Saturday 11 December 2010

Lewes Book Bargain: Hollywood Station by Joseph Wambaugh (Quercus First Edition)

Usually I have a pretty good idea of what I'm going to be blogging about week to week on Existential Ennui, but at the moment my plans are a bit fluid. I had intended to dedicate next week's posts to cult crime novelist Peter Rabe, with lots of cover galleries and rarely seen editions of his books, but for one reason or another I'm going to hold off on that till after Christmas now. Instead, in amongst the usual Westlake Scores and other bits and bobs, and as is traditional in the media at this time of year, I think I'm going to begin my Review of the Year, which will largely consist of me droning on about the (mostly old) books I bought and read this year, some of which I did little but mention in passing. I know: you can't wait, can you?

But before that, let's catch up on a couple of Lewes Book Bargains, the first of which is this:

A UK hardback first edition of Hollywood Station by Joseph Wambaugh, published by Quercus in 2007 (2006 in the States). I bought it for a quid in the funny charity shop over the road from Waitrose, the same place I picked up one of the John le Carre books I blogged about the other week. Wambaugh is one of those authors I lost track of in my non-fiction reading wilderness years – as in, the years from the mid-1990s to the latter 2000s, when I was mostly reading comics and graphic novels and, actually, non-fiction, in the shape of political tomes. I read his 1973 debut novel, The New Centurions, many years ago, and I think I read one of his other novels, and possibly his classic non-fiction work, The Onion Field, too. He was the chronicler of cops, an ex-policeman himself who wrote convincingly of his former profession.

As it turns out, Wambaugh hadn't published any novels anyway for ten years before Hollywood Station came along, so I hadn't missed much. But you can tell the high regard he's held in by those back cover quotes from the likes of Michael Connelly and George Pelecanos. In fact, I don't really need to add anything to those, other than Wambaugh's obviously got his mojo back because he followed Hollywood Station up with three sequels in swift succession: Hollywood Crows (2008), Hollywood Moon, and Hollywood Hills (2010; 2011 in the UK). According to the eminently trustworthy Mark Lawson writing in The Guardian back in 2007, Hollywood Station is "as good as anything Wambaugh has done". A pound well spent, then.

Friday 10 December 2010

Lewes Bookshop Bargain: Gentleman Traitor – What Has Happened to Philby...? by Alan Williams

Now this is a rather strange kettle of fish:

It's a UK hardback first edition of Gentleman Traitor by Alan Williams, published by Blond & Briggs in 1974, with a dustjacket designed by Ken Williamson. I bought it for £3.50 in the famed Fifteenth Century Bookshop (follow that link and scroll down to see the amusing comments about it) in Lewes, the East Sussex town etc., etc. It was lurking in the history section with some other spy-themed tomes, but it's actually a novel – or perhaps speculative fiction. The book takes as its premise the notion that Kim Philby, informal head of the Cambridge Spy Ring and subsequent defector to the USSR, wants to return to England... which of course he never did, eventually dying in Russia in 1988, but then Alan Williams wasn't to know that in 1974.

It's an intriguing idea, nevertheless, and according to my perennially useful copy of Donald McCormick's Who's Who in Spy Fiction, it's also Williams' most "unusual and intriguing" novel – or at least it was by 1977, when Who's Who... was published; Williams wrote four novels after that. McCormick reports Williams as saying that Gentleman Traitor was based on an interview a friend of Williams conducted with a sozzled Philby in Moscow, who claimed he was "'fed up with Russia and wanted to leave'. In the novel," McCormick continues, "he did just this, and, bored, drunken and embittered in Moscow, agreed to accept a seedy job in Rhodesia for British Intelligence (still apparently riddled with old traitor chums of his always willing to lend a helping hand)... Philby... was vividly portrayed in this exciting and highly intelligent story." There's also a claim on the dustjacket back flap of Gentleman Traitor that Williams himself encountered Philby in Beirut the day before Philby disappeared to Russia.

When I picked up this copy of Gentleman Traitor in the shop I vaguely recognised the author photo (by Bryan Heseltine) on the back cover. I have a feeling that might be from TV appearances Williams made years ago when I was a kid: he was (I assume he's retired now, although he's still alive as far as I know) a journalist as well as a novelist, writing for the Daily Express and covering the wars in Algeria and Vietnam, the Six Day War, the revolt in Czechoslovakia and the conflict in Northern Ireland. According to McCormick, when Williams was in Algeria, "both the Algerian and the French forces complained about him and suspected he was a spy!" Some of his earlier exploits are even more remarkable, though: when Williams was a student at Cambridge, he helped smuggle a Polish refugee out of Warsaw; he was involved in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and masqueraded his way into East Germany; and he worked for anti-Communist radio station Radio Free Europe, which had links with US counter-intelligence.

