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Tag Archive: Erle Stanley Gardner


Review by C.J. Bunce

Fans of pulp novel cover art and the classic 1940s and 1950s steamy and smoky night scenes and dark places spotlighted on book covers probably already know about artist Reginald Heade.  His fans even refer to him as the best British artist–ever.  Heade created hundreds of striking and memorable images to sell the aura of a niche of fiction that reflected the times, and this master of “that by which readers are not supposed to judge the book” was previously featured in a 168-page work, The Art of Reginald Heade by researcher Stephen James Walker.  Telos Publishing and Walker have extensively revisited the material and historical archives to nearly double the volume of the book with newly found artwork and commentary to form a new expanded, giant 320-page edition, The Art of Reginald Heade: Special Edition.

In the word of the day, these novels featured covers spotlighting the “dames” of their story, femme fatales, sultry, sexy, sometimes in charge, and a lot of times beaten down by the gangsters and thugs of the story, often objectified, and in misogynistic situations.  Some of these could be called repellant by current–and contemporary–mores, created in the world approaching the pinnacle of criticism of blatant depictions of slavery, bondage, crime, and violence, a backlash that would gain a firmer footing in the 1950s of Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent.  Heade didn’t dodge the criticism, and in some countries Heade’s work was censored and the subject of scorn.  Some of his final artwork was pre-emptively censored by the publisher and ultimately not used in his lifetime, and the original art can be found in this book.  Sometimes referred to by the oddly incongruous “good girl art,” Heade’s art reflected an expert in drawing the feminine form.  A true working artist, he seemed to crank out new, unique, and fresh designs for his subjects as much as any great genre creator has ever done.  Seventy and eighty years after their publication, many of the books featuring Heade’s artwork have become grails for book collectors and mid-century pin-up art fans, with a few more obscure books practically lost and gone forever.

With beautiful color and black and white illustrations, The Art of Reginald Heade: Special Edition is the most comprehensive overview ever published of Heade’s life and work.  Walker includes his trademark paintings from the great Perry Mason writer Erle Stanley Gardner’s crime books, Stephen D. Frances’ Hank Janson books, covers for books by Paul Rénin, Roland Vane, Michael Storme, Spike Morelli, Gene Ross, David Hume, Carol Gaye, Margaret Pedler, Helena Grose, William Elliott and Zane Grey, plus hundreds more pulp fiction covers, as well as other works, like Major Charles Gilson’s well-known Robin of Sherwood, Nella Braddy’s biography of Rudyard Kipling, Son of Empire, and editions of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe–including interior illustrations, and Heade’s comic art.  Yes, the artist known for his images of vixens in distress created equally impressive paintings for the covers of children’s books, plus mainstream novels and magazine covers (some under the nom de plume Cy Webb).

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Our borg.com Best of 2017 list continues today with the Best in Print.  If you missed them, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2017 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2017 here, and the Best in Television here.

So let’s get going.  Here are our selections for this year’s Best in Print:

Best New Edition of Previous Published WorkThe Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame, David Petersen (IDW Publishing).  David Petersen’s artwork was the perfect excuse to get Kenneth Grahame’s wonderful classic The Wind in the Willows into the hands of new readers.  The new edition from IDW Publishing was the perfect storybook, and Petersen, known best for his Mouse Guard series, showed his understanding of these characters and their natural world full of wonder through his fantasy images.

Best Read, Best Retro Read – Forever and a Death, Donald E. Westlake (Hard Case Crime).  Not every good idea comes to fruition.  Not every excellent project gets off the ground.  Not every great book gets published.  The Hard Case Crime imprint of Titan Books came through again, seizing the opportunity to take a lost, never before published work of Donald E. Westlake--Forever and a Death--and brought it to life.  And what a great adventure!  Originally the story commissioned to be the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, the projected was shelved, and only now do we get fantastic characters (like environmental activist and diver Kim Baldur) in a very Bondian situation–destroying Hong Kong as payback for China taking it back from Great Britain.  Honorable mention for Best Retro Read: Turn on the Heat, Erle Stanley Gardner, and Dragon Teeth, Michael Crichton.

