Friday 14 December 2012

Travis McGee in A Purple Place for Dying by John D. MacDonald: Gold Medal First Printing, 1964; Ronnie Lesser Cover Art

As a wee McGee bonus post in the wake of those Pan paperback editions of John D. MacDonald's first two Travis McGee mystery novels – The Deep Blue Goodbye and Nightmare in Pink – I thought I'd show you another McGee I stumbled upon only very recently:

A Purple Place for Dying, the third of MacDonald's twenty-one books starring retriever of lost (or stolen) stuff, Travis McGee. This copy is the original 1964 Fawcett/Gold Medal paperback edition, which I found in the basement of a Cecil Court secondhand bookshop during a recent sojourn to London, and managed to secure for a hell of a lot less than it's probably worth. Because you see, it's the first printing as well as the first edition, as evidenced by the 40 cent cover price and the presence on the copyright page of the Gold Medal serial number #K1417 (without two dots, which would indicate a second printing):

Considering the Gold Medal edition went through something like twenty-five printings over the next twenty years, to chance across a genuine first printing in a British secondhand bookshop was quite something.

Remarkably, The Deep Blue Good-by (to give it its US title), Nightmare in Pink, A Purple Place for Dying and the next McGee, The Quick Red Fox, were all published by Gold Medal in 1964, with the first three appearing at the rate of one a month. All four – and a handful of later McGees – boast rather lovely cover art by Ronnie Lesser, further examples of whose work can be found on Pulp Covers. And while we're linking, might I direct you to John D. MacDonald Covers, the mission statement of which is: "To create a comprehensive collection of John D. MacDonald bookcovers in one place for the use of collectors, readers, or compulsive completists (you know who you are)." An admirable aim, and yes: we do indeed know who we are.

And I'm staying with Gold Medal for the final paperback post of the year (there'll be further paperbacks next year, but I have the traditional Existential Ennui end-of-year round-up posts to deal with before then), on two early '60s spy novels...

Thursday 13 December 2012

Travis McGee in The Deep Blue Goodbye and Nightmare in Pink by John D. MacDonald (Pan Paperbacks, 1968)

NB: A version of this post also appears on The Violent World of Parker. Featured as part of this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

Next in this series of posts on vintage softcovers, a pair of paperbacks I was basically badgered into buying by one of the regular commenters on Existential Ennui and The Violent World of Parker (where I'm co-blogger) – which is why I'm posting them over there as well as here (that and the fact that there's a certain amount of fan crossover between these books and Donald E. "Richard Stark" Westlake's Parker novels):

The first British paperback editions of John D. MacDonald's The Deep Blue Goodbye and Nightmare in Pink, both published by Pan in 1968 (and both originally published in the US by Fawcett/Gold Medal in 1964, the former as The Deep Blue Good-by), with cover artwork by Sam Peffer – among the last covers that the prolific Pan artist must have created for that publisher (I believe he left Pan in 1967). They are, respectively, books one and two in MacDonald's twenty-one book crime fiction series starring finder of lost fings, Travis McGee, a series that EE and TVWoP regular David Plante reckoned I would find rewarding.

Now, I have tried a John D. MacDonald novel before – The Only Girl in the Game, which I liked a lot – but I'd never read any McGee. But given that Kingsley Amis was an admirer of MacDonald's, and I am, in turn, an admirer of Amis's; and that another writer I love, Elmore Leonard, put it on record that MacDonald was "the best first-person writer I've ever read", adding, "Travis McGee's 'I' was never intrusive"; and that David bloody Plante clearly wasn't going to give it a bloody rest or give me a moment's bloody peace until I relented and cracked the spine of a bloody McGee (figuratively speaking – because as we all know, cracking the spines of books – even ones already bloodied – is WRONG), there was nothing else for it but to dive in.

Of course, that begged the question: which editions of the early McGee novels (I'm not worrying about the later ones just yet) to begin collecting? The original Gold Medal paperbacks would be the obvious choice; not so easy to come by for someone living in the UK, but not impossible. In truth, though, those are in relatively plentiful supply if one can be arsed to order online from the States – and anyway, when have I ever plumped for the obvious choice? That left, to my mind, two options: the British hardback editions of the novels, published by Robert Hale in the 1960s and '70s, which, with their miniscule print runs and beautiful Barbara Walton dust jackets, are prohibitively expensive these days, running into the hundreds if not thousands of pounds per book; or the British paperback editions, issued by Pan, which, when you can find them (and I found these two copies online and on a table outside a secondhand bookshop in Brighton), are fairly cheap. Naturally, skinflint that I am, I opted for the Pan paperbacks.

