Thursday, 9 October 2014

Elmore Leonard's City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit: British First Edition(s) (W. H. Allen, 1981 / Viking, 1987), Book Review

 NB: Linked in this Friday's Forgotten Books roundup.

As the 1980s dawned, Elmore Leonard found himself with new publishers on both sides of the pond. In the US, after an itinerant 1970s, during which he was published by, variously, Gold Medal, Bantam, Dell and Delacorte (often straight to paperback), he landed at Arbor House, where he would remain for the rest of the decade. In the UK, after four novels with Secker & Warburg from 1974–1979 (two of them appearing in hardback for the first time anywhere), he switched to W. H. Allen, where he would remain for just two years. In both cases, the novel which heralded this change was this one:


City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit. At least, that was its full title for the 1980 Arbor House edition; for the 1981 W. H. Allen edition, which is the edition seen above, the title was truncated to simply City Primeval, with "a novel" added to the front of the dust jacket for good measure and, presumably, the avoidance of any doubt. The photo on that jacket is by Howard Bartrop, who took the picture of Battersea Power Station – and inflatable pig – which adorns the cover of Pink Floyd's 1977 album Animals.


Like the other two Leonard novels W. H. Allen published – Gold Coast (1982; originally 1980 in the US) and Split Images (1983; originally 1981 in the US) – City Primeval is pretty scarce in British first: my copy – which is about as close to fine condition as you can get (and thus a splendid addition to my ever-growing Elmore Leonard collection) – was a fortunate eBay find; whereas on, say, AbeBooks at present you'd be hard pressed to find more than two or three copies of the Allen first – and even harder pressed to find one that isn't ex-library. (A little more common – and usually a lot cheaper – is the BCA book club edition... but who in their right mind wants a book club edition? Even one virtually identical to the first edition?) Unlike Gold Coast and Split Images, however, where the Allen editions were the only British hardback editions of each novel, City Primeval was subsequently reissued in hardback in the UK:


In 1987, by Viking/Penguin (who had acquired Leonard's hardback rights in 1984 with LaBrava) – this time complete with its original subtitle. The dust jacket design here is by Bet Ayer, utilising a photograph by Peter Chadwick – one of whose photos also appears on the 1984 Penguin paperback of Swag – and I think I prefer it to the W. H. Allen wrapper; certainly it's more in keeping with the story (the opening chapter in particular). But both jackets are eminently suitable for the Existential Ennui British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s page, where they now reside.


I acquired this copy of the Viking edition from book dealer Alan White some time before I got my hands the W. H. Allen one; it doesn't seem to be quite so scarce as the W. H. Allen edition, but it's not far off: there are just three copies listed on AbeBooks at present (one of those ex-library). All three of those listings, incidentally, misidentify the book as the first edition, although to be fair to the sellers, it's not clear on the copyright page of the Viking edition that it isn't a first edition:


It states, "First published in Great Britain by Viking 1987", which could be taken at least a couple of ways. Whereas the W. H. Allen edition copyright page is relatively unambiguous:


"First British edition, 1981".


The title pages of the two editions are styled according to their jacket designs.


But the main text block in the Viking edition is a straight reprint using the Allen edition's plates:


Same typesetting, same drop cap at the start of each chapter (matching the W. H. Allen titling). Accordingly, both books are the same dimensions and the same extent, but they do have different cases:


Again, I think I prefer the brown arlin of the Viking edition.


In an article on Elmore Leonard in the Winter 1986 edition of Armchair Detective, Leonard's researcher, Gregg Sutter, made note of how City Primeval was "the closest [Leonard] came to writing a police procedural". (The novel was written shortly after Leonard had spent a month riding with the Detroit Felony Homicide Squad for a Detroit News Magazine feature he'd been commissioned to write: "Squad 7 – Impressions of Murder".) But Sutter went on to point out that what the book actually is is "a Detroit Western", something which Leonard himself makes explicit with that High Noon in Detroit subtitle and via repeated references throughout to standoffs, showdowns and even films like High Noon and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

Essentially the novel is one long buildup to a (anti-)climactic showdown between two men: Raymond Cruz, a detective in Squad Seven, Detroit Police Homicide Section, and a violent but charismatic nutter named Clement Mansell – "the Oklahoma Wildman". Clement is another in the long line of memorable Leonard psychopaths (some more charming than others) which includes the likes of Raymond Gidre (Unknown Man No. 89, 1977), Gene Valenzuela (The Hunted, also 1977 – and Clarence Robinson – alias Kamal Rashad – from the same novel for that matter), Roland Crowe (Gold Coast, 1980) and Richard Nobles (LaBrava, 1983).

Raymond for his part might be a cop, but he still shares character traits with Leonard leads like Jack Ryan or Joe LaBrava: basically decent, quietly introspective men not overly prone to violence – except when pushed. And Clement certainly pushes Raymond, especially in regard to Clement's lawyer, Carolyn Wilder, with whom Raymond becomes romantically entangled and on whom Clement latterly fixates, causing Raymond to picture this scene:

Clement comes out with the gun, the gun loaded, the way it was found. He comes out on the porch and stops dead as he hears, "That's far enough—" He sees Cruz on the sidewalk beneath the streetlight. Cruz with his sport-coat open, hands at his sides...

Only to puncture it thus:

You're weird, Raymond said to himself.


Elmore Leonard intended for Raymond Cruz to star in a sequel to City Primeval but had to revise his plans at the eleventh hour when the film rights to the book were sold. (That film, to be titled Hang Tough and with Sam Peckinpah lined up to direct from a Leonard script, was never made, but Raymond did eventually reappear over fifteen years later in Out of Sight – both the book and the film.) The novel which resulted was published a year after City Primeval. It was called Split Images.

2 comments:

  1. Nick, you have woven a most interesting story around the first and other editions of this Elmore Leonard novel. Book editions, dust jackets, and cover designs tell their own stories. I'm always on the lookout for rare or next to rare editions and the only reason I have picked up book club editions because they look like the original. Otherwise, it's near impossible to spot first editions in Bombay unless, of course, I buy them online or through those who deal in them.

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  2. One one level, Prashant, my determination to secure a W. H. Allen edition of City Primeval rather than an almost identical book club edition could be best characterized as unhinged. But on another level... yeah, still unhinged.

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