Friday, 30 December 2016

The 2016 Big Long List of the Books and Graphic Novels and Comics I Read This Year

Here, for the sake of posterity, as if anyone's remotely interested, is pretty much everything I read in 2016, in roughly the order in which I read it. Not many novels... lots of comics and graphic novels... lots of Guardians of the Galaxy and Marvel space opera (see here for why)... lots of Hickman: this was my 2016 (in reading, anyway). Happy New Year.

Novels, Graphic Novels, Comics
The Ultimates by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch (Marvel, 2005) (reread)
The '44 Vintage by Anthony Price (Gollancz, 1978)
The Private Eye by Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin (Image, 2015)
Pilgrim on the Island by Desmond Cory (Frederick Muller, 1959)
Mills by Manning O'Brine (Herbert Jenkins, 1969)
The Little Prince by Joann Sfar (Walker, 2010)
Crambo by Manning O'Brine (Michael Joseph, 1970)
Copra Round Three by Michel Fiffe (Bergen Street, 2015)
Secret Warriors vols 1–6 by Jonathan Hickman, Stefano Caselli et al (Marvel, 2009–11)
S.H.I.E.L.D.: Architects of Forever by Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver (Marvel, 2011)
The 6 ​Voyages of Lone Sloane by Phillippe Druillet (Titan, 2015)
Secret Avengers: Run the Mission, Don't Get Seen, Save the World by Warren Ellis et al (Marvel, 2012)
No Earth for Foxes by Manning O'Brine (Barrie & Jenkins, 1974)
Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Box by Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi (Marvel, 2009) (reread)
Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis by Warren Ellis and Kaare Andrews (Marvel, 2011)
​Fantastic Four: Dark Reign by Jonathan Hickman and Sean Chen (Marvel, 2009)
Avengers by Jonathan Hickman vols 1–3 (Marvel, 2015–16) (reread)
New Avengers by Jonathan Hickman vols 1–2 (Marvel, 2015–16) (reread)
Infinity by Jonathan Hickman, Jim Cheung and Jerome Opena (Marvel, 2014) (reread)
Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates by Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic (Marvel, 2011–12) (reread)
Avengers: Time Runs Out by Jonathan Hickman et al (Marvel, 2016) (reread)
Secret Wars by Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic (Marvel, 2016) (reread)
Revenger: Children of the Damned by Charles Forsman (Bergen Street, 2016)
Ultimate Comics Thor by Jonathan Hickman and Carlos Pacheco (Marvel, 2011)
Ultimate Comics Hawkeye by Jonathan Hickman and Rafa Sandoval (Marvel, 2012)
Ultimate Spider-Man: Death of Spider-Man Fallout by Brian Michael Bendis, Jonathan Hickman et al (Marvel, 2011)
Patience by Daniel Clowes (Jonathan Cape, 2016)
Annihilation Conquest Omnibus by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning et al (Marvel, 2015)
Guardians of the Galaxy by Abnett and Lanning Omnibus (Marvel, 2016)
Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash by Dave McKean (Artist's Edition, 2016)
Megg and Mogg in Amsterdam by Simon Hanselmann (Fantagraphics, 2016)
The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin (Orion, 2016)
Ultimate Comics Spider-Man vol 1 by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli (Marvel, 2012)
Fantastic Four Omnibus vol 1 by Jonathan Hickman, Steve Epting et al (Marvel, 2013)
Fantastic Four Omnibus vol 2 by Jonathan Hickman, Steve Epting et al (Marvel, 2014) (reread)
The Mighty Thor vol 1 by Matt Fraction and Olivier Coipel (Marvel, 2011)
Mister Wonderful by Daniel Clowes (Jonathan Cape, 2011)
Nicolas by Pascal Girard (Drawn & Quarterly, 2016)
​"Cash on Delivery"/"Soft Drink"/"Bed and Breakfast": three short stories by P. M. Hubbard (Argosy, 1969–70)
Mooncop by Tom Gauld (Drawn & Quarterly, 2016)
Astonishing X-Men: Exogenetic by Warren Ellis and Phil Jiminez (Marvel, 2010)
Billy Hazlenuts and the Crazy Bird by Tony Millionaire (Fantagraphics, 2010)
Absolute Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross (DC, 2006) (reread)
Amazing Fantastic Incredible by Stan Lee, Peter David and Colleen Doran (Simon & Schuster, 2015)
The Demon by Matt Wagner (DC, 1987)
"Give Till It Hurts: A Christmas Story" by Donald E. Westlake (Mysterious Bookshop, 1993)
Various Guardians of the Galaxy and Marvel cosmic comics​, including: Marvel Presents #3–12 by Steve Gerber and Al Milgrom (Marvel, 1975–77) (part reread); Guardians of the Galaxy by Jim Valentino (Marvel, 1990); Annihilation by Keith Giffen et al (Marvel, 2006) (part reread)
Various Marvel comics – research for Marvel Fact Files articles, including: Spider-Verse: Warzones! by Mike Costa and Andre Araujo (Marvel, 2015); Secret Wars 2099 by Peter David and Will Sliney (Marvel, 2015); Civil War: Warzones! by Charles Soule and Leinil Yu (Marvel, 2015), The Ultimates: Omniversal by Al Ewing and Kenneth Rocafort (Marvel, 2016); Moon Knight: Dead will Rise by Brian Wood and Greg Smallwood (Marvel, 2015)

