TRASHY TUESDAY: ARTISTICALLY ARRANGED CORPSES IN HIGH-HEELS!
I was sorting through some books in my collection and came across these four British paperbacks from the 1950s featuring beautifully arranged, attractive corpses. All of whom are wearing high heel shoes. There is not a drop of blood or sign of violence to be seen anywhere! Of course, there is no relationship between these artistic renditions and the horrible reality of murder, but they do make for attractive covers!
The first is the probably the best cover, Ladies In Ermine by Gavin Holt. The book was first published in 1948 and this is the 1952 Hodder edition. Gavin Holt was the pseudonym of Percival Charles Rodda, an Australian (born 1891) who moved to England and France in 1926. He wrote over 40 novels, most of which were set in England. Many of his books featured police inspectors or amateur detectives. Ladies In Ermine featured Ritzy Tyler, a private detective who works for one of Holt’s serial characters, Joel Saber, who was originally a police Inspector. Holt and his books have largely disappeared from view nowadays, but they have left behind some interesting covers. Under the name of Eliot Reed Rodda also co-wrote five thrillers with Eric Ambler in the early 1950s.
The cover of Ladies In Ermine, uses the drawing of a woman from a Hodder yellow jacket version of the book (see below), it changes the colours a little and puts it against the checkerboard backdrop. I do not know who the artist is, but it is a nicely arranged picture and quite striking. The victim is from a fashion house and is very fashionably dressed and quite elegant, despite being dead. She is wearing black high heels. Even though she was strangled in the book, there is no sign of violence in the drawing.
Hodder books of the time sometimes had interior drawings on the title page and this one features a man, assumably Tyler, and a woman looking aghast at something, probably the victim. Again the artist is not identified.
Also from Hodder is this 1955 edition of Calling Bulldog Drummond by Gerard Fairlie (who continued writing the Bulldog Drummond books after the death of Sapper – H C McNeile)
I never really cared for the Bulldog Drummond books and only have a vague recollection of reading one back in the 1970s. The cover on this one is quite good, with the light from the doorway lighting up the face and the top half of the victim. Again the woman is artistically posed and shows no sign of violence. Her black high-heels are securely attached to her feet. The outline of a man’s leg and show gives the cover a slightly sinister feeling. No details on the artist.
British publishers Boardman Books enjoyed much success reprinting American crime novels for the local market in the 1950s and into the 1960s. Many of their books, like this one, featured distinctive cover illustrations by Denis McLoughlin.
Kill Or Cure by William Francis was first published in the United States in 1949 and featured tough talking Los Angeles PI Anthony Martin. It is a fairly typical PI tale of the time, featuring plenty of action, lots of smart talking by Martin, a plot involving a murdered nurse and an abortion racket and touches of humour. It was printed by Boardman Books in hardback in 1951 and in this paperback edition in 1952.
The cover has the typical McLoughlin touch of bright colours, good use of shadow and dramatic facial expressions. McLoughlin was a fan of 1930s pulp magazines and this one has a strong pulp feel to it. His covers often featured a face set against the backdrop of a scene from the book, as he does here.
The cover of Kill Or Cure features the dark haired victim sprawled on the grass while the black shadow killer slinks away. On the left side of the cover a blonde nurse looks worried. Given that the dark haired victim on the ground is the murdered nurse around which the story revolves, it is not clear who the blonde nurse is supposed to be. It does, however, give a good dramatic effect to the cover.
As with the other books, the female corpse is artistically arranged, although she does look more dead than the other ones. There is no sign of violence, she was strangled in the book, and again she wearing high heels.
Francis Duncan is another British writer who would have disappeared from view were it not for the success of his Murder For Christmas, which was reprinted in 2016 (66 years after it first appeared) to much acclaim. He wrote around 30 novels from 1937 to 1953, a number featuring an amateur detective, Mordecai Tremaine. Murder But Gently was first published in 1953, but there is no date on this edition. It would seem, however, to have been published towards the end of the 1950s.
The cover of Murder But Gently suggests that it is a private eye tale, with the picture of the tough cigarette smoking gentleman at the top of the book, but in fact it is a psychological thriller told from the viewpoint of a killer who thinks he deserves better. Once again the body of the dead lady is nicely posed with a green dress to draw the reader’s attention and a pair of red shoes. I think it is a quite effective cover, but not really representative of the story within.
Below is the original paperback cover for Ladies In Ermine, which was later adapted into the edition above.