Monday 31 January 2011

Rabe in Hardback: My Lovely Executioner by Peter Rabe (Herbert Jenkins)

Right, this really is the final entry in what has become, thanks to the arrival of a couple of books I'd written off as lost forever, a slightly extended series of posts on cult American crime writer Peter Rabe. And today I've got a scarce copy of one of the very few of Rabe's novels – just two in his lifetime – that made it into hardback:

This is the UK hardback edition of My Lovely Executioner, published by Herbert Jenkins in 1967. As I detailed in this post, the only other Rabe novel to be published in hardback during his lifetime was Anatomy of a Killer, which was published straight to hardback in 1960. My Lovely Executioner is a little different, however. It was initially published by Gold Medal in the US in 1960, in their usual paperback format; I wrote about that edition here. So it wasn't until seven years later that Jenkins picked it up for US publication. I don't know why they chose that particular Rabe story, but it might be because it's one of the few – possibly the only – he wrote in the first person.

It certainly wasn't unusual for Jenkins to publish American crime novels well after their US debut. The publisher made something of a habit of it in the 1960s, although out of all the authors they picked – Day Keene, Bruce Sanders, etc. – the only one I recognised was Rabe. They also had an... interesting approach to cover design. The dustjacket illustration on My Lovely Executioner is signed 'Phillips', and while I haven't been able to find out anything about the artist, the fact that I also own the earlier Gold Medal paperback means I have been able to do a little comparison:

Yep, the mysterious Mr. Phillips has essentially sketched a pen and ink version of the original seemingly photographic cover (turning the thick, forbidding drapes into lovely soft bath towelling in the process – mmm, snuggly...). I'll have another Herbert Jenkins hardback edition of an American crime novel fairly soon, so we'll see how Mr. Phillips handled that one.

The jacket flap blurb differs from the copy on the back of the Gold Medal edition too, although in both cases the copywriter has adopted the first person narrative of the novel to draft their own words. Here's the Gold Medal back cover:

And here's what the Herbert Jenkins edition has to say:

Three weeks . . . That was all. Just three more weeks and I'd have walked through the prison gates the legitimate way, with my seven-year sentence completed and the chance for some sort of life ahead of me. But Rand had planned a jail break, and when the time came he took me with him—by force.


That's what I couldn't understand. What was it he thought I knew? And where was it supposed to lead? Whatever it was, it had to be something really big because there was highly efficient organisation behind the getaway.

It was the perfect escape—from one prison to another. Only this time my cell was a luxury apartment and my warders were hardened killers who would dispose of me just as soon as I'd served their purpose. Whichever way the ball bounced I could only be the loser, and all I could do was play desperately for time.

Not the least of my problems was the beautiful girl called Jessie. Was she my fellow-prisoner, my jailer . . . or my executioner?

Nice play on the title of the novel at the end there. Except of course, famously almost all of Peter Rabe's novels were either clumsily retitled by Gold Medal or Rabe didn't even bother titling them in the first place. So our copywriter is playing on a title that probably wasn't assigned by the author of the book. Never mind, eh?

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