Friday, 30 March 2012

The Ilex Gift Giveaway: The Three Winners!

As is now traditional with my competitions (well, I've done it once before, anyway): drum roll, please! It's time to unveil the winners of my magnificent Ilex Gift giveaway!

To recap: two weeks ago I gave you all, you lucky Existential Ennui readers, you, the chance to win an, if I do say so myself, impressive amount of swag, courtesy of Lewes-based publisher Ilex Press and their new imprint, Ilex Gift. The haul comprised:

6 x Little Books:
• Little Book of Vintage Romance 
Little Book of Vintage Sci-Fi 
Little Book of Vintage Combat 
Little Book of Vintage Crime 
Little Book of Vintage Sauciness 
Little Book of Vintage Horror 

2 x Journals:
Lovelorn Journal
Tales of Terror Journal 

2 x Postcard Books:
Lovelorn: 30 Postcards
Tales of Terror: 30 Postcards 

1 x Magnet Pack
Lovelorn: 16 Classic Romance Comic Magnets 

each, for three Existential Ennui readers. Well with the competition now closed, and the entries all deposited in a fetching chapeau, I can now reveal which three winners were drawn from that hat. They are:

Dan Lester, Leeds, UK
Mark Bennett, Brighton, UK
Karl A. Russell, Widnes, UK

Well done to all three of you! Your prizes will be winging their way to you shortly. Thank you to everyone who took part – there were quite a lot of you – and don't despair if you didn't win: the Ilex Gift range will be available in all good bookshops soon!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s: A Permanent Page

As regular readers (usual caveats vis-a-vis "regular" – and indeed "readers" – apply) of Existential Ennui will know, I'm forever banging on about dustjacket design, in particular the jackets which wrapped around British books in the 1950s and '60s, especially – and unsurprisingly, given the loose remit of this blog – those gracing the thrillers and genre works of the era. To my mind, this period was something of a golden age for wrapper artwork, and you can find lots of examples of dustjackets from that mid-20th century era littering Existential Ennui.

And therein lies the problem: those covers are scattered about this blog like so much flotsam (or jetsam), and not readily accessible unless you're prepared to endlessly scroll through Existential Ennui – which, for various reasons (although chiefly to do with potential boredom), I wouldn't recommend. Yesterday, however, whilst tweeting links to past posts showing examples of great British dustjackets (an act of temporary insanity which was in turn inspired by this post on Val Biro), I had a brainwave: why not create a dedicated page for the best examples of British jacket design from the '50s and '60s, drawing on books from my collection?

Why not indeed. And so that's precisely what I've done. You can find the dedicated page here, or by clicking on the permanent "Pages of Particular Interest" link at the top of Existential Ennui's right-hand sidebar. Inside you'll find a cornucopia of covers, some you'll have seen before, others perhaps not – and a couple, one by Val Biro (the stunning jacket for Victor Canning's A Delivery of Furies which you can see above), the other by Peter Probyn (an elegant one for Francis Clifford's The Hunting-Ground), I'm presenting for the first time on Existential Ennui – arranged alphabetically by designer, with links to whatever nonsense I've written about that particular book or cover artist (if anything). It's a work in progress – I'll be adding to it as I find new examples – but it's off to a good start, I feel, and should hopefully prove a valuable resource as time goes by (not least to me). So go have a look and let me know what you think. And hey, you never know: I may even, at some stage, get round to doing a paperback cover page as well...

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Anatomy of a Cover: I Would Rather Stay Poor by James Hadley Chase (Robert Hale, 1962); Val Biro Jacket Art and Roughs

As teased in yesterday's final Geoffrey Household post, today's post concerns the artist responsible for the dustjacket on that 1952 Michael Joseph edition of A Time to Kill – one Val Biro. I've mentioned Biro's work once or twice before, but recently I've been paying more attention to the books his artwork graces the jackets of, especially those which fall within the broad remit of Existential Ennui – crime fiction, spy fiction and so forth. Reason being, I had the great pleasure of meeting Mr. Biro just the other week, and consequently acquired two pieces of ephemera related to this book:

The UK first edition hardback of I Would Rather Stay Poor by James Hadley Chase, published by Robert Hale in 1962. Now, taken merely as a book, this is a fairly unremarkable item. It's one of umpteen crime thrillers that Chase – real name Rene Brabazon Raymond – wrote; witness the list of prior books opposite the title page:

Or indeed the comprehensive bibliography on this online tribute. It's a well-regarded but not especially notable entry in Chase's oeuvre, and it's not especially scarce in first edition either – at present AbeBooks has twenty copies listed. Mine came from Stort Books in Essex – whose blog can be found here – who kindly delivered the book in record time because they knew I was eager to blog about it. And the reason I was so eager to blog about it is because the dustjacket was, of course, designed by Val Biro – and I'd very recently come into possession of not one but two pieces of artwork related to that jacket.

