Friday 9 November 2012

Westlake Score: The Score by Richard Stark; US Pocket Books First Edition / Printing, 1964; Harry Bennett Cover Art

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

Let's return to the books I bought at the recent London Paperback & Pulp Bookfair, the majority of which were decidedly Donald E. Westlake-shaped – this one being a case in point:

A US first edition/first printing of The Score, Westlake's fifth novel under the Richard Stark alias – and therefore the fifth to star cold-blooded career criminal Parker – published in paperback by Pocket Books in July of 1964. For American collectors this will be an unremarkable item: AbeBooks, for example, lists over thirty copies of this edition from US sellers. But it's rare to come across a copy here in the UK; in the three years I've been collecting Westlake and Parker, I don't think I've ever seen a Pocket printing pop up on eBay, and I've certainly never seen one in a bookshop or at a book fair, even previous London Paperback & Pulp ones. I acquired this copy from one of the dealers at the fair, David Hyman (whose blog can be found here), for a fiver – a very good price which, I feel, helps to abrogate the fact that I already own the novel in four other editions: an Allison & Busby hardback and Coronet, Berkley and Avon paperbacks.

The cover artist is, of course, Harry Bennett, who illustrated the covers of all eight of the Parkers published by Pocket, from The Hunter (1962) to The Handle (1966). I waxed lyrical about Harry's artwork two years ago; that post also boasts comments from Harry's son, Tom, and daughter, Deborah, so it's well worth reading if you haven't already. Much as I admire Harry's work, however, of all his Parker covers, I think The Score is perhaps the one I was least taken with, at least when I wrote that post. The crew in the cab of the truck – Grofield, Mary, Salsa and Wycza, making their escape from the decimated Copper Canyon – looked too comedic to me, like they belonged in a Dortmunder story rather than a Parker tale. But viewed in the flesh – or, perhaps more accurately, in the pulp – the cover comes into its own. Bennett imbues each face with real character, and I love the little sgraffito touches around the painting – above the truck's numberplate and on the headlamps, and down its right edge.

So, that leaves two remaining Westlake Scores from my London Paperback & Pulp Bookfair haul: one softcover, and one very special hardcover...

Thursday 8 November 2012

The Volcanoes of San Domingo by Adam Hall (Author of the Quiller Spy Series); Collins, 1963, Original Cover Art by Bryan Lubrani

NB: Featured as one of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

On to the second of two posts on Adam Hall – the Quiller spy thriller-writing alias of Elleston Trevor – memorabilia. And having showcased some of the items that Trevor's son, JP, has for sale, I thought I'd showcase my own Adam Hall item – which, before you ask, is most definitely not for sale, and which is related to this:

The British first edition of The Volcanoes of San Domingo, published by Collins in 1963. This is the first book Trevor wrote under the Hall nom de plume, before deploying the moniker, from 1965 to 1996, to pen the nineteen books which comprise the series starring secret agent Quiller. The Volcanoes of San Domingo has nothing to do with Quiller, however, at least in terms of plot: it's a standalone thriller set in the fictional South American country of Aguador, where Transocean Airlines head of London station Paul Rayner is sent to investigate the circumstances of a TOA airliner crash off the coast of the capital of Aguador, San Domingo, and how the captain of the plane has been spotted in the country when all on board were reportedly killed. Stylistically, though, despite being written in the third person rather than the Quiller novels' first, it's clearly cut from the same cloth. Though the locale is fictional, Hall's evocative description brings the place to sweltering, sticky life, and certain phrases and action sequences presage Quiller: a couple of appearances of Quiller catchphrase "no go", for example, or a tense knife fight narratively deconstructed – slowed down and broken down into its bruising, bloody constituent parts.

The jacket design of the Collins edition is credited to Bryan Lubrani, who also painted covers – usually credited as Brian rather than Bryan – for books by Charles Kearey, Mary Scott and Chester Alan. He's virtually forgotten these days, but even so, he was the main reason (the other one being I've enjoyed the Quillers I've read and was intrigued to find out what the first Adam Hall novel was like) I decided to hunt down a copy of The Volcanoes of San Domingo. Or rather, trying to learn his name was the main reason – because I'd come into possession of this:

The original artwork for the jacket, which I acquired from David Schutte. Painted in acrylic – or possibly poster paint – on board at a surprising four or five times the size of the printed version, it lacks the front cover and spine text, which was obviously added by a designer at Collins. But it also lacks a signature or any other kind of credit; the pencil writing at the bottom lists the book's title, author, publisher and year, but not the artist; while the label on the back:

lists almost everything under the sun other than the identity of the illustrator. David Schutte didn't know who the artist was, and I couldn't find the information online either. The only thing for it, then, was to try and locate a copy of the Collins edition and hope that it carried a cover credit on the jacket flap. Unfortunately, finding a cheapish, decent-ish copy – not ex-library, in other words – with a dust jacket in the UK wasn't as straightforward as I'd hoped, and I actually ended up asking JP Trevor if he had a copy he could check for me (he didn't). But in the end I found one, and Bryan Lubrani was credited on the front flap. Phew. Mystery solved.

Even though Mr. Lubrani isn't exactly the most well-remembered of cover artists, I still like this piece a lot; it's now framed and hanging on a wall at home. Is it the greatest cover ever created? Not by a long chalk; the likes of Val Biro and Denis McLoughlin were creating more striking dust jacket art around this same period (see the Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s permanent page for examples by those and other artists). But it is nicely painted, and it's significant, in that it illustrates the first book Elleston Trevor wrote as Hall. Moreover, it's representative of the way covers were created back then – partly the materials used and the time taken, but also, and more vitally, the way that, much as Biro and McLoughlin did with the novels they designed wrappers for, Bryan Lubrani evidently read The Volcanoes of San Domingo. That's plainly Paul Rayner on the front of the jacket, nursing the injury he receives whilst shark fishing early in the story – a scene depicted in blue in the bottom right corner – while the blade-wielding boy on the spine is Paul's "Levantine" opponent in the knife fight two-thirds of the way into the novel.

