Monday, December 11, 2017

Bennett’s Beauties: “Murder After a Fashion”

Part of a month-long celebration of Harry Bennett’s artistic skills.


Murder After a Fashion, by “Spencer Dean,” aka Prentice Winchell (Pocket, 1961). This is the eighth entry in his series starring Don Cadee, the chief of security at Amblett’s, a high-end department store located on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Bennett’s Beauties: “Without Consent”

Part of a month-long celebration of Harry Bennett’s artistic skills.



Without Consent, by Theodore Pratt (Gold Medal, 1962).

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Bennett’s Beauties: “The Golden Frame”

Part of a month-long celebration of Harry Bennett’s artistic skills.


The Golden Frame, by Mari Wolf (Permabooks, 1961).

Friday, December 8, 2017

Bennett’s Beauties: “Under the Skin”

Part of a month-long celebration of Harry Bennett’s artistic skills.



Under the Skin, by Dorothea Bennett (Crest, 1965). Author Bennett was better known for her 1977 spy novel, The Jigsaw Man, which was made into a 1983 Michael Caine film.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Monday, December 4, 2017

Bennett’s Beauties: Making the
Cheap and Commonplace Oh-So Collectible


(Above) Essence of Murder, by Henry Klinger (Permabooks, 1963; back cover here), one of several Klinger novels starring Shomri Shomar, an Israeli police lieutenant on loan to the New York Police Department. (Below, right) The Mourner, by Richard Stark (aka Donald E. Westlake; Permabooks, 1963), the third entry in the series about a career criminal known only as Parker.

Regular Killer Covers readers know what a fan I have become of artist Harry Bennett’s profuse paperback fronts. His distinctive work has frequently been highlighted on this page—from his illustrations for novels by Dashiell Hammett, Frank Kane, Dolores Hitchens, Talmage Powell, and Don Tracy to his contributions to books by John Brunner, Agatha Christie, Noah Clad, Erle Stanley Gardner, Thomas B. Dewey, and others. The paintings he produced for U.S. publishers ranging from Permabooks and Pocket to Gold Medal and Berkley could be seductive or shocking, ominous or humorous, but they were rarely less than outstanding. During a more than three-decades-long freelance career, Bennett—who passed away just over five years ago, at age 93—created the anterior imagery for everything from detective novels and Gothic romances to Hitchcockian thrillers and tales about amorous young nurses. “Literally millions of people have seen hundreds of paintings by Harry Bennett, but few would know his name,” writes a blogger who calls himself NatureGeezer and lives in Ridgefield, the historic western Connecticut town where Bennett also resided for most of his life. Along with artists such as Robert McGinnis, Mitchell Hooks, Paul Rader, Harry Schaare, Ernest Chiriacka, and Victor Kalin, Bennett made 20th-century paperbacks worth collecting simply for their covers.

According to his 2012 obituary in The Ridgefield Press, Harry R. Bennett’s long life began on May 15, 1919, in South Salem, New York. “His father,” the newspaper explained, “was a native Ridgefielder whose roots in Ridgefield went back to the 18th century. Bennett was born months after his own father, Harry Bennett, died of the 1918 flu epidemic.” His Swedish-descended mother, Anna Karlson, is said to have reared Harry and his two sisters, Dorothy and Lillian, “earning income by operating a laundry business.” Bennett graduated from Ridgefield High School in 1937, after first earning acclaim on the institution’s basketball team and being named the president of his class. He took a job as a commercial artist with the Magazine Photo Engraving Corporation in Stamford, Connecticut, but in late 1940, as tensions in Europe threatened to boil over, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. Bennett eventually earned the rank of major, and he participated in a 1944 engagement with Japanese forces in the South Pacific that scored him a Bronze Star for heroism.

Following the end of World War II, Bennett—newly wed to a fellow Ridgefielder, Margaret Shean—sought to enhance his creative skills. He attended the venerable School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the American Academy of Art in that same Illinois city, and then returned to Connecticut to resume his labors in commercial design, illustrating advertisements for clients on the order of Buick, Pepsi-Cola, and the Keds shoe company. He lived in a large, historic home (complete with wraparound porch) on Ridgefield’s Main Street, where he also maintained his studio. It was a convenient situation. As the Press notes, “He would use his family [including his five children] and neighbors as models for over 1,000 book covers and illustrations over the years.”

Bennett took his painting seriously and enjoyed passing his hard-won knowledge on to less-experienced brush-wielders. As his daughter Deborah (also a painter) recalls, “He was a fine artist of artistic integrity who could tell you the formulas of the old masters, often ground his own paint, and had a lifelong interest in experimenting with different techniques.”

The excellence of Bennett’s artistry, coupled with the energy he brought to his assignments (“Harry had a strong work ethic,” says the Press obit, “always wanted to be painting or preparing for a painting.”) made him a go-to illustrator for big paperback houses hungry to capture the eyes of busy book buyers. The crime-fiction authors mentioned above benefited from his efforts, but so did best-selling writers such as Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Frank G. Slaughter, and Charlotte Armstrong. Bennett’s art won him wide recognition, both in the public arena and among his colleagues. A set of ink paintings he produced “to illustrate a boxed collectors’ edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy, published in 1966,” resulted in Bennett receiving both a bronze medal from the New York Society of Illustrators and a one-man exhibit at the New York Public Library. (Three of the pieces from that set can be seen here, here, and here.)

But in 1986, with what had once been a significant market for hand-painted paperback-cover illustrations having all but disappeared (as publishers opted instead for photographic imagery), Bennett decided to retire from the commercial art field and depart New England. He struck out west, painting for himself and doing a bit of teaching, before he and his wife finally settled in Astoria, Oregon, a historic burg at the mouth of the Columbia River. He went on to place his canvases with galleries around Astoria, and it must have been surprising to viewers if and when they discovered that the same dexterous hands responsible for those hanging coastal landscapes and reclining nudes had previously created some of the most memorable book fronts on their home shelves.

Almost two decades after leaving the East Coast, in 2008 the Bennetts moved to Towson, Maryland, near Baltimore, to be closer to their family. Harry Bennett died four years later, on November 29, 2012, from complications of pneumonia.

Bennett may no longer be among us, but the abundant book façades he illustrated certainly are. I claim a small variety of such volumes in my personal library, but scans of a great many more inhabit my computer’s hard drive. With the fifth anniversary of this artist’s demise having passed so recently, I decided to honor his memory with a succession of posts showcasing his work’s diversity. To demonstrate my regard for his talents, I am calling this series “Bennett’s Beauties” (even though that title reminds me of a less-than-steller Nancy Walker TV series from 1977). It will run on at least through the end of December. Please let me know what you think of the cover selections as their numbers increase day by day.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Because I Needed a Queen Fix …



Halfway House, by Ellery Queen (Pan, 1959).
Illustration by Sam Peffer.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Two-fer Tuesdays: Are Those Terms Negotiable?

A twice-monthly pairing of book covers that just seem to go together. Click on either of these images to open up an enlargement.



Love Me—and Die, by Day Keene (Paperback Library, 1962), featuring cover art by Robert Maguire; and Love Me and Die, by Louis Trimble (Ace, 1960), fronted by an uncredited illustration. (On the flip side of that Ace “Double Novel” was found The Duchess of Skid Row, also by Trimble.)

Briefly Mentioned

• U.S.-born Illustrator Tom Adams “seems to be everyone’s favorite Agatha Christie paperback cover artist. Certainly he is mine …,” writes Curtis Evans in his blog, The Passing Tramp. “Adams is best known for [the book fronts] he did over many years for English paperback publisher Fontana (often intriguingly surrealistic), yet his beautiful American Pocket editions from the early Seventies are most familiar to me personally.” Evans presents a handsome gallery of Adams’ Christie covers for Pocket at the link. You will find multiple examples of his Fontana paperbacks here.

• Meanwhile, blogger-author Evan Lewis has begun showcasing various British dust jackets designed for Raymond Chandler’s novels. Click here to enjoy the first such set. Previously, Lewis created a three-part gallery of Chandler’s vintage American dust jackets in his blog, Davy Crockett’s Almanack of Mystery, Adventure, and the Wild West. Part I was here, Part II here, and Part III here.

• Sadly, these covers for familiar novels by Chandler, Jim Thompson, and Dashiell Hammett don’t appear to have decorated any print books—as yet. But they really should. They’re the creations of Austin, Texas-based graphic designer David Johnson.

• A Web site called It’s Nice That recently posted a collection of what it labeled “Fantastically Kitsch Mexican Pulp Paperback Covers.” Explained contributor Rebecca Fullylove: “Ballsy, bizarre, and a little bit racy, these Mexican pulp fiction book covers are fantastic fun and epitomize our need for a bit of weird naughtiness. The kitsch-factor is overwhelming as scantily clad women run away in terror, a man in purple spandex is surrounded by adoring cats, and giant robots menacingly pick up shiny red cars.”

Speaking of cringe-worthy covers …

• As Electric Lit noted last month, “Saturday, October 14 marks the 125th anniversary of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: the first collection of his short stories previously printed in The Strand Magazine. Despite the fact that they are amongst Sherlock’s most famous cases, few stories in this collection have ever received their own cover designs—an oversight that has now been corrected. To celebrate this major milestone, 12 professional book designers from Reedsy have created exclusive new covers for each of these fantastic stories.”

• And Yvette Banek has put together a variety of hand-focused fronts from vintage paperbacks by Erle Stanley Gardner, Ngaio Marsh, Helen McCloy, and others.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Stoking Halloween Fears



The Garden of Evil, by Bram Stoker. Originally published in 1911 as The Lair of the White Worm, this novel was reprinted at least twice by American publisher Paperback Library—once in 1969 (above), with art by George Ziel, and previously in 1966 (below), with a cover illustration by an uncredited painter.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Finding a Fortune Is Suddenly Easy



Yesterday, as part of a large Rap Sheet post chock-a-block with news having to do with crime fiction, I included the following item:
It has now been just over 12 years since crime-fictionist Dennis Lynds died. I was reminded of this by a note in Mystery*File from his widow, thriller writer Gayle Lynds, who explains that her husband’s best-remembered protagonist, one-armed New York City gumshoe Dan Fortune, has recently been resurrected in print. She writes: “The entire 17-book series of private eye novels”—which Lynds published under his pseudonym Michael Collins—“are available again, for the first time in Kindle and trade paperback. We hope a new generation of readers will discover Dan, and that longtime fans will enjoy re-reading the classic tales.” Click here to find Amazon’s list of these reprinted works, from Act of Fear (1967) to Cassandra in Red (1993).
I confess, I’ve never been a huge Dan Fortune fan. If my memory is correct, I picked up a copy of the initial entry in that series, the Edgar Award-winning Act of Fear, during my 20s, when I was hungrily expanding my familiarity with the detective fiction genre. And I read two or three more Fortune books in quick succession after that, before becoming distracted by other fictional gumshoes that drew my attention more strongly. Nonetheless, I’m impressed by the fact that—as Gayle Lynds explains in her most recent newsletter—she exhausted “three years of work” trying to return all of the Fortune yarns to print. That’s a substantial commitment to the central body of work her prolific husband of some two decades produced. Readers need no longer haunt used bookstores or search online vendors for vintage copies of those novels.

Still, I prize one Fortune tale I stumbled across at a Half Price Books outlet in Seattle, and promptly purchased. It’s a 1970 Bantam paperback edition of Lynds’ second installment in the series, The Brass Rainbow (1969). The new, trade-size paperback edition that Gayle Lynds has helped bring back to market is stylish and appealing (you can see it on the left), but I prefer my copy—shown atop this post—with its lightly provocative cover art by Mitchell Hooks.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Two-fer Tuesdays: See What Can Go Wrong?

A twice-monthly pairing of book covers that just seem to go together. Click on either of these images to open up an enlargement.



Never Walk Alone, by Rufus King (Popular Library, 1961), featuring cover art by Rudolph Belarski; and She Walks Alone, by Helen McCloy (Dell, 1950), with an illustration by Bill Fleming.

READ MORE:Mapback Monday: Helen McCloy’s She Walks Alone,”
by Janet Rudolph (Mystery Fanfare).

Monday, October 16, 2017

Because I Needed a Woolrich Fix …



Beware the Lady (aka The Bride Wore Black), by Cornell Woolrich (Pyramid, 1953). Illustration by Clarence Doore.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Restless Eyeballing


The Stockade, by Kenneth Lamott (Dell, 1953), with a cover illustration by Griffith Foxley.

Anyone who’s worked with me knows my perfectionist tendencies. I generally hold myself to standards just shy of unreasonable, whether in my news reporting, my interviewing, my book criticism, or my blog designing. When laboring on behalf of print publications, my habitual desire to tinker with my work is restricted by deadlines and the fact that once a magazine or newspaper article (or a book, for that matter) goes to press, I can no longer polish sentences, sharpen my analysis of a subject, or correct errors I failed to spot originally. However, such limitations don’t necessarily exist in the world of Web publishing. Even after a piece is presented in Killer Covers or The Rap Sheet, I can return to it hours, days, weeks, months, or years later to make improvements or additions.

This flexibility has served me well in regard to themed galleries of vintage book fronts I’ve assembled for this page. Over the last couple of years, I have gone back to several early collections of paperback covers—including those having to do with suburban sleaze, summertime sex and scandals, captivating blondes, and showcased legs—and improved their look, beefed up their diversity, or both. This week I finally found the opportunity to enhance and expand a feature I put together a full eight years ago, about Peeping Tom covers.

I haven’t done much to that post in terms of its text, but I have greatly expanded its visual presentation. When the Peeping Tom gallery first went up in October 2009, it comprised a modest 33 book covers; now, with my having spent a few extra years collecting specimens of this breed, it has almost quadrupled in size, boasting 121 fine façades—a new Killer Covers record. There are likely other handsome examples out there waiting to be discovered. For the present, though, I declare this set pretty darn perfect.

Click here to see if you agree.