Vintage Reads #52 :More Action/Mystery Paperbacks

This is by no means a new topic for Retrospace. Espionage, Action and Mystery paperbacks are my favorite covers -  often trashy, and always interesting.  But it's been a while since I've delivered up a batch of covers (November 2012), so we're due for another round.  Enjoy!

I think my favorites are The Butcher covers - even more than the expertly painted Robert McGinnis covers or the tawdry Mike Shayne paperbacks.  They're really trashy looking, but also well conceived (in a sleazy sort of way).  Fans of vintage men's action magazines, will understand my meaning.

I'm not sure how good the book is, but "Lustgarten" is the best last name ever.

The creator of Dr. Fu Manchu gives this his blessing.

If you know your Silver Age comic books, you're familiar with the brilliant Jim Steranko.

Sort of a macabre twist on the Tony Orlando classic.    And speaking of macabre....

 I like my covers a little less morbid. This is just freaking disturbing.... sort of reminds me of the next one...

Ahh, yes.  The old-school mysteries were never afraid to pull the "nude card" tell sell a novel or two.  Men are a predictable breed; just imply nudity and we'll fork over the cash willingly.

Nice.  I like that he's wielding a battle ax instead of the standard pistol.

This guy isn't pulling off the "badass" vibe for me - but I'm not sure why.  Perhaps because it looks like he's modeling for the Sears Catalog (except he's brandishing a firearm).

Meh.  Kind of poorly done.  Still, it's better than modern paperbacks which fill 90 percent of the canvas with the stupid author's name.  The remaining ten percent go to the book's title... and the background illustration is barely an afterthought.

God I love the Swedes and their sense of style.  I did an entire post just on Swedish espionage/action paperbacks.  You should check it out.

If it's raining, don't forget your umbrella and to turn your headlights on.   Oh, wait - headlights are already on. (insert laugh track).

Obvious James Bond rip off.   Bad composition with the submarine emerging from his right temple.

"A very good suspense novel" may be the most bare-bones endorsement I've ever seen.

Not only was McGinnis (of which I'm sure this one of his - or an expert copycat) a talented artist, he was also extremely adept at approaching nudity without crossing the line.  A perfectly positioned wicker chair and some odd areola covering - voila! It's "censored" enough for mass production.

A couple more barely covered McGinnis babes...

You can pretty much guarantee that the really old mystery paperbacks (1940s-50s) will feature a dead chick on the cover.  One of these days I'll need to do a full post on this just demonstrate how incredibly common this was. Here's another example...  (I've got a million more where this came from)

At least they didn't go for the cheap movie adaptation cover.  Nowadays, if it's been adapted to film, you can be damn sure the lead actor's photogenic mug will be gracing the cover.

This may not be the worst cover in this post, but definitely is the lamest (there's a difference).  The winner for worst is up next....

Dear God, this is terrible.... except that dude in the bottom right corner is perhaps the coolest human being I have ever seen.

And the winner for best... (by a landslide)



  1. Speechless as always--in a good way.

  2. K PencheMay 03, 2014

    One Boysie Oakes was made into a movie, "The Liquidator" in 1965. It was more of a satire than a ripoff and has since vanished from the world, probably because Jill St John wasn't sexy enough?

  3. Frederic Brown must have had a door knock fetish. He wrote a very famous short story called "Knock," which features one of the most famous opening lines in history: "The last man on Earth was sitting alone in his room, when there came a knock at his door." Another short story of his entitled "Arena" was adapted into a Star Trek episode.

  4. AnonymousMay 03, 2014

    What's a MOM-ZA?

  5. I'm digging the "Safer Dead" cover because it's so different. The big red, highly styled question mark sure gets your attention, the skulls pique your curiosity, and the chick with the perfect body and pink hair locks you into buying it.

  6. AnonymousMay 04, 2014

    That "Swedish" cover is very certainly a Dutch cover.

    1. South African, to be precise.

  7. The guy on the cover of that Hampton Stone Mystery looks like Steve McQueen. Maybe they were trying to con people into thinking it was the novelization of a new Steve McQueen movie.

    1. AnonymousMay 04, 2014

      Concur with the Steve McQueen lookalike.

    2. My first reaction was Omar Sharif

  8. John Gardner was a prolific, professional writer and took over the Bond novels.

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  10. AnonymousMay 05, 2014

    The Shell Scott novels by Richard S. Prather were a cut above a lot of pulp detective fiction, and had quite an imaginative humor to them. Well worth a read.

    And is it me, or does that Mickey Spillane "Killer Mine" cover have a Jane Fonda "Barbarella" vibe to it?

    1. AnonymousMay 05, 2014

      Sharp observation about Killer Mine, & it's likely you're on to something. The book dates from 1968, same year as Barbarella was released. McGinnis did the Spillane cover, and the Barbarella poster.

  11. Thanks for the great post. Back in the 70s I had a used bookstore within walking distance of my house and once a week in the summer I was allowed to walk by myself and get no more than five books (used books were usually between 15 to 75 cents). The store didn't have anything overtly pancakey, but it did have tons of the trashy action, sci-fi, mystery books, like these in this post. At one point I had the whole Travis McGee collection! Good days.

  12. AnonymousMay 06, 2014

    Great Post. A few celebrity look-alikes? "A very good suspense novel" = Steve McQueen? / Operation Flashpoint = Leonard Nimoy? / Narc = Robert Redford?. But poor old "Drake" is the "Man with nobody's face"......

  13. Carter Brown is like McDonalds - over 20 million / 25 million / 70 MILLION SOLD!

    By my math every person in America has three Carter Brown paperbacks somewhere in the house and doesn't know it.