Friday 25 May 2012

Leonard Cooper's The Accomplices (Cresset Press, 1960; Hugh Walker Design) and Rosalind Wade's Ladders (Robert Hale, 1968; Val Biro Design) Join Beautiful British Book Covers

Well I couldn't very well leave the total at 53, now could I? I mean, what sort of a number is 53? Whereas 55, on the other hand...

Yes, having added three Desmond Cory dustjackets to Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s yesterday – the Johnny Fedora spy novels Dead Man Falling, Johnny Goes South and Undertow – I've now added a couple more wrappers, to bring the total up to 55. Both of those books are by authors who are largely overlooked these days: Rosalind Wade, who I wrote about back in 2010 (besides being an author herself she was the mother of thriller writer Gerald Seymour) when I found a signed first of her very scarce 1968 novel Ladders – the Val Biro-designed wrapper of which (rephotographed from its original appearance) you can see on the right – in a Lewes charity shop; and Leonard Cooper, the 1960 Cresset Press first edition of whose espionage novel The Accomplices can be seen above.

Cooper is remembered chiefly for his non-fiction these days – Kirkus have reviews up of two of his historical works, The Age of Wellington (Dodd, 1963/Macmillan, 1964) and Many Roads to Moscow (Hamish Hamilton/Coward McCann, 1968) – but he did write fiction besides, and The Accomplices is the second of only two mystery/suspense he wrote. I bought this copy – for £6, which struck me as a bargain, given that the only other copy currently available in the UK is going for £15 (the Cresset edition is the only printing of the book) – in Slightly Foxed on Gloucester Road (where I also bought Graham Lord's biography of Jeffrey Bernard). The fact that it's a spy novel obviously influenced my decision to buy it, and it also came with a little piece of publishing paraphernalia enclosed:

A review slip, which is precisely the kind of useless ephemera I always find fascinating. But it was the Hugh Walker-designed dustjacket that really caught my eye – a lovely example of that restricted-palette/high contrast/hand-cut-lettered style so prevalent in the '50s and '60s – see also Peter Rudland's wrapper for Anne Chamberlain's The Tall Dark Man, which I picked up in Slightly Foxed on the same visit, not to mention many others in the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design gallery.

And there'll be yet more beautiful book jackets joining the gallery next week – most likely a handful of covers wrapping first editions of P. M. Hubbard suspense novels, two of which have never been seen online before. Although, having said that, I'm off to see a book dealer acquaintance of mine at the weekend, so my plans may change...

Thursday 24 May 2012

Desmond Cory's Undertow (Frederick Muller, 1962) Joins Beautiful British Book Covers

For the final Desmond Cory post in this current run, let's take a look at a first edition of probably the best of the Johnny Fedora spy novels, sporting a strikingly typographical dustjacket which I've now stuck in my Beautiful British Book Jacket Design gallery (along with the jackets of Dead Man Falling and Johnny Goes South) – and the book in question is one I've actually blogged about before...

Published in hardback in the UK by Frederick Muller in 1962, Undertow is the twelfth book in the Johnny Fedora series, and the first book in what's known as the Feramontov Quintet – the five books which close out the Fedoras, all of which feature Johnny's Russian nemesis, Feramontov. Which, of course, we're all well aware of, as I covered the Feramontov Quintet extensively during my initial run of Cory posts in January, as part of which run I reviewed Undertow. (In fact I've reviewed it twice: I subsequently re-edited my Existential Ennui review of Undertow for the Shots crime fiction website.)

So why am I returning to Undertow now? Because back then, the closest I could get to a true first of the novel was a 1963 US edition, and nice though that is, it was the Muller edition I really wanted – partly because my personal preference as a book collector is for British first editions (especially when the author is British, as Cory is), partly because I'm mentally unbalanced, but also because I ranked Undertow as the third best book I read in 2011 (beaten only by Anthony Price's The Alamut Ambush and Dan J. Marlowe's The Name of the Game is Death).

Imagine my delight, then (and really, at this point, that shouldn't require too much imagination on your part), when just the other week I stumbled upon a copy of the Muller first of Undertow whilst browsing the Oxfam Books website, on sale for a tenner. The dustjacket – designed by Brian Russell – has a piece missing from the back, but other than that it's in pretty good nick, and considering there are only three copies of the Frederick Muller edition of Undertow currently listed on AbeBooks – one missing its jacket and the other two in New Zealand (and not in as good a condition as mine anyway) – was quite the bargain.