Val, you see, is represented by children's book dealer David Schutte – Val having written and illustrated many kids' titles, notably the Gumdrop picture books – and was David's guest at the Midhurst Book, Postcard & Ephemera Fair in West Sussex earlier this month. Since I live not too far away in Lewes in East Sussex, I popped across to the Midhurst event – which, unlike many British book fairs, seems to be thriving, and had expanded into another two rooms since last I was there – and had a brief chat with Val. He kindly signed the jacket of one of the books from my collection (which he'd actually forgotten he'd designed; more on that in a future post) and I had a leaf through some of Val's jacket roughs – the quickly painted versions of book jackets that Val would show to publishers for approval before painting the final version. Most of these were for books by authors I was unfamiliar with, but David told me that he did have a handful of crime novel jacket roughs, and promised to bring what he had along to the following weekend's Lewes Book Fair.

You can probably guess where this is going, can't you? Yes, in amongst the selection of roughs David showed me at the Lewes Book Fair were a few James Hadley Chase jackets – and the best of the bunch, to my mind, were these:

As you can see, Val actually worked up a pair of roughs for I Would Rather Stay Poor. One is obviously quite close to the finished dustjacket, but the other one is interesting too – partly because it shows Val's thought processes when creating the cover, but also because two elements of this alternate version did make it onto the final jacket. If we take a look at the full printed jacket, including the spine:

We can see that instead of the figure of the man on the original rough's spine, Val has swapped in the bottle and the bundles of cash from the front of the alternate version.

For me, the 1950s and '60s were the high watermark of British book cover design, as illustrators like Peter Probyn, John Rowland, Donald Green, John Dugan, Roy Sanford, Denis McLoughlin, Patrick Gierth and of course Val Biro brought their considerable, hard-earned artistic skill and craftsmanship to bear on a succession of striking, vibrant, and most of all memorable dustjackets. Val's two roughs for I Would Rather Stay Poor afford a tantalising glimpse of the creative process behind a cover, of the choices these artists made and the techniques they deployed: chiaroscuro, restricted palettes, dynamic hand-cut lettering. Titles and author names weren't pasted on after the illustration was created, as they are today; they were painstakingly painted as part of the whole piece, intrinsic to the overall design. Certainly in Val's case – and this was a surprise to me – jacket artwork was worked up at the same size as the finished jacket, not done at a larger size and then scaled down. And on one of Val's roughs, we can even see the notes he made for the gouache pigments he intended to use:

Val painted hundreds upon hundreds of dustjackets over the years, for books by authors as varied as C. S. Forester (a number of the Hornblower novels, plus, in their Michael Joseph editions, Randall and the River of Time, 1951; Plain Murder, 1952; and The African Queen, 1953), J. B. Priestley (The Magicians, Heinemann, 1954), Evelyn Waugh (the Chapman & Hall editions of Men at Arms, 1952; Officers and Gentlemen, 1955; and The Ordeal of Gilbert Penfold, 1957) and Victor Canning (the Hodder & Stoughton editions of The Dragon Tree, 1958; The Burning Eye, 1960; A Delivery of Furies, 1961; and Black Flamingo, 1962). My two James Hadley Chase roughs were produced for a book which is, by comparison, a minor literary work, but even so: I like them a lot, and for the insight they provide into how dustjackets were created fifty years ago, they are, in a sense, invaluable.

I'll have much more from Val Biro down the line, but next on Existential Ennui, I was planning on revealing the winners of my Ilex Gift giveaway... but I think I'll be squeezing in a bonus missive ahead of that, in which, inspired by this post, I'll be unveiling a brand new permanent feature on EE...

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Sequel to A Rough Shoot: A Time to Kill by Geoffrey Household (Michael Joseph First Edition, 1952); Val Biro Cover Art

For this final Geoffrey Household post, here's a book which was published hot on the heels of the Household novel I last blogged about, A Rough Shoot – and even hotter, it would appear, in the States than in the UK, although it's the British first edition I'm showcasing here, for reasons – beyond its relative scarcity (there are currently nine British firsts on AbeBooks to the American first's fifty-plus copies, although many of the US ones are book club editions) – I'll come to shortly:

A Time to Kill was first published in hardback in the UK by Michael Joseph in 1952, and that's the edition you can see above. In America, however, the novel actually made its debut in 1951 – published by Little, Brown – the same year as A Rough Shoot, which it is, of course, a direct sequel to (the only other sequel in Household's backlist being Rogue Justice, the 1982 sequel to 1939's Rogue Male). As with its thrilling predecessor, A Time to Kill stars and is narrated by Roger Taine, the Dorset salesman and small game hunter who got mixed up in an international fascist plot in A Rough Shoot and who here finds himself plunged instead into a communist plot involving foot-and-mouth disease (communism and fascism being equally distasteful to Taine, as indeed they were to Household, who often described himself as a "romantic anarchist").

I've yet to read A Time to Kill, but spy novelist and spy fiction aficionado Jeremy Duns has, calling it (on Twitter) "excellent. Brutal in parts. Buchan with guts." Jeremy actually blogged about A Time to Kill (briefly) in this excellent post on Ian Fleming's Casino Royale and its influences, so I'd highly recommend giving that a whirl if you haven't already.

But why am I blogging about A Time to Kill when I haven't read the thing yet? (Not that that's ever stopped me in the past, but still – it's a fair question.) The reason, in this instance, is the splendid dustjacket of the Michael Joseph edition, which was designed by illustrator, artist and children's fiction writer Val Biro. I've mentioned Val in passing a couple of times before – in this post on Desmond Cory's Secret Ministry and this one on Rosalind Wade's Ladders – but I recently had the opportunity to meet Mr. Biro in the flesh, and subsequently acquired something very special from David Schutte, Val's art dealer. So while we may, for the moment, be done with Geoffrey Household, I do have a bonus post on Val Biro lined up next, in which I'll be detailing how and where I got to meet him, and showcasing that very special something... or rather, somethings...

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Book Review: A Rough Shoot by Geoffrey Household (Michael Joseph First Edition, 1951)

To round off this series on British writer Geoffrey Household – author, lest we forget, of Rogue Male – I have a pair of posts on two short novels written and published in quick succession in the early 1950s – one a sequel to the other, both detailing the espionage exploits of one Roger Taine. And the first of those two novels is this:

A Rough Shoot was first published in the UK in 1951 by Michael Joseph (and that same year in the US by Little, Brown), under a dustjacket designed by painter and illustrator Patrick Gierth (who also designed the jacket for the 1951 Joseph first of John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids). Originally written as a serial, it was penned in the wake of the two Middle East-set novels, Arabesque (1948) and The High Place (1950), which Household produced when he returned to writing fiction after World War II. (Following a stint in Romania for British Military Intelligence at the start of the war, Household served as a Field Security officer in the Middle East.) Neither novel matched the success of 1939's Rogue Male, however, and so, as Mike Ripley reports... 

...with no income and a new family to support, [Household] "plunged for pure speed and imagination, and produced a commercial thriller called A Rough Shoot in the hope of selling it for a serial in America" where it was indeed bought by the Saturday Evening Post. Although he at first opposed the idea of publishing the story as a book (its length is just over 40,000 words), he was persuaded, the film rights were snapped up and a sequel, A Time to Kill, rapidly followed with the result, as he wrote in 1957, "that I was typed as a thriller writer, and not a very good one at that." (Crime and Detective Stories #61, November 2011)

That last self-deprecatory remark must be taken with a healthy pinch of salt, as anyone who's read A Rough Shoot can attest: it is as pure a thriller as a person could wish for. The narrator is the aforementioned Roger Taine, a Dorset salesman who rents 450 acres of rough shooting from a local farmer, killing game "purely for the pot". One autumn evening Taine is out on the shoot when he spies two men who he takes to be commercial poachers. Taine decides to teach them a lesson, and so from a range of eighty yards lets one of them "have a charge of No. 5 shot in the seat of the pants". Unfortunately, the man falls on a strange broad spike he'd been laying on the ground, and is killed. The man's companion flees, and Taine is left with a corpse on his hands.

