Friday 3 August 2012

Yet More Beautiful British Book Covers: Harry Carmichael's A Question of Time (a Lewes Book Bargain) and Alistair MacLean's H.M.S. Ulysses and The Golden Rendezvous

Before we get stuck in to the signed editions again, and having added another fabulous Denis McLoughlin dust jacket – this time wrapping the 1962 T. V. Boardman edition of Donald E. Westlake's 361 – to the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s page, I thought I'd update the Beautiful Book Jackets page further with a few more covers, bringing the total in the gallery up to 85. All of the books in this batch were published by Collins in the UK, and two of the wrappers were provided by crime writer and critic Mike Ripley, who's now contributed a creditable eight covers to the gallery (and whose latest "Getting Away With Murder" column for Shots is up now).

Let's take a look at my offering first, which I picked up just the other day in a Lewes charity shop:

A Question of Time by Harry Carmichael, published in hardback in the UK by Collins in 1958. I'm not familiar with Carmichael's work, but he had a heck of a lot of crime fiction published from 1951 to 1979, both under his Carmichael alias (his real name was Leopold Horace Ognall) and the nom de plume Hartley Howard – getting on for a hundred books in total. There's certainly a demand for Carmichael first editions: a copy of the Collins first of A Question of Time recently sold on eBay for over forty quid, which is rather more than the £3.95 I paid for my one. Mind you, the Collins edition appears to have been the only printing of the novel, so it's no wonder it's sought after by collectors.

The wrapper design is uncredited, but there's a signature at top right of the front cover: William Randell (I originally thought it was "Kandell", but book dealer and crime fiction aficionado Jamie Sturgeon put me right – thanks, Jamie!), who illustrated the wrappers for a run of Collins-published Carmichael novels from the mid-1950s onwards, among them Put Out That Star (1957), James Knowland: Deceased (1958) and, I believe, Of Unsound Mind (1962), which deploys a telephone receiver design device similar to that of A Question of Time. (The symbiotic relationship between writers and cover artists is a theme I'm planning on returning to next week.)

Turning to the two covers sent to me by Mike Ripley, and both of those are from Alistair MacLean novels, as it was my posts on Where Eagles Dare and Ice Station Zebra that inspired Mike to scan his MacLean jackets:

That's the 1955 Collins first of MacLean's debut novel, H.M.S. Ulysses, cover design by John Rose, and the 1962 Collins first of The Golden Rendezvous, cover design by John Heseltine. I already had Rose and Heseltine in the Beautiful British Book Jackets gallery, the former with his design for the 1960 Collins first of Geoffrey Jenkins's The Watering Place of Good Peace – which again was supplied by Mike – the latter with his design for the aforementioned Ice Station Zebra (Collins, 1963), but it's nice to be able to include a couple more.

Incidentally, veering off-topic momentarily, Mike mentioned that he's encountered problems commenting on Existential Ennui recently, something that a few other folk have said as well. I did, as a result, experiment with removing the captcha word recognition step for a day or two (still leaving comment approval on), but my email in-box started filling up with spam comments again, so I've re-enabled word recognition. Apologies if that means your comments go astray on occasion, but don't blame me, blame the annoying bastards attempting to advertise shoes and portrait oil paintings and electricians and, most bizarrely of all, the services of convicted felons. The mind boggles, it really does.

Anyway, it's back to the signed editions next, with an obscure science fiction first edition which I again found in a Lewes establishment...

Click here to visit Existential Ennui's Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s page.

Thursday 2 August 2012

Westlake Score and Review: 361 by Donald E. Westlake (T. V. Boardman, 1962); Denis McLoughlin Cover

NB: A version of this post also appears on The Violent World of Parker blog. Also featured as one of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

As anyone who's been following Existential Ennui for a while will know, I've been avidly collecting Donald E. Westlake first (and other) editions – both his "own-brand" books and his Richard Stark, Tucker Coe et al pseudonymous works – since 2010. It's got to the stage now where there are probably only a handful of Westlake novels I'm still keen to obtain in first edition or hardback, and that shortlist has shrunk even further with the acquisition of a book that was top of my list to get my greasy paws on in British first:

Published in hardback by T. V. Boardman in the UK in 1962 (the same year as the US Random House first edition), 361 was Westlake's third novel under his own name, following The Mercenaries (1960) and Killing Time (1961). (It was also his third crime novel, Westlake having infamously quit writing science fiction in favour of crime fiction in the early '60s – at least for a while.) There were a couple of reasons why I was especially keen to get hold of 361, and this edition in particular, which I bagged on eBay a matter of hours after it appeared as a "buy it now" auction. For one thing, I'd heard it was among the best of Westlake's early works – which it most definitely is; I'll return to that in a moment – and for another, this edition sports a dust jacket designed by one of the greatest artists ever to illustrate covers in the UK: Denis McLoughlin.

