Friday 5 November 2010

The Grofield Files: The Blackbird (1969) by Richard Stark; a Review

Now this is much more like it.

After the rather lacklustre The Dame (1969), the previous book in Donald 'Richard Stark' Westlake's series starring part-time thief/part-time actor Alan Grofield, which in turn followed the first Grofield novel, the slightly better The Damsel (1967), The Blackbird (1969) sees a marked improvement in matters. For one thing, Grofield has more of a purpose this time out.

In the Parker novels in which he appears (The Score, The Handle, etc.), Grofield is perfectly fine: a charming bit part player with a penchant for dramatising his role in the action (and providing his own soundtrack to boot, which plays out in his head). Once Westlake made Grofield the star of the show, however (in The Damsel), I think the writer struggled to work out what exactly Grofield was for. It's as if Westlake really liked the character – or perhaps more accurately liked the idea of the character, as there really wasn't much to Grofield beyond his thespian leanings – and wanted to spend more time with him, but couldn't decide what to do with him once he had the appropriate stage. In The Blackbird, however, Westlake finds more of a meaty role for Grofield.

Previously, Grofield kind of drifted through the action, his motives for staying the course in The Damsel and The Dame highly suspect, if not downright unbelievable, particularly in the latter, where his reasons for going to Puerto Rico in the first place are ill-defined. But in The Blackbird, he's pressganged into service by the US government. The book famously shares its first chapter with Slayground, the fourteenth Parker novel, and opens with Grofield in the middle of an armoured car heist that goes drastically awry when the getaway driver, Laufman, flips the car over in the snow. While Parker makes off with the loot and into the nearby amusement park in Slayground, the next thing Grofield knows he's waking up in hospital with a couple of shadowy government agents looming over him, who offer him a deal: go to work for them, or go to jail. Naturally, Grofield chooses option A.

The reason the government wants to make use of Grofield has to do with his association with two characters from the previous books: General Pozos, president of (fictional) Latin American country Guerrero, who Grofield saved from assassination in The Damsel; and Onum Marba, whom Grofield met in The Dame. Marba is assistant to Colonel Rahgos, president of (also fictional) African nation Undurwa (fictional African countries are something of a running theme in Westlake's work; see also The Black Ice Score, The Hot Rock, etc.), who, along with Pozos, is attending a gathering of Third World leaders in Quebec. The American government wants to find out what the meeting's about, and since Grofield has connections with Pozos and Marba, they reckon he's the ideal man to do some snooping for them.

So, having tried Grofield out as a reluctant adventurer in The Damsel (largely unsuccessfully) and a reluctant detective with a locked-room mystery to solve in The Dame (possibly even less successfully), here Westlake turns Grofield into a reluctant spy. And curiously, it's a better fit for the character. Once he determines there's no way out for him – despite successive escape attempts – Grofield's overwhelming sense of self-preservation kicks in, and he realises he'll have to carry out the mission if he wants to get back to his regular life; he becomes a kind of cut-price James Bond, except without any of the patriotism or idealism – something his US handlers and his eventual accomplice (and cover star/title inspiration), Undurwan aide Vivian Kamdela, can scarcely credit.

There's a slightly harder edge to The Blackbird than there was in the previous two books, so that the switch from the blunt, convincingly realistic Parkerverse of chapter one to the slightly less believable, even occasionally fantastical Grofieldverse thereafter isn't as jarring as it might have been. The violence in the book wouldn't be out of place in a Parker novel, in particular one quite shocking instance of cold-blooded murder – or rather murders – on the part of Grofield himself. Sure, there's a fair bit of Grofield wisecracking – although maybe not as much as before – but that's offset by the harsh fates dealt out to some of the supporting players.

It's a good little book – not quite up there with the Parkers (even the less successful ones), but certainly the best Grofield star vehicle yet. And that bodes well for the final Alan Grofield novel, Lemons Never Lie, which I'm looking forward to even more now...

