Saturday 2 October 2010

Now with Added Comments

Just a quick note in case you missed them: both the post on Bait Money/Blood Money and the one on Fast Fiction/The Elephant of Surprise now have contributions from the creators themselves in the comments sections. So if you haven't already, go have a read, and then make your way over to the respective websites of Max Allan Collins and Ed Pinsent (at least, I'm pretty sure it was Ed who left that comment; it might've been Phil Elliott...), both of which are also well worth a further read.

Friday 1 October 2010

Review – Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit by Darwyn Cooke

Last week I skipped going to the comic shop because there weren't that many comic books out I wanted to get, and those that were out I was pretty certain would still be on the shelves this week. And then this Thursday rolled around and I almost gave the comic shop a miss again – mostly due to lack of enthusiasm (which is an ongoing issue, as I've grumbled about before) – but on a whim changed my mind and made the trek over to Brighton. And I'm glad I did, because I ended up with two cracking graphic novels that instantly restored my faith in comics. One of those, the nineteenth volume of Fantagraphics' Mome anthology, you can read about via the effusive Tucker Stone, although I'll just say it's good to see Mome back on form (the early volumes were often searingly brilliant). The other was Darwyn Cooke's second Donald 'Richard Stark' Westlake graphic novel adaptation, Parker: The Outfit.

Parker in The Outfit
For me, as for many, Cooke's previous Stark adaptation of the first Parker novel, The Hunter, was the graphic novel of last year. And in a year that saw the publication of the great David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp, Joe Sacco's Footnotes in Gaza and Yoshihiro Tatsumi's A Drifting Life, that's high praise indeed. It wasn't just that it was Parker on the comics page, although that was thrill enough: it was witnessing Cooke, already a formidable cartoonist (as anyone who's read DC: The New Frontier or Catwoman: Selina's Big Score can attest), reaching new heights of storytelling confidence, adapting Stark's 1962 debut with a seamless mix of comics – often 'silent' – and prose in a period setting but without being slavishly faithful. It was a triumph.

All of which means Parker: The Outfit, which adapts the third Parker novel, with an abbreviated flashback to the second one, The Man with the Getaway Face (blogged about here), has a fair bit to live up to. So how does it stack up? To gauge that, I think we need to look at it from two interrelated but still distinct perspectives: how it works as an adaptation of the source material, and how it works as comics.

Taking the adaptation question first, as with The Hunter, Cooke has opted for a largely faithful approach. There are alterations, but nothing terribly jarring or problematic, and mostly limited to characters being switched around: Alan Grofield – renamed Grofeld for some reason; that's him on the left there – and Dan Wycza both make appearances, earlier than they did in the series of novels (probably to provide a link to the next book Cooke will be adapting, Parker #5, The Score), while Jake Menner becomes Skim Lasker for purposes of plot, and Parker, Handy and Grofeld carry out one of the heists themselves. But structurally the story remains the same: professional thief Parker is being hounded by the mobsters of the Outfit, so he sets his sights on Outfit head honcho Bronson and gets his criminal associates to take down scores on Outfit operations, further harrying Bronson.

More importantly, the tone of the novel is consummately captured. Frequently in the novels, particularly when Parker is in motion, the kinetic energy of Westlake's otherwise seemingly matter-of-fact prose is irresistible. Cooke taps into this as Parker takes down an Outfit card game, hits the Outfit-owned Three Kings bar, and harasses Bronson's subordinate Fairfax. And in each of these scenes the look and feel is spot on: the Floral Court motel and the Three Kings are pretty much as I imagined them whilst reading the novel, the minor characters are well realised, and the overall run down urban sprawl setting is perfectly Parker's world. The temporal tricks that are so familiar from the Parker books are also present and correct, with Cooke doing a bang-up job on the Stark Cutaway in Book Three (as it's called here) and the final Parker/Bronson flashback/forward. Essentially, just as Stark's The Outfit is a more satisfying story than The Hunter, so Cooke's Outfit is a better tale than his Hunter.

One thing that is interesting is how Cooke handles the succession of robberies in Book Three, and this also relates to our second question of how The Outfit works as comics. The story of each score is told in a different style, from prose lifted straight from the novel and styled as a low rent true crime rag, to magazine-style illustration and even newspaper gag cartoons. Formally, then, Cooke's The Outfit is a lot more daring than The Hunter, and by and large those choices are successful. On a purely stylistic level, I think I actually prefer the drawing in The Hunter, which is little smoother and more restrained, but there's no arguing with the fact that Cooke has really pushed himself with The Outfit, and if the end result is sometimes ever-so-slightly scruffy, that's completely understandable and probably a matter of personal preference anyway.

That's not to say there isn't some remarkable draughtsmanship on display. Some of the spreads in the book are worthy of Eisner at his best. Take a look at these two examples:

Artistically, compositionally, those pages are things of beauty. As is, incidentally, the book itself. Cooke's The Hunter was thoroughly reviewed, as I'm sure The Outfit will be, but it's rarely remarked upon how gorgeous these books are. The design and detailing is superb; I imagine Cooke had a hand in that, but publisher IDW's team should also take a bow here, because from the dustjackets to the cases to the endpapers, both The Hunter and The Outfit are fantastic to hold in your hands, flip through and pore over.

In fact, the only possible down side is the size of the books: they're around the height and width of a contemporary hardback novel, i.e. smaller than most graphic novels. On one level, for book lovers like me, that's rather attractive. But as the oversized comic book preview of The Man with the Getaway Face demonstrated, you can't beat looking at Darwyn Cooke's artwork at a larger size, and there are some pages in The Outfit that look a little cramped by comparison.

That's a minor niggle, however. Parker: The Outfit is a worthy successor to Cooke's The Hunter, and in many ways an improvement too. Taken together – and really you do have to read The Hunter before The Outfit, as there's little in the way of explanation in the latter – they're a remarkable achievement. Only thing is, we've probably got at least a year to wait for Cooke's adaptation of Parker #5, The Score. It's gonna be a loooong year...

(By the way, Trent at the indispensable Violent World of Parker has a fine review of Parker: The Outfit up here – posted a week ago, making it the first review to be published.)

Thursday 30 September 2010

Two for the Money: Bait Money and Blood Money by Max (Allan) Collins

A Richard Stark/Donald Westlake obsessive's work is never done. I may be on hiatus from hunting for Stark and Westlake books (although never say never...), but there's always something Stark-related to collect. For example:

That there is a UK first edition paperback of the novel Bait Money by Max Collins, published by New English Library in October 1976. It's the first in Collins' series of books starring Nolan, an aging criminal who just wants to retire. As Trent at Violent World of Parker explains, Nolan was directly inspired by Richard Stark's character Parker – an older version of Parker, in fact, who of course has to perform one last heist before he can throw in the towel.

These days Max Collins is better known as Max Allan Collins, writer and co-creator of the Ms. Tree comics, the graphic novel Road to Perdition (the basis for the Sam Mendes film), and countless movie novelizations (Dick Tracy, Saving Private Ryan, etc.), crime series (Quarry, Mallory, Nathan Heller), comics adaptations (CSI)... the man is a veritable writing machine. I had some dealings with him when I was senior editor at Titan Books, which unfortunately didn't go anywhere, but I can report he's a thoroughly decent and witty chap.

Collins has written eight Nolan books to date, plus a number of short stories. Bait Money was the first Nolan novel, originally published by Curtis Books in the States in 1973. It was also, I believe, Collins' first published book, written in 1970 when he was twenty-two; Wikipedia suggests that the debut Quarry novel, The Broker, came first in 1976, but that's a common mistake, and one that's been repeated across the internet. That's probably due to confusion over the Pinnacle Books editions of the Nolans (as in the novels, not the 1970s singing stars): Pinnacle picked up the series with the third book, Fly Paper, in 1981, and reprinted the first two books that same year (possibly revised, although I'm not sure about that; Fly Paper and the next two books in the series, Hush Money and Hard Cash, were definitely updated by Collins, as they were originally written in the early '70s but left in limbo when Curtis was bought out by Popular Library). Thus Bait Money and Blood Money are often mistakenly listed as only dating from 1981.

This New English Library edition of Bait Money is incredibly scarce; I've only seen two other copies for sale on AbeBooks and Amazon UK. That strange, surreal cover is great: I haven't a clue who it's by, but whoever the artist is, they also painted the cover to the New English Library edition of the second Nolan novel, Blood Money (originally published in the US by Curtis Books in 1973) – and the NEL edition of Blood Money is even scarcer than the NEL Bait Money. But guess what? I found a copy of that too:

Blood Money was published by New English Library in January 1977. I noticed it on eBay, going for the outrageous price of a quid – which is pretty much what I paid for Bait Money too. Guess there aren't many Nolan fans in the UK... Collins' dedication in this one is particularly interesting in light of the fact he was so young when Bait Money and Blood Money were originally published. It runs: "This is for my parents, Mr and Mrs Max A. Collins, Sr, whose investment in me makes this the most expensive book they ever bought." (His dedication in Bait Money states simply: "To Barb for aiding and abetting".)