From there, the story takes on the trappings of a spy thriller, as Taine comes under suspicion by Robert Heyne-Hassingham, founder and leader of the People's Union, "a sort of Boys' Brigade for grown-ups, full of Ideals, Service and Religion", all of which quasi-fascism is anathema to Taine (and indeed to Household). Evidently it was one of Heyne-Hassingham's men that Taine inadvertently murdered, and before long Taine is enlisted by a Polish general named Peter Sandorski to thwart the fascist plot which quickly unfurls...

A Rough Shoot may have been written in haste for a cheque, but it's that very haste which lends the novel(la) its frantic pace. The story barrels along in a giddying fashion, barely pausing from incident to incident and all culminating in a mad dash for London by road and rail. But Household still finds time to paint a vivid picture of postwar English rural life. The author's persistent theme of the wild countryside as a place of refuge, so memorably depicted in Rogue Male when the anonymous hero-narrator – later named Raymond Ingelram – goes to ground in his burrow in Dorset, is evident here too: Taine clearly views his shoot as his haven – and woe betide anyone who disturbs it. But Household also includes wonderful, fleeting vignettes of country living, with all its peculiarities and idiosyncracies. Early on Taine lunches "at a remote pub overlooking the Blackmoor Vale, where the landlord, who was a friend of mine, always had something solid to eat which food controllers had never heard of. On this occasion it was a badger ham, and very good it was." 

A Rough Shoot is easily one of the most breathlessly exciting books I've read this year. But by all accounts the final book I'll be blogging about in this run of Geoffrey Household postsA Time to Kill, the direct sequel to A Rough Shoot (the only sequel, aside from the much later Rogue Justice, that Household wrote) – is just as exciting. And in the edition in which I'm showcasing it, it boasts a dustjacket designed by an artist and author I recently had the great pleasure to meet...

(Incidentally – and apropos of nothing; A Rough Shoot has no real bearing on this, beyond the fact that it's one of my favourite novels of the year so far – today is my birthday. Therefore, considering you didn't get a blog post on my birthday last year – merely a preview and review – think yourselves lucky you're getting one this year – and on a Sunday, too!)

Friday, 23 March 2012

Tales of Adventurers: Short Stories by Geoffrey Household (Michael Joseph First Edition, 1952)

Geoffrey Household is chiefly remembered these days for his novels – in particular his 1939 classic thriller Rogue Male – but he was also a prolific writer of short stories. He had seven collections of short stories published, many of which originally appeared in periodicals like The Atlantic Monthly and Argosy, but it was the second of those collections which, for Household, held a special significance.

Tales of Adventurers was published in hardback in 1952 by Little, Brown in the States and Michael Joseph in the UK – that's the Joseph edition you can see above. According to crime writer and critic Mike Ripley – who, of course, has resissued two of Household's novels under his Top Notch Thrillers imprint – of all the novels, novellas and short story collections Household published – thirty-six in total – the author "always maintained that the one book he wanted to be judged by was his anthology Tales of Adventurers".

It's remarkable, then, that the Little, Brown and Michael Joseph first editions remain the only printings of the book. The Little, Brown first is fairly easy to come by at present (if you're in the States) – AbeBooks currently has eleven copies listed for sale – but the Joseph first is extremely uncommon: I bought the only copy on AbeBooks, which means there are, right now, no copies available. (There are two copies listed on Amazon Marketplace, but I suspect they might be "phantom" listings, and they're very pricey anyway.) The dustjacket design is uncredited, but it reminds me a little of the (similarly uncredited) jacket for the 1955 Heinemann first edition of Grahame Greene's The Quiet American.

The stories in Tales of Adventurers run the gamut of themes and genres, from spy thrillers to historical romps, from the poignant to the comedic, from wartime vignettes to tales with a touch of the supernatural. I haven't read all of them yet – the book only turned up in the post the other day – but those I have read are utterly beguiling. The opening story, "First Blood", details the Mediterranean sea voyage of Mr. Avellion, a civilian businessman recruited by the British Board of Trade on the eve of World War II by dint of his supposed familiarity with Alexandria in Egypt. But Mr. Avellion, "pear-shaped" and with "a powerful nose sprouting blue-grey buds like a tree in winter", hadn't reckoned on the lack of alcohol on the long, overcrowded cruiser passage, and soon the crossing becomes for him a DTs-induced hallucinatory nightmare.