Son of actor and playwright Emlyn Williams, Alan wrote eleven novels in total, one of which, 1965's Snake Water, was turned into a 1968 James Garner-starring movie, The Pink Jungle. Writes McCormick of Williams' fiction: "One of the most important lessons of Alan Williams' ultra-realistic spy novels is that they are not just mere entertainment, nor are they, like some of this genre, mischievous realism. Each book takes a slice of history and builds around it with real and fictional people a credible story that really could have happened. Yes, even the Philby story... well, not in 1977, perhaps, but ten years ago such an incident would not have been as inconceivable as it sounds."

If you're interested, there's a bit more info on Williams and a few links over at the Mystery File blog.

Thursday 9 December 2010

Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane: Little, Brown Uncorrected Bound Proof

Way back at the start of November, when the weather was still balmy and snow was a distant prospect, I dedicated a whole week's worth of posts to Dennis Lehane (with a few guest appearances from George Pelecanos) and his series of novels starring Boston private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. Partly that was because Lehane's latest Kenzie-Gennaro novel – and the first in over ten years – Moonlight Mile, was published in the States that week, but mostly it was because I'd recently picked up a job lot of US first editions of the five novels before it on eBay. That's how much thought goes into those themed weeks on Existential Ennui...

Anyway, Moonlight Mile isn't due to be published in the UK until February, by Lehane's new publisher, Little, Brown. I wondered in this post on Gone, Baby, Gone (which Moonlight Mile is a sequel to) how Little, Brown would handle their UK publicity and press campaign for Moonlight Mile, given that Lehane isn't as big a name over here as he is in the US and also that the new novel is the sixth book in a series, none of the previous books from which were published by Little, Brown. And as it happens, I can now answer those questions.

This is the uncorrected bound proof of Little, Brown's forthcoming UK edition of Moonlight Mile. If you don't know what a bound proof is, it's an advanced copy of a novel produced for press and publicity purposes.

There's the copyright info inside the book. Basically it looks like a trade paperback, except without a barcode or price on the back cover, and with different cover blurb too. (I blogged about a Patricia Highsmith one back in July.) For instance, I doubt that tag line on the front cover "An exciting new era for one of the world's great writers" will make it on to the final version – nor indeed the tiny "NOT FOR SALE..." line above it either... And if we turn to the back cover...

We start to get a sense of Little, Brown's strategy for the book. Right at the top, in bold, white type, the publisher announces this is Lehane's first novel for them, which sets the context for what's to follow. And then the first bullet point underneath does what any publicity department in their right mind should do when plugging Dennis Lehane: it mentions The Wire. Because here in Britain, it's for his writing on The Wire that Lehane's best known – the caveat there being, as adored as The Wire is in certain sections of British society, those sections are, in the grand scheme of things, quite small. But UK Wire fans are passionate, and media-savvy, and so playing up that angle is a solid start.

The next bullet point down does the next most obvious thing one should do when plugging Dennis Lehane, and that's to talk about Shutter Island. The 2010 Martin Scorcese movie adaptation of Shutter Island did decent business at cinemas, both in the US, where it earned $128 million, and in the UK, where it earned about £11 million. Eleven million pounds may not sound like a lot (relatively speaking), but that's a good number for a film over here. So again, that's a useful angle for promotion... even if the back cover copywriter did get the year of the film wrong. Interesting to see too the 100,000 UK sales of the novel, although presumably that's since the book's original UK publication in 2003.

And then in the last two bullet points we get a nod to Gone, Baby, Gone, a tease for a future movie adaptation of Moonlight Mile (that's a new one on me; they might need to change the title for that), and a quote from The Guardian, the newspaper of choice for the discerning fan of The Wire. Personally I'm not sure about that line in bold white type about either loving Lehane or not having read him – I feel slightly lectured to there – but it's publicity we're talking about here, and therefore subtlety isn't always an option.