These days, cover designers rarely get to read the novels they create the covers for; indeed they're lucky if they even get a brief synopsis, which is part of the reason why we see so many formulaic Photoshopped image library covers – other reasons being it's cheaper to design covers that way, and marketing departments seem unable to disabuse themselves of the restricting notion that certain covers should look a certain way – i.e. a man running into the distance on an urban street for thrillers, or foggy, "found", arty photographs on literary works. That such an, in its day, essentially un-extraordinary cover as Lubrani's should seem so extraordinary by comparison is, for me, very telling. It reminds us – reminds me, anyway – of what we've lost, I think. Not necessarily hand-painted and -lettered covers and jackets – although more of those would be welcome (and the odd individual, such as Lewes-based designer Neil Gower, is doing their best to keep that tradition alive) – or covers that explicitly illustrate particular scenes from a novel; but covers conceived and created by talented artists and designers, not sales and marketing departments; covers where those artists and designers have been granted the opportunity to read the book before making its cover.

I suppose some designers may baulk at that arduous task. To them I say: if an author has given over a year (or more) towards writing a book, the least you can do is spend a few days reading the damn thing. Ultimately, lovingly designed covers will be to the benefit of those of us who'd like to see the physical book not only survive, but flourish. (And how much more desirable is that in the wake of the woman whose Kindle was wiped – and yes, eventually restored, but that's beside the point – by Amazon?) If that is to happen, there has to be a reason for it to happen, and it strikes me that beautiful design – along with great production and printing and binding – is as good a reason as any.

So then. Campaign for Proper Cover Design, anyone?

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Quillerbilia: Exclusive Look at Adam Hall / Elleston Trevor / Quiller Memorabilia for Sale

I've a couple of posts on Adam Hall – alias Elleston Trevor, thriller writer and, under the Hall alias, creator of the Quiller spy series – planned for this week, both of them to do with memorabilia. I'll be unveiling my personal piece of Hall ephemera later in the week, but first: earlier this year, quite out of the blue, I was surprised and delighted to receive an email from Elleston Trevor's son, JP Trevor. JP had spotted one of my posts on Hall/Quiller – my review of the second Quiller outing, The Ninth Directive, I believe, which I own in signed first – and wondered if I might know of a good place online to sell a number of Hall/Quiller items: books, posters, cuttings, photos; notes for the final Quiller book, Quiller Balalaika, which JP helped his dying father finish; even memorabilia related to the 1966 big screen Quiller adaptation, The Quiller Memorandum, and the 1965 film version of Trevor's novel The Flight of the Phoenix.

I told JP I'd ask around on his behalf, but also offered to post something myself on the items. JP agreed, and so I'm pleased to be able to present below the full list of pieces for sale. It's an extraordinary collection of Adam Hall memorabilia – Quillerbilia, if you will (or even memoraquillera... no, perhaps not) – and this is the first time any of it has been seen online; the photographs scattered about this post were kindly taken by JP especially for me, which makes them something of an Existential Ennui exclusive. Anyone interested in any of the pieces or seeking more information can contact me on the Existential Ennui email address, and I'll be sure to forward all inquiries and questions to JP.
















ELLESTON TREVOR'S PERSONAL COPY OF THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX SHOOTING SCRIPT: a one-off edition made by Twentieth Century Fox for Elleston Trevor, plus sixty-four black-and-white photographs taken by Trevor on location in Arizona, and A4 cast photos, nine of them – including James Stewart and Richard Attenborough – signed.

Sunday 4 November 2012

An Existential Ennui Appeal: Give Us a Click

Quick(ish) update to the announcement the other week about Existential Ennui having moved from a "" domain to a custom "" domain: one consequence that I didn't foresee, and therefore didn't mention in that post, was that the migration of EE from one URL to another would end up having a massive, negative impact on the site's Google rankings. Heretofore, if you keyed in the search term "existential ennui", EE would be the top hit. Right now, however, that's no longer the case: as I type, EE is nowhere to be seen (other than, bizarrely, the mobile version of the blog; don't ask me what that's all about) in the results when you deploy that search term, and other phrases that used to produce results which led directly to EE – "Anthony Price", say, or "P. M. Hubbard", or "Sarah Gainham", and so forth – are no longer bringing up links to here.

To be honest I'm not actually sure what can be done about this; the old links no longer have the same URLs, so I guess it'll simply take a while for old posts to receive enough hits at their new URLs to show up in the rankings again. But rather than let matters lie and hope for the best, it strikes me one thing I could do – or rather, you could do, if you feel so inclined – is to click on the masthead at the top of the blog or on some of the posts in the Existential Ennui Archive in the right-hand column. Doesn't matter which ones: pick a few favourites, maybe, or better still ones you haven't read before, and go and click the living bejeezus out of them. I have no idea if that will help, but I suppose at the very least it couldn't hurt.

This isn't mere vanity on my part, by the way (well, not entirely): the purpose, or perhaps point, of Existential Ennui, as has become gradually clearer over the past few years (to me as much as to anyone), is to be a repository of hopefully entertaining, amusing and diverting information about relatively obscure books and their publishing histories, and if no one can find that information, then the whole enterprise becomes essentially redundant. So, if you wouldn't mind: go, click. Click on the masthead, click on the posts... hell, click on Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s: that one's always worth another look. And thank you in advance for your time.