Ongoing Periodical Comics
Kill or Be Killed by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Image)
Velvet by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting (Image)
Criminal 10th Anniversary Special by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (Image)
The Black Monday Murders by Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker (Image)
East of West by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta (Image)
Sex by Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski (Image)
Hellboy in Hell by Mike Mignola (Dark Horse)
Captain America: Steve Rogers by Nick Spencer and Jesus Diaz (Marvel)
Captain America: Sam Wilson by Nick Spencer and Daniel Acuna (Marvel)
Guardians of the Galaxy by Brian Michael Bendis and Valerio Schiti (Marvel)
Civil War II by Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez (Marvel)
DC Universe: Rebirth by Geoff Johns et al (DC)
Wonder Woman by Greg Rucka and Liam Sharp (DC)
Lazarus by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark (Image)
Jupiter's Legacy by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely (Image)
The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard)
Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang (Image)
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image)
Stray Bullets by David Lapham (Image)
James Bond by Warren Ellis and Jason Masters (Dynamite)
Injection by Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey (Image)
Vile by Tyler Landry (Study Group)

Started but Nowhere Near Finished
Found in the Street by Patricia Highsmith (Heinemann, 1986)
A Gun for Sale by Graham Greene (Heinemann, 1936)
War of Kings Omnibus by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning et al (Marvel, 2016)

Linked in this Friday's Forgotten Books round-up.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Denis Healey's George V. Higgins Book Collection

Every year, the East Sussex village of Alfriston – not far from the East Sussex town of Lewes, where I live and work – holds a Summer Festival. Often as not I'll pop over there on the summer bank holiday, usually on the Monday when there's also a boot sale in the playing field as well as, on the beautiful village green beside the River Cuckmere, a selection of stalls and games and rides. Best of all – and this is something I'd completely forgotten until I got there this year – there's a secondhand book stall; more of a marquee really, with tables arranged in a circle, laden with boxes stuffed with fiction and non-fiction (hardback and paperback).

Rifling through the wares this year I started to notice a number of George V. Higgins books among the selection of hardback fiction. Higgins is an author I've tried once (The Friends of Eddie Coyle, his 1972 debut) and keep meaning to return to – a noted stylist whose novels, many of them of a crime fiction bent, others of a political persuasion, are largely comprised of long stretches of dialogue, with little if any description. The more I looked in the boxes of books, the more Higgins I found. Evidently someone in Alfriston was a fan... but then I started looking inside the books, at the ownership signatures on the front endpapers of one or two of the books and, in some cases, inscriptions on title pages from Higgins himself, and realised who that fan was: former Secretary of State for Defence (1964–70), Chancellor of the Exchequer (1974–79) and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party (1980–83) Denis Healey.