"Culture" takes place slightly later in the Second World War, and finds a Greek waiter shivering in a snowbound Albanian valley awaiting an attack on the Italian outpost above – an attack which climaxes with a surprising and strangely cheering exchange of polite pleasantries. "Woman in Love", meanwhile, deals with a rather colder war, in which a spymaster of Greek origin named Theotaki operating in Roumania is forced at short notice to enlist the aid of a female agent who's due to be married in Sweden, exhorting her to memorize Russian troop movements and pass on the information. But the woman, Alexia – codename D17 – is naturally preoccupied by her impending nuptials, leading to an oversight so potentially perilous it's almost funny.

One story, "The Picket Lines of Marton Hevessey", takes the form of a letter of reference, written to an American security official as a spirited defence of the extraordinary eponymous Hungarian who became a Jew to spite the Nazis, a Baron to vex the communists, and has now, in the wake of Senator McCarthy's accusations (although these are never directly referenced), been asked whether he was ever a Red. Needless to say, Hevessey's response is as trenchant as the exploits depicted in the letter would suggest. Another story, "The Pejemuller", is set in a Spanish fair ground, where two proud Basques enter into an argument with the Andalusian proprietor of a booth displaying what appears to be a live mermaid ("pejemuller" translating as "fish woman") – a disagreement which can only be resolved by an honourable act of vandalism and liberation.

Reading these stories, one begins to understand why Household held this collection in such high regard. The tales are populated by lightly sketched but wonderfully vivid and colourful characters, set in recognizable European locales – evidently informed by the widely-travelled Household's familiarity with them – and grounded in (largely) realistic events, yet laced with irony and a wry wit and told in an engrossing, absorbing fashion. One of the stories, "Brandy for the Parson", was even turned into a film in the year of publication, starring James Donald, Kenneth More, Jean Lodge and Charles Hawtrey. It's a wonderful comic fable, featuring a troop of minor crooks who disguise themselves as the in-training British Imperial Andean Exploration Society in order to explain the Exmoor ponies they're using to carry smuggled brandy into Dorset – a ruse that eventually takes on a life of its own.

The back of the jacket of this Michael Joseph edition features an assortment of notices for the two books which preceded Tales of Adventurers – both novels, one a sequel to the other – the only time, apart from the much later Rogue Justice, that Household ever wrote a sequel. And it's those two novels which will form the basis of the final pair of posts in this series on Household – both of them in rather lovely British editions...

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Geoffrey Household: The Sending (Michael Joseph, 1980), Summon the Bright Water (Joseph, 1981), and Ruminations on the Rural

Thus far in this ongoing run of posts I've been occasionally referring to Geoffrey Household as a thriller writer. But "thrillers" only goes some way towards describing the books and stories he wrote. Some aren't thrillers at all, but even those which fall within that loose term are often something else besides, and such is the case with the two books I'm showcasing in this post. Published in consecutive years just prior to 1982's Rogue Justice, one features occult elements, while the other details a quest for hidden golden treasure, but both revisit Household's abiding concern of the countryside as a place of escape, refuge, and indeed danger. And the first of those two books is this:

Published in hardback by Michael Joseph in the UK in 1980, with a jacket cover photo by Chris Yates – whose work as both a photographer and a professional angler (!) I explored in this earlier Geoffrey Household post and this P. M. Hubbard postThe Sending was Household's twenty-fourth novel, and like many of his books is written in the first-person. In this instance the narrative takes the form of a diary, that of the intriguingly named Alfgif Hollaston, "a government surveyor" and "mystic and painter" who returns to "the Somerset home of his ancestors" where he inherits a polecat named Meg who, it transpires, is a witch's familiar. All of which sounds very odd indeed – have a read of the jacket flap blurb below for more:

I bought this first edition in the excellent secondhand bookshop Dim and Distant in Heathfield, East Sussex, for the princely sum of four quid, and it's in very nice, near-pristine condition – with one or two curious exceptions. Here and there in the text someone has marked up in pencil typos:

Which makes me wonder if this copy is a file copy, marked up by a publisher for a prospective paperback printing, as was the case with this Simon & Schuster hardback of Ross Thomas's The Mordida Man. Either that, or its previous owner was a particularly over-zealous editor unable to leave his or her work behind of an evening.