So there you have it. Two very rarely seen printings of Max Allan Collins' first couple of novels. And if you're intrigued by these but can't be arsed to go to the trouble of hunting down rare copies, both books are available from Hard Case Crime in the collected volume Two for the Money. Which brings us neatly back to the title of this post.

The Facts in the Case of Rosalind Wade (A Lewes Book Bargain Mystery)

As wittered about earlier this week, the charity shops of Lewes (the town where I live, if you've just joined us) often throw up some first rate bargain books bounty. But they also throw up the odd curio too. Like this:

This is a UK hardback first edition of a novel called Ladders by Rosalind Wade, published by Robert Hale in 1968. I found this in the Oxfam charity shop's 'rare books cabinet', a glass-fronted affair by the shop window which mostly contains tatty, jacketless book club editions. I liked the look of the cover – which I'll come back to – but I'd never heard of the author, and I couldn't work out whether or not I liked the sound of the book; whoever wrote the publisher's blurb on the dustjacket flap was presumably trying so hard not to reveal plot elements that they ended up drafting one of the most opaque pieces of copy I've ever come across (although that Marvel Previews blather for Brian Bendis' Scarlet #1 from a few months back runs it a close second). See if you can make head or tail of this:

Louisa Burn and her husband Richard find themselves a few miles from the scene of their first meting thirty-five years earlier. Her circumstances at the time were far from pleasant, but a growing curiosity prompts Louisa to return to Mersetown alone. Drastic changes have taken place; few of the remembered scenes can be identified, but at least she locates the Royal Playhouse on whose boards she made her first stage appearance. In the dim solitude of the theatre she relives that momentous occasion. As she does so the heterogeneous company she worked with spring to life. She sees herself moving amongst them, a pale moth, gauche and unsophisticated. Yet out of the squalor and disillusionment generosity had flourished and much good emerged.

This is a novel of dramatic situations, extremes of character and circumstance, linked in perspective to the present time.

Is it, now? Well you wouldn't have guessed that from the masterpiece of missing information that precedes that last sentence. I've read that jacket copy three or four times now and I still have no idea what the book is about. Although maybe that was the intention – to get potential readers so perplexed they felt irresistibly compelled to buy the book. That might explain the frankly unnecessary deployment of words like "heterogeneous".

But as I stood in Oxfam staring uncomprehendingly at the jacket flap, I suddenly realised that the scrawled dedication on the endpaper opposite was slightly more than simply a message from a relative or loved one:

Yep, the inscription is by Rosalind Wade herself. So who was Rosalind Wade? A Google search of her name doesn't throw up much in the way of information (my God! No Wikipedia page!), the top hit being a link to British thriller writer Gerald Seymour, author of Harry's Game and many other bestsellers. For Wade was Seymour's mother, married to his father, William Kean Seymour; she kept her maiden name for her writing career, a career that was notably prolific, as, having done a bit of research for a change, I can now reveal...

Rosalind Wade was born on 11 September 1909 and died on 25 January 1989, leaving behind a body of work comprising well over twenty novels (all out of print now, Ladders being one of the final few) and numerous short stories. She published her first work at the age of twenty-two, with many of her early novels written under her full name, Rosalind Herschel Wade. She was one of a number of writers (including Desmond Hawkins) who congregated at David Archer's bookshop on Parton Street, London, in the mid-1930s, a so-called radical bookshop devoted to poetry and left wing politics (Archer was one of Dylan Thomas' first publishers).

Indeed Wade may be better remembered these days as an editor and patron; she was editor of the Contemporary Review, chair of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists and the Alresford Historical and Literary Society, a founder member and vice-president of the West Country Writers Association, and an active encourager of young writers. Her own novels were celebrated for tackling tricky emotional issues – Come Fill the Cup (1955) is about alcoholism, for example – and for their character insight and plotting. But she was also interested in ghost stories, and contributed to a number of spooky anthologies, including After Midnight Stories (1985).

As for that jacket illustration, it's not credited, but there is a signature at the bottom right: "Biro", which means it's almost certainly by Val Biro, who created logos and endpapers for some of naval author Douglas Reeman's book.