Healey, who passed away in 2015, and his wife Edna, who died in 2010, amassed a huge book collection over 40 years at their Alfriston home, much of which was bought by local bookshop Much Ado Books (a shop I've written about more than once on Existential Ennui), and some of which wound up in an Alfriston book sale in September (which, annoyingly, I didn't find out about until well after the fact). The collection ranged across a variety of subjects – art, photography, history, poetry, literature and, it seems, George V. Higgins.

Only a couple of the Higgins books I found on the stall had Healey ownership signatures in them, and just three were signed and inscribed by Higgins, but I bought the whole lot anyway (twelve books at a quid each) as it was almost certain they all belonged to Healey and it seemed right to keep the collection together (or at least as much of it as possible; there may have been other Higgins book bought by other folks before I got to them). According to the dated ownership signature in the earliest book I came across, a 1973 Secker & Warburg first of The Digger's Game (Higgins' second novel), Healey bought that one in 1977, and then at some point his and Higgins' paths must have crossed, judging by the warm author inscriptions in Victories (Henry Holt, 1990), Bomber's Law (Henry Holt/Owl paperback, 1994) and Swan Boats at Four (Little, Brown, 1995).

A couple of the books are association copies: a 1979 Harper & Row edition of A Year or So with Edgar, which is inscribed to Healey by Kit McMahon, former Deputy Governor of the Bank of England; and a 1987 Holt edition of Outlaws, which is inscribed by political scientist Graham Allison, with a compliment slip from Libor founder Milos Zombanakis.

And on a separate book stall in the boot fair field I found a 1974 Doubleday edition of Penelope Mortimer's Long Distance, inscribed by Mortimer to Edna Healey, thanking her for "a BBC birthday".

Quite the collection all told.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Mike Ripley's Not Single Spies, a Readers' History of Thrillers, Published 2017

Now this is rather exciting. Crime writer and thriller aficionado Mike Ripley has announced the publication next year of "a readers' history", as Mike himself puts it, of "the boom in British thrillers" from 1953–1975. Titled Not Single Spies, the book takes as its starting point Ian Fleming's debut Bond novel Casino Royale (1953) and its end point Jack Higgins' The Eagle Has Landed (1975), featuring along the way the likes of Alistair MacLean, Desmond Bagley, John le Carre and Frederick Forsyth, and drawing on discussions Mike has had over the years with such luminaries as Len Deighton, Anthony Price, Alan Williams and Gavin Lyall.

Set to be published by Harper Collins on 18 May 2017, Not Single Spies also boasts a foreword by Lee Child, who, when approached to write the foreword, apparently noted that he knew: "It would be a book I would want to read – maybe even pay for!" I couldn't agree more.

Monday, 31 October 2016

London Paperback and Pulp Book Fair 2016

Absence, they say – and who am I to naysay 'they' – makes the heart grow fonder, which was why I was delighted to see the return on Sunday, after a three-year absence, of the London Paperback and Pulp Book Fair – as were a good many others judging by the crowds at the 2016 event. Now at a new venue – the Royal National Hotel in Russell Square, tacked onto the monthly Bloomsbury Ephemera Fair – this year's fair was a busy, bustling, er, affair, with the likes of Jamie Sturgeon, David Hyman and others purveying fine selections of vintage paperbacks and pulps (as one might expect, given the name of the thing). I came away with this little lot:

Top row, three Cornell Wooolrich paperbacks: The Black Curtain (Dell, 1948), The Black Path of Fear (Avon, 1946) and, ah, The Black Path of Fear again (Ace, 1968); middle row, three John D. MacDonald paperbacks: Death Trap (Dell, 1957); Deadly Welcome (Dell, 1959) and The Girl, the Gold Watch & Everything (Frederick Muller/Gold Medal, 1964); bottom row: C. S. Forester's Payment Deferred (Guild Books paperback, 1950), Margaret Millar's Beast in View (Corgi paperback, 1960), Elmore Leonard's Hombre (Ballantine paperback, 1967 reprint) and John Fowles' The Collector (Pan paperback first printing, 1965) – that last one actually bought from a paperback dealer in the main Ephemera Fair. A pretty good haul, all told. Here's hoping the wait between fairs isn't quite so long next time.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Blimey I Wrote a Book

Actually I wrote two books... and co-wrote another book... and wrote a bit of another book... and wrote an essay for another book... so I guess in total that adds up to, what, two-and-a-half books or something? All in the space of less than a year. Which, when added to all the writing I've done for the Marvel Fact Files and The Walking Dead: The Official Magazine and the stack of books and graphic novels I've edited over the past however many months – more on those below – might go some way towards explaining why there's been bugger all happening on Existential Ennui of late.

