Wednesday, November 17, 2010

20 Great Vintage Sleaze Reads

by Lynn Munroe

1. CROSSROADS OF LUST by Lawrence Block writing as Andrew Shaw. Midnight Reader 427, 1962.

Block was the first Andrew Shaw, and he has recently been republishing the books under his name. This is one that deserves to be available again. 

Many vintage sleaze paperbacks are all about "topic A" and nothing else. But several of the early Andrew Shaw titles, like this one, are hardboiled crime novels disguised as sleazy paperbacks. Block used this forum to hone his skills writing crime novels, and there is very little difference between his Andrew Shaw thrillers and the early Gold Medals published under his real name. This one is about an armored car robbery that goes wrong and gets bloody.

2. THE SADIST by Lawrence Block writing as Andrew Shaw. Nightstand 1629, 1962.

Block has already reprinted the best Andrew Shaw crime book, $20 Lust, under his original title Cinderella Sims. But this ice-cold chiller deserves to be republished too. 

The Sadist is a dark ride, a trip to the black night of men's souls in which the main character is no hero but is a sadistic hit man named Jack Garth. Garth loves his work, because it affords him an outlet for his dark side. He is a serial killer who gets by calling himself a "hit man". Garth takes the jobs no one else has the stomach for, like killing all the members of one Albany family. In one chapter that gave me night haunts, he forces the daughter to watch as he chops up her mom with an ax. This is a far cry from the usual sex and fun of the other Nightstands. In many ways ahead of its time, The Sadist is more like a modern gore movie. Later authors would be noticed for writing books with killer "anti-heroes" like this, but the only author I can think of who did so before Andrew Shaw was Jim Thompson with The Killer Inside Me.

3. THE SIN DRIFTER by Donald E. Westlake writing as Alan Marshall. Bedside 1218, 1962.

All four of the Bedside Alan Marshall books are fun reading and good examples of early Westlake. Traveling salesman Mike Mallory of the Wilmot-Dexter Peanut Butter Company has a seies of wacky trysts in this romp full of early 60s in-jokes. There's a couple named Wilma & Barney Stone, and Mike stops at the Bates Hotel, where he meets "two bottomless wells of giggling, bouncing, piston-hipped lust" named Cherry and Merry.

4. PASSION'S PLAYTHINGS - Westlake as Alan Marshall. Bedside 1208, 1961.

Walt McKay from Sodd, Ohio runs into plenty of action during his first visit to New York City. He finds himself on 42nd Street, joining the sex movie racket and meeting an unforgettable group of bizarre characters. Westlake often uses a storyteller's trick of involving you in the story by making "you" a part of the proceedings, as this quote from Passion's Playthings illustrates:
"..what's going to happen to this ordinary-looking guy in a few minutes is not something you would want to be involved in. You might think it's going to be fun, and maybe at first it will be, but the fun is going to evaporate faster than after-shave lotion, and the smell it will leave behind will not be nearly as pleasant. Walt is going to have an adventure, and remember, an adventure is some other guy in a hell of a situation."

5. CALL ME SINNER - Westlake as Alan Marshall. Nightstand 1581, 1961.

"Alan Marshall" became a house name used by many different writers, but Westlake was the first Marshall, and unlike many of his contemporaries he had no qualms about owning up to which of the books he had written. In chapter two of the second Dortmunder Gang story, Bank Shot, a box of sleazy paperbacks falls open and Westlake lists six of the titles. Except for one of his Edwin West titles (Strange Affair), they are all Alan Marshall books, and one of them is Call Me Sinner. This is his way of telling us he wrote this book. This book has the same first sentence as one of the Midwood Marshalls, Virgin's Summer, but the two stories go off on different tangents from there.

6. PASSION DOLL - Westlake as Alan Marshall. Sundown Reader 528, 1964.

Westlake was very adamant that he stopped writing these when the books appearing under his own name began to take off. I believe him, and I think he wrote Passion Doll in the early 1960s, but the publisher held it until 1964. I also think Westlake liked Passion Doll, because he mentioned it twice in his other books. It's another one of the books in the box in Bank Shot, and in one of the Parker hardcovers, as by Richard Stark, a drive-in movie is showing Man Hungry and Passion Doll (The Midwood Man Hungry is the third Alan Marshall book in Bank Shot, the other two are Off Limits and a Midwood called Apprentice Virgin). Passion Doll is reminiscent of other Westlakes, a road novel about a hitchhiking soldier and the runaway beauty queen who picks him up and takes him to motels.

7. OFF LIMITS - Westlake as Alan Marshall. Bedside 1202, 1961.

As noted above, Off Limits was one of the books named in Bank Shot. Westlake had served in the Air Force, and this story takes place on an Air Force Base. Richard Stark would return to this setting for The Green Eagle Score.
8. THE WARPED ONES - Westlake as Alan Marshall. Bedside 1211, 1961.

