Friday 6 May 2011

Brighton Bookshop Bargain: Funeral in Berlin (Secret File #3) by Len Deighton (Jonathan Cape First Edition, 1964, Raymond Hawkey Cover)

After yesterday afternoon's brief interlude/announcement/update about the British Library archiving Existential Ennui, let's have the third and final post in my short series on Len Deighton's unnamed spy (a.k.a. Harry Palmer) novels. All three of the books I've been blogging about were bought in Lewes and Brighton over the past month or so: on Wednesday I posted a Brighton Bookshop Bargain, namely the fifth "Harry Palmer" novel, 1967's An Expensive Place to Die; yesterday it was the turn of the series' fourth novel, 1966's Billion-Dollar Brain, which I nabbed at March's Lewes Book Fair; and today I have for you another Brighton Bookshop Bargain – the third novel in the series, bought once again in the excellent Colin Page Antiquarian Books in that fair seaside city:

This is the UK hardback first edition/first impression of Funeral in Berlin, published by Jonathan Cape in 1964. It is, as I say, the third novel to feature Deighton's anonymous secret agent, following The Ipcress File (Hodder & Stoughton, 1962) and Horse Under Water (Jonathan Cape, 1963), and deals with the defection of a Soviet scientist in Berlin. As ever, I'll direct you to the novel's dedicated page on the Deighton Dossier website for further information – or you can simply read the blurb on the back of the cover, above.

As with the previous two first editions I've showcased, the design of the book is first rate. The dustjacket was once again created by Raymond Hawkey, here cleverly employing an open leather bag to frame some of the paraphernalia associated with the novel's secret agent narrator. The case bears a debossed rubber stamp on the front, with a similarly debossed "Downgraded to Unclassified" stamp beneath it, echoing the one on the back of the jacket:

But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the book's design are the endpapers. The endpapers of the first editions (and first impressions; later printings often have plain endpapers) of the unnamed spy novels are usually intriguing or attractive – Horse Under Water has a crossword puzzle on its ends, while Billion-Dollar Brain has an apparently genuine Honeywell Electronic Data Processing statement. Funeral in Berlin goes one better, though:

Here, the endpapers consist of a reproduction of a genuine membership list of the SS, complete with names and details of actual real-life members of the SS. An audacious design choice, for sure.

Throughout these posts I've been linking to Rob Mallows's Deighton Dossier website, but Rob also runs a spin-off blog, where you can catch up on all the latest news vis a vis Len Deighton: worth a bookmark, I reckon. (And Rob kindly left comments on the previous two Deighton posts; both are worth reading, but the one on the Billion-Dollar Brain post is particularly insightful, shedding all sorts of new light on the design and photography of that novel's dustjacket.) Back here on Existential Ennui, however, much like the endpapers of Funeral in Berlin I'll be taking a turn for the factual over the next raft of posts (er, except without the Nazi connotations...), with a selection of recently acquired (in Lewes and the surrounding area) non-fiction books – a few of them of a definite espionage bent...

Thursday 5 May 2011

BREAKING NEWS: Existential Ennui Has Now Been Archived by the British Library!

Apologies for the interruption to my short series on Len Deighton's unnamed spy novels (which will continue), but I just wanted to point out that, in a startling development to my recent announcement that the British Library would at some point be archiving Existential Ennui for all time (or as near as damn it), it appears that they now, er, have. If you click through to their UK Web Archive and search for "Existential Ennui", you'll find the dedicated page for this blog:

And if you click on the box in "Instances" (which doesn't currently have a thumbnail), it'll take you to the archived version of Existential Ennui. Which, rather sweetly, was archived on Saturday, 23 April, which was when I posted that essay on the Doctor Who Target novelisations. Although unfortunately it looks as though the British Library filed Existential Ennui away for posterity before Book Glutton commented on that Who post. Sorry, BG!

So there you have it. Existential Ennui has been immortalized. A momentous day in more ways than one. Hmm. Maybe I should've deleted a few posts before they preserved the thing in perpetuity...

From the Lewes Book Fair: Billion-Dollar Brain (Secret File #4) by Len Deighton (Jonathan Cape First Edition, 1966, Raymond Hawkey Cover)

On to the second of three posts on Len Deighton's novels starring the unnamed spy more widely known as 'arry Palmer. And after yesterday's post on the fifth and final book in the series, 1967's An Expensive Place to Die, today it's the turn of the book immediately preceding that one:

This is the UK hardback first edition/first impression of Billion-Dollar Brain, published by Jonathan Cape in 1966. I bought this copy at March's Lewes Book Fair – at which I also picked up Kingsley Amis's How's Your Glass? – paying what was a very reasonable price (decent first editions/first printings can set you back anything from £30 to around £100) given its condition (which I'll return to in a moment). As I mentioned in this post, it was a disappointing Book Fair from my perspective, and aside from the Amis this copy of Billion-Dollar Brain was about the only thing I saw there worth laying down money for.

Billion-Dollar Brain is the fourth of Deighton's "Harry Palmer" novels, and as with An Expensive Place to Die, its dedicated page on the Deighton Dossier website is your best bet to read more about it. Once again the dustjacket was designed by Raymond Hawkey, but his jacket for Billion-Dollar Brain is remarkable for a couple of reasons. For one thing, while it is photographic in nature, it doesn't hew to Hawkey's standard approach of arranging props and objects in interesting configurations. Rather, it has a helmeted soldier in front of a computer bank, which was photographed at a Honeywell Data Centre. Honeywell was one of eight manufacturers of mainframe computers in the '50s, '60s and '70s, alongside the likes of Control Data, General Electric and especially IBM – the group was known as IBM and the Seven Dwarfs. So the computer banks you can see on the jacket are genuine equipment from that era.

For another, there's the finish of the dustjacket. You might be able to make out the reflective nature of parts of jacket; that's actually silver foil stamp, picking out the author name, title and lower two-thirds of the cover. Jackets on the Cape first edition have been notoriously prone to wear and tear over the years: the thin paper stock tends to ripple, while the foil blocking often flakes. The jacket on my copy is typical in that it's a little battered, but the book itself is in pristine, seemingly unread, fine condition – about the best you'll ever see.

And the design of the book runs the dazzling jacket a close second. If we take a look at the case:

You'll see that there's a debossed computer punch strip running down the front of it. Meanwhile the endpapers continue the computer theme, printed with a genuine-looking statement headed "Honywell Electronic Data Processing":

Incidentally, and as Rob Mallows points out in the Deighton Dossier's appraisal of the book, there's a slight discrepancy between the dustjacket and the book interior. On the jacket there's no dash between "Billion" and "Dollar", but on the spine of the case and the title pages, there is. So the jacket in fact reflects the 1967 movie's version of the title, rather than the accepted literary version of it. Fascinating stuff, eh? On a momentous day like today, when Britain is poised to potentially alter its voting system, you can rely on Existential Ennui to bring you tedious bibliographic trivia from over forty years ago.

And that leaves us with just one more Deighton novel to explore in this short series: coming right up after this short message...

Wednesday 4 May 2011

Brighton Bookshop Bargain: An Expensive Place to Die (Secret File #5) by Len Deighton (Jonathan Cape First Edition, 1967, Raymond Hawkey Cover)

After a couple of posts on a couple of Higginses, let's move on to a short series of posts on Len Deighton's Secret Files novels, which feature the unnamed (in the novels) British spy more widely known – thanks to their various Michael Caine-starring movie adaptations – as Harry Palmer. I touched on these tangentially when I blogged about 1976's Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy, which isn't, in fact – and as Rob Mallows from the Deighton Dossier website confirmed in the comments of that post – a "Harry Palmer" novel. But the three first editions I'll be showcasing almost certainly are – and I'll be showing them in reverse order of publication, beginning with this:

A UK hardback first edition/first impression of An Expensive Place to Die, published by Jonathan Cape in 1967. This is the fifth, and indeed final, novel to feature Deighton's unnamed spy, and sees him sent to deliver NATO files to a Chinese General. The book's dedicated page on the Deighton Dossier site is as good a place as any to find out more about it, and if you head over and read to the end of that entry you'll notice that the first edition featured a laid-in file of top secret documents. Unfortunately, the file in my copy has gone AWOL – but then the book was fairly cheap, bought in Colin Page Antiquarian Books in Brighton. Still, if anyone has a spare file they don't need...

As with many of Len Deighton's books, the dustjacket was designed by Raymond Hawkey (credited on the jacket front flap with "Continuum 2"), who I think I last blogged about in a short series of posts in February. As I noted back then, Hawkey usually worked with a photographer to achieve his vision, arranging various props in intriguing configurations, often including a gun. The photographer for the Expensive Place to Die jacket was Adrian Flowers, who I blogged about in the aforementioned post on Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy. However I've since come across this article, which revisits Flowers's chapter in Deighton's The London Dossier, a 1967 guide book featuring reports on "swinging" London by various authorities on the subject. And it's also worth noting that the National Portrait Gallery in London holds in its collection a couple of Flowers portraits.

But it's not simply the jackets of the first editions of Len Deighton's unnamed spy novels that are worth taking a moment to admire: the elegant design extends to other aspects of the books, too – which isn't so surprising when you consider that Deighton was a designer himself. The inserted (or absent, in the case of my copy) secret file aside, An Expensive Place to Die perhaps isn't the best example of this; the endpapers are quite attractive:

But the case isn't especially remarkable. But as we'll see in the next post, others of the first editions are rather more elaborate in their overall design...

