Friday 9 May 2014

Dark Hero by Peter Cheyney (Collins, 1946): Signed Limited Presentation Edition

Thus far in this periodic series of posts on signed books I've showcased signed and sometimes inscribed paperbacks and hardbacks by Elmore Leonard, Jack Gerson, Kate Atkinson and P. M. Hubbard. But I've plenty more hitherto-unseen-on-Existential-Ennui signed books in my collection, and I'll be unveiling some of the more intriguing and even exciting signed and/or inscribed ones over the coming weeks. Like, for instance, this one:

A British first edition of Dark Hero by Peter Cheyney, published in hardback by Collins in 1946, dust jacket design uncredited. Cheyney is best known for his hard-boiled crime fiction, especially his Lemmy Caution novels, but he also penned a good number of espionage works, Dark Hero being one of them – the fifth instalment in his eight-book "Dark" series of spy novels, which began in 1942 with Dark Duet and ended in 1950 with Dark Bahama, and which all feature to some degree master spy Peter Quayle. Although this one is more the story of Rene Berg, one-time Chicago gunman-turned-scourge of the Nazis-turned-secret agent – shades there in Berg's origin of Desmond Cory's later secret agent, Johnny Fedora.

Dark Hero is relatively common in first – indeed there's a copy of the first edition up the road from where I'm sitting right now, in Lewes's Bow Windows Bookshop (as in, the book's in Bow Windows Bookshop; I'm not in Bow Windows Bookshop, although I suppose I could be, depending on when this post is being read – I do pop in there on occasion) – but much less common is this particular edition of the first edition. See, by 1946 Peter Cheyney had been with his British publisher, Collins, for ten years (his debut novel – also Lemmy Caution's debut – was 1936's This Man is Dangerous), and had sold millions of books for them. To celebrate both the tenth anniversary of this highly successful publishing partnership and to mark the publication of this, Cheyney's twenty-fifth novel, Collins produced a special edition of Dark Hero, limited to 250 copies, each one numbered on a limitation page opposite a photo of Cheyney (looking very dapper), and presented them to the author for him to sign and dedicate to whomsoever he chose.

This copy is number 133, and was inscribed to a C. R. Bl— ...actually I can't work out that surname – suggestions in the comments please. Anyway, whoever, C. R. Bl— was, Peter Cheyney evidently felt he – or she – merited a copy of the special edition of Dark Hero in 1946 – and for my part I felt I merited that same copy when I nabbed it on eBay some sixty-five or so years later for £8.50 – a frankly ludicrously low price when one considers that there are only about five copies available online at present, the cheapest being £75 and the most expensive being over £250.

A nice, rare book to own, then. But it's not the only Peter Cheyney book in my possession – because I've been quietly collecting the "Dark" Series especially over the past few years, as I'll be demonstrating in the next post.

Wednesday 7 May 2014

P. M. Hubbard's A Hive of Glass (Fingerprint Books Edition, Hamish Hamilton, 1972) in British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s

Before I make a belated return to the signed editions, I've one last P. M. Hubbard book I'd like to take a look at to round off this latest run of posts on the author:

A Hive of Glass, Hubbard's third novel for adults and his fifth overall (including his two novels for younger readers). Originally published in hardback in the UK in 1965 by Michael Joseph, the edition seen here is the later 1972 Hamish Hamilton hardback, with a somewhat slapdash but still apposite photo-collage dust jacket designed by Tom Sawyer; those familiar with the novel will doubtless be drawn to the glass tazza in particular, but also perhaps the black-eyed old woman, who I take to be the blind and autocratic Aunt Elizabeth.

Hamish Hamilton was in the habit in the 1970s of acquiring lapsed hardback rights – note the seven-year gap between the Joseph and Hamilton editions of A Hive of Glass, seven years being the typical term of a book publishing contract – on crime and suspense novels and bringing them into the publisher's Fingerprint Books imprint; I blogged about a 1976 Hamilton hardback reissue of P. D. James's debut novel Cover Her Face, originally published in hardback by Faber in 1962 – a fourteen-year gap between the Faber/Hamilton editions there, suggesting Faber reacquired the rights for a further seven years after their initial term – back in 2010, and the back cover of this edition of A Hive of Glass lists many of the other authors and novels Hamilton gathered together.

I've also blogged about A Hive of Glass before; I reviewed the novel in 2011, in a 1966 Panther paperback edition, as at the time I wasn't able to lay my hands on a Joseph first. I still haven't been able to in the interim, hence why I decided to purchase this Hamilton edition, for 99p (plus postage), simply so I could own the novel – arguably the quintessential Hubbard work of dark suspense – in hardback (which format I much prefer to paperback). I'll continue to keep an eye out for a Michael Joseph first edition, but in the meantime, given that the Hamilton edition is itself becoming quite scarce, with at present just one copy on AbeBooks and only a couple more on Amazon Marketplace, this is a perfectly acceptable substitute. Plus it affords me the opportunity to introduce Hubbard into the Existential Ennui British Thriller Book Cover Design of the 1970s and 1980s gallery, where there are now seven Hubbard covers, taking the total number of covers therein to 138.