But anyway: the books wot I wrote. The two books written entirely by me will be published spring next year: Guardians of the Galaxy: The Ultimate Guide to the Cosmic Outlaws, and Guardians of the Galaxy Ultimate Sticker Collection (the attentive might be able to spot a common theme there). Doubtless I'll be banging on about those nearer the time. The book I co-wrote (and did a fair amount of editing on), alongside fellow authors Billy Wrecks and Danny Graydon, is out now:

The Mysterious World of Doctor Strange, published by DK – an official guide to Marvel Comics' Sorcerer Supreme (soon to be seen, in the form of Benedict Cumberbatch, in cinemas in Marvel's Doctor Strange movie). I got my copy the other day and it's a handsome thing: a hardback with gilt-edged pages, beautifully designed by Amazing15 and DK's Chris Gould, lavishly illustrated with panels and splash pages from across Doctor Strange's fifty-plus year comics career – and the writing's not bad either. It's aimed at kids, but I'll wager the more mature comics fan will find it diverting too (being one myself). Review here.

Also out now is the all-new edition of the DC Comics Encyclopaedia, which I wrote a bit of and did a fair bit of editing on. I haven't seen a finished copy of that one yet, but according to reports it's a great big beast of a book. Review here.

And out later in the year is Murder in the Closet, an anthology of essays examining queer themes in crime fiction that I contributed a piece on Patricia Highsmith to. I haven't seen a copy of that one either, but editor Curtis Evans has chosen some intriguing and sterling contributors (present company excepted, of course), so it should be a fascinating book.

Besides that little lot, I've edited a whole heap of other books and graphic novels over the past year or so:

Top to bottom in that towering pile are Pen and Ink by James Hobbs; Electri_city: The Dusseldorf School of Electronic Music by Rudi Esch; Who Are You? The Life and Death of Keith Moon by Jim McCarthy and Marc Olivent; 5-Minute Sketching: People by Pete Scully; 5-Minute Sketching: Architecture by Liz Steel; Essential Type by Tony Seddon; Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Archives Vols 1–3; Independence Day: The Original Movie Adaptation; Elric Volume 3: The Dreaming City; and Battle Classics Volume 2. There's others besides, I'm sure, plus books and graphic novels I've proofread rather than edited, but I've either filed them away and forgotten what they are or they've not been published yet.

So that's what I've been up to. And who knows? Maybe at some point I'll find time to blog about some of the books I've bought as well...

Friday, 12 August 2016

Manning O'Brine: Mills, Crambo, and No Earth for Foxes (1969–1974)

To read the author bios on the covers of the trilogy of spy novels Manning O'Brine (1919–1974) published from 1969–1974 is to get a glimpse of a quite remarkable life. The dust jacket flap of the first edition of Mills (Herbert Jenkins, 1969) states: "During the War he served in France with the Resistance, then in North Africa as a secret agent. In 1943 he was parachuted into Montenegro to join the partisans and finished the War with the Garibaldi partisans in Italy. After the War he fought for Israel in the Arab Wars, managed an opera company, and wrote several thrillers. Still a believer in authentic background, he recently smuggled himself in and out of Albania to get material for Crambo."

The author bio on the first edition of Crambo (Michael Joseph, 1970) notes that O'Brine was an opera director, a film producer and a writer for film and television "with more than a hundred scripts to his credit". The third book, No Earth for Foxes (Barrie & Jenkins, 1974), adds to his CV a stint as a scenic designer and reveals that he "turned to writing when he decided he could write better than the 'bloody scripts that appeared on his drawing board'". It also gives additional details of his wartime exploits – that "he was with Special Services and parachuted into France on a number of occasions", was "Caught and tortured by the Gestapo... escaped on the way to Belsen", and finally reached Gibraltar.