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Charing Cross Catch: A City on a Hill by George V. Higgins (Alfred A. Knopf First Edition, 1975)

From two Higgins novels – one by Jack, one by George V. – to another Higgins novel, which in this instance is by George V. rather than Jack:

This is the American hardback first edition of A City on a Hill, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1975. I bought this book only very recently – less than a week ago, in fact, on a sojourn to that there London. And to prove it, here's a picture of me riffling through some books outside one of the bookshops in Cecil Court:

Where, incidentally, the shop which used to house the late lamented Nigel Williams Rare Books is now inhabited by crime specialists Goldsboro Books, who've moved down from slightly further along the Court. But anyway, this copy of A City on a Hill didn't come from a Cecil Court shop; rather it came from the basement of Any Amount of Books on Charing Cross Road, a couple of minutes' walk from Cecil Court. The dustjacket, as you can see, is rather tatty (that missing piece at the top on the front was present when I bought it, but has since floated off somewhere), and it appears to be ex-library:

But considering I only paid two quid for the thing, I can't really complain. A City on a Hill was George V. Higgins's fourth novel, following The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1972), The Digger's Game (1973) and Cogan's Trade (1974), and it marked a change of direction for the former journalist/Assistant D.A. Whereas his previous novels were set in the Boston underworld, A City on a Hill moved the action to the political arena of Washington, D.C. – with mixed results, if this contemporaneous New York Times review is to be believed. Take a gander at the dustjacket flaps blurb if you'd like to know a bit more about the novel:

If you click on the back flap you should be able to see that the jacket was designed by Paul Bacon, who, as luck would have it, I've blogged about before, in this post on James Jones's The Merry Month of May. Bacon is best known for his record sleeves for Blue Note and Riverside, but in book design he was the originator of the "big book look", whereby title and author name were featured very big on the front cover. His cover for A City on a Hill isn't a prime example of that style, but I do have another book waiting in the wings with a jacket designed by him – the novel that did, in fact, make his name as a book cover designer.

That's not the next post, however. The next post – indeed the next few posts – will be on Len Deighton's series of novels starring his unnamed British spy – all of which feature jackets designed by the legend that is Raymond Hawkey...

Monday 2 May 2011

Sydenham Scores; Higgins x 2: Jack and George V., Solo and Victories (Collins / Andre Deutsch First Editions)

So, the random book blogging that's been going on round these here parts for the past week – basically playing catch-up on assorted unrelated books I've bought over the last month or three (with a Notes from the Small Press throw in for a bit of variety) – will take a turn for the slightly less random this week. I'll still be catching up on stuff I've purchased, but these books will be slightly more linked – largely by author name, but also by dustjacket designer. Three of 'em were written by Len Deighton, and all three of those books boast jackets designed by Raymond Hawkey; and the other three were written by a certain Mr. Higgins... although not, as we shall see, the same Mr. Higgins...

That said, while this first post does indeed deal with two novels written by two different men named Higgins, in an odd coincidence both books feature dustjackets created by the same designer... and both were bought in the same charity shop...

What we have here are British hardback first editions of Solo by Jack Higgins – published by William Collins in 1980 – and Victories by George V. Higgins, which was published by Andre Deutsch in 1991. I picked these two books up in the south London town of Sydenham, on the same excursion a few months back when I bought Len Deighton's Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Spy and Mark Gatiss's Black Butterfly. And despite being published over ten years apart and presumably (although not necessarily) arriving at the charity shop from different donors, both books are wrapped in dustjackets designed by Donald – or Don, as Victories has it – Macpherson. I haven't been able to find out much about him, but his illustrations appeared on at least three other Jack Higgins covers – 1981's Luciano's Luck, 1982's Touch the Devil and 1985's Confessional (those last two starring Liam Devlin from perhaps Higgins's most famous novel, The Eagle Has Landed) – as well as on the cover of Derek Lambert's The Judas Code (Hamilton, 1983) and, in the form of maps, inside the UK first edition of Paul Theroux's The Kingdom by the Sea (also Hamilton, 1983).

Jack Higgins – real name Harry Patterson – hasn't cropped up on Existential Ennui before, but he is an author I've been meaning to try at some point, so unless and until a first edition of The Eagle Has Landed turns up in my immediate vicinity, Solo strikes me as a good a place to start as any. Mind you, the plot sounds slightly bizarre. It features a concert pianist named Mikali who also happens to be a ruthless assassin. Fleeing from the police after murdering a prominent Zionist, Mikali runs over and kills a young girl – who just happens to be the daughter of Asa Morgan, a colonel in Northern Ireland and something of an efficient killer himself. As the dustjacket flap blurb puts it (offering its own unique spin on a well-known paradox): "When an irresistible force meets an immovable object, trouble usually ensues. When Mikali met Asa Morgan there could only be one solution. Death."

George V. Higgins, on the other hand, has appeared on this blog before, although I must admit I still haven't read the book I blogged about back then: his debut – and best-known – novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Victories is a companion novel to his 1989 book Trust, and is a political tale set in Vermont in 1968. I'm not sure I'll get round to reading it anytime soon – for one thing I've got The Friends of Eddie Coyle to get through first – but this contemporaneous New York Times review is pretty positive. And it's to George V. that we return in the next post, with another politically inclined novel from rather earlier in his career...