Saturday, June 7, 2014

"Oh! You Hound!!" Sherlock Sensationalized (Paperback Novelties)

no subtlety here
The lurid, menaced woman crime fiction paperbacks of mid-twentieth-century American publishers have been much commented upon over the years. Most infamously these covers, which drew on the tropes of pulp fiction, were associated with Mickey Spillane and other hard-boiled authors, but the proven sales appeal of such art led to its being used to push as well non-hard-boiled mysteries, such as Ruth Fenisong's The Lost Caesar (1945; retitled for this Popular Library paperback, Death Is a Gold Coin--was the publisher making an allusion to Charon's obol, I wonder, or did they simply want to get death in the title).

"How Much Evil Can a Woman Endure?" pants Popular Library. I suspect that some sensation-seeking readers may have been disappointed with what was actually between the covers, however.

For some reason I had never thought to check Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels for this sort of treatment.

Well, witness now Bantam's 1949 paperback edition of Holmes' "most famous case,": The Hound of the Baskervilles.  Judging from this cover, the "hound" of the title would seem to be a man.

As I recollect this cover actually has some basis in events from the book, described at second hand. But you have to to flip to the back cover to learn about the actual hound of Baskerville legend.  Perhaps a better title to go with this cover would have been The Woman in Red.



    Theirs was a terrifying, forbidden love. Amongst the wild, unbounded moors, the locals heard strange cries in the night, but only one man knew where they came from. Crime, brutality, passion emerged from the blasted heath, but one man dared to try and safe Beryl from her terrible bondage. But would he survive the terrible thing that came with her love?

    Oh, and there's a ghost dog.

    And Sherlock Holmes"

    As for titles, how about "BONDAGE OF THE BASKERVILLES" ?

  2. That's funny! You would have been a good one to write the blurbs for those books back then!

  3. By the way, on titles, how about "Tess of the Baskervilles"? I wonder whether Popular Library or Bantam ever did Thomas Hardy? I can imagine them giving him the Erskine Caldwell treatment: "A tale of SHOCKING PRIMITIVE PASSIONS!!!"

  4. The "Tess" joke reminded me of something that I'd seen in my local bookshop, so I did a little googling and found a site called Apparently they're reprinting some classic novels with spoof pulp covers and tag lines. They're fun, but the original pulp covers are often funnier. The problem is that since doing my HOUND blurb, I've started thinking about the other novels.


    They went in search of the priceless treasure of Agra, and found....THEMSELVES!

  5. I was disappointed to find their Valley of Fear cover was much more sedate, though it does carry the headline, "Sherlock Holmes Stalks a Secret Murder Gang!" Hard Case Crime actually did a sexed-up edition of Valley of Fear about eight years ago, I believe.

  6. It still goes on:
    They know what they're doing, though, which takes away half the fun,.

  7. And it hasn't stopped! When Hard Case Crime reprinted The Valley of Fear I was slightly taken aback. It all seems tongue in cheek. They bill the author as A.C. Doyle and use this tagline "by the bestselling author of THE LOST WORLD" on the front cover as if no one knew Doyle for anything else. Who thinks of him as the author of THE LOST WORLD. Ever? Their edition goes way overboard in making the story seem lurid and violent. Go here for the evidence.

    1. I love the little biography they give of A C Doyle on the site, It seems that he's famous mainly for his stories of cocaine addicted private eye, which are narrated by a veteran of the Afghan conflict!

      According to Hardcase's publisher, it was a tip of the hat to 50s paperback publishers, who often printed stuff like 1984 and FRANKENSTEIN in lurid covers intended to trick the reader into buying a piece of genuine literature under the assumption that it was pure pulp ( The Signet FRANKENSTEIN cover is of a voluptuous redhead in a not very safe dress). They wanted to do VALLEY OF FEAR because they wanted their readership to "take a fresh look at the book, to see it in a new light. It's a hell of a good book and deserves to be read as the gripping, vital, violent, frightening, chilling story it is, not as an ossified 'classic' only suitable for schoolchildren".

  8. "It seems that he's famous mainly for his stories of cocaine addicted private eye, which are narrated by a veteran of the Afghan conflict!"

    Edgy stuff, man!