Thursday 4 November 2010

The Kenzie and Gennaro Novels: Prayers for Rain (First Edition)

It's the final post in Lehane/Pelecanos Week (cue ecstatic cheering from single remaining reader – no slight intended on messers Lehane and Pelecanos, you understand; rather my vacuous posts about them), which grinds to a halt a whole day early (or even three days if you count Saturday and Sunday). And to round things off, we have this:

The US hardback first edition/first impression of Prayers for Rain, published by William Morrow in 1999. It is, you'll be astonished to learn, Dennis Lehane's fifth novel, and also the fifth in his Kenzie-Gennaro series, and it came from the same seller who sold me the previous four books in the series. So basically, I turned a job lot of Lehane first editions I won on eBay – plus a couple of stray George Pelecanos books – into a week's worth (well, almost) of blog posts. I think the lesson there is, it's probably unwise to spend (nearly) a week blogging about a series of novels that you've only read the first one-and-a-quarter of, as you'll quickly run out of interesting things to say about them. Aaaanyway. Too late for regrets; what's done is done; we are where we are, and other irritating platitudes. This time out, Boston private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro are somewhat estranged following the wrenching events of Gone, Baby, Gone, so it's down to a solo Kenzie to investigate the apparent suicide of a former client.

As with Gone, Baby, Gone, this American edition of Prayers for Rain was designed by Cathryn S. Aison, and the jacket designed by Bradford Foltz. That rather lovely photograph on the front cover is by Judah S. Harris, who, as well as providing stock photos to cover designers, also takes pictures of, as his website puts it, "Jewish life and the human experience"; there are some fantastic examples of his photojournalism here, as well as some ravishing landscape and reportage pictures here.

And that, you'll be pleased to hear, is that for Dennis Lehane for the moment. Next up on Existential Ennui... actually I'm not sure what is next up on Existential Ennui. I've got a bunch of random hardbacks to blog about, including a couple of Westlake Scores; a stack of crime and thriller paperbacks, some of which I picked up at the Paperback and Pulp Fair in London last weekend, including some Richard Stark and Peter Rabe; and a truckload of Ross Thomas first editions, among them a couple of absolutely killer Beverly Lebarrow covers. Oh, and there's another Notes from the Small Press on the way too, not to mention a Parker Progress Report and a Grofield File. In fact, y'know what? Maybe we'll have that last one next...

The Kenzie and Gennaro Novels: Gone, Baby, Gone (and Moonlight Mile) by Dennis Lehane

We're approaching the end of Dennis Lehane/George Pelecanos Week now, which I suspect will come as something of a relief to all concerned; I think I might've stretched the concept (such as it is) and the available material (i.e. the books wot I bought) to breaking point. I've certainly run out of Pelecanos books to blog about anyway. But there's a couple more Lehanes to get through, so let's see if I can find something interesting to write about this next one:

Which is the US hardback first edition/first printing of Gone, Baby, Gone, published by William Morrow in 1998. This is Lehane's fourth novel, and once again stars Boston P.I.s Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. And of all the Kenzie-Gennaro books, this one's probably the best known, at least in the UK, due to the fact it was turned into a movie in 2007, directed by Ben Affleck. It's a decent film, although, as I mentioned in that post on A Drink Before the War, a little lacking in the sarcastic wit that permeates the books.

Of course, it's not unusual for a book to be better known through its movie adaptation than through people actually reading it, but in the UK, Dennis Lehane's work has been more susceptible to that fate than most. Thus far there've been three films made of his books: Mystic River (2003), Gone, Baby, Gone and Shutter Island (2010), all good movies in their own ways, directed by two masters of their craft – Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorcese – and one increasingly interesting up-and-comer. And I'd bet that if you mentioned those titles to most Brits, they'd immediately think of the movies and not the books. Indeed, they might not even be aware of Dennis Lehane at all. Even in the wake of three pretty successful film adaptations, Lehane still hasn't quite broken through to that indefinable but very real 'greater consciousness' that marks out the big bestsellers.

One indication of that is that Gone, Baby, Gone never saw hardback publication in the UK. Severn House brought the first three novels into hardback in 2000, but not the fourth; Gone, Baby, Gone went straight into a Bantam paperback edition in 1999, as did its successor, 1999's Prayers for Rain. That in itself isn't unusual – plenty of novels go straight into trade paperback editions these days, missing out hardback publication altogether – but combined with the fact that the three Lehane novels before those two – A Drink Before the War, Darkness, Take My Hand and Sacred – also went straight into paperback in the UK (before belatedly being published as hardbacks by Severn House) speaks to a prevalent view in Britain of Lehane's work – however unfair – as lower rung genre fiction. Mind you, Lehane's non-Kenzie-Gennaro novels were first published in hardback in the UK, by Bantam again (Mystic River, 2001, and Shutter Island, 2003) and Doubleday (The Given Day, 2009). But I don't know if any of those set the sales charts alight, except perhaps with surges for the later paperback editions in the wake of the movies for those first two.

