Thursday 19 July 2012

Further Beautiful British Book Covers: Alistair MacLean's Ice Station Zebra, Clement Richer's Ti-Coyo and His Shark, and Rosemary Timperley's A Dread of Burning

Before we get into those promised signed editions – and let me tell you I have all manner of intriguing signed books lined up, from non-fiction to fiction to graphic novels – I thought I'd take the opportunity to add some more covers to the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery. Almost all of the books in this batch were bought either in or near Lewes, with the exception of a lovely Val Biro wrapper, which was scanned and sent to me by Mike Ripley, who, you'll no doubt recall, kindly supplied a number of other splendid book jackets back in April.

Let's take a look at my most recent acquisition first:

A 1963 Collins hardback first edition/first impression of Alistair MacLean's Ice Station Zebra, which I found in the Lewes branch of Oxfam just the other day (note price sticker still affixed to back). I wrote about MacLean over three weeks ago, when I posted the first missive in my just-completed series on books which begat perhaps more famous films – that post being on Where Eagles Dare, the Ian Robertson-designed wrapper of which has also now joined the Beautiful British Book Jacket gallery. Ice Station Zebra was itself turned into a film – which I don't believe I've seen – directed by John Sturges, who himself cropped up at the end of the books-which-begat-perhaps-more-famous-films series in relation to The Eagle Has Landed (and who, as I mentioned then, also directed one of my favourite-ever films, Hour of the Gun). The jacket of the Collins edition was designed by John Heseltine, an artist and illustrator known for his royal portraits.

Then there's this book, which I came across in one of Lewes' many and varied antique shops:

Ti-Coyo and His Shark, by French writer Clement Richer, published by Rupert Hart-Davis in 1951. The jacket on this one was designed by Evadne Rowan, who also illustrated wrappers for James Leasor's The Monday Story and Nikolay Gogol's Dead Souls, among many other books. I haven't read Ti-Coyo yet, and I may not even keep it, but I liked the cover enough to put down a couple of quid so I could add it to the Beautiful British Book Jackets. There's a review of the novella on the Time Magazine site, the full version of which I can't access because I'm not a subscriber, but handily this copy of the book came with its own contemporaneous review enclosed, clipped from The Times:

I've also added to the gallery two dust jackets for Graham Greene novels: Lacey Everett's wrapper for the 1961 Heinemann first of A Burnt-Out Case – rephotographed from its original appearance as a Lewes Book Fair find back in January of last year – and the wrapper of the 1955 Heinemann first of The Quiet American, also rephotographed from its original appearance as a Lewes Bookshop Bargain in March of last year. The jacket design of the latter is uncredited, but it bears the signature BGS at bottom right of the front cover; I've not been able to determine who that is, so I've placed the wrapper with the designers whose surnames begin with "S", on the assumption that the "S" denotes a surname (if you know who BGS is/was, do please leave a comment). And of course there's this, courtesy of Mike Ripley:

Val Biro's exquisite wrapper for Rosemary Timperley's A Dread of Burning, published by James Barrie in 1956. Timperley's debut novel, this is really rather a scarce book: there's currently only one copy on AbeBooks, and that's lacking its dust jacket.

All of those, plus the S. R. Boldero jacket for Donald E. "Tucker Coe" Westlake's Kinds of Love, Kinds of Death that I added on Monday, bring the total number of covers on the page up to 80. And there are plenty more to come, both from Val Biro, from Westlake (two very nice, little-seen wrappers from his books), and from others besides. Before those, though, let's get stuck into the signed editions, with a book in which I personally had a hand, and which has just been nominated for a Harvey Award...

Wednesday 18 July 2012

The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins; the Original Novel (Collins, 1975): Book Review, Basis for the 1976 Movie

After an unscheduled but necessary Donald E. Westlake interlude (necessary because it allowed me to finish reading the novel I'm about to discuss), let's have the final book which begat a perhaps more famous film. And having begun this series of posts (over three weeks ago now) with a World War II-set a tale with an "Eagle" in its title of a daring raid by a squad of British (and one American) troops, I'm ending it with a World War II-set tale with an "Eagle" in its title of a daring raid by a squad of German (and one British) troops. Moreover, seeing as this is the grand finale of this series (for which I'm sure, by this point, we're all immensely grateful), I've managed to secure a copy of the first edition of the novel that's really quite remarkable...

First published in the UK by Collins in 1975 under a dust jacket illustrated by Barry Glynn, Jack Higgins's The Eagle Has Landed didn't have long to wait to be filmed: the eponymous movie adaptation, directed by John Sturges – the final film of his stellar directing career (highlights including The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, Gunfight at the OK Corral, and one of my favourite movies of all time, the sort-of-sequel to Gunfight, the excellent Hour of the Gun) – arrived in cinemas the following year, starring Michael Caine as Lieutenant-Colonel Kurt Steiner, Robert Duvall as Colonel Radl and Donald Sutherland as Liam Devlin.

Like Where Eagles Dare, The Eagle Has Landed is one of those terrific war films I'm always happy to watch when it pops up on telly on a Saturday afternoon. It's perfectly cast (Caine, Duvall and Sutherland all brilliantly personifying their respective characters – plus it's got Jenny Agutter in it, a woman who holds a special place in the hearts – and loins – of men of a certain age), nicely scripted (by Tom Mankiewicz), and of course solidly directed by Sturges. But the best thing about it is the story, and that's down to Higgins. With only minor differences – the removal of a character and subplot or two in the film – both book and movie follow the same trajectory: a plan is hatched by Himmler to either kidnap or kill British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who, the Germans learn from Joanna Grey, a spy living in the (fictional) Norfolk village of Studley Constable, will be staying with the local lord of the manor. Tasked with planning and carrying out this mission are Radl, Steiner – along with what remains of Steiner's paratroop assault group after having fought on the Eastern Front and then being assigned in disgrace (following a bust-up with the SS) to the Channel Islands – and Devlin, an IRA man resident in Berlin.

The planning actually takes up two-thirds of the novel, Higgins rattling through the final incursion into Studley Constable, its subsequent collapse after one of the German paratroopers rescues two kids who've fallen under the watermill, and consequent firefight with an American Ranger unit at a breathless pace. But both parts of the book are splendidly written – not especially stylishly, but populated with memorable, well-drawn characters and penned with the gusto of an author who knows he has a cracking yarn on his hands. That said, a yarn isn't how Higgins presents the tale: his Author's Note at the start claims that "at least fifty per cent of it is documented historical fact", while a framing device sees Higgins himself visiting Studley Constable in the then-present day, researching a magazine article and inadvertently uncovering Steiner's story.

Higgins wrote a belated sequel to The Eagle Has Landed, The Eagle Has Flown (1991), which apparently reveals that a protagonist who dies at the end of the original novel in fact didn't (I've got a copy on my shelves still waiting to be read); he also featured Liam Devlin in a handful of other novels. As for first editions of The Eagle Has Landed, those aren't exactly scarce – AbeBooks currently has around fifty listed – but my copy is unusual, in that it bears a signed Jack Higgins bookplate:

I know of only one other signed copy of The Eagle Has Landed in any edition – another Collins first, again bearing a bookplate, and offered by an American dealer for over £350, which is a hell of a lot more than I paid for mine.

And there'll be more signed editions on Existential Ennui shortly, after some further additions to Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s...

Monday 16 July 2012

Book Review: Kinds of Love, Kinds of Death (Mitch Tobin #1) by Tucker Coe, alias Donald E. Westlake (Souvenir Press, 1967)

NB: A version of this post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog.