McLoughlin was a prolific comic book artist and illustrator, producing well over 500 dust jackets for British publisher T. V. Boardman alone. I've written about him before, notably in this post on the jackets he designed for the Westlake novels Boardman published from 1961 to 1967; his wrappers were typically striking and inventive, making intelligent use of restricted palette, chiaroscuro and bold typography. With the acquisition of the 1961 Boardman edition of The Mercenaries (signed and inscribed, no less) I blogged about as a Westlake Score in January, there were only two Boardman Westlakes left on my list. Now there's only one. (As luck would have it, no sooner had I procured my Boardman 361 than another one popped up on eBay, but while my copy is ex-library – although only with a scattering of stamps to indicate that – its jacket is in nicer nick than the other copy. Still, if you fancy your chances, the auction is, as I write, in progress.)

As for the novel itself, not only is it one of the best of the early Westlakes, but one of his finest novels full stop. Westlake would, of course, strike literary gold later in 1962 with the first Richard Stark/Parker book, The Hunter, but in many ways the groundwork for the Parker novels was laid here: stripped-back prose, short, staccato sentences, and a blunt, unglamorous depiction of violence and its consequences. There is, however, a crucial difference in style and approach: 361, like The Mercenaries and Killing Time before it, is written in the first person, narrated by a protagonist whose peculiar quirks and idiosyncrasies give the novel its distinctive character and flavour.

Ray Kelly is that lead, newly discharged from the Air Force as the story opens and on his way to New York to meet his father. Ray's dad is inexplicably nervous when the two meet up, but Ray doesn't dwell on his anxiety – until the next day, when, as they're driving out of New York heading for their home town, a tan-and-cream Chrysler pulls alongside their Oldsmobile and a guy in the Chrysler sticks his hand out the window and starts shooting at them. A month later Ray wakes up in hospital having lost an eye and, his brother Bill informs him, his father. Shortly after that, Bill stops visiting Ray, and Ray is told by a nurse that Bill's wife has been killed in a hit-and-run.

Thereafter, Ray enlists Bill's aid in trying to find out why their dad – and seemingly Bill's wife – was murdered, in the process uncovering their old man's murky past as a mob lawyer. But it's Ray's reaction to the news of the death of Bill's missus that gives the earliest indication of what an oddball character he is: "'Oh,' I said. 'I never met her.'" He's a weird, detached, fascinating creation, even more twisted in his own way than the succession of shady types and gangsters he encounters in his quest for justice and the truth. At one point, whilst attempting to extract information from a frail pensioner, he bows his head, removes his glass eye, and looks up again, uttering the words, "I can see your soul this way. It's black." Following this gruesome piece of theatre, the old feller becomes the first of the bodies on Ray's hands.

But Ray's also disarmingly funny at times – like Parker, he gets irritated by people who take their time getting to the point, and some of his his sarcastic put-downs are priceless – not to mention strangely philosophical; attending a funeral, he narrates: 

So Saturday six hired pallbearers carried the coffin from the funeral home. There was no stop at a church for the suicide; he went straight out of town to a clipped green hill with a view of Lake Champlain, and into a hole which no priest had blessed with holy water. He would have to make do with God's rain.

When he's not offering philosophical bon mots, Ray rages around New York and the surrounding area leaving a trail of carnage in his wake. Halfway through the novel comes an explanation for his mean streak, and then an additional trauma that he accepts with his by-now expected stolidness, after which he does his best to embrace the badness within him. That he can't quite – not all the way, anyway – could be taken as an argument for nurture over nature, but it doesn't stop him meting out a furious vengeance on the man who brought such destruction on his life.

361 is a blistering, raw, visceral novel – part Peter Rabe, part Jim Thompson, but mostly just pure Westlake – and a big step up from both The Mercenaries and Killing Time, good though those books are. And speaking of Killing Time, having now reviewed The Mercenaries and 361, I reckon it's about time I reviewed the book which nestles in-between those two novels, so look out for that next week. In the meantime, the splendid Denis McLoughlin jacket for the Boardman edition of 361 has now joined his others in that Westlake/Boardman post and in the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s gallery – and I have a bunch more McLoughlin dust jackets (of the non-Westlake variety) waiting in the wings, all of them wrapping spy novels, of which Boardman published a scattering in amongst their more traditional crime fiction. 

But I've a number of other dust jackets to add to the gallery ahead of those, some of which, before we return to the signed editions, I'll be unveiling in the next post...

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd (Bloomsbury, 2012): Signed First Edition, plus Boyd and Bond

From a signed political memoir sent to me as a gift by my friend and fellow blogger Book Glutton, next in this series of posts on signed editions, a book which may well be of interest to Book Glutton, by an author who's currently writing a Bond novel...

This is the British first edition/first impression of William Boyd's Waiting for Sunrise, published by Bloomsbury earlier this year. Boyd's eleventh novel, the reason this particular copy might be of interest to Book Glutton is because BG is a big fan of Boyd's work, and so he'll hopefully appreciate this:

The author's signature on the title page. I bought this copy on publication from Firsts in Print, but I must admit I haven't yet read it – in fact I've still only read one William Boyd novel: his 2009 thriller Ordinary Thunderstorms, which I liked a lot. I did, however, find a cheap first of his 2006 spy novel Restless in Bookworms in Shoreham the other week, so I'm more likely to try that ahead of Waiting for Sunrise, even though the latter does apparently feature elements of espionage. (Book Glutton, if you're reading this, and if you've read Waiting for Sunrise, do please share your thoughts on it in the comments.)

Speaking of espionage, in April of this year William Boyd was announced as the writer of the next official James Bond novel, following in the footsteps of Sebastian Faulks and Jeffery Deaver. Book Glutton expressed his disappointment at the news in this post, reasoning that Boyd writing a new Bond novel meant that he wouldn't be writing a new Boyd novel, but I'm actually cautiously optimistic, as Boyd's Bond book, unlike Deaver's (Carte Blanche, 2011, which I didn't get on with at all), will be period, i.e. set in 1969, which would place it just post-Colonel Sun, Kingsley Amis's rather good 1968 pseudonymous contribution to the Bond literary canon. Even more promisingly, Boyd cites perhaps the best of Ian Fleming's original novels, From Russia, with Love, as his favourite Bond novel. Given that Ian Fleming Publications seem intent on adding to the literary Bond's adventures, Boyd strikes me as an interesting choice to pen a Bond novel, particularly one that's set to be published in 2013, the sixtieth anniversary of Bond's debut in Casino Royale.

And of course before that, there's this:

Anyway, enough of all this Bonding. There'll be more signed editions soon, many of them by authors who are firm favourites here on Existential Ennui. Ahead of those, though: a Westlake Score-and-review...

Tuesday 31 July 2012

In My Time by Dick Cheney, with Liz Cheney (Threshold, 2011): Signed First Edition

Let's crack on with the signed editions from my bookshelves, shall we? And this next signed book was actually sent to me by a friend and fellow blogger, who went above and beyond the call of duty to obtain the John Hancock in question...

This is the American first edition/first impression of former US Vice President Dick Cheney's memoir, In My Time, published by Threshold in 2011. It was a gift from Book Glutton, who, having read my series of posts on political diaries in September of last year, knew I had an interest in political autobiographies (and who probably wondered if I'd ever get round to blogging about the book, ingrate that I am; he sent it to me in November). Even given that my politics and the Vice President's are poles apart (on most things, at least – although that hasn't stopped me reading and enjoying political tomes in the past), I was still dead chuffed to receive this copy of In My Time, especially so in light of this:

Dick Cheney's signature on the title page (with Book Glutton's accompanying post-it note on the blank verso). There aren't that many signed copies of the memoir available: AbeBooks currently has fewer than ten, all of them in the States, and the majority of them being the Threshold limited-to-5,000-copies cased edition. My copy isn't one of those, however; it's the standard first edition, and was signed by the Vice President at Book Glutton's place of work.

BG, you see, works with, and is friendly with, Liz Cheney, the VP's daughter, and co-writer of In My Time. In the wake of the VP's book tour, BG spent quite a while trying to coordinate handing over a signed copy or two, but the stars never aligned. So eventually Liz frogmarched her father over to hers and BG's office to sign the books there, which BG was as astonished by as I was: as he told me, "One does not summon a Vice President to have him sign a book". The kicker being, BG wasn't in the office when the VP visited, and so missed meeting him. Gah!

Still, at least both he and I now have signed firsts, and it was very kind of BG, Liz and indeed the Vice President to make that happen; I'll certainly treasure my copy. And Book Glutton may well be interested in the next signed edition I'll be showcasing, as it's a novel by an author he's a big fan of...

Monday 30 July 2012

Point Blank by Richard Stark (Allison & Busby, 2001): Double-Signed Edition

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

This week I'll have another selection of signed books for you to gaze upon (or possibly ignore, depending on your mood) – both fiction and non-fiction – along with another Westlake Score-and-review, this one even more exciting than last week's (well, to me, anyway). But before we get stuck into all that, and since we're on the subject of signed editions, here's a quick plug for a friend of mine's in-progress eBay auction. The book under the hammer isn't, as editions go, especially notable:

A 2001 Allison & Busby paperback of Point Blank (originally titled The Hunter) by Richard Stark, alias, of course, Donald E. Westlake. But what's remarkable about this particular copy are the signatures within:

It bears the John Hancocks of both Westlake and the director of the Lee Marvin-starring movie adaptation of Point Blank, John Boorman, making it, to my knowledge, the only item – book or otherwise – currently for sale online bearing both their signatures.

You can read how my friend came into possession of the book on his excellent blog, The Accidental Bookshop – and no, before you ask, I don't have any kind of stake in the eBay auction; I'd be bidding myself if I didn't already own far too many signed Westlake novels. (I will, however, be eBaying some of my books – Westlake and non-Westlake – down the line sometime, at which point I will be plugging the living bejeezus out of the buggers.)

Right then: back to my signed editions...