How's that for a well-researched post? Rest assured I shan't be making a habit of it.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

New Blog Feature

Well I must say it's been a jumble of jolly exciting firsts and thrilling new developments on Existential Ennui so far this week, and I've just added another one. If you cast your eyes to the right there, you'll see this blog now has a 'Popular Posts' sidebar, which will show the most popular posts on Existential Ennui over the last seven days. Quite what purpose this serves is open to debate (hey, we could play a game whereby we all click on our favourite posts and see which wins! Or maybe not), but in the scant few minutes it's been operational I've been having fun watching the post before this one climb up the rankings as more and more people view it. So if nothing else it's keeping me entertained. Doesn't take much.

Notes from the Small Press 1: Fast Fiction Presents the Elephant of Surprise

With the demise of my weekly Must Be Thursday posts – which, for the latecomers among us, consisted of my ill-considered and, as it turned out, increasingly boring thoughts on the American comic books I was planning on buying each week – it strikes me the comics content of this blog has declined considerably. This is probably of little concern to anyone but me, but it is a concern to me. I still like comics; I just don't read as many 'mainstream' (i.e. superhero, mostly) comics as I used to. But I do still want to have a certain amount of comics content on this blog, so as well as the occasional review or think piece, I thought I'd institute a new, probably irregular series of posts on a subject that's little-covered on the interweb: small press comics.

For the uninitiated, small press – or mini – comics are exactly what the phrase suggests they are: comics produced on a small scale, whether that be fifty copies or a couple of hundred. On top of that, many of them are also quite small. In both the US and the UK, small press comics blossomed in the 1980s, growing out of the 1960s underground comics in the States and '60s and '70s fanzines in the UK. Like the underground comics of, say, Robert Crumb, small press comics were – and still are – highly personal, for the most part eschewing genre (in particular superheroes). But unlike the undergrounds they're generally more contemplative and thoughtful than hyperbolic or frantic. More often than not they're created, written, drawn, printed (or photocopied) and even distributed by one person.

I was lucky in that I stumbled upon the UK small press scene in the mid-1980s, during its initial explosion, and I've kept up with it, on and off, ever since. And while many other aspects of comics get plenty of coverage on the internet, small press comics kind of get short shrift. There's things like Bugpowder and Smallzone, but little in the way of wider or historical analysis. So I figured I'd fill that gap. In Notes from the Small Press I'll be rummaging in the longbox of yesteryear (eyethangyew) for memorable, interesting, funny, or just plain strange comics or creators (mostly British, but some Yanks too), from the eighties to the noughties. Hopefully it'll be of interest to some of you.

And we begin with a comic that also handily acts as a primer for the UK small press scene of the '80s:

Fast Fiction Presents: The Elephant of Surprise was an A5-sized 'jam' – or more accurately 'relay' – comic published in 1986. The Fast Fiction in the title refers to the anthology comic The Elephant span out of (edited by Phil Elliott and then Ed Pinsent), but Fast Fiction was also the name of the '80s scene's mail order distributor (again with Elliott and Pinsent in command, as well as Paul Gravett, who came up with The Elephant's title), not to mention the name of the table the outfit had at the regular London Westminster Comic Marts. Essentially, Fast Fiction was the hub around which countless small press comics creators twirled, and the means by which I bought small press comics back then. The way it worked was, you either bought comics off the Fast Fiction table at the Westminster Mart, or picked up one of their four-page flyers, chose the titles you liked the look of, and sent in your order form and money.

Which must seem to some in the internet age a charmingly old-fashioned way of doing things. Ed Pinsent has loads of great cover galleries on his website, both of the Fast Fiction anthology and other small press titles from that period – many of which I own, and some of which I'll doubtless be featuring on here at some point. It's a brilliant resource, so go have a look.

Anyway, for The Elephant of Surprise, twelve cartoonists were each assigned two pages in which to advance an overall story, using a character from the segment immediately preceding theirs and a character from the first two-page segment. They also had to reference elephants somehow. What's fascinating about the exercise is the creator cast list reads like a who's who of the '80s small press: the aforementioned Phil Elliott (who provided the first two pages) and Ed Pinsent, Rian Hughes, John Bagnall, Eddie Campbell, Glenn Dakin and more besides. These were the main movers and shakers in the scene, many of whom have gone on to enjoy much wider acclaim.