After his Air Force tour of duty, Westlake and his first wife got involved in the Greenwich Village off-off-Broadway theatre scene, and that is the setting of The Warped Ones. Westlake invented the bad play title "A Sound of Distant Drums" and Block quickly started using it too as they put jokes for each other in their manuscripts. That play is in this book.
9. THE SIN LOSERS - Westlake as Alan Marshall. Idle Hour 465, 1965.

Westlake is easily recognized by his breezy, conversational sense of humor. A friend of a friend of Westlake's once gave me a short list of Westlake's "adult" titles, and The Sin Losers was on that list. It is unmistakably his work, as this description of wedding night problems demonstrates:

"So then, she was stripped.... Now came the slipping and sliding process. They were both as slippery as eels by this time, and as nervous as inhabitants of Death Row, and though Hubert slid atop his wife with all the aplomb of a man for whom things like this are a common occurrence, happening every decade, the next stage of this fiasco found Hubert totally unable to find, anywhere on his wife's anatomy, the portion he had been led to believe was standard equipment on all women, and which was, in a way, the ultimate object of all this fooling around. He poked and pried and scrambled around like Ponce De Leon jabbing Florida all over with a stick in search of the Fountain of Youth , but, also like Ponce De Leon, all he seemed to be finding was more Florida."However, remember this is called THE SIN LOSERS, and everybody loses in the downer of an ending to this story.
However, remember this is called THE SIN LOSERS, and everybody loses in the downer of an ending to this story.

10. BEAST OF SHAME - David Case writing as Don Holliday. Pillar Book 847, 1964.

Case was the second Don Holliday, and he has many fans in the vintage sleaze world. His original title for this was Lust Werewolf, and that is too perfect to stick, they called it Beast of Shame. Case was interested in writing horror (he later wrote the movie tie-in for And Now the Screaming Starts), and finding himself with a sleazebook assignment he chose to write this dark delicious sleaze/horror crossover. Perhaps the only book from this publisher with an actual werewolf as one of the main characters, Beast of Shame is about a guy who runs around eating women. Literally.

11. THE LUSTFUL ONES - William Knoles writing as Clyde Allison. Nightstand 1525, 1960.

When I interviewed William Knoles' wife for an article on Clyde Allison, she told me he used to come home frustrated after a day at his job at Scott Meredith Literary Agency, reading the manuscripts they were providing to Nightstand Books. "I'm sure I could write a better one", he'd say. But then, unlike a lot of guys who come home complaining about their work, he wrote one. His first novel for Nightstand, The Lustful Ones, stands out from the pack as one of their supremely best-written books. The poignancy and deeply felt emotions of the characters ring true and resonant with the reader. It is unexpected, especially from this kind of paperback. For example, there's a scene in The Lustful Ones - it's a standard sleazebook scene - where our amorous prowling hero realizes he can totally boink this nubile, vulnerable young lady whose emotional defenses have been destroyed. But then he doesn't, because even though he'd have his fun, it would only break her more . Personal integrity like that comes as such a surprise after reading all the sex scenes and mindless bed romps in all these books that it's almost shocking. Chris Eckhoff, the extraordinary Brooklyn paperback dealer, once called The Lustful Ones "a masterpiece" in his book catalog. He was right on the money.

12. SIN SONG by William Knoles writing as John Dexter. Nightstand 1562, 1961.

"John Dexter" was one of the house names everybody shared at Nightstand, and the editors would randomly assign manuscripts from their regular writers to these house names. Knoles called this The Girl You Love to Hate, and as you read it, you recognize it's a Clyde Allison book. There's even a character in it from another Clyde Allison book, Hollywood director Hudson Ford from The Sex Riddle. Sin Song is about a promoter who takes a backwoods hick singer and turns her into a female Elvis. It's a biting satire on American pop culture and the music business. The more she sneers and misbehaves, the more popular she gets. It's a story about celebrity that's ahead of its time.

13. THE SEX SPREE by William Knoles writing as Clyde Allison. Midnight Reader 439, 1962.

Clyde Allison became famous for his hilarious James Bond parodies, the 0008 books. But a lot of his other, lesser-known titles are just as good, like this carefree spree about a guy named Dave Bender who goes on a 30-day bender. In a satire on the then-fairly-new world of instant credit, Dave realizes that since his credit card won't be due for 30 days, he has a month to live large, go wild, travel the world and make whooppee like crazy before he has to admit he can't pay for any of it.

14. THE GLASS MISTRESS by Evan Hunter writing as Dean Hudson. 

Midnight Reader 464, 1962. Hunter / Hudson had this notion that a man who was a skid row bum could simultaneously be a huge success in whatever field of work he chose. It's a ludicrous notion, but it's the basis for his Curt Cannon books like I Like 'Em Tough and it is the idea behind The Glass Mistress, which is about an actor who is both a drunken bum and a world-class lover. I always wanted to ask him, have you ever smelled a wino? How can he possibly succeed with the ladies as a famous lover and famous actor? The actor's true mistress, however, is his glass of booze.