The second of the two books I'm showing in this post was bought even closer to home – in A & Y Cumming in Lewes, to be precise, again for £4, which was even more of a bargain than The Sending, since copies of this one are in rather shorter supply:

Published again by Michael Joseph, this time in 1981, and once again featuring a Chris Yates cover photo, on the surface (hey!) Summon the Bright Water's plot appears more conventional than that of The Sending: the narrator, Piers Colet, travels to the Forest of Dean, and on a skin diving expedition in the River Severn is nearly drowned by his guide, Simeon Marrin, thereafter coming to suspect that there is treasure in the river. But of course there's more to it than that: Marrin is financing the "esoteric community" of which Colet is a guest in the Forest of Dean – and that community is "preparing its members for the collapse of urban civilisation by learning the simple crafts of the Dark Ages". As before, allow me to guide you to the jacket flap blurb for more details:

In common with a good many of Geoffrey Household's novels and stories, both The Sending and Summon the Bright Water are set in and deal with rural locations and life – a preoccupation Household shares with suspense writer P. M. Hubbard, although in Hubbard's case the countryside is often a much more hostile place. Not that Household romanticizes the English countryside: as crime writer and Top Notch Thrillers head honcho Mike Ripley points out in this 2011 Crime and Detective Stories article, despite not actually moving to the country until he was in his late forties, Household was "able to bring the reader closer to nature, albeit a nature very red in tooth and claw".

Mike continues: 

The central theme of most of his thrillers is the hunter and the hunted and many of his heroes are solitary ('Rogue'?) figures, almost cat-like animals with their scented 'runs' and burrows where they take cover from their enemies. In Household's world, ground is most efficiently covered on horseback and every dip in the landscape, every ditch, every hedge and every copse of trees is noted as a possible source of cover, camouflage or danger.

That affinity for the rural and sense of the wild as a place in which to seek refuge and respite is something I touched on in my 2010 review of Rogue Male (alongside Concrete Island and Ordinary Thunderstorms), and it's a theme I'll be returning to in a review of a similarly rustic Household novel later in this run of posts. But next, I'm turning to Geoffrey Household's short stories, and an early collection which Household always maintained was the book he wished to be judged by...

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Book Review: the Sequel to Rogue Male – Rogue Justice, by Geoffrey Household

From a 1939 British first edition (third impression) of thriller writer Geoffrey Household's third novel, Rogue Male, we move on in this series of Household posts to his third-from-final novel – a book which is, in fact, a direct sequel to that hands-down classic, but published over forty years later:

Rogue Justice originally appeared in 1982, published in the UK by Michael Joseph – I blogged about that edition back 2010. The cover seen above, however, isn't that edition; it's the Top Notch Thrillers reissue, published by Mike Ripley's imprint in 2011 – just one of many overlooked thrillers that Mike has brought back into print. And it's great that Rogue Justice is widely available again, because even though it doesn't scale the lofty literary/thriller heights of its illustrious forebear, it's an intriguing novel nonetheless.

For a start, whereas in Rogue Male the identity of the European dictator the narrator attempted to assassinate at the beginning of the novel was never revealed, in Rogue Justice it's plainly stated that it was indeed Adolf Hitler. Not a huge or especially startling revelation, I know, but remember that Rogue Male was written and first published in peacetime, so basing a character on Hitler was pretty daring, even if he wasn't named. But we don't just learn the identity of the dictator in Rogue Justice: we also learn the name of the narrator of both novels. In Rogue Male, we're given to understand that our protagonist is noble enough in heritage that he's well-known in Britain, but we aren't told his name. In Rogue Justice, his name is finally revealed: Raymond Ingelram. (Curiously, in his 1977 survey Who's Who in Spy Fiction, Donald McCormick calls the narrator of Rogue Male "Sir Robert Hunter" – influenced, no doubt, by the 1976 Peter O'Toole BBC TV adaptation – an error he then repeats for his 1990 follow-up, Spy Fiction: A Connoisseur's Guide, published eight years after Household had named his lead Raymond Ingelram!)

Rogue Male ended with Ingelram determining to take another crack at killing Hitler – whose thugs murdered Ingelram's one true love – having survived a perilous pursuit by agents of Nazi Germany, in particular the cunning and savage Major Quive-Smith (or von Lauen, to give him his true name). Rogue Justice picks up his story four years later in 1942, and finds Ingelram languishing in a Rostock prison cell. As he explains, he used Quive-Smith's Nicaraguan passport – issued under the name Don Ernesto Menendez Peraza – to try and inveigle himself into German society as a Nazi sympathizer, in the hope of getting close enough to Hitler to off the bugger, but was unmasked and banged up instead. But a fortuitous RAF raid destroys the gaol in which he's being held, and he makes his escape, dressed as his now-dead captor, Hauptmann Haase.