And I'm pleased to report that David was perfectly justified in his persistent pestering, because The Deep Blue Goodbye at least – I haven't made it as far as Nightmare in Pink yet – is terrific: tough, but also surprisingly tender, especially once Travis McGee, who's been hired to trace a twisted sort named Junior Allen and recover the loot Allen stole, visits Allen's former mistress and, finding her in a dreadful state, casts aside his affected nonchalance and decides to stay and nurse her back to health. In his essay "A New James Bond", Kingsley Amis noted that MacDonald "is by any standards a better writer than Saul Bellow, only MacDonald writes thrillers and Bellow is a human-heart chap, so guess who wears the top-grade laurels?", but on the evidence of The Deep Blue Goodbye – and indeed The Only Girl in the Game – I'd say that MacDonald could do "human-heart" as well as anyone – and he was no slouch at the thrills either, as demonstrated by a gripping and violent final encounter at sea.

Pan had largely switched to photographic covers by the late 1960s, and while the first Pan printings of The Deep Blue Goodbye and Nightmare in Pink could boast Sam Peffer cover art, subsequent printings, and subsequent McGees, sported photographic designs. So, having started collecting the Pan paperbacks, I'm not sure I'll stick with them... and serendipitously, just the other day I chanced across a different edition of the next book in the series, A Purple Place for Dying...

Wednesday 12 December 2012

A Patricia Highsmith 1950s and '60s Corgi and Pan Paperback First Edition Cover Gallery

NB: see also the Existential Ennui Patricia Highsmith First Edition Book Cover Gallery.

With the science fiction segment of this run of posts on paperbacks done, it's back to the crime fiction, and a Patricia Highsmith paperback cover gallery, which I've assembled by way of an apology for the non-appearance of the next instalment in the Great Tom Ripley Reread. That series of posts, you might recall, stalled at the midway point of the Ripliad, Ripley's Game, back in September; I do still intend to finish off the Reread, but it'll have to wait till next year now. To tide us over, then, I thought I'd showcase the first five Highsmith novels to be published in paperback in the UK.

All of these British paperback first editions have appeared on Existential Ennui before, in various permutations, but they're worth showing off again, I feel, especially as I've rephotographed them all from previous appearances. Additionally, this time out I've included some bibliographic details: the unique Corgi or Pan number for each title, along with cover artist (if known), original UK publisher, and pub date. Enjoy.

Strangers on a Train, Corgi #905, 1952; originally published in hardback in the UK by The Cresset Press in 1950. Highsmith's debut novel, her abiding theme of two men becoming inexplicably and dangerously fascinated by one another is established right from the outset, as well as her fondness for chance and coincidence in her plotting. I've never been able to establish who the cover artist is on the Corgi paperback, but I can tell you it's an uncommon edition – certainly a lot scarcer than the Cresset Press or US Harper & Brothers first editions.

The Blunderer, Pan G153, 1958; originally published in hardback in the UK by The Cresset Press in 1956. The cover art here is by James E. McConnell, a selection of whose work can be found over at Pulp Covers. I'm not as keen on this, Highsmith's second novel (under her own name; as Claire Morgan she published The Price of Salt in 1952), as I am others of her works, but the game of cat and mouse between Walter Stackhouse and bookshop owner Kimmel does have its suspenseful moments. From here until Penguin picked up her softcover rights in the 1970s, Highsmith would be published in paperback in the UK by Pan, and the Pan editions of her next three books boast, to my mind, some of the best covers ever to grace her novels.

The Talented Mr. Ripley, Pan G397, 1960; originally published in hardback in the UK by The Cresset Press in 1957. David Tayler is the cover artist here, doing a terrific job of depicting Tom Ripley, Dickie Greenleaf and the fateful murder in the boat. As fellow Pan cover artists Sam Peffer and Pat Owen reveal in this interview, the Pan stable of artists always read the novels they were slated to illustrate the covers of, and were pretty much left to their own devices in choosing which scenes to depict.

Deep Water, Pan G435, 1961; originally published in hardback in the UK by Heinemann in 1958. A glorious cover painting by the aforementioned Sam Peffer for this, Highsmith's fourth novel under her own name – one of only a handful of Highsmiths from the 1950s and '60s I've yet to read. I really must rectify that soon.

A Game for the Living, Pan G548, 1962; originally published in hardback in the UK by Heinemann in 1959. Highsmith's fifth novel wasn't by any stretch the final Highsmith to be published in paperback by Pan, but it was the last to sport a fully painted cover, which again is by Sam Peffer. By this point, Pan covers were starting to become either more photographic in nature or more design-led; painted illustrations still appeared, but usually incorporated into an overall design, as on the next two Highsmiths that Pan published in paperback: This Sweet Sickness, which they issued in 1963, and The Cry of the Owl, in 1965. By the time of the Pan editions of The Glass Cell and A Suspension of Mercy in 1967, Highsmith's covers too had become photographic.

Even by the late 1960s, however, Sam Peffer was still painting the odd Pan cover, as I'll demonstrate in the next post, with a pair of John D. MacDonald paperbacks...