His was, by any measure – and if those jacket flap bios are to be believed – an extraordinary life, aspects of which he channelled into Mills, Crambo and No Earth for Foxes. O'Brine had published novels before these three – he wrote a string of spy thrillers in the 1950s starring ex-Secret Service agent Mike O'Kelly – but his later espionage novels were clearly closer to his heart. (In the bio on the jacket flap of Crambo he describes his earlier novels as "desperately bad".)

Mills is the best of the three, a cat-and-mouse thriller in which the eponymous British agent decides to retire but then becomes quarry for agents from the Russian and America secret services – as well as his own – all of whom believe he is carrying the formula for a new form of LSD. But Crambo and No Earth for Foxes are almost as good, the former an account of the titular agent's extraction of a Soviet State Security man and his family (although there's more to it than that), the latter a tale of a faked defection (although again...). Characters cross over from one novel to another – Mills and his fellow agents Crambo and Pavane appear to greater or lesser degrees in each story – and there are manhunts (the one in Crambo through the coastal swamps of Albania is particularly good; O'Brine's research paid off there) and double-crosses aplenty.

What's really extraordinary about the books, though – especially Mills and No Earth for Foxes – are the frequent flashbacks to World War II, and how those shape the narrative. These brief interludes sketch in the wartime backgrounds of some of the protagonists – Mills', but also the Nazis he fought in the war and hunted down and killed afterwards for their war crimes. There are gut-wrenching glimpses of the atrocities carried out by German SS troops. Clearly informed by O'Brine's own wartime experiences, these passage burn with a righteous fury and give the novels their character of unfinished business being dealt with. Take this passage from Mills:

The old and infirm had been locked indoors and flamethrowers put to their houses. Babies had been tossed, screaming, into cement-mixers. Women had been cut down by machine-guns as they fled to the chestnut groves.

Or this one from No Earth for Foxes:

He smashed her teeth with the barrel of the machine-pistol and thrust it into her mouth. He fired a burst of 9m bullets that exploded her skull. As she fell backwards, he blew down the barrel of the pistol, lay the weapon on the wall.

And those aren't even the worst of it. O'Brine's hatred of Nazis and, yes, Germans, is channelled through Mills, who in No Earth for Foxes refers to Germans "as dog-turds, fouling the footpath of mankind, filth to be swept away every so often". But it's also made explicit in the Author's Foreword at the start of that book. Noting that the wartime horrors he details in the novel – the horrendous SS 'rastrellamento' (which O'Brine translates as "a scoring, a raking over, a cleansing") in Italy in 1944 – are based in fact, he writes:

Today, all too few really care, one way or the other. It is so much blood under the bridge, forgive and forget, Germans and Austrians are a new generation now. Indeed they are, fathered and mothered by the Hitler Jugend and Bund-Deutsche-Madel of 1945, men and women whose memories are of defeat, of being uprooted from a domain they cherished, and still cherish, as a divine right... a viscid bile that seeks by way of reunification to rise again.

Fools and politicians (all too often one and the same) can believe that the seed of such malignancy withered and died in the flames of a Berlin bunker. Facts, alas, prove otherwise.

A bleak summation of the German character, for sure. But then, given that in an afterword to the novel, O'Brine writes of having seen in Italy in 1944 "a well choked with the bodies of babies and tiny children, most of them drowned or suffocated under the weight of those above", perhaps understandable.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Sarah Gainham, Time Right Deadly (Arthur Barker, 1956 / 1957)

No. 10 in a series of posts on books I've bought but haven't got round to blogging about properly – indeed may never get round to blogging about properly – so this will have to do. NB: linked in Friday's Forgotten Books, 6/6/16.

What is it?
The 1957 Arthur Barker Dragon paperback edition of Sarah Gainham's debut novel, Time Right Deadly, originally published in hardback by Barker in 1956.

Who illustrated the cover?
Haven't the foggiest.