From there, the action ranges across Nazi-occupied Europe, as, realising that he'll never be able to assassinate Hitler, Ingelram embarks instead on a quest to exact a different sort of vengeance. Effectively, he turns himself into a one-man army, falling in with the occasional resistance or guerilla movement, attacking German troops where he can, notching up a steadily increasing number of kills. In that sense, then, Rogue Justice is less focused than Rogue Male. In the former novel, Ingelram's aim was simple: to evade the enemy agents on his tail. In Rogue Justice, however, he becomes by turns pursuee, then attacker, then pursuee again, with no real purpose beyond slaughtering as many Germans soldiers as he can (and perhaps returning home to England).

But while Rogue Justice lacks Rogue Male's elegantly streamlined plot and consequent escalating tension, it does work as a kind of wartime travelogue, offering glimpses of life in occupied Poland (Ingelram has a near-brush with Auschwitz), Slovakia, Romania and Greece. And Ingelram remains an agreeable companion: resourceful (his long experience as a hunter comes in very handy here), obviously aristocratic yet never patronising towards the many downtrodden locals he meet, his observations are often barbed with a sly, witty sarcasm (Mike Ripley has written about how in Rogue Justice Household "has perfected the cool, very British (English) attitude of self-deprecation when under fire"; see this excellent Crime and Detective Stories article on the TNT/Ostara website).

Quite apart from its intriguing revelations as to the identity of the narrator of the novel (and its predecessor) and his intended target, Rogue Justice is interesting bibliographically too. The gap of forty-three years between the publication of Rogue Male and Rogue Justice must surely rank as the longest between a novel and its sequel (written by the same author) in publishing history (don't just take my word for it: Mike Ripley reckons that's the case as well). Then there's the fact that Rogue Male gained a sequel at all: Geoffrey Household didn't, as a rule, write sequels, and only one other novel in his canon besides Rogue Male was awarded a follow-up – although in that case the length of time between the two books was considerably shorter.

I'll be returning to those two novels later in this run of Household posts, but next I'll be looking at the two novels which precede Rogue Justice in Household's backlist – both of which boast cover designs by the same photographer-turned-professional fisherman responsible for the jacket photo on the Michael Joseph edition of Rogue Justice...

Monday, 19 March 2012

Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household; 1939 Chatto & Windus First Edition, Services Library Wrapper, Enid Marx Cover Design

Well the entries for my splendid Ilex Gift giveaway are rolling in, so if you haven't done so already, make sure to email me via the link in that post to be in with a chance of winning all those classic comics Little Books, Journals and what have you. But back to business. And business for the foreseeable future will largely concern a British writer of thrillers, suspense novels and spy fiction (among other genres) who I've touched on a number of times previously...

Geoffrey Household (1900–1988) had twenty-eight novels and novellas, seven short story collections and one autobiography published in his lifetime, but his best known book is still his fourth – his third novel – and his first thriller (the previous two novels being a children's novella and a philosophical character study) – Rogue Male (1939). I've written about Rogue Male before, when I reviewed it alongside J. G. Ballard's Concrete Island and William Boyd's Ordinary Thunderstorms – both of which, in common with Household's novel, feature protagonists who find themselves cast adrift from society – back in 2010, eventually ranking it the fourth best book I read that year. But this elegantly written, exciting, engrossing, landmark novel has only risen in my estimations since then – I'd probably place it at number three in that chart these days, beaten only by John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Richard Stark's The Hunter – which is why, despite owning a 1949 Penguin paperback first printing of the book (in fact two copies), I bagged this more recently, from Addyman Books in Hay-on-Wye:

A 1939 Chatto & Windus UK hardback first edition. Now, this isn't the first printing of the novel; it is, in fact, the third impression, issued in the same year as the first and second impressions. True (British) first editions are extremely uncommon, and even more so in a dustjacket: there are currently just two copies of the true first on AbeBooks, both sans jacket, one for £300, the other for £450. Even secondhand book dealers of long experience, such as Any Amount of Books on London's Charing Cross Road, have never handled a jacketed copy of the book. But as you can see, this third impression does have a jacket – designed by noted painter and pattern-maker Enid Marx; Independent obituary here – although its design differs from that of the true first.