So, in broad strokes, that's how Little, Brown are promoting the book. There's some more info on the accompanying press release:

Along with a couple more press quotes, and a short synopsis. It also repeats that unfortunate mistake about Shutter Island being one of the biggest grossing films of 2009 (it was 2010). But that's a minor niggle. Overall, Little, Brown have done a creditable job. I don't know what more they could have done to pave the way for Moonlight Mile, and I wish them and Lehane luck for the book's UK launch next year. I think it'll do pretty well for them.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Richard Stark's Parker Novels: The UK Hodder Fawcett Coronet Paperbacks, Starring Point Blank! (A Westlake Score)

The UK Hodder/Coronet paperback editions of Donald 'Richard Stark' Westlake's Parker novels have been something of a recurring topic on Existential Ennui, probably to the befuddlement of all concerned, i.e. the merry band of Westlake/Stark obsessives who orbit The Violent World of Parker. But I find publishing histories weirdly fascinating (I know, there's no hope for me), and so, the Coronet paperback editions of the Parkers being the first British editions of the novels, and also their having gone through quite a few different cover designs in quite a short space of time, I keep coming back to 'em (chiefly here, here, and most recently here).

This time, though, I've actually got a fairly good reason for returning to them (yet again), namely a Westlake Score – a printing of the Coronet edition of Stark's debut novel, Point Blank! (a.k.a. The Hunter) that, to my knowledge, has never been seen online before:

That is the 1970 second impression/printing of the British paperback edition of Point Blank!, published Coronet/Hodder Fawcett in 1970. I've posted a Coronet Parker with a similar cover design before – the 1970 second printing of The Rare Coin Score – but I didn't realise that Point Blank! had also undergone a corresponding makeover for its second printing. And with the help of a couple of other sneaky recent Westlake Scores, I can now demonstrate the development – or rather developments, plural; the Coronet Parkers went through two parallel advancements – of the UK Coronet/Hodder Fawcett paperback editions of the Parker novels. Prepare to be amazed.

We begin with the 1967 first printing of Coronet's UK edition of Point Blank!, which was, of course, also the tie-in edition to the movie of the same year. This particular copy I picked up for a pittance on eBay recently, chiefly because it's still not widely recognised that this is the first UK edition of Stark's debut, and so the seller hadn't listed it as such. For the record, then: this is the first UK edition of Stark's debut. Got it?

The second UK printing of the novel came, as we've already discussed, in 1970, and looked like this:

Scroll down to the bottom half of this post and you'll be able to see the similarly styled second printing of The Rare Coin Score from the same year; as far as I know, Coronet only issued Point Blank! and The Rare Coin Score with this type of cover, a design which I think was modelled on/aped the cover for Coronet's 1969 movie tie-in edition of The Split, and which is credited (for a change; the Coronet Parkers mostly didn't carry design credits) to the mysterious-sounding Unit 2.

By 1970, out of the twelve Parker novels that had by then been published in the US, Coronet had only published six: Point Blank! (twice), Rare Coin (twice), The Split (once – the movie tie-in edition), and (all once, all under the same illustrative style of cover) The Green Eagle Score, The Black Ice Score and The Sour Lemon Score. But that didn't stop the publisher from moving on to yet another style of cover design in 1971 – the famed bullet hole covers:

Seen above is Coronet's third impression of Point Blank!, actually from 1972, by which point the bullet hole iterations of the Coronet paperbacks had superseded previous cover designs and the Coronet range of Parkers had been expanded. Under "Also by Richard Stark" on the half-title verso in this edition of Point Blank!, every Parker novel is listed bar Slayground, Plunder Squad and Butcher's Moon, none of which Coronet had published by this point (and the last of which hadn't even been published in the States).

Designed by Raymond Hawkey, the bullet hole design was a unique double-cover concept. The silver outer cover bearing the author's name and the legend "a novel of violence" (the same on every book in the series) featured a die-cut hole with burnt edges, through which could be seen the flimsier, black inner cover, where the book's title was printed – here in red, but variously in orange, yellow, blue, and so on:

That's Point Blank! with the front outer cover open, and:

With the back outer cover open. So that's how one strand of Coronet's British paperback editions of the Parker novels developed.