All of which does present something of a challenge for Lehane's latest UK publisher, Little, Brown, who have picked up the rights for his new book, Moonlight Mile, which they'll be publishing – in hardback – in February next year (it's already out in the States). And not only have they got the author's relatively low recognition factor to deal with, but Moonlight Mile is also pretty much a sequel to Gone, Baby, Gone. In Gone, Baby, Gone, Kenzie and Gennaro are hired to find four-year-old Amanda McCready, who's abducted from her home; what follows is a murky, labyrinthine tale of lies, deceit and dark secrets. Without giving too much away, Amanda, now 16, also features in Moonlight Mile, where she goes missing again. So not only is Moonlight Mile the sixth book in a long-running series, it's also a sequel to the fourth book in the series, which was published over ten years ago. That's quite a lot for Little, Brown's publicity department to deal with. It'll be interesting to see how they handle it (and I hope they succeed).

This first edition of Gone, Baby, Gone – which I got from the same seller as the previous three Lehane firsts – was designed by Cathryn S. Aison, while the dustjacket was designed, once again, by Bradford Foltz (see also Sacred and Darkness, Take My Hand). And that's about all I have for this post. How did we do on the 'interesting' front? No? Ah well, never mind. There's only one more Lehane post to come, and then it's back to Westlake and co.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

The Kenzie and Gennaro Novels: Sacred by Dennis Lehane (First Edition)

Next up in Lehane/Pelecanos Week, we got this:

A US hardback first edition/first impression of Dennis Lehane's Sacred, published by William Morrow in 1997. And if you've been following all week, and have therefore seen the posts on A Drink Before the War and Darkness, Take My Hand, then the fact that I'm now blogging about the third book in Lehane's series starring Boston P.I.s Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro – not to mention Lehane's third novel – shouldn't really come as too much of a surprise. Also, if you continue to use your frankly astounding powers of deduction, you might be able to guess where the next couple of posts are heading too... But anyway. This copy of Sacred came from the same seller as the previous two Lehane novels; it's not signed, but it's still a fine true first, and therefore will do me just, er, fine. The story this time concerns a dying billionaire's missing daughter, who Kenzie and Gennaro are hired to find, a job which takes them away from the mean streets of Boston to Florida.

The book was designed by Debbie Glasserman, while the dustjacket was designed, once again, by Bradford Foltz, who we covered for Darkness, Take My Hand. Possibly of more interest this time out then are the photographers responsible for the front and back cover pics. Jose Azel took that moody front cover photo; there are some similarly striking – not to mention similarly wintry – pictures on his website. As for that photo of Mr. Lehane himself, that's by Sigrid Estrada, who's taken many a writer and artist's picture, including Lawrence Block and Paul Auster.

Lehane/Pelecanos Week Westlake Interlude: Ex Officio by Timothy J. Culver

We interrupt Dennis Lehane/George Pelecanos Week to bring you a quick plug for another blog, which'll be of interest to all the Donald Westlake obsessives out there: Matthew Asprey has a post up on his blog about the often-overlooked novel Westlake wrote as Timothy J. Culver, Ex Officio, including images of the cover and some of the interiors too. So go have a butcher's.

That is all. Lehane/Pelecanos Week will continue anon.

New Arrival: Three Great Novels by George P. Pelecanos (Nick Stefanos Trilogy)

As part of Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos Week, here's a great big beast of a book comprising three novels by the latter:

That's the 2002 Orion UK hardback first omnibus edition of George Pelecanos' first, second and fourth novels: A Firing Offense (1992), Nick's Trip (1993) and Down by the River Where the Dead Men Go (1995), which, together, form the Nick Stefanos trilogy. And as that loose title suggests, all three star Nick Stefanos, who starts out as a salesman in an electronics store in the first book, helping to find a missing coworker; earns his P.I. license in Nick's Trip and investigates the disappearance of a school-friend's wife; and decides to stick to bartending in the third novel, only to get tangled up in a murder. They're all written in the first person, narrated by Nick; when Pelecanos switched to the third person for his third novel, 1994's Shoedog (switching back again for Down by the River...), he's stated that he found it "liberating".