In the post-game analysis at the back of the comic, Ed Pinsent is amusingly frank about the setbacks encountered during the making of The Elephant and the relative shortcomings of the finished article, calling it "only slightly disappointing" and reasoning the best bits are those where logic breaks down entirely, particularly towards the end. In fact it's a gloriously barking enterprise from start to finish. As is his wont, Phil Elliott decides to kick off the story with a pub garden discussion about worms and the sanctity of nature set in an idyllic postwar England. To readers familiar at the time with Elliott's Tales from Gimbley this wouldn't have seemed out of the ordinary, but at a twenty-five year remove it's a choice that's as striking as it is oddball.

From there the story develops around an elephant statue and a religious sect with an anthropomorphic figurehead, adding in a killer robot for good measure. There are some sublime moments of slapstick, particularly around Phil Laskey and Eddie Campbell's segments (see below), but the real joy of the thing is in witnessing a group of artists and friends simultaneously reaching an early peak in their creative lives as they attempt to make some kind of sense out of whatever daft scribblings the cartoonist in front of them has committed to paper.

As Pinsent's outro notes, the final four pages from Steve Way and Glenn Dakin completely debunk everything that's gone before, with Dakin in particular doing his level best to rationalise the preceding madness. It's an entertaining end to a comic that's not only an intriguing and historically important snapshot of a particular time and place, but a fun read to boot, even today.

Notes from the Small Press 2: Monitor's Human Reward by Chris Reynolds

Notes from the Small Press 3: Small Pets

Notes from the Small Press 4: Anais in Paris by Mardou

Notes from the Small Press 5: The Curiously Parochial Comics of John Bagnall

Notes from the Small Press 6: Ed Pinsent's Illegal Batman and Jeffrey Brown's Wolverine: Dying Time

Notes from the Small Press 7: The Comix Reader #1

Notes from the Small Press 8: A Help! Shark Comics Gallery

Notes from the Small Press 9: Some Gristavision Comics by Merv Girst

Notes from the Small Press 10: Some Sav Sadness Comics by Bob Lynch   

Notes from the Small Press 11: a Review of Illegal Batman in the Moon

Notes from the Small Press 12: The Sky in Stereo by Mardou

Notes from the Small Press 13: First by Tom Gauld and Simone Lia

Notes from the Small Press 14: Planet 4, a Monitor Story by Chris Reynolds

Notes from the Small Press 15: Spandex by Martin Eden

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Lewes Book Bargain: Archangel by Robert Harris

Presenting the second in a short and no doubt intensely fascinating series of posts about the books wot I done bought recently in the many and varied charity shops of Lewes. And next up we have this:

A 1998 UK Hutchinson first edition hardback of Robert Harris' Archangel, his third novel, following Fatherland (1992) and Enigma (1995). I have to admit I'm rather partial to a bit of 'arris. I've read Fatherland and The Ghost, and both were entirely solid thrillers – eminently readable in that pacy, unfussy contemporary thriller manner. A former journalist, his books always offer some neat twist on politics or history; Archangel is his take on the notorious Hitler diaries scam, with secret papers by Stalin standing in for the forged reminiscences of Der Fuhrer.

Even though copies of the first edition of Archangel are in plentiful supply it's still a good bargain, and when I opened it up, I realised it was it was even more of a bargain:

It's a signed edition. And again, if you look on Amazon you'll find plenty of signed editions for not very much money, but even so, it's not a bad one to stumble across in a charity shop. Mind you, having said that, it's not perfect: about a third of the way into the book a tipped-in page has come loose. You have to wonder there, how did the printer/publisher manage to miss a page out? Slight oversight.

Lewes Book Bargains: Two by Amis M.

So then. Excitingly, from this point on I've decided to give a series title to any posts about books bought in Lewes, the picturesque () East Sussex town in which I live. I've settled on the highly unimaginative 'Lewes Book Bargains', chiefly because I struggled to come up with anything else; the closest contender was 'Landed in Lewes', but that was a bit confusing and had weird fishing connotations. So, 'Lewes Book Bargains' it is. And as I've mentioned before, Lewes is particularly blessed books-wise. I've blogged about the various bookshops here, and I've written about the Lewes Book Fair a few times, which takes place four or five times a year in the town hall. But there are other outlets besides those where bargain books can be bagged, and the various charity shops that pepper the town are prime examples.

Charity shops, for any baffled American or overseas readers, are a uniquely British institution. They're like regular shops (or 'stores', if you will), except everything for sale in them has been donated: members of the public bring in unwanted items – clothes, toys, books, CDs, DVDs, whatever – to the charity shop and the charity shop then sells them to other members of the public, with a large percentage of the money going to whichever good cause that particular charity supports.