But that's not the end of the story. Because there's also the other strand of Coronet's Parkers, chiefly The Rare Coin Score, which followed a similar path to Point Blank!, but started from a different initial design. Which was this:

That's the 1968 Coronet first UK edition of The Rare Coin Score. Published the following year to the first Coronet edition of Point Blank!, The Rare Coin Score shared a style of (uncredited) cover design with The Green Eagle Score (also 1968), The Black Ice Score and The Sour Lemon Score (both 1969):

As with Point Blank!, The Rare Coin Score was also given the faux movie treatment for its second impression in 1970:

Which, also as with that second printing of Point Blank!, is credited to the intriguing Unit 2, who I fancy were an elite paramilitary group who dabbled in design on the side, a supposition I shall continue to believe until proven otherwise. Anyway, finally, for its third printing in 1972, The Rare Coin Score joined the rest of the Parkers (well, almost all of them, anyway) in the Hawkey bullet hole design:

And that's pretty much it. Until we get to Butcher's Moon, that is, the 1977 Coronet edition of which is a whole other story. For now, though, I'll leave you with one last visual demonstration of the development of the Coronet Parkers, as if the point hadn't been hammered home enough. Evidently I missed my true calling as a particularly annoying and pedantic schoolteacher...

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Book Review: The Naked Runner (Hodder First Edition), and Some More on its Author, Francis Clifford

A common theme on Existential Ennui – more of a lament, really – is how certain authors seem to drop off the radar, particularly dead ones. Doubtless this was always the case, but the rapid expansion of the internet, which has become most people's main method of finding out information, has meant that, as well as the traditional publishing ignominy of their backlists falling out of print, many middle-ranking writers who died before the internet really got going don't get their due online either. Some supposedly forgotten authors – Gavin Lyall, say – are still in print (just about, anyway: Lyall's 1965 thriller Midnight Plus One was reissued by Orion in 2005 as part of that publisher's Crime Masterworks series) and warrant a fairly decent Wikipedia entry. Others, however, are denied even that.

One such is Francis Clifford. I've blogged about Clifford – real name Arthur Leonard Bell Thompson – before, notably in this post about his 1953 debut, Honour the Shrine. Clifford wrote nineteen crime and espionage novels, and won the Crime Writers Association Silver Dagger Award twice, yet his Wikipedia entry consists of two lines and a bibliography and his un-bought books haunt eBay. I mentioned in that previous post that his 1966 novel The Naked Runner was turned into a 1967 Frank Sinatra-starring movie (his 1959 book, Act of Mercy, also became a film, 1962's Guns of Darkness), but at the time I didn't have a copy of the book. Now, however, I do:

A 1966 UK hardback first edition, published by Hodder & Stoughton, with a dustwrapper designed by Peter Calcott (who also designed the jacket for Hodder's 1967 first edition of Ross Thomas's Spy in the Vodka, a.k.a. The Cold War Swap). And for once, I've actually read it – and it's a little cracker.

The novel follows widower and single father Sam Laker, who on the way to work one day saves a woman and her baby from being run over and consequently comes to the attention of Martin Slattery, shadowy secret service type and former wartime colleague of Sam's. Laker is due to fly to Leipzig in Germany's Russian Zone with his son, to attend a trade fair and then do some sightseeing; Slattery asks him to deliver something hidden in a watch strap. Sam reluctantly agrees – it turns out he'll be delivering it to a woman he last saw during the war and who he believed to be dead – and from that point on falls into a nightmare, as his world is turned upside down and he's forced to become an assassin.

Beginning, as it does, in England, the novel initially comes across as rather dated and jolly hockey-sticks. But before too long there are glimpses of Laker's dark past, notably the savage killing spree he embarked on whilst behind enemy lines during World War II. (Something that a lot of 1950s-1970s thriller and espionage novels share is that the Second World War was still a recent memory. Many authors like Clifford fought in the war, an experience which informed their fiction.) Sam's subdued anger becomes increasingly key as the novel progresses and he becomes more and more paranoid.

There's a cynical seam running through The Naked Runner that makes it feel quite contemporary, despite the Cold War trappings. There's no right or wrong here; all the players (save Sam's son) are complicit somehow in what Sam goes through, including himself. Towards the end of the novel Sam's situation becomes so bleak and hopeless it almost becomes too much; that Clifford does eventually offer a sliver of hope is, in the final analysis, cold comfort.

I mentioned at the start of this post that Clifford doesn't have much of a Wikipedia entry... but he does have a decent entry in the afore-blogged-about Who's Who in Spy Fiction by Donald McCormick, which reveals all sorts of fascinating titbits about him. Prior to becoming a novelist he worked in the rice trade in the Far East before World War II, and then as an industrial journalist for the steel industry; by the time of his death in 1975 his world book sales had topped the five million mark; and the Los Angeles Times described his 1967 novel All Men Are Lonely Now as "the finest espionage novel of the decade". Oh, and writing in the Guardian newspaper, critic Franci Iles said Clifford was "almost unique in combining a deeply felt philosophical truth with the real excitement of the thriller".

So there you go. At least there's a bit more about Clifford online now. (And I now have another post about Clifford here.)

Monday 6 December 2010

Ian Fleming James Bond 1970s Triad Panther Paperback Cover Gallery feat. Beverley le Barrow... or is it Beverley Goodway...?

Another relatively random selection of blog posts this week, among them a guide to how the covers for Coronet's UK paperback editions of Richard Stark's Parker novels developed in the late 1960s/early 1970s (featuring a little-seen cover for Point Blank); a look at a proof copy of Dennis Lehane's latest Kenzie-Gennaro novel, Moonlight Mile; and a review of Francis Clifford's The Naked Runner. But first, and continuing the Bond theme from the weekend, we return to a firm favourite of Existential Ennui: 1970s glamour photographer extraordinaire, Beverley le Barrow.

Beverley, you'll recall, has been the subject of a number of previous posts on this blog, chiefly this one and this one. Le Barrow's starkly lit photos, tendency to use models and minor actors, and awesomely literal approach made the photographer a firm favourite with British book publishers like Hamish Hamilton, Michael Joseph and Panther in the '70s and '80s, who harnessed Beverley's singular talents on covers for Ross Thomas, Dick Francis and others.

Beverley's schtick was photographing models in studios against flat black or white backgrounds – a stylistic quirk that may have owed something to a possible parallel career as a snapper of topless Page 3 girls. Indeed, I'm starting to wonder whether Beverley le Barrow was in fact a pseudonym for famed Sun newspaper Page 3 photographer Beverley Goodway, who is actually a bloke, and not, as I assumed Le Barrow to be, a woman. "Le Barrow" being a pseudonym might also explain the discrepancy between the spellings of that name in various book cover credits: "Beverly" – no third "e" – "Lebarrow" – one word – in the credits for the Hamish Hamilton Ross Thomas covers, "Beverley Le Barrow" elsewhere.

(UPDATE: Further evidence for my theory has emerged since I wrote this post. Francis from the Stanley Morgan Website – Beverley Le Barrow photographed a good many Morgan covers – commented on this earlier post that he'd contacted an American photographer who assisted Le Barrow in the 1970s. That photographer confirmed Le Barrow was a pseudonym... and he also reckoned Beverley's real surname was indeed Goodway... Go read this post for a round-up on all things Le Barrow.)

Anyway, perhaps Le Barrow's crowning achievement were the covers for Triad/Panther's paperback range of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, issued (out of sequence, I believe, i.e. not in their original 1953 Casino Royale to 1966 Octopussy order) from 1977 to 1979. The concept for these was audaciously bald, even by Beverley's standards. Gaze upon their magnificence and you can almost see Le Barrow's mental processes at work; when she (he?) was handed the assignment to create covers for fifteen Bond books, naturally her (his?) inclination would be to round up a bunch of leggy models, dress them – or even underdress them – in the finest '70s clobber... and then... and then... Hmm. What to do to make the covers distinctive? Well, one of the Bond novels is called The Man with the Golden Gun... so... how about draping the leggy models over a great big model golden gun? Brilliant!

To realise this twisted vision, Beverley was assisted by a team of very well known creatives. Jewellery was provided by retailer Hooper Bolton; shoes – where they were worn – were by Terry de Havilland; and make-up was applied by, er, some bird called Bonny. Ahem. The giant gun, meanwhile, was designed and built by David Collins and Floris van den Broecke. Van den Broecke is a furniture designer of some note, but I'm not sure which of the many David Collinses that pop up when you Google his name is the right one. However, years ago, when I was doing an Art Foundation course at Ravensbourne, I attended a lecture by a visiting designer who created massive models of everyday objects to be photographed for advertising billboards. Because back then (1988, I think), the only way to photograph, say, a Polo mint, and blow it up to billboard size, was to create a huge man-sized model of said mint and photograph that instead. I've got a sneaking suspicion that that designer was David Collins. I could, of course, and as is often the case, be completely wrong. But a gigantic golden gun.... what are the odds?

Whatever the truth, the Bond covers photographed by Beverley le Barrow are among the most memorable ever to grace that series. So, gathered together here for the first time anywhere on the internet (at least, at this fairly large size), Existential Ennui proudly presents a complete cover gallery – with back covers where I have them – of the Ian Fleming (and Robert Markham/Kingsley Amis) James Bond novels published by Triad/Panther/Granada. Enjoy.