I'll have more on Desmond Cory down the line, notably two special items which will feature in another run of posts I have planned. But next on Existential Ennui... actually I haven't quite made up my mind as to what will be next on Existential Ennui: it might be P. M. Hubbard; it might be Patricia Highsmith; or it might be something else entirely...

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Johnny Goes South by Desmond Cory (Frederick Muller, 1959); Johnny Fedora #10, S. R. Boldero Cover Art

On to the second of three first editions of Desmond Cory's Johnny Fedora spy novels I've purchased in recent months. And while this one isn't quite as uncommon as Dead Man Falling, it's tough to find a first edition which isn't ex-library...

Johnny Goes South was first published in hardback in the UK by Frederick Muller in 1959, under a dustjacket designed by S. R. Boldero. Now, for a change, I don't need to do any digging on the jacket designer, because that redoubtable researcher of books-related stuff Steve Holland has a thorough biography of Stephen Richard Boldero over at Bear Alley, including a nice selection of the covers Boldero painted for the likes of Corgi, Pan and Pedigree. I will add, however, that, closer to the concerns of Existential Ennui, Boldero also designed the dustjacket for the Souvenir Press edition of Kinds of Love, Kinds of Death by Tucker Coe, alias Donald E. Westlake (as Steve notes, Boldero had a long association with Souvenir Press, among other assignments designing the wrapper for Peter O'Donnell's 1971 Modesty Blaise novel The Impossible Virgin), and that his jacket for Johnny Goes South will of course be making its way into my Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery when I'm done with these Desmond Cory posts.

The story this time finds Johnny Fedora, freelance operator-cum-assassin for British Intelligence, in the province of Amburu on the Argentine/Chilean border. Amburu has declared independence from Argentina, and Johnny is called on to ensure the survival of the rival to the self-declared "Fuhrer" of Amburu, copper king Pablo Tocino. There's an instructive review of Johnny Goes South over on the A. V. Club, in which Keith Phipps dwells at length on the pacing – or lack thereof – of the novel, a common complaint with Cory's Fedora books, and something I addressed in my review of the twelfth Fedora adventure, Undertow (1962). But unlike other reviewers, Phipps gets that Cory wasn't "concerned about pacing at all", and admits that the novel is "gripping in its own way".

As well as being the tenth Johnny Fedora outing, Johnny Goes South is the fourth book in a quartet of similarly titled works beginning with 1956's Johnny Goes North, all of which, in their Muller editions, sport a gloved hand holding a compass on the cover.

But there's also a link to the aforementioned Undertow, in that in Johnny Goes South, Johnny hooks up with Tocino's daughter, Adriana, and it's at Adriana's Spanish villa that he's staying (with Sebastian Trout) in Undertow.

There are fifteen copies of Johnny Goes South on AbeBooks at present, but only three of those are the Muller edition, and all three are ex-library. Mine was an inexpensive eBay win, which, considering firsts of the Fedoras don't come up on eBay that often, was a nice piece of luck. But the final Johnny Fedora first edition I'll be showcasing was an even luckier find, and even more gratifying, as it's perhaps the best of all the Fedora novels...

Tuesday 22 May 2012

Dead Man Falling by Desmond Cory (Frederick Muller, 1953); Johnny Fedora #3, A. H. Eisner Cover Art

After a very scarce 1956 Corgi paperback edition of Desmond Cory's 1955 standalone spy thriller The Phoenix Sings, let's move on in this latest run of Cory posts to the first of three first editions featuring the author's laid-back secret agent, Johnny Fedora:

Published in hardback in the UK by Frederick Muller in 1953 – the same year as another, rather more famous fictional secret agent, Ian Fleming's James Bond, made his literary debut (in Casino Royale, as if you didn't know) – Dead Man Falling is the third Johnny Fedora adventure (and the fifth Cory novel overall), following 1951's Secret Ministry and 1952's This Traitor, Death. The story sees Johnny venturing to the mountains of Austria on the trail of Hitler's personal bodyguard, Karl Mayer, "seeking for the missing Von Huysen diamonds" – which is why the novel picked up the alternative title of The Hitler Diamonds for its 1969 US Award paperback printing.