As you'd expect from a book comprising three other books, Three Great Novels is a weighty tome, clocking in at over 600 pages. And in fact copies of this hardback edition of the omnibus aren't that common; paperbacks are plentiful online, but hardcovers number in the single figures, and go for at least thirty or forty quid. I struck lucky on this copy though: it's a little grubby, but then it cost me less than a fiver, so I can't complain. The hardcover's scarcity may be down to it being the first time that these novels made it into hardback in the UK (large print editions aside); unlike the US, where all three were initially issued in hardback by St Martins, in the UK Serpent's Tail published the third book in the trilogy, Down by the River... in paperback in 1996, then followed it with A Firing Offense in 1997 and Nick's Trip in '98, also both in paperback. Not sure why they decided to publish the third novel first, but maybe it was just to stay abreast of the 1995 US publication of the book. In any case, effectively, Three Great Novels represents the UK hardback debut of all three books.

Orion have knocked out loads of these 'Three Great Novels' omnibuses (omnibi?), collecting up all manner of authors. George Pelecanos got the 'Three Great' treatment again for his Derek Strange and Terry Quinn books (excluding the prequel, Hard Revolution), while everyone from Ian Rankin to Harlan Cobin to James Lee Burke and Robert Ludlum has been omnibus-ized in this manner in the crime and thriller field (with very similar cover designs), as well as, further afield, Erica James, Maeve Binchy and Louise Bagshaw. Other publishers have adopted or appropriated or possibly even originated (I've no idea who started using it first) the 'Three Great' tag, bringing together three Bronte books or a trio of Thomas Hardys or Charles Dickenses(es). I guess it's just the modern replacement for the word 'omnibus' (are people really not familiar with the word 'omnibus' these days?), the addition of the 'great' presumably adding a bit more pep in publishers' eyes. And who knows: maybe it works. Perhaps we really are so gullible that we're persuaded to buy a book simply because the publisher of that book tells us it's 'great'. I mean, I bought this one. So, y'know. Great.

Tuesday 2 November 2010

The Kenzie and Gennaro Novels: Darkness, Take My Hand by Dennis Lehane (Signed First Edition)

For our second Dennis Lehane-focused post in Lehane/Pelecanos Week, we have this:

A US hardback first edition/first impression of Darkness, Take My Hand, published by William Morrow & Company in 1996. And like that copy of A Drink Before the War from yesterday...

Once again, this is a signed American first edition. Unsurprisingly perhaps, I got it from the same UK-based seller as A Drink Before the War, again at a thoroughly decent price; there's an unsigned true first on Amazon UK for sixty quid, but that's it for UK dealers for this edition, so, as before, to get hold of a copy it'd normally be a question of buying a copy from a US dealer, which, in fine, pristine condition – which this copy is –  and signed (not inscribed) would mean somewhere between forty and a hundred quid, plus shipping.

Darkness, Take My Hand is Dennis Lehane's second novel, and the second to feature Boston P.I.s Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro. Like its predecessor it's written in the first person from Patrick's perspective – as are all the Kenzie-Gennaro books – and this time pits the investigating team against a serial killer. From the little I've read thus far, I don't think it's going to end well for anyone, and might even be darker than the previous book (the novel's title may be something of a giveaway there...), which would be some feat. Still, I may only be a few pages in so far, but it's already got its hooks into me.

The book's interior was designed by Susan Hood (is it an American thing to credit the designer of the interior on the copyright page? British novel publishers generally don't bother, the miserable buggers), but the dustjacket was designed by Bradford Foltz, who we've encountered before here on Existential Ennui: he was responsible for the jacket of the US hardback edition of Donald Westlake's Dortmunder novel Watch Your Back! His designs are very typical of the current image library/classy font school of cover design, but even so, there are still some nice pieces in his portfolio; I like the Lawrence Block cover on this page in particular, and there are a few others that are also quite striking.

New(ish) Acquisition: Hell to Pay by George P. Pelecanos (Orion First Edition)

Let's open the Pelecanos account in Dennis Lehane/George Pelecanos Week with this:

The UK hardback first edition of Hell to Pay, published by Orion in 2002 (published in the States the same year by Little, Brown). I picked this up in the same Essex bookshop I found that Donald Westlake-written soft porn paperback; it's the second in Pelecanos' short series starring private investigators Derek Strange and Terry Quinn, following 2001's Right as Rain. So I guess this is yet another series I'll be collecting, as I can't very well read the second book in a series without having read the first book in the series, and I don't own the first book in the series. But I do, just to compound the matter, own the fourth book in the series, 2004's Hard Revolution, which acts as a kind of historical coda to the preceding three novels, focusing on a younger Derek Strange and his experiences as a rookie cop in Washington, DC circa the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968, and which I bought for 20p in that church book sale in Lewes back in August. So it stands to reason I'll have to nab copies of Right as Rain and Soul Circus (book #3, 2003) at some point in the not-too-distant future.

