Friday, 31 August 2012

Penguin Crime Week:
Slow Burner
by William Haggard

(Cover photograph by Peter Laurie.)

This is one of my favourite paperback covers of all time.

A scan of it was posted on Mounds & Circles earlier this year, and it provoked a certain amount of interest when I reblogged it on my Tumblr. Now, finally, I can post it here whilst observing my self-imposed book-blogging rules, as the image above is my own scan, taken from my own recently acquired copy.

So, anyway, yeah - I love this cover. Such a simple piece of design work, but also daring, unconventional, mesmerising. A bit of really sinister aesthetic beauty.

I love the fact that whilst ostensibly this is a cover focusing on the quintessential pulp image of a naked woman with a gun, the framing of Peter Laurie’s photograph rejects any sexual or exploitative interpretation. Instead, there is a certain ‘matter of fact’-ness about the photo – the detail of the model’s toes and her short, cropped hair, the German Luger and the crumpled, monochrome bed sheet – that is startling; about as distant from the old Robert McGinnis style paperback dame as you could possibly get. There is something fascinating and deeply unnerving about her shiny skin and strangely proportioned limbs, the invisibility of her facial features. She looks like a posed mannequin; the erotic implication of her nakedness is completely derailed, given a one-way ticket to uncanny valley. Unheimlich to the max. If Penguin in the ‘60s were looking for any one image to say ‘this is not your father’s crime story’, this is it.

In more prosaic terms, I also like the title, and the fact that the author’s name is only one letter different from my one of my own illustrious ancestors.

As to the book itself, well I’m unfamiliar with the work of William Haggard and the synopsis doesn’t exactly sound too thrilling, but I’ve got a soft spot for grim espionage tales and sinister goings on beneath Whitehall, so ya never know. Is Haggard just another forgotten spy hack, or could he be swinging somewhere toward the Le Carre / Eric Ambler end of the scale..? Only one way to find out – wish me luck, I’m hitting chapter # 1 this evening.


Ninetyeightytwo said...

What are your book blogging rules? I ask because I only recently started to write about books, and it'd be interesting to know about the sorts of etiquette I should be observing.

Ben said...

Hi 9082!

Since I usually just post book covers here for the sake of the artwork/design rather than writing about the books themselves, I usually limit myself to only posting scans of books that I own, and that I bought in shops or markets for reasonable prices.

Basically that's just because these days anyone can hit ebay and buy whatever old book they're looking for for £20, but where's the fun in that? Rescuing these great bits of culture from forgotten shelves is something I really enjoy... and unlike records or comics, old pulp books are still cheap & unwanted enough that you can find all kinds of weird, amazing stuff without even trying. (My pulp collection started as an off-shoot from searching for books I actually wanted to read, but now I probably buy more books I don't intend to read than ones I do.)

Good luck with the book blogging - I'm sure if you're actually discussing the writing itself, no one's going to be too bothered where your image of the cover etc comes from...

Ninetyeightytwo said...

Thanks for replying.

My M.O. for too long has been to write about every film I see that I haven't seen before. I was advised to diversify, so I decided to also start writing about every book I read that I haven't read before.

You're quite right when it comes to the wonder of pulp. I once liberated about two dozen old Michael Moorcocks - each of which had an absolutely gorgeous cover - and it cost me little over £5. I put them in the downstairs utility room as an inadvertent "comment" on their perceived quality.

Since then I've been snapping up anything I find with an interesting enough cover. Where you seem to be drawn to Penguin crime, I like the sci-fi and fantasy.

Let's be friends!

Love the blogs and tumblr, by the way. Long time reader, first time commenter.

Ben said...

Hey thanks - much appreciated!

I'm very fond of sci-fi / fantasy paperbacks too (click on the 'two fisted tales' button on the left for a complete run down of books I've posted over the years).

And as this blog's name and header suggests, I'm a big fan of Michael Moorcock as well. Admittedly, I haven't read many of his straight up heroic fantasy books, just because that's a genre I've always found pretty dull, but I think his work in other genres and his more serious/experimental fiction is absolutely superb.

But yeah, lets' be friends - good to know ya, and I'll check out your blog after posting this!