Where and when did I buy it?
Online, four years ago.

Why did I buy it?
As I mentioned in this 'books I've bought but haven't got round to blogging about properly' post, I'm interested in Sarah Gainham's early spy novels – not least because she herself was a spy – and Time Right Deadly is the earliest of those early spy novels, being, as it is, her debut. It's also extremely uncommon in British first, hence why I bought this paperback rather than a first edition... although during the course of drafting this post I noticed, whilst double-checking online that it is still uncommon in first, a first edition for sale, modestly priced, and best of all still in its splendid John Dugan-designed dust jacket. (The scant few other British firsts I've seen for sale online have been sans jackets.) Naturally I snapped it up.

Have I read it yet?

Will I be updating this post as soon as I have that aforementioned first edition in my clammy hands?
You bet I will.

Et voila:

The 1956 Arthur Barker first edition of Time Right Deadly, dust jacket design by John Dugan (said dust jacket now added to Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s). Best of all, the back of the wrapper boasts a photograph of Gainham – only the second one I've ever come across.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Patricia Highsmith, Strangers on a Train (Pan, 1968)

No. 9 in a series of posts on books I've bought but haven't got round to blogging about properly – indeed may never get round to blogging about properly – so this will have to do. NB: linked in this Friday's Forgotten Books roundup.

What is it?
The 1968 first Pan paperback printing of Patricia Highsmith's 1950 debut, Strangers on a Train.

Who designed the cover?
I'm not sure, but from the mid- to late-1960s (and onwards) Pan's covers changed from being largely illustrative in nature to largely photographic, at the behest, according to the Pan Paperback Collectors site, of editor David Larkin, so it's likely Larkin had something to do with it. The same styling, incidentally – a photo of a collection of objects to do with the novel's plot – can be seen on the 1967 Pan printings of Highsmith's The Glass Cell and A Suspension of Mercy.

Where and when did I buy it?
I didn't. My mum bought it in, I believe, a charity shop, and gave it to me when she last visited a couple of weeks ago.

Why did my mum buy it?
To read it; like me she's a Highsmith admirer, although she didn't get on with this one. Mind you, it's by no means my favourite Highsmith either, even among the non-Ripley books. Still, as Highsmith's debut, and arguably the template for much of her work, Strangers on a Train is an important novel in the writer's oeuvre, and certainly deserves its own dedicated post on Existential Ennui, something that, remarkably given my Highsmith obsession, it hasn't had heretofore.

Have I read it yet?
I have, a few years back, in its 1952 Corgi first British paperback edition.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Donald Hamilton, Death of a Citizen (Gold Medal/Frederick Muller, 1960)

No. 8 in a series of posts on books I've bought but haven't got round to blogging about properly – indeed may never get round to blogging about properly – so this will have to do.

What is it?
The first British edition of Donald Hamilton's debut Matt Helm spy novel Death of a Citizen, published in paperback by Frederick Muller – using plates supplied by Fawcett/Gold Medal – in 1960.

Who illustrated the cover?
There's no cover credit in the book, and the artwork is unsigned, but I would guess that it's by Bill Johnson, who also illustrated the cover of the fourth Matt Helm novel, The Silencers (1962), among many other Gold Medal titles.

Where and when did I buy it?
Leigh Gallery Books in Leigh-on-Sea, either last year or the year before.

Why did I buy it?
Well. I already had in my possession first and second printings of the 1966 Coronet paperback edition of the novel when I bought this copy, so there's no excuse really. But this edition is the true British first – and almost identical to the true American first – and it was only three quid, so... No, it's inexcusable, isn't it?

Have I read it yet?

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Ian Fleming, Casino Royale (Signet, 1960)

No. 7 in a series of posts on books I've bought but haven't got round to blogging about properly – indeed may never get round to blogging about properly – so this will have to do.

What is it?
The first American paperback edition – at least under its original title – of Ian Fleming's debut James Bond novel, Casino Royale, published by Signet/New American Library in 1960.

Who illustrated the cover?
Barye Phillips, whose extensive cover credits include novels by Peter Rabe, Edward S. Aarons and Donald Hamilton.

Where and when did I buy it?
At the Lewes Book Fair, last year.

Why did I buy it?
I spotted it on the table of a dealer who was new to the Lewes Book Fair and couldn't resist it, despite already owning British Pan and Panther paperbacks of the novel. In my experience it's unusual to come across vintage US paperbacks at British book fairs, so that was one reason for picking it up; plus there's that great Barye Phillips cover. Furthermore, this 1960 Signet printing represents the first time Casino Royale appeared in paperback in the US under that title; previously it had been published in paperback under the title You Asked for It by Popular Library in 1955.

Have I read it yet?
Of course.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest (Panther, 1958)

No. 6 in a series of posts on books I've bought but haven't got round to blogging about properly – indeed may never get round to blogging about properly – so this will have to do. NB: linked in Friday's Forgotten Books, 8/4/16.

What is it?
The first British paperback edition of Dashiell Hammett's classic 1929 noir novel Red Harvest, published by Panther in 1958.

Who illustrated the cover?
John Vernon, who also illustrated the 1957 Panther edition of The Maltese Falcon; perhaps that's why the Continental Op on his Red Harvest cover bears a passing resemblance to Humphrey Bogart (who played Sam Spade in the 1941 John Huston film adaptation of The Maltese Falcon).

Where and when did I buy it?
On eBay, last year.

Why did I buy it?
It was a bit of an impulse purchase. I'd been on the hunt for an affordable first edition/first impression of the The Dashiell Hammett Omnibus (Cassell, 1950), and managed to find one, in its dust jacket, on Amazon Marketplace for under twenty quid (see previous post). At the same time I spotted this paperback of Red Harvest on eBay, and even though Red Harvest is one of the novels in The Dashiell Hammett Omnibus, I couldn't resist snapping up this rare first British paperback edition of Red Harvest too. In my defence, at least it means John Vernon's cover is now freely available to view online – possibly the first time that's been the case.

Have I read it yet?
I have.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

The Dashiell Hammett Omnibus (Cassell, 1950)

No. 5 in a series of posts on books I've bought but haven't got round to blogging about properly – indeed may never get round to blogging about properly – so this will have to do. NB: linked in Friday's Forgotten Books, 1/4/16.

What is it?
A hardback first edition/first printing of The Dashiell Hammett Omnibus, published by Cassell in 1950. Running to nearly a thousand pages, it contains six of Hammett's Continental Op novels and stories – Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, "Dead Yellow Women", "The Golden Horseshoe", "House Dick" (a.k.a. "Bodies Piled Up") and "Who Killed Bob Teal?" – along with the Sam Spade novel The Maltese Falcon and the novels The Glass Key and The Thin Man.

Who designed the dust jacket?
Couldn't tell you – it's uncredited – but although it's a little wordy – and a little scruffy, condition-wise – it's still stylish enough, I feel, to be added to Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s under "Designer Unknown".

Where and when did I buy it?
Online, last year.

Why did I buy it?
I'd never read any Hammett, and wanted to try some of his hardboiled and noir classics, and The Dashiell Hammett Omnibus seemed a good way to do that; it's an uncommon edition, especially in first/first and in its dust jacket, even a scruffy one (I can only see two or three jacketed first impressions online at present), and represents the first British publication of many of the stories within.

Have I read it yet?
Some of it...

Thursday, 24 March 2016

W. Somerset Maugham, Ashenden, or, The British Agent (Collins 7D Novel, 1934)

No. 4 in a series of posts on books I've bought but haven't got round to blogging about properly... except in this instance I have blogged about the novel, both properly and repeatedly. Admittedly I discussed different editions to this one – and indeed different books entirely – but even so... I've gone and made a nonsense of my rationale for this series of posts already, haven't I?

What is it?
An early edition of W. Somerset Maugham's archetypal 1928 spy novel Ashenden, or, The British Agent, published in, I believe, 1934 (the book is undated) by Collins as part of their 7D Novels range – a short-lived but fascinating initiative on the part of the publisher whereby hardbacks were issued at the bargain price of sevenpence; see the excellent Paperback Revolution site for more.