And look who provides the endorsement on the front cover of Hell to Pay: why it's Dennis Lehane, who we'll be returning to for the next post in Lehane/Pelecanos Week. What are the odds?

Monday 1 November 2010

The Kenzie and Gennaro Novels: A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane (Signed First Edition)

So then, as I mentioned over the weekend, this week sees the publication of award-winning writer Dennis Lehane's latest novel, Moonlight Mile. It's the sixth of Lehane's books to feature Boston-Irish private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, and it's been over ten years since the previous book in the series, 1999's Prayers for Rain. And it just so happens that I've recently come into possession of a number of Dennis Lehane first editions, plus a couple of books by Lehane's crime-writing contemporary and colleague on The Wire, George Pelecanos. So for the rest of this week, Existential Ennui will be largely, if not exclusively, dedicated to messers Lehane and Pelecanos – although necessarily leaning more towards the Lehane side of the ledger, for reasons that will quickly become apparent.

And we begin with this:

The US first edition of Dennis Lehane's debut novel, A Drink Before the War, published by Harcourt Brace & Company in hardback in 1994; dustjacket – and book – designed by Camilla Filancia and featuring a Robert Capa photograph on the front. Note the 'US' there; ordinarily I tend to collect British first editions, but here I had the opportunity to grab myself an American first edition – and first impression – so I took it, for a couple of reasons. For one, A Drink Before the War wasn't published in hardback in the UK until 2000. Bantam initially picked it up for a UK paperback edition in 1995, but it didn't make it into hardback in the UK until Severn House issued it in 2000. I picked up an ex-library copy of that edition back in July, but, y'know; when there's a six-year gap between the US and the UK edition, there's something about owning a true first that can't be beat.

And the other reason, was this:

It's a signed copy. And signed US first editions don't come along too often here in the UK, at least not at an affordable price. There's one signed US first of A Drink Before the War listed from a UK seller on AbeBooks for £85, but other than that it'd be a question of tracking one down from a US dealer, which would mean shipping on top. I didn't pay anything like that for this copy, so it's quite a find.

It's also quite a debut. My only exposure to Kenzie and Gennaro prior to reading A Drink Before the War was via Ben Affleck's 2007 movie adaptation of the fourth book in the series, Gone, Baby, Gone. But Casey Affleck's mannered, mumbling portrayal of Patrick Kenzie in that film doesn't really chime with the caustic, sarcastic Kenzie of this first book. And as A Drink Before the War is written in the first person, we get much more of an insight into how Kenzie views the world – which is to say, thoroughly cynically, and through a veil of black humour. We also learn more about his partner – not to mention the object of his unrequited desire – Angie Gennaro. In Affleck's film she's little more than a cipher, but in this first novel she's authentically conflicted: a hard-assed operator when it comes to investigating, and yet also a bit of a punching bag for her abusive husband. Crucially, she also acts as a great counterpoint to Kenzie, so that instead of merely getting an internal monologue from our narrator, we get plenty of sparky two-handers too.

The plot revolves around documents stolen from a Boston politician, which Kenzie and Gennaro are hired to find, but that's just a peg on which to hang a startlingly bleak portrayal of mid-'90s urban America, which in Lehane's hands becomes a hellish vision of poverty, corruption, uncontrolled gangs and escalating violence. This ain't the cosy Boston us Brits are familiar with through Cheers; this is the city as war zone. Reading this novel, it sounds like the worst place to live on Earth. (If there are any Bostonians in the audience, please, enlighten me: is it really that bad?) Nevertheless, Lehane's picture of the city is so vivid and convincing it compels you to keep reading, whether he's describing the neighbourhoods and inhabitants of Boston and how they're divided along racial and economic lines, or simply relating how hard it is to park there. And there are some gripping set pieces to boot, including a shoot-out at a train station – featuring Kenzie and Gennaro's amusingly psychotic 'muscle', Bubba Rogowski – and another in cars and on foot around various slums.

Lewes Book Bargain: Cover Her Face by P. D. James (Hamish Hamilton Fingerprint Edition)

One last Lewes Book Bargain, and then the promised Dennis Lehane/George Pelecanos Week will commence. And after the off-piste nature of the previous Lewes Book Bargain, for this one we're back on firmer ground:

That's the 1976 UK Hamish Hamilton hardback edition of P. D. James' debut novel, Cover Her Face, published as part of Hamilton's Fingerprint Books line. It's not, I should point out, the first edition of the book; that would be the 1962 Faber edition, which, if I'd found one of those in the Lewes branch of Oxfam (where, once again, this book came from), I'd be planning an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas right now instead of writing this post. But it is an early edition, only the second time the book had been published in hardback in the UK, and as such a good find in its own right. The laminate on the dustjacket's yellowing, but other than that it's in nice condition.

Cover Her Face was one of three P. D. James books issued as part of the Fingerprint line in 1976, the other two being A Mind to Murder and Unnatural Causes, her second and third novels respectively, originally published in 1963 and 1967. All three feature poetry-writing Detective Chief-Inspector Adam Dalgliesh, who I remember best as played by Roy Marsden in the string of ITV telly adaptations in the 1980s.

James was in good company in the 1970s Fingerprint line-up: it also included the likes of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ed McBain and John Dickson Carr. As far as I know, all the Fingerprint editions featured photographic covers... but what I don't know is how many of those covers were by the woman responsible for the Cover Her Face front cover photo: Beverly Lebarrow. Who, you might well ask? Well, cast your minds back to this post on the UK first editions of two Ross Thomas novels, Yellow-Dog Contract and The Money Harvest, also both published in the 1970s by Hamish Hamilton. Yep, Beverly Lebarrow was responsible for those cover photos too, along with quite a lot of other '70s Hamilton book covers. Seems her distinctively blunt style was much in demand during that period... and that's a subject I'll be returning to in the not-too-distant future...

Sunday 31 October 2010

Lewes Book Bargain: The World is Full of Married Men by Jackie Collins (First Edition)

For our next Lewes Book Bargain, we wander off the beaten track somewhat:

That, my friends, is a UK hardback first edition of Jackie Collins' The World is Full of Married Men, published by W.H. Allen in 1968. Y'see, this is the beauty of British charity shops, particularly those in relatively well-to-do towns like Lewes: you never quite know what they're going to turn up. I found this in the Lewes branch of Oxfam, along with the next Lewes Book Bargain I'll be blogging about this weekend (unless I run out of time, in which case it'll be Monday). And though Jackie Collins isn't really a writer I'd ordinarily be terribly interested in, a first edition of her debut novel – which is what this is – for £2.99 was, frankly, irresistible, not least because of that brilliant photo of Jackie on the back cover (by the showbiz photographer Ben Jones) looking all '60s glam.

Jackie Collins did, of course, go on to write a string of massive-selling books (over 400 million copies sold according to some sources), with novels like The World is Full of Married Men, The Stud (1969) and The Bitch (1979) laying the groundwork for what would become the 1980s bonkbuster genre. The sexual content of Married Men was considered pretty shocking at the time; Barbara Cartland called it "a nasty book, filthy and disgusting," adding, "I hardly slept after reading it." (I just bet you didn't, you saucy mare.) My own encounters with Collins' work have been through the late '70s movie adaptations of The Bitch and The Stud, both starring her sister, Joan, and both of which held an illicit allure whenever they were shown on telly in the early '80s, a period that, oddly enough, coincided with my coming of age... so to speak.

The overall dustjacket design on The World is Full of Married Men is credited to Tony and Jenny Williams; I think Jenny was responsible for the illustration on the front – I believe she's better known for her illos for children's books like A Lion in the Meadow and The Silver Wood, which would fit with that naive style. As for the value of the book, I've got no idea how bouyant the market is for Jackie Collins firsts. There are copies of this first edition on AbeBooks ranging from £12 up to £50. This copy does have a curious inscription in it, however:

I don't think that's Jackie Collins' signature... and I also can't quite work out what the message is. "To John, for the..." something... "your..." "of a", is that? Then "friend", I reckon, and possibly signed Gerald. Intriguing...

UPDATE, 18/2/11: After a rather impressive – not to mention unhealthily obsessive – extended period of deliberation, mycharityshop has determined that the inscription reads as follows: "To John, With greetings, your 'old' friend Wilf/Wolf". I'm plumping for "Wolf" myself, but dissenters should feel free to comment.