Friday 16 November 2012

Operation Drumfire (Earl Drake #6) by Dan J. Marlowe (Gold Lion Hardback, 1973), Plus More Marlowe Lions

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

With that tedious custom domain name change update out the way, let's pick up the threads of the last-post-but-one, on the 1973 Gold Lion hardback edition of Richard Stark's Parker novel The Sour Lemon Score, which, you might recall, I acquired from book dealer to the stars (ahem) Jamie Sturgeon. Because as I mentioned in that post, that's not the only Gold Lion hardback I've bought off Jamie this year; I've taken two others off his hands besides, one of which looks like this:

A British hardback edition of Dan J. Marlowe's Operation Drumfire, published by Gold Lion in 1973, published that same year in paperback in the UK by Coronet, and originally published in paperback in the US by Fawcett/Gold Medal in 1972. I wrote about Marlowe earlier this year, in a series of posts on his 1960s/70s twelve-book crime-cum-spy series starring violent criminal-turned-secret agent Earl Drake (those posts also available on The Violent World of Parker), of which Operation Drumfire marks the halfway point. I haven't yet read this far in the series, but unlike other critics and commentators, who single out the, admittedly brilliant, opening one-two crime fiction punch that is The Name of the Game is Death and One Endless Hour, I actually rather like the ensuing espionage-leaning Drake adventures – those that I've tried, anyway. And I'm not alone: the excellent Spy Guys and Gals site has a lot of time for them as well.

All twelve of the Drake novels were published straight to paperback by Fawcett/Gold Medal in the States, and almost all of them were given the same treatment in the UK by Coronet. But Gold Lion also got in on the act in the UK, publishing the first six Drake adventures (out of sequence) in hardback across 1973, initially under illustrated wrappers, then under photographic ones. It was the only time the books ever appeared in hardcover, and consequently they've become rather scarce: as I write, AbeBooks has just five listed, four of those being Operation Breakthrough, the other being an ex-library copy of The Name of the Game is Death, which, despite being the first book in the series, was the last Drake that Gold Lion issued. I'd never even seen a copy of Operation Drumfire before I came across it whilst rifling through Jamie's boxes at his house, so I was dead pleased to find it – and it brings my Marlowe/Gold Lion collection up to four books.

I've no idea who the dust jacket illustrator of the Gold Lion edition of Operation Drumfire is, but it's not outside the realms of possibility that it's the same chap who illustrated the wrapper of The Sour Lemon Score and indeed Operation Breakthrough (see above), an individual whom Gold Lion appear to have kept fairly busy, at least in the first half of 1973 (their jackets as a whole becoming more photographic in nature in the back half of the year). The modus operandi of Gold Lion, who were only in business for, I think, three or four years, seems to have been reissuing American paperback originals in hardcover; their initial offerings, in 1972, were westerns, and Operation Drumfire was among the very first batch of crime fiction/thrillers they published, in March of 1973 (handily, Gold Lion books sport the month of publication on their dust jacket front flap). The other two books in that first batch can be seen on the back cover of Operation Drumfire:

Sadly, I don't yet own a copy of The Green Eagle Score (well, not the Gold Lion one, anyway; obviously I own one or two other editions of that particular novel)... but I do, thanks to Jamie Sturgeon, own the other spotlighted Gold Lion book, Edward S. Aarons's Assignment Black Viking, which I'll be turning to next, beginning a short series of posts on Aarons and his best-known creation...

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Lost (and Found) in Books: Latest on Existential Ennui's Custom Domain Name Migration and Search Engine Reputation

Briefly interrupting the Gold Lion hardback posts, just an update for those of you who've been following the saga of Existential Ennui's move from a "" URL to its own "" address – and yes, hard as it may be to believe, I know for a fact that some Existential Ennui readers are at least vaguely interested in this stuff.