Who designed the dust jacket?
No idea, although judging by other examples of Collins 7D novel dust jackets I've found online – see here and here – I would guess the same artist was responsible for a good many of the wrappers in the range.

Where and when did I buy it?
On AbeBooks, from the History Bookshop in Bourton on the Water, just last week.

Why did I buy it?
A number of reasons. For one thing, Ashenden is by far the best book I've read over the past few years, a beautifully written, wonderfully measured yet devastatingly affecting novel, and a peerless piece of spy fiction to boot. For another, although I already own two editions of Ashenden – a 1934 Heinemann Collected Edition and a 1941 Doubleday edition, which boast slightly different versions of a preface Maugham provided especially for each – there was something about this petite Collins edition – perhaps that glorious dust jacket design (could the swooning woman be Giulia Lazzari, or even poor Mrs. Caypor from "The Traitor"...?), perhaps the edition's scarcity (I can't see any other copies online at present, although there is a London Book Co./Novel Library version with a recoloured jacket) – that captivated me.

And then upon receiving the book at the start of this week, I realised there's another aspect that made it worth acquiring (aside from the sweet little vintage sticker on the front endpaper, affixed by "R. Burlington, Bookseller, Whitehaven" – at the time that Cumbrian town's longest trading business)  – something that's absent from the Heinemann Collected Edition and the Doubleday edition: a five-line dedication, to Maugham's friend, Gerald Kelly, describing the novel, with admirable understatement, as a "narrative of some experiences during the Great War of a very insignificant member of the Intelligence Department".

Lastly, it's my birthday tomorrow, so I thought I'd treat myself. Happy birthday to me.

Have I read it yet?

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Sarah Gainham, The Silent Hostage (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1960)

No. 3 in a series of posts on books I've bought but haven't got round to blogging about properly – indeed may never get round to blogging about properly – so this will have to do.

What is it?
A first edition of Sarah Gainham's fifth novel, The Silent Hostage, published in hardback by Eyre & Spottiswoode in 1960.

Who designed the dust jacket?
It doesn't have a dust jacket; The Silent Hostage is one of a small number of novels published by Eyre & Spottiswoode around this period that were bound under pictorial laminated boards rather than under the traditional arlin boards with dust jacket (see also from 1960 Colin Watson's Bump in the Night and David West's Wish Me Dead). But in any case, the cover design and photo are uncredited.

Where and when did I buy it?
I believe I bought it on a visit to book dealer Jamie Sturgeon's house four years ago.

Why did I buy it?
As Jamie explained to me at the time, examples of this unusual style of jacketless hardback binding – unusual, that is, for first editions of novels of this vintage – are quite uncommon (there are, at present, only one or two of those aforementioned Colin Watson and David West first editions available online, and only one British first of The Silent Hostage), so that was a factor. Mostly, however, it was because I'm interested in Sarah Gainham – she was a fascinating writer – and especially her early spy thrillersparticularly first editions thereof – and The Silent Hostage was one that I didn't have in first (it is, as already noted, pretty scarce).

Have I read it?
I have not.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

James Barlow, The Hour of Maximum Danger (Hamilton, 1962)

No. 2 in a series of posts on books I've bought but haven't got round to blogging about properly – indeed may never get round to blogging about properly – so this will have to do.

What is it?
A British first edition of James Barlow's spy thriller The Hour of Maximum Danger, published in hardback by Hamish Hamilton in 1962.

Who designed the dust jacket?
Val Biro.

Where and when did I buy it?
Now you're asking. I think I bought it in the Arundel branch of the Kim's chain of secondhand bookshops, although it could've been in the late lamented Dim and Distant in Heathfield. Either way it was a good two or three years ago.

Why did I buy it?
Mostly that dust jacket, a splendid Braque-like effort by Val Biro, of which Val noted when I showed it to him the year before he died: "An artist keeps his eyes open to what's happening in the art world, and I was quite taken by this kind of abstraction." But the fact that the novel's a spy thriller – and an intriguing one at that – also helped sway me, plus Barlow's writing is well liked in some quarters.

Have I read it yet?