15. THE SIN VELDT by John Dexter. Leisure Book 1152, 1966.

Sir Cecil Aubrey's circus, with its leopard-skin-wearing strongman Zondrik and the voluptuous Darvi, journey into deepest Africa in search of a Great White Ape. Zondrik (whose real name, we learn, is Algernon P. Fothingsgap) is not exactly Tarzan, and the Ape, who is afraid of biplanes and the Empire State Building , is not exactly King Kong. Along the way, every jungle adventure, safari movie and giant ape story is sent up as the circus folk journey from Mombasa to a Hollywood movie studio, where a giant ape movie called MIGHTY SAM YOUNG is made.

16. HER by J.X. Williams. Leisure Book 1218, 1967.

Rumors abound that Her was written by "a famous science-fiction author", but to date that name has not yet been revealed, and Earl Kemp, the science-fiction fan who edited this book, has forgotten just who submitted it. Her is one of the grand spoofs this publisher did from time to time. This one is a send-up of jungle adventures like She by H. Rider Haggard. Rugged he-man Steve Mitchell and his stalwart companion Colonel Fothingsgap (whose name suggests that this J.X. Williams also wrote The Sin Veldt as John Dexter) venture into darkest Africa , where they encounter Tarzan & Jane and an ancient goddess known as Her. They take Her to New York City , and on our tour of Manhattan, Steve wanders into a 42nd Street bookstore and asks, "Got anything by John Dexter?"
17. PASSION CACHE by Harry Whittington writing as J.X. Williams. Sundown Reader 580, 1965.

If you like Gold Medal crime thrillers by Whittington, Gil Brewer, and Charles Williams, you will want to seek out Whittington's pseudonymous sleaze books like Passion Cache. A burned out man is driving down a dark California road when he comes upon a half-naked blonde with a dead millionaire husband. He makes the classic mistake of stopping to help, winds up in bed with her (“She'd offered me a package deal, a quarter of a million dollars and enough wild loving to put me in a wheelchair.” ) and is soon in jail for her husband's murder. One of the characters in Passion Cache dies very slowly, and in Whittington's skillful hands we ache with anguish as we read about this death. We die a little. He is that good.

18. BLOOD LUST ORGY by Harry Whittington writing as John Dexter. Nightstand 1780, 1966.

Another hardboiled Whittington that grabs ahold of you is Blood Lust Orgy, which Harry also published as "The Crooked Window" in the November 1965 issue of Shell Scott Mystery Magazine. An ordinary guy takes his girlfriend shopping at a big department store at the mall. He waits in the car. She never comes back out. Ever. Nobody in the store remembers her, and he is just beginning to question his sanity when the police find a corpse in his closet. Now we are beginning to question his sanity. But hold on, there are more twists and turns ahead. Blood Lust Orgy is a hardboiled murder mystery disguised as a John Dexter Nightstand.

19. JAZZMAN IN NUDETOWN by Bob Tralins. Gaslight 101, 1964.

The first 18 books on this list were all published by the same man, William Hamling. There were other vintage sleaze publishers, however, and it is only sporting to end this list with a couple of them. Jazzman in Nudetown is a wild read about a sax player named Jock Midnight who is on the road, dining on booze and Alka Seltzer, when he is picked up by two busty Amazons who seem to have escaped from a Bill Ward drawing or a Russ Meyer movie. 

Just when you think their wild sexplay will make up the whole story, the always-resourceful pro Tralins turns this into a searing novel about race relations in the Deep South. With the late Mr Tralins' unique use of language ("I'd been gadzooked by two swinging cats!"), this is one I've never forgotten.

20. SEX A GO GO by Russ Trainer. Exotik Book W-22, 1966.
I used to have a book customer who worked in the offices of Rhino Records in L.A. She told me that on Friday afternoons, to end the work week, the office staff enjoyed reading aloud another chapter of this outrageous, kinky and bizarre sleazebook. Ostensibly the adventures of a rock'n'roll band called The Irresponsibles, Sex A Go Go is really a thinly-veiled pastiche about Beatlemania. In case you aren't paying attention, the group's drummer is Bimbo Sweet, a short hop from Ringo Starr. And then there is the Beatles-takeoff cover art by Norm Saunders. "A swinging story for all you hot cats!". Unlike some of the titles on this list, Sex A Go Go actually is a dirty book, with weird chapters on such old favorites as midget sex, double amputee stump sex and bestiality. And then it just gets kinky. Russ Trainer would later publish Cameo Books, where he did books by Dean & Gerda Koontz like Bounce Girl. He recycled some of his own books under pen names, and Sex A Go Go was reprinted there as Hot Rock by Gloria Bell.

Tomorrow: In our final post of "Sleaze Week at bare•bones," Lynn Munroe provides a checklist of every Andrew Shaw novel.


Walker Martin said...

I'm usually disappointed when I try reading sleaze but two of these sound really interesting to me because of my interest in music: JAZZMAN IN NUDETOWN and SEX A GO-GO I'd be willing to buy. Maybe Lynn has these in stock? If so, my email is

This is a valuable list and one I'll keep handy.

Trent said...

So The Warped Ones is the very first appearance of A Sound of Distant Drums?

Stanislaws said...
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