A week-and-a-half ago I revealed that migrating to a new domain name had badly affected Existential Ennui's visibility in search engines basically, because EE had a new URL, it wasn't showing up in searches anymore – and asked that you all help out by clicking on your favourite EE posts. Well I'm pleased to be able to report that EE's search engine reputation is now slowly recovering: as I write, if you google "existential ennui", this blog is once again on the first page of results (although not yet the top hit, as it was previously) and under its new URL – a reliable indicator that things are moving in the right direction. More importantly than that, however – because the percentage of people googling "existential ennui" in order to wind up at an esoteric books blog is probably fairly low (and I realise here I'm opening up the can of worms marked, "Why did you call this blog Existential Ennui again...?") – individual posts are starting to move up the rankings when you google, say, Sarah Gainham, or P. M. Hubbard, or Desmond Cory, or Anthony Price – again sporting the new URL. So thank you to everyone who took the trouble to give us a damn good clicking.

Before we all go getting too excited, though – and I know how easy that can be when discussing SEO – often EE's posts on those authors don't start showing up until the second, third or fourth page – or even beyond – of results, where once they were all page one stars, so there's obviously still work to do – a supposition borne out by EE's behind-the-scenes stats, where I can see that traffic from searches is beginning to pick up again, but still isn't anywhere near pre-domain-switch levels. Again, what will help is some clickage on your part, either directly on posts via the EE Archive, or better yet via searches – for the aforementioned Gainham, Hubbard, Cory or Price, perhaps, or for Donald E. Westlake, or Patricia Highsmith, or any of the other authors or books I've written about that might be particular favourites of yours (check out Abiding Preoccupations in the right-hand column for a guide). As I mentioned last time, visibility is a big factor in Existential Ennui's raison d'etre (oo la la), and anything further you can do to help will be hugely appreciated.

On the two other URL migration matters I highlighted, the fleeting "two blogs" syndrome thankfully corrected itself; and with the aid of commenters Book Glutton, Chris (not sure which one) and a few other folk, I've managed to flesh out my Other Fine Blogs blogroll (at bottom of right-hand column), which, you'll recall, was stripped of its content during the switchover. I'm certain, however, that there are still blogs I originally had listed that I haven't yet reinstated, so do please, as before, let me know if you can think of any.

Incidentally, on much of the above, Nitecruzr's The Real Blogger Status proved invaluable in ironing out issues, as did Nitecruzr himself (thank you too, sir), who can usually be found haunting the Google Blogger forums.

Oh, and as an unrelated aside, I've also managed to get the new Twitter widget working (the widget offered by Blogger had stopped functioning); you should now be able to see my feed in the right-hand column below the Existential Ennui Facebook page widget. Whether or not it will continue to work is, I'm afraid, above my pay grade, but we'll see.

Right then. Back to the books...

All photos copyright © 2012 Rachel Day

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Westake Score: The Sour Lemon Score by Richard Stark (Gold Lion Hardback, 1973)

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

For the final Westlake Score from the 2012 London Paperback & Pulp Bookfair – although not, it almost (but not quite) goes without saying, and doubtless to the immense regret of all concerned, the final Westlake Score overall – here's a book which I showcased as part of a post in 2011 on perhaps the three scarcest, most collectible editions of any of Donald E. Westlake's written-as-Richard-Stark Parker crime novels...

Published by Gold Lion in the UK in 1973, this is the first hardback edition of the twelfth Parker novel, The Sour Lemon Score, originally published in paperback in 1969 by Gold Medal (no relation) in the US and Coronet in the UK. As I explained in that 2011 post – the cover images for which I borrowed from a friend of famed book dealer Jamie Sturgeon – for the most part, the initial twelve Parker novels, all of which were first published as paperback originals, didn't make it into hardback until the 1980s, when Allison & Busby in the UK picked up the rights (Parkers #13–16, i.e. Deadly Edge to Butcher's Moon, were published straight to hardcover by Random House in the States, and all of the Parkers from the second run – Comeback, Parker #17, onwards – were also published initially in hardcover). There were, however, three exceptions: The Split (alias The Seventh), The Green Eagle Score and The Sour Lemon Score, all of which Gold Lion issued in 1973 as hardcovers.

All three are very scarce and consequently highly sought-after by collectors, especially the latter two, which boast not-bad-at-all illustrated dust jackets (The Split has a photographic jacket). And to my mind The Sour Lemon Score is the best of the lot – which is why I got quite excited when Jamie Sturgeon dropped me a line to tell me he'd found a copy (in Australia, no less), and would bring it along to the Paperback & Pulp Bookfair for me. This being Jamie, his asking price was disgustingly reasonable (the cheapest copy available online at present is listed at £100, and Jamie wanted a hell of a lot less than that), even given that it's ex-library copy, although the only evidence of that is a few stamps; otherwise it's in pretty good nick.

