TRASHY TUESDAY: TOP OF THE HEAP by A. A. Fair (1952)
I always preferred the Lam and Cool crime novels, written under the
A. A. Fair pseudonym, to Erle Stanley Gardner’s more popular Perry Mason stories. They had a more hectic pace, especially towards the end of each book, and Donald Lam was a dodgier character than Mason, which appealed to me when I first encountered them as a teenager.
Top Of The Heap is relatively early book in the series and when I re-read it last year it had held up quite well, especially the banter between Lam and his boss, later his partner, at the private eye firm he worked in, Bertha Cool. The central mystery was quite good and the ending the usual breathless rush!
Like most of the Lam and Cool books, and for that matter the Perry Masons too, Top Of The Heap was reprinted several times in the United States and England, usually with different covers. It was fortunate enough to attract some very nice covers, including two very different Robert McGinnis covers, which is a little unusual.
The original Dell cover (1952) is at the top of this Post and is a very nice, almost classic, cover by Robert McGinnis featuring an attractive woman blowing smoke behind a roulette wheel and a pile of money. She is obviously supposed to be very classy, given the generous display of shining jewelry and the longest pair of opera gloves I have ever seen on a cover! She also has a very long cigarette holder! It is a very attractive cover and probably less formulaic than the covers that McGinnis did in the 1960s. Like most McGinnis covers it had little to do with the story – gold rather than gambling was the principal element of the book, although there was a scene in a casino, but sans gloves.
When Top Of The Heap was released by Corgi in paperback in the United Kingdom in 1958 (below) it featured an Oliver Brabbins’ cover, which had a slightly seedy, big city feel to it. The cover contains a number of elements which featured in Brabbins’ crime covers in the late 1950s, including the use of a prominent, over-sized, brightly lit figure in the foreground, usually a woman, and a dark blurry city image in the background. The woman is less classy looking than in the McGinnis cover, and by placing her hand on the hip Brabbins gives her a confident, almost aggressive look. The use of yellow skillfully links the various elements of the drawing and the title. It is a good, evocative cover, even if the city backdrop looks more like New York, than Los Angeles and San Francisco where the book is set.
When Corgi reissued it a couple of years later, in 1960, they did so as part of a set of A. A. Fair books all featuring similar photographic covers. All the books in the series had the same blonde woman in a black, long sleeved leotard outfit in different poses against a pure black background (below). Although I do not usually like photographic covers, these are quite nice and make for a good set if you can still find them (I have 6 in goodish condition). I have put the cover for Bats Fly At Dusk at the bottom of the post.
When Dell re-issued Top Of The Heap in 1963 they did so with a new Robert McGinnis cover, which was almost as striking as the original. It kept the dazzling jewelry and the long sleeved opera gloves of the original, but changed the woman’s hair from blonde to black (although none of the women had black hair) and dropped the roulette wheel. It is still a very attractive cover, again with a good use of yellow.
Top Of The Heap appeared in other covers in the 1960s, mostly bland, and the book went out of print in the early 1970s and was re-issued, after a thirty year gap, by Hard Case Crime in 2004 with this original artwork by Bill Nelson. It re-uses the roulette wheel motif originally used by McGinnis and her hair colour is restored to blonde.
In all, the covers for Top Of The Heap are very good and nicely demonstrate how a book can generate different cover styles, often depending on when and where it is released.
Below is another A. A. Fair cover in the Corgi series: