Friday 11 April 2014

Swag by Elmore Leonard: British First Edition (Penguin Paperback, 1984)

I read, and wrote about, Elmore Leonard a lot last year, both prior to and following the author's death in August, my reading and blogging fuelled, as is frequently the case, by a book collecting spree. One strand of my collecting/reading/blogging was the novels Leonard published in the 1970s, especially those issued in the UK by Secker & Warburg. Secker published almost all of Leonard's 1970s contemporaneously-set novels – i.e., not westerns – in hardback in this country: Fifty-Two Pickup (1974), Unknown Man No. 89 (1977), The Hunted (1978; originally 1977 in the US) and The Switch (1979; originally 1978 in the US); in the latter two's cases, it was the first time they'd appeared in hardback (both were issued as paperback originals in the States). But there was one novel missing from that short run: Swag. Published in the US in hardback by Delacorte in 1976, Swag (alias Ryan's Rules) was for some reason – possibly simply caution at overpublishing the still relatively unknown Leonard in the UK market – passed over by Secker, with the result that the first edition published in the UK was this:

The 1984 Penguin paperback, with a cover – which I've added to the Existential Ennui British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s page – bearing a photograph by Peter Chadwick. I picked this first printing up in Oxfam Books in Brighton a couple of months back for the princely sum of:

ninety-nine pence. Which admittedly isn't much less than you'd probably have to pay, including postage, on, say, Amazon Marketplace; but then, who knows whether you'd be getting a first printing, or even the correct edition at all – a point made by fellow book blogger Ray Garraty in the comments of my post on Donald E. Westlake's Two Much on Wednesday.

Of course, why a body would want a first printing of the Penguin paperback of Swag, especially when said body already owns a 1987 Viking edition of the Elmore Leonard omnibus Dutch Treat, which includes Swag, and in which edition that body read the novel last year and subsequently reviewed it on his daft blog, is a question for minds far more acute than mine; but given that that body also owns two editions of Stick – a 1983 US Arbor House first edition and a 1984 UK Allen Lane signed first edition – which is one of the body's favourite Leonard novels, and which is ostensibly the sequel to Swag, featuring, as it does, Ernest Stickley, Jr., erstwhile partner in crime of Frank Ryan (no relation to Jack Ryan), his co-star in Swag, the acquisition of a Penguin paperback edition of Swag on top of Dutch Treat becomes, perhaps, marginally more explicable.*


I've another Elmore Leonard paperback lined up for my next missive – a signed one, no less, marking the start of an intermittent run of posts on signed editions, featuring authors both familiar and new to Existential Ennui.

* Postscript, 20/2/17: On the other hand, the fact that three years later that same body bought a (admittedly inexpensive) US first edition/first impression of Swag (jacket design by Lawrence Ratzkin) purely so he could own the book in hardback is entirely indefensible.

Wednesday 9 April 2014

Westlake Score: Two Much! by Donald E. Westlake; British First Edition (Hodder & Stoughton, 1976)

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

My (cross-)posting of this particular Westlake Score was prompted by a newspaper article I noticed last month. I actually bought the book in question – the British first edition of Donald E. Westlake's Two Much!, published in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton in 1976, the year after the US M. Evans edition – on a whim on Amazon Marketplace at the tail end of 2012 and have had it sitting on my to-be-blogged-about shelves ever since; the Hodder edition is incredibly scarce, and it's hard for me to resist scarce books – especially Westlake ones – when I encounter them. That said, Two Much! doesn't number among Westlake's more celebrated works; pretty much the only reputable reviews of the novel readily available online are this glib Kirkus Reviews one and Ethan Iverson's capsule review as part of his "A Storyteller That Got the Details Right" essay (Ethan places it in Westlake's canon as "probably the darkest of all the humorous crime novels"). It's perhaps better known for its 1995 Hollywood film adaptation – which in turn is arguably better known for the on-set romance which developed between co-stars Antonio Banderas and Melanie Griffith – and for its 1984 French film adaptation, Le Jumeau (The Twin).

All of which was why I was quite surprised when it cropped up in a Guardian article in March. Written by author Stephen May and titled "The Top 10 Imposters in Fiction", the article caught my eye principally due to a mention of Tom Ripley in its standfirst. Being, as I am, a Ripley obsessive, naturally I took a look to see which of Patricia Highsmith's five Tom Ripley novels had been included (the first, The Talented Mr. Ripley, unsurprisingly; you could make just as strong a case for Ripley Under Ground, but May does at least nod to the greater Ripliad), and there, in the number two position (appropriately enough), was Two Much! It's difficult to tell whether May has read any other Westlake works besides Two Much! – or indeed Two Much! itself; he does little more than recount the plot – but he's obviously aware of Westlake's wider oeuvre, noting that the author "published books under at least 16 names".

To my knowledge this (cross-)post marks the online debut of the Hodder hardback's dust jacket; I'd certainly not seen it prior to getting my hands on the book, not even on either AbeBooks – not least because at present there isn't a single copy for sale there (and only one other copy that I can see for sale online anywhere, making it possibly the rarest of all the Hodder hardback editions of Westlake's novels) – nor at the official Donald E. Westlake website. The jacket design isn't credited, but the designer evidently took a cue from the M. Evans wrapper (image borrowed from the official Westlake site):

Except to my mind the Hodder jacket isn't as well executed. Because while the Evans jacket clearly shows a risque greetings card – the writing of which being the narrator of the novel's profession – it's much less obvious, at least to my eye, that that's what we're supposed to be seeing on the Hodder cover. Still, given how uncommon the Hodder first is – as opposed to the Evans first, of which there are getting on for fifty copies on AbeBooks alone – I know which I'd rather have in my collection.

UPDATE, 11/4/14: The front of the jacket of the Hodder edition of Two Much! has now been added to the Existential Ennui British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s gallery.

Monday 7 April 2014

James Mitchell, alias James Munro: First Editions of Bonfire Night (Callan Spy Novel #5, 2002) and The Money That Money Can't Buy (John Craig Spy Novel #3, 1967)

Television writer and producer James Mitchell penned two series of spy novels of note in his near-fifty year career. The first, a four-book series starring gunrunner-turned-secret agent John Craig, written under the pen name James Munro, ran from 1964–1969; the second, a five-book series starring British Intelligence assassin David Callan, spinning out of the Mitchell-created Callan TV show, ran from 1969–2002. I profiled both series last year, reviewing the first book in each – respectively The Man Who Sold Death and A Magnum for Schneider, alias A Red File for Callan – and showcasing first editions of almost all of the other novels – almost all, because there were two I hadn't at that point got my clammy hands on. Fortunately, in the interim, I have; and so, seeing as I reviewed the second Callan book, Russian Roulette (1973), last week, I figured now's as good a time as any to showcase them. Oldest first, I think:

The Money That Money Can't Buy by James Munro, published in hardback by Hammond in 1967 (dust jacket design uncredited). The third John Craig spy thriller, Kirkus Reviews describe it as "Just so much spy schmaltz", which seems a little harsh to me; of the Craig novels, I've only read The Man Who Sold Death thus far, and though I wasn't as keen on it as I was A Magnum for Schneider, it wasn't that bad, and given the kind of writer Mitchell was, I can't imagine the quality of the series plummets too dramatically – a supposition supported by Existential Ennui reader Darryl Crawford, who commented on my John Craig post that the later books have "some of the coolest villains this side of Modesty Blaise", and Randall Mastellar at Spy Guys & Gals, for whom "the stories are good reads and the character does come up with a couple of the greatest one-liners I've ever read".

I found this first edition on an all-too-rare-these-days trip up to London (I moved down to Lewes from London nearly six years ago), in the basement of Any Amount of Books on Charing Cross Road. (On the same trip I also secured a vinyl copy of my album of the year from last year, Everything Everything's Arc, in Sister Ray on Berwick Street, which I was immensely pleased about because it's incredibly hard to come by on vinyl.) I think I paid about a fiver for it, which isn't bad considering the Hammond first isn't exactly in abundant supply – there are at present only half a dozen copies for sale online – and especially not in the UK, where I can currently only see one jacketless (I believe) copy for sale online (offered, coincidentally enough, by fellow Lewes exile, and fellow blogger, Steerforth).

Even scarcer, however, unless you're prepared to put up with an ex-library copy, is the Callan novel I secured:

Bonfire Night by James Mitchell, published by Severn House in 2002 (shortly before Mitchell's death that same year), jacket photograph by Ute Klaphake. The fifth and final Callan novel, there was a near-thirty year gap between this and the previous one, 1975's Smear Job, and according to reports from Existential Ennui commenters it's either "a bit weird" (Stuart Radmore), "confusing, and reads more like a script than a book" (Saz), or is "Mitchell... operating at the very top of his game in this dense narrative" (the aforementioned Darryl Crawford). Given which, the best thing to do, I imagine, is to read the book oneself and make one's own mind up, which ordinarily would mean stumping up at least twenty-five quid for an ex-library copy of the Severn House edition – the sole edition of the novel to date. Seems the vast majority of the print run of the Severn House edition went to public lending libraries, and even my copy, which I won on eBay (in the end for less than twenty quid), while it isn't ex-library, was evidently intended for libraries:

The book's case replicates the jacket front and back as a PLC (printed laminated cover), rather than the more usual Arlin over boards, suggesting it was bound with libraries in mind. Where it actually ended up, though, was with Mitchell's agent, as evidenced by this stamp on the front free endpaper:

All of which makes one wonder if the entire print run was bound for libraries. Anybody own a copy of the Severn House edition which doesn't sport a PLC...?