The Sour Lemon Score is widely – and rightly – regarded as one of the greatest Parker novels, but for me the interesting thing about it is that it's one half of one of those curious miniseries-within-a-series Parker pairs, like Slayground and Butcher's Moon, or, from the second run of Parkers, Nobody Runs Forever and Dirty Money. There are threads left dangling at the end of The Sour Lemon Score that aren't resolved until the next-Parker-but-one, Plunder Squad; it's an odd, notable characteristic of the Parker series that Westlake/Stark would occasionally pen these direct sequels, and yet write a largely unrelated instalment in-between: Deadly Edge sandwiched between The Sour Lemon Score and Plunder Squad; Plunder Squad nestling between Slayground and Butcher's Moon. I guess it's all part of the intertextual (and metatextual) games Westlake liked to play, not only within his own novels but also with his friends'; witness the crossover between Plunder Squad and Joe Gores's Dead Skip, for instance. In any case, I'm a big, big fan of Plunder Squad – it's one of my personal favourites of the Parkers – so it's nice to own both the first hardback edition of that and now of The Sour Lemon Score as well.

Of course, the corollary of now owning the Gold Lion edition of The Sour Lemon Score is that I should, by all rights, sell my copy of the 1986 Allison & Busby hardback... except that that would leave a gaping hole in the collection, a state of affairs which is too disturbing even to contemplate...

As is standard with Gold Lion hardbacks, there's no dust jacket design credit on the jacket flaps; there's a signature on the artwork itself, but it's indecipherable. It looks to me, however, as if it may well be the same chap who illustrated not only the wrapper of the Gold Lion edition of The Green Eagle Score, but the next book I'll be blogging about. Because you see, The Sour Lemon Score isn't the only Gold Lion hardback I've acquired from Jamie Sturgeon of late...

Monday 12 November 2012

Westlake Score and Review: The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution by Donald E. Westlake (Ballantine Paperback, 1973)

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

Our next Westlake Score, which again came from the recent London Paperback & Pulp Bookfair, is that rarest of things in the Donald E. Westlake bibliography: a short story collection...

It's a 1973 first paperback printing of The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution (and Other Fictions), Westlake's debut anthology, published in the US by Ballantine in 1973, with a cover photo by Roger Phillips. First published in hardback by Random House in 1968, the bulk of the stories herein originally appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine in the 1960s – the first full decade of Westlake's professional writing carer – including the title story, a tale of a spousal murder that takes a turn for the farcical when, having successfully accomplished the deed, the exasperated husband narrator is beset by a seemingly endless procession of cold callers and door-to-door salesman.

Indeed, given that "The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution" (as in, the short) was actually written under Westlake's Richard Stark alias, it's interesting that it's closer in tone to a more comedic Dortmunder outing than a poker-faced Parker joint. A shade or two darker, perhaps, but then many of the stories in this collection straddle the divide between Westlake's hardboiled work and his capers. "You Put on Some Weight", for example, has the feel, tonally, if not of a Parker, then of a Killing Time or 361. Structurally, though, it follows the same template as the Dortmunders or the standalone capers, as an ex-con protagonist is continually frustrated in his efforts to get back to the criminal life he enjoyed before incarceration.

Westlake had well over a hundred short stories published in his lifetime (see the bibliography on the Donald E. Westlake website), but there have only been half a dozen or so collections of his shorts, two of those being character-specific (Levine, and the Dortmunder-featuring Thieves' Dozen). Although some of the stories in The Curious Facts Preceding My Execution later appeared in the 1999 Westlake anthology A Good Story and Other Stories, Curious Facts itself warranted just two editions: the original Random House one, and this paperback. There was no British edition, so it was nice to come across this copy, which was spotted in one of book dealer Jamie Sturgeon's boxes at the London Paperback & Pulp Bookfair by my friend from The Accidental Bookshop. Naturally I muscled – bulldozed might be more accurate – said friend aside and plonked down the two quid for it myself, but no such bullying tactics were required for the final Westlake Score from the fair – a scarce hardback edition of a Parker novel which Jamie brought along especially for me...