May 192014
 



John Trinian is not your typical Gold Medal author, and North Beach Girl (1960) and Scandal on the Sand (1964) are not your typical Gold Medal paperback originals. Far from ordinary, these two titles are among the most unique and extraordinary Gold Medal originals I’ve had the pleasure to encounter. Once again, thanks must be given to the team at