As with all of Cory's 1950s/early-1960s novels, Dead Man Falling is hard to come by in any edition (save the recently issued ebook edition, that is): there are currently only three copies of The Hitler Diamonds available on AbeBooks, all from American sellers, and one copy of the Muller hardback of Dead Man Falling, although that's sans-dustjacket, and the seller's based in New Zealand. Which, oddly enough, is where my copy came from: namely Gaslight Collectables in Burra, which looks like a charming shop to visit – or indeed to buy, as it's apparently up for sale. Hmm... I wonder if they have any other first editions that'll be of interest to me...?

There's no credit for the splendid dustjacket illustration – which will shortly be joining my Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery – but there is a signature at bottom right: Eisner. That's not, however, and before you go getting too excited (as I did, briefly), comics legend Will Eisner, but rather one A. H. Eisner, about whom I've been able to determine little in the way of biographical information, but a small amount of bibliographic detail: he illustrated jackets for, among others, Ursula Bloom's No Lady in the Cart (Convoy, 1949) and Chester Himes's Lonely Crusade (Falcon Press, 1950) and did interior illustrations for Ethel Mannin's So Tiberius (Jarrolds, 1954) and Florence Hightower's Dark Horse of Woodfield (Macdonald, 1964/Puffin, 1973). Judging by the style I'm guessing that Eisner also designed the attractive front endpaper map in Dead Man Falling:

The author blurb on the jacket back flap offers some intriguing insights regarding Desmond Cory: that he "lives in a welter of books, gramophone records and typewritten manuscripts, and claims that his stories are as untidy as he himself" – something I touched on in my review of the later Johnny Fedora novel, Undertow (1962) – and that "he composes straight on to the typewriter" and that, ghoulishly, "he really is very fond of blood". Meanwhile, over on Amazon, Jan Heart's Customer Review of Dead Man Falling notes Cory's "marvellous writing style" and the novel's "ingenious plot", and reveals that Jan decided to try the book as a result of seeing Undertow in a top ten books of 2011 list, as compiled by "influential critic of thriller novels... Existential Ennuie" (sic). Ah, the awesome power of influence I wielde (sic)...

Moving on, and next in this series of posts I'll be showcasing the final Johnny Fedora novel to be published in the 1950s – the fourth book in a quartet of similarly titled works which sent Johnny to every point of the compass...

Monday 21 May 2012

The Phoenix Sings by Desmond Cory (Corgi Paperback, 1956)

Having added a couple more Desmond Cory dustjackets to my Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s page (alongside eight other new additions, bringing the total up to fifty), I figured it was about time I returned to Mr. Cory and his Johnny Fedora spy novels, chiefly because I've tracked down some more hard-to-find Fedora first editions, which I'll be showcasing later in the week. Before we get to those, though, let's take a look at a non-Fedora novel:

This is the Corgi paperback edition of The Phoenix Sings (cover art uncredited), published in the UK in 1956, a year after the Frederick Muller hardback. A standalone work, it's the first-person account of Adam Vane, a down-on-his-luck former British intelligence operative in Antwerp, who is recruited by a shady associate to smuggle diamonds to Amsterdam, consequently finding himself caught up in a deadly game of espionage. The official Desmond Cory Website has a little more about the novel here, including the fact that it was turned into a movie, Mark of the Phoenix, in 1958, directed by Maclean Rogers.

I spotted this copy on eBay and managed to nab it for £1.20 (plus postage, obviously, which took the total up to a staggering £2.35), which was quite the bargain, not least because The Phoenix Sings is virtually impossible to find in any edition; there is currently one copy of the Muller hardback on AbeBooks, but it's lacking a dustjacket, and there are no copies for sale whatsoever on Amazon Marketplace. See, as I mentioned in my initial Desmond Cory post in January, although Cory's novels are slowly being turned into ebooks, physical copies of many of his books are in decidedly short supply – with the honourable exception of the later Johnny Fedora novel Undertow, which is available as a print-on-demand paperback (and ebook) courtesy of Mike Ripley's Top Notch Thrillers imprint.

Certainly the next Desmond Cory novel I'll be showcasing – a very early Johnny Fedora first edition, one of three Fedora firsts I'll be blogging about in quick succession – is extremely uncommon, so much so that I had to go all the way (electronically speaking) to New Zealand to secure a copy...