Slight change of plan here: I had intended to blog about the final book which begat a perhaps more famous film to start the working week, but unfortunately I haven't finished reading the bloody thing yet; you'll have to hang on another day or so for that. Instead, while we wait, I thought I'd veer off-topic and take a look at a novel that I showcased as a Westlake Score all the way back in September 2010 – in its 1967 UK Souvenir Press first edition – but never got round to reviewing – or indeed showing off properly, as the photographs I took of the book back then were fairly awful. And having since established my Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery, and the jacket of this particular edition having been designed by an artist who's already in the gallery – S. R. Boldero – it struck me I could kill two birds with one stone... well actually, three: review the novel, add to the gallery, and fill an unexpected hole in Existential Ennui's schedule...

Originally published in the US in 1966, Kinds of Love, Kinds of Death was Donald E. Westlake's first novel under the alias of Tucker Coe, under which moniker he would go on to pen a further four books over the next five years or so. All star disgraced former cop Mitchell Tobin, who, as the series opens, has been off the force for six months following an illicit affair which led to the death of his partner. Mitch's wife, Kate, forgave him the affair (although he's unsure if his thirteen-year old son, Bill, has), but his former colleagues haven't forgiven him the death of his partner – and nor, for that matter has he forgiven himself, which is why he's spent six months doing virtually nothing other than, latterly, building a wall around his backyard.

So when a representative of New York mobster Ernie Rembek turns up at Mitch's house with a job offer, Mitch eventually – reluctantly – agrees – not because he has any interest in the job – which is to find out who within Rembek's organisation murdered Rembek's mistress – but because Kate thinks it will be good for him to do something other than build his wall. And so, attended by Roger Kerrigan – "an observer from the corporation", as Rembek puts it – Mitch sets about interviewing and eliminating suspects, in the process becoming a target for murder himself...

I must admit I was surprised by how good Kinds of Love, Kinds of Death is. Alongside the Parker novels – written, of course, under Westlake's rather better-known nom de plume of Richard Stark – I'd suggest that Kinds of Love is one of the best books Westlake wrote in the 1960s: a restrained yet quietly gripping murder mystery that's all the better for its sober, unshowy approach. Ordinarily my interest in mysteries is minimal – often as not I couldn't care less "whodunnit" – but Kinds of Love transcends its mystery trappings by dint of its fascinating take on mob life, which Westlake depicts as unrelentingly unglamorous. To take just one example, during an interview with one of the mobster suspects, Frank Donner, it arises that Donner and his wife have separate bedrooms, a detail that Mitch finds suspicious. But the explanation proves so mundane it becomes even more believable: Donner's wife admits with embarrassment that she snores.

For his part, Ernie Rembek is an unusual mob boss: he's intelligent and cultured, at one point referencing G. K. Chesterton in relation to overlooking background players in any investigation (a sly nod from Westlake to an influence, there). But each of the gangsters is well-drawn, Westlake-via-Tobin appraising each of them dispassionately – appraising everything dispassionately, in fact – deploying the occasional simile to add colour: noting how the glaring sun makes he and two other men lower their heads "like a trio of penitents", or describing a body, "its arms stretched out ahead of it", as "an acrobat still reaching for the trapeze".

Of course, Mitch's dispassion is a symptom of his lack of interest in pretty much everyone and everything – something that, conversely, serves to make him more interesting as a character – with the exception of his family and his wall, the latter of which he's back to building by the close of the novel. "Mitch, didn't it change anything?" Kate asks him of his investigation. "Change what?" is Tobin's blunt response, suggesting he has a long way yet to travel over the subsequent novels.

S. R. Boldero's wrapper for the Souvenir Press edition of Kinds of Love, Kinds of Death has now joined his one for Desmond Cory's Johnny Goes South in the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design gallery, taking the total number of covers up to 74. And I'll be adding another couple of Westlake dust jackets before too long, one of which, the British edition of the second Tucker Coe novel, I believe has never been seen online before. Next though: the final book which begat a perhaps more famous film...