Thursday 6 February 2014

Westlake Score: A New York Dance (alias Dancing Aztecs) by Donald E. Westlake (Hodder, 1979)

NB: a version of this post also appears at The Violent World of Parker. Linked in this week's Friday's Forgotten Books.

It's been a little quiet over at The Violent World of Parker blog of late, at least half of the blame for which rests with me: I am, after all, supposed to be (esteemed) co-blogger over there. Fortunately I have a small pile of Westlake Scores waiting to be blogged about, at the top of which is this:

A New York Dance by Donald E. Westlake, published in hardback in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton in 1979 under a dust jacket illustrated by Mark Wilkinson, who I believe is this Mark Wilkinson, best known for his Marillion record sleeves. As such, his wrapper for A New York Dance must represent a fairly early piece of professional work.

I imagine A New York Dance will be an unfamiliar title to most Westlake fans, especially American ones, who will better know it under its original US title of Dancing Aztecs. It took me to a while to fall in too; back in 2010 I scored a 1976 Evans first edition of Dancing Aztecs:

with its Joel Schick-designed dust jacket (which, for the bibliophiles among us, was trimmed too short on the first edition, meaning that the grey boards can be seen top and bottom), stating that I didn't think it had ever been published in the UK. It was only much later that I realised Hodder had retitled the novel for the British market, something the publisher already had form with with Westlake's work: witness their paperback division's retitling of his Parker novels (written, of course, under the pen name Richard Stark) The Man with the Getaway Face, The Score and The Handle as, respectively, The Steel Hit, Killtown and Run Lethal.

Mind you, Westlake wasn't the only American mystery writer to have his work retitled by Hodder; his near-contemporary, Ross Thomas, had a couple of his novels retitled by the British publisher – his debut, The Cold War Swap, which became Spy in the Vodka (for a short while, anyway), and one of his pseudonymous Oliver Bleeck books, The Procane Chronicle, which became The Thief Who Painted Sunlight. And much later in Westlake's career another British publisher, Robert Hale, did some titular tinkering: The Hook became The Corkscrew, and The Ax gained an 'e'.

As to why I decided to acquire a Hodder first of A New York Dance when I already owned an Evans first of Dancing Aztecs, well, I think most people reading this will be familiar with my feeble justifications by now, so take your pick from:

a) A New York Dance popped up on eBay and it was cheap
b) the Hodder first is pretty scarce (only a handful of copies available online)
c) it gives me something to cross-post on The Violent World of Parker
d) I can add the cover to the Existential Ennui British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s page (and have now done so)
e) all of the above, plus I'm demented.

And all of those apply to the next Westlake Score too – another Hodder edition which I already owned – and have already blogged about – in US first, and which again sports a Mark Wilkinson wrapper.

Monday 3 February 2014

First Editions of Eric Ambler's Passage of Arms and The Light of Day (Heinemann, 1959 / 1962)

To round off what's become a short run of posts on Eric Ambler – see these posts on the 1964 Ambler-compiled To Catch a Spy anthology and the 1965 anthology of three of Ambler's novels, Intrigue – I thought I might show off a couple of Ambler first editions I've acquired – in both cases from secondhand bookshops on London's Cecil Court.

Published in hardback in the UK in 1959 by Heinemann under a striking but sadly uncredited dust jacket, Passage of Arms hails from roughly the midpoint of Ambler's career and is, according to The London Review of Books' Thomas Jones writing in The Guardian, "the last of Ambler's books about a naive, good-hearted man getting out of his depth by doing the wrong thing with good intentions". There's an enthusiastic review over at Booksquawk and a rather less enthusiastic one at Mystery*File.

This Heinemann first came from Cecil Court's Tindley & Chapman, or more accurately the basement thereof, which for me has frequently afforded keenly priced gems, such as a highly scarce Hodder first of Donald E. Westlake's I Gave At the Office and American paperback firsts of Elmore Leonard's Mr. Majestyk and The Big Bounce and John D. MacDonald's A Purple Place for Dying. Indeed, so rich have been my pickings from that basement that the last time I was in the shop a few weeks ago the owner was firmly resistant to my venturing down there. His loss; I trotted up Charing Cross Road and popped into the basement of Any Amount of Books instead, where I found a James Munro first I was missing.

The other Cecil Court Ambler came from outside Peter Ellis's shop, plucked from the little bookcase fixed to the wall by the door (where I'd previously found a first of Kingsley Amis's One Fat Englishman):

A first edition of The Light of Day, published by Heinemann in 1962. The dust jacket, designed by Leslie Needham, is on the scruffy, even grubby, side, but the book only cost two quid, so I can't really complain – plus there's the bonus of a map illustration on the endpapers:

drawn by Audrey Frew. Can't beat a good endpaper map.

The folk at Mystery*File have a lot more time for this, the next book along in Ambler's backlist, as does The Rap Sheet; both those reviews make mention of the 1964 film adaptation, Topkapi and Ambler's 1967 novel Dirty Story, which also stars The Light of Day's lead, Arthur Abdel Simpson.

I've added the front covers of both The Light of Day and Passage of Arms to the Existential Ennui Beautiful British Book Jacket Design of the 1950s and 1960s page, the latter under 'Designer Unknown' down the bottom; as ever, if anyone can furnish me with the name of the jacket designer, I should be most grateful.

Next: a Westlake Score, no less.