Best Sci-Fi Read – Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom: A Novel of Retropolis, Bradley W. Schenck (Tor Books).  Imaginative, new, and fun, Schenck took us into a timeless world full of nostalgia and classic science fiction.  Great tech, and a sprawling story.  Interesting characters and great world-building, this novel will be a great surprise for sci-fi readers.  Honorable mention: War for the Planet of the Apes: Revelations, Greg Keyes.

Best Fantasy Read – An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors, Curtis Craddock (Tor Books).  The plot of this debut novel is labyrinthine and action-packed, full of assassination attempts from all quarters, courtly intrigue galore, grandiose philosophies, and a cast of characters anchored by the strong, smart, resourceful, and eminently likeable heroes.  Supporting everything is Craddock’s strong, confident, often-funny, and sharply observant writing that goes from heart-wrenching to hilarious on a single page without missing a beat.  A dazzling debut.

Best Genre Non-fiction – Middle-Earth: From Script to Screen, Daniel Falconer (Harper Design).  We wish every genre franchise had such a magnificent, thorough, monumental guide.  Falconer’s guide to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies is full of interviews at all levels of the creative process, and supported by concept art, photographs, maps, and so much more.  Worthy of the six films it covers, it’s the ultimate fan book and a model for any franchise attempting to put everything fans could want into a single volume.

There’s much more of our selections for 2017’s Best in Print and more, after the jump…

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The downside to discovering an author that’s new to you but who passed away decades ago is that no more novels will be coming your way from that author.  But that’s not necessarily the case if that author is Erle Stanley Gardner, and you’re reading something newly published from Charles Ardai’s Hard Case Crime imprint.  Ardai continues to locate lost, never before published novels, and reprints some of the best forgotten works from decades of great pulp crime novels.  Hard Case Crime released the never-before published Gardner novel The Knife Slipped last year.  Back in 1940 The Knife Slipped was rejected by Gardner’s publisher because of his lead character, a brash and brilliant private investigator named Bertha Cool, who Gardner describes as “profane, massive, belligerent, and bulldog,” and in her first case her tendency to “talk tough, swear, smoke cigarettes, and try to gyp people” was enough to reject the story.  Gardner promptly replaced the novel with Turn on the Heat, the second in his Cool and Lam series, a series that would expand to 30 novels.  And if Gardner’s name is familiar it may be because he also created the popular mystery genre icon Perry Mason (Gardner would write 86 cases featuring his famous lawyer).  At his death in 1970, Gardner was the #1 bestselling author of all time, with hundreds of millions of books in print.  Turn on the Heat was published in 1940 under Gardner’s pseudonym, A.A. Fair.  A reader of both Gardner and Fair, master crime novelist Raymond Chandler once accused Fair of stealing a plot point from a Gardner novel.

Turn on the Heat plays out from the viewpoint of Cool’s employee, ex-lawyer and full-time private eye Donald Lam.  Lam tells his story in that sweeping, pull-us-all-along-for-the-ride manner that Archie Goodwin embraced in Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series.  It helps that Lam is a fan of Cool, but his tolerance for her domineering style brings him to his limits more than once in the story.  But the feeling is purely mutual.  Lam seems to forget he’s an employee and spends too much from the expense account.  Like Stout’s Prisoner’s Base case where Goodwin lied to Wolfe to keep him out of trouble, Lam must lie to Cool to protect her, and as with Wolfe, Cool doesn’t like it one bit.  Cool has the business acumen and savvy, but Lam also knows the score and is able to stay ahead of all the players almost all the time, as he attempts to solve the case for the client, protect the agency, protect Cool, protect himself from a murder rap, protect a girl from a murder rap, keep the D.A. off his case, and somehow serve a little revenge to the thug who keeps roughing him up.

Cool has taken on a new client and sets Lam about tracking down the client’s estranged wife, missing for twenty years.  Lam is a feet-on-the-street detective, but his leads dry up quickly.  When the wife shows up at a local hotel, Lam finds the case leading in an unpredictable direction, and he soon becomes bent on thwarting efforts of the police, the D.A., and even his client to keep him from the truth.  Not convoluted or contrived as many other crime novels of the day (and today), Gardner’s mystery is well-paced and doesn’t employ any far-flung solution to wrap-up the whodunnit.  Gardner’s prose was far ahead of its day in many ways–three times I turned to the copyright page to verify this book was actually written in 1940 because of sentences and word-usage I would have wagered had not come into the American lexicon until decades later.

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