Charity shops are a common sight on British high streets, and have become increasingly common, up from about 5,000 UK-wide ten years ago to around 7,500 today. They're run by individual charities, so you get Oxfam shops, Save the Children shops, British Heart Foundation shops, the Nick Jones Benevolence Fund shops... you name it. A more recent development are charity shops devoted solely to books – Oxfam have opened loads of these in recent years, much to the chagrin of regular second hand bookshops, who can't compete with Oxfam's prices – because of course Oxfam's stock is all donated for free, while traditional second hand booksellers have to buy their books.

There isn't an Oxfam bookshop in Lewes yet, but there are eight or nine regular charity shops, all of whom sell books to a greater or lesser degree. Lewes is an affluent town, which means the charity shops here are well supplied with decent cast-offs (posher places in the UK always have the best charity shops). I often pop in Cancer Research on the corner of School Hill and Eastgate Street as it's just down the road from my office and they have probably the largest selection of hardbacks; at the moment they have a first edition of George Pelecanos' The Way Home in there, which funnily enough I bought earlier this year in Oxfam (always worth a look in too as they have a fairly fast turnover of stock) down on Cliffe High Street: presumably there are at least two disenchanted Pelecanos readers in Lewes.

Basically, if you keep your eyes open, Lewes' various charity shops can often turn up trumps. Which is exactly what they have done for me over the past few weeks, as I'll be demonstrating over a number of posts, you lucky, lucky people, you. And judging by two of the bargains I bagged, the denizens of Lewes have a particular penchant (or more accurately, as with Mr. Pelecanos, a disinclination) for a certain Amis Jr. First up, in Oxfam, I scored this:

A UK hardback first edition/first impression of Martin Amis' novella Night Train, published by Jonathan Cape in 1997. In the past I've slightly ragged on Amis Jr. in favour of his father, Kingsley, but really that was just to make a point. In fact I've read and enjoyed three or four of Amis Jr.s books, and this one, which seems to be Martin's take on crime fiction, could be right up my alley. At any rate, in common with many charity shop hardbacks it was only £2.75, which, even though true firsts of Night Train aren't exactly scarce, is still a bargain. But even more of a bargain was this:

A 2008 UK hardback first edition/impression of Amis' The Second Plane, again published by Cape. This one I snagged in the British Red Cross charity shop on Station Street, and was quite pleased as a result. It's a collection of essays and short stories inspired by 9/11 and its aftermath (some of which I've read before in magazines, but many which were expanded for this book), and I was considering buying it when it came out. For one reason or another I didn't, and by the time I decided I did want to buy it after all, it was already into a second or third printing. First printings have since become rather scarce, going for around £30 online, so to nab one for, again, £2.75, is a real find. And yes, you could argue that by purchasing the book at a knock-down price I'm depriving British Red Cross of extra money... to which I reply: sod off. They acquired the book for free in the first place, and anyway I spend enough in charity shops as it is. Stop trying to make me feel guilty, you swine.

Monday 27 September 2010

Westlake Score: A Jade in Aries by Tucker Coe

I've got a few interesting (to me, anyway; I can't even begin to guess about you, whoever you may be) things to blog about this week, including a brand new (highly) irregular comics feature, some recent scores from Lewes' charity shops, some rather rare Max Collins paperbacks (which have a Richard Stark connection), and perhaps more besides, time permitting. But let's kick off the working week with a Westlake Score:

That's a UK paperback of Tucker Coe's A Jade in Aries, published by Sphere in 1975 (originally published in hardback in the UK by Gollancz in 1973; originally published in the US in 1970). It's the fourth of the five books Donald E. Westlake wrote under the pseudonym Tucker Coe, all of which star disgraced ex-cop Mitch Tobin – I blogged about the first one, Kinds of Love, Kinds of Death, here. In A Jade in Aries Tobin has to work out who's murdering a group of gay friends; there's also an astrology aspect to the story, a belief system Westlake/Coe states in a short note at the start of the book he neither believes nor disbelieves – it's just an aspect of the plot.

Sphere only published two of the Coe novels, the other one being the third one, Wax Apple, which they also published in 1975 and which sports a very similar green hued cover (no idea who the artist for them both was/is). One thing that's remarkable is that, even today, there are still lots of people who haven't realised Coe was Westlake: I picked up this paperback of A Jade in Aries for a quid from a dealer who'd simply listed it on eBay as being by Coe, with no mention of Westlake, and if you search for Coe on AbeBooks you'll find that at least as many sellers don't mention Westlake in their listings as do. Seems Tucker Coe is still a fairly well kept secret.