make do with some more Denis McLoughlin-designed T. V. Boardman dust jackets in the meantime.

Speaking of which, let's have a look at the third Boardman Bloodhound I bought off book dealer Jamie Sturgeon:


The Siamese Coup Affair by Sidney Weintraub, published in the UK by T. V. Boardman in 1963, #447 in Boardman's American Bloodhound Mystery line. So far as I've been able to establish, this is one of only two novels Weintraub published, the other being Mexican Slay Ride, issued by Abelard-Schuman and Robert Hale the year before in 1962. But though Weintraub seems to have written just the two works of fiction, he has, I believe, and if I've got my facts right – so take the following with a pinch of salt – penned a hell of a lot of non-fiction. Indeed, it's for works like* his 1959 debut Price Theory (*like, but actually not; see comments) and a succession of other books on finance and free trade that he's rather better known, as well as for being a former William E. Simon Chair in Political Economy at the Center for Strategic & International Studies and a former member of the US Foreign Service.

Of course, that could be an entirely different Weintraub – except for two things. 1) Weintraub the economist is evidently something of an expert on Mexico, so his having also written a thriller titled Mexican Slay Ride isn't entirely outside the realms of possibility; and 2) the 1964 Catalog of Copyright Entries lists both the novel The Siamese Coup Affair and the non-fiction work Intermediate Price Theory under Weintraub's name.

So, in attempt to discover if Sidney Weintraub the thriller writer and Sidney Weintraub the economist are one and the same, I've taken the fairly radical step of trying to contact Mr. Weintraub. I'm not overly confident that I'll hear anything back, but if I do, I'll be sure to update this post.

UPDATE, 19/3/13: Sidney Weintraub's son, Jeff, kindly emailed me the other day confirming that they are indeed one and the same – and not to be confused with the other Sidney Weintraub. Thanks, Jeff!


Perhaps even more intriguing and curious than all of that, however, is this: while The Siamese Coup Affair was published by T. V. Boardman (apparently its only printing), Weintraub's 1962 (presumed) debut novel, Mexican Slay Ride, was published, as mentioned above, by Abelard-Schuman in the States and Robert Hale in the UK. But in 1961, the year before that, Boardman itself published a novel titled Mexican Slayride (two words rather than three, note), by Boardman mainstay Thomas B. Dewey (actually retitled from its original US Dell appearance as The Golden Hooligan). Moreover, in 1962, the same year as the Weintraub Mexican Slay Ride, Gold Medal in the States published a novel titled – you guessed it – Mexican Slay Ride, this one by Neil MacNeil, alias W. T. Ballard.

Three different novels, all titled Mexican Slay Ride (or Slayride), all appearing in the space of two years: what the hell's that all about? What was the weird fascination with that title? I must admit I'm unfamiliar with either a Mexican slay ride or if it is, as it appears to be, a play on words, a Mexican sleigh ride, although I'm assuming in this context it's nothing to do with any of these practices. Furthermore, whether or not these three novels were an influence on either the American title of this film or the pilot of The A-Team is also beyond my ken, although given that A-Team co-creator and writer Frank Lupo is a keen collector of crime and spy fiction, one never knows. Answers to any of the above on a postcard, please.


Anyway, back to The Siamese Coup Affair. And while Denis McLoughlin's dust jacket for the book isn't one of his more striking efforts, for me it's possessed of a quiet appeal. Certainly it's good enough to join its brethren in the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery – and I've another couple of McLoughlins waiting to follow in its footsteps. Because while The Siamese Coup Affair is the last of the Boardmans I bought off Jamie Sturgeon, it's not the last of the Boardmans I've acquired of late...

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Denis McLoughlin Designs: Epitaph for a Blonde by Ian Mercer (T. V. Boardman Bloodhound Mystery #291, 1960)

On to the second of three T. V. Boardman thrillers I acquired from book dealer Jamie Sturgeon, all of which boast dust jackets designed by the late, great Denis McLoughlin. And this next book is not only one of Boardman's select number of British Bloodhound Mysteries, as opposed to the more common or garden American variety, but it's a spy novel to boot, which again marks it out from Boardman's more traditional crime or suspense fare:


Published in the UK by T. V. Boardman in 1960, Epitaph for a Blonde is the third of Ian Mercer's three espionage novels starring James Nathaniel Pettigrew of the British Secret Service, and follows Journey into Darkness and Mission to Majorca (both 1958, and both extremely hard to come by these days). Except, as the dust jacket flap of Epitaph and James Nathaniel Pettigrew's dedicated page on Spy Guys & Gals both point out, by this juncture in the series, Pettigrew is no longer called Pettigrew, but Charles Graham, and is now a retired schoolteacher. Indeed, Spy Guys & Gals even goes so far as to speculate that Epitaph for a Blonde might have originally been "a stand-alone that the publisher forced the author to changing [sic]". Certainly Mercer wrote a number of other standalone spy and crime novels, including The Green Windmill (1945), A Man Gets Into His Tomb (1948) and Curs in Clover (also 1948), as well as, by the looks of it, some travel guides, notably Majorca on £50 (1970; evidently Mercer felt something of an affinity for the Balearic island).


As with B. X. Sanborn's The Doom-Maker, this copy of Epitaph for a Blonde is ex-library, this time hailing from a public library in Newport, Wales which has, I believe, since closed down (the library, not the town or the country; those were definitely still open last I looked). Unfortunately Denis McLoughlin's rather nice dust jacket has suffered the indignity of losing a strip from its top and bottom where the tape affixing it to its library plastic covering has been ripped away. But never mind: it doesn't detract from the lovely artwork too much, and I've duly added it to the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery.


Which is, of course, what I'll also be doing with the next McLoughlin/Boardman book I'll be blogging about – a 1963 political thriller which appears to have been written by a noted economist and former member of the US Foreign Service...