See, with the advent of the Second World War in 1939, Chatto & Windus reissued ten of their books as Services Library editions, all with suitably patriotic red, white and blue dustjackets (and possibly blue boards; my copy of Rogue Male has blue boards, as opposed to the original printing's black boards), intended for British servicemen (and women). There's a list of the Services Library books on the back of this edition of Rogue Male:

In the case of Rogue Male, I'm uncertain as to whether the novel went into the Services Library as of the second or third impression – I've never seen a picture of the second impression, let alone a copy for sale online – so I don't know if the third impression is the first appearance of the novel in the Services Library wrapper (the original wrapper shows the novel's nameless narrator lining up in his sights the equally nameless dictator – obviously intended to be Hitler – he's attempting to assassinate); if anyone owns a second impression – or indeed a first impression – and is perhaps willing to show their copy to the world, do please leave a comment below. But what I do know – or at least think I know; I could be wrong – is that the copy of Rogue Male seen in this post was the earliest jacketed printing of the Chatto & Windus first for sale online (until I bought it, that is): there is one other jacketed UK first on AbeBooks at present, but that's a fourth impression from 1941 (priced at eighty-odd quid, plus shipping from the States).

So it's a nice addition to my select Geoffrey Household collection – select, but growing, as we'll discover in this run of posts. Before we get to some of those other Household books, however – one or two of which are really quite special – I thought I'd post a review of a much later novel – one I've actually covered before (bibliographically – and bibliophiliacally – rather than critically): the 1982 sequel to Rogue Male, Rogue Justice...

Friday, 16 March 2012

Ilex Gift Giveaway! WIN! Classic Comics Journals, Postcard Books, Little Books and a Magnet Set!


It's giveaway time on Existential Ennui! Woo-hoo! And unlike the last competition I ran, where American readers could win Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy movie merchandise, this time the giveaway is open to all Existential Ennui readers across the globe: US, UK, European, Australian – you name it. (Go on: tell me where you're reading this post from in the comments; I dare you.) And even better, there's no daft question to answer!

I've got quite the haul of swag this time, too, all courtesy of Ilex Gift, the newly launched gift (er, obviously) line of Ilex Press, the Lewes-based publisher where I work. Shameless self-promotion? You betcha! But who cares when the prizes on offer are so numerous and splendorous.

Here's what you can win: 

THREE lucky readers will each receive:

6 x Little Books:

• Little Book of Vintage Romance 
Little Book of Vintage Sci-Fi 
Little Book of Vintage Combat 
Little Book of Vintage Crime 
Little Book of Vintage Sauciness 
Little Book of Vintage Horror
Each bijou book contains classic 1950s comic strips, original adverts, short stories and more besides, plus an introductory essay about the source material. (Counter pack not included, I'm afraid.)

2 x Journals:

Lovelorn Journal
Tales of Terror Journal
Featuring quirky quotes from '50s romance and horror comics on lined, gridded and blank paper, and a pocket in the back for keeping ephemera, souvenirs and letters.

2 x Postcard Books:

Lovelorn: 30 Postcards
Tales of Terror: 30 Postcards
Each of the 30 postcards – or rather, 60 postcards, seeing as there are two sets – sports a classic romance or horror comic book cover, with artist and publication info on the back, all wrapped in a fold-out die-cut cover.

1 x Magnet Pack:

Lovelorn: 16 Classic Romance Comic Magnets
Kitsch and kooky romance comic covers to slap on your fridge, plus a booklet revealing the stories behind the covers.

That all adds up to a not-to-be-sniffed-at £76 – or US$120 – worth of swag!

So how do you enter? Simple! Just email your name and address (or leave a comment on this post, although you'll still need to send your address in) using the subject line "I WANT TO WIN THE ILEX GIFT STUFF" to:

The competition closes Thursday 29 March at midnight EST – giving you just under two weeks to enter – with all entries going into Ilex Gift supremo Tim Pilcher's vintage RAF pilot's hat, from which the three winners will be drawn. And I'll be announcing those winners (barring mishaps) on Friday 30 March. Good luck! Oh, and the Ilex Gift range will be widely available online and at all fine book emporiums from next month, so follow the above links for more info.

Next on Existential Ennui: Geoffrey Household...