Wednesday 25 February 2009

What's Up with Gene?

The Mystery League books were a short-lived series in the early 1930s: lurid thrillers created to be sold through cigar shops rather than bookshops. Probably the only one of their writers still remembered today is Edgar Wallace, and even he is barely read these days. It's safe to say that literary merit was not the Mystery League's prime concern.

What they did do well were covers: most of their Art Deco-inspired dustjackets were the work of a man signing himself 'Gene', who may have been one Eugene Thurston (I can't determine this for sure)--or atleast they did them well when they weren't plastering 'Prize Baffle' competition details on the front covers.

These are really nice, though the man on the cover of Sydney Horler's Peril does seem to be undoing his fly in order to surprise the sinister intruder coming through the red-lit doorway.

The mysterious Gene cropped up on a couple of other covers for more legit publishing houses, including one for the extraordinarily demented Harry Stephen Keeler, a Jonathan Cape jacket, and one for Evelyn Waugh.

The Mystery League also launched a short-lived magazine, masterminded by the two cousins better known as Ellery Queen. Though it had interior illustrations by Gene, the covers sadly went for photographs.

More Mystery League covers can be found at this Flickr page, while more on the men behind Ellery Queen can be found here.

Tuesday 24 February 2009

Bits and Bobs (and Alan, Marek and Romain)

A few things. First up, another duplicated cover image--this time they use Alan Magee's 'Casting of Runes', a photorealistic painting.

Secondly, the last post of French-language crime novels made me wish I could read French. As I haven't yet descended to the point of buying books I can't understand just because I like the covers, I hunted around to see if the English-language versions of some of these books were as nice-looking. On the whole, unfortunately, they were not.

The Marek Krajewski books, set in pre-WWII Poland, look like my cup of tea. The English translations covers are okay...

..but I slightly prefer this German edition...

..though none are as good as the French (and not just because of bare bosomage).

In attempting to find out more about Romain Slocombe, I discovered that he's some sort of fetishist creepy-pants. What gives me this idea? Well, the books of his (or to which he has contributed) which are available in English include these...

..the last of which is a collection of photos of badly injured Japanese women taken in trauma centres and hospitals, with suggestions that they suffered these injuries during violent sexual encounters. If that doesn't give you the raging heebie-jeebies, well, I guess we'll just have to go our separate ways.

Sunday 22 February 2009

Even More Criminal

In the comments to my recent look at Atlantic Books' Crime Classics series, the cunning Tulkinghorn pointed out that I should have a look at the Serie Noir books from Editions Gallimard in France. This extraordinarily long-running series of classic and new crime books includes everything from Jim Thompson to Oedipus Rex.

For much of their time, this series has had uniform, illustration-free covers which use yellow text on a black background, like inverted crime-scene tape. More recently, however, they've gone with a series of evocative monochrome photographs. Looking at these, I wish I had me some French (instead of being the sort of person who swears every time Julian Barnes blithely includes a couple of paragraphs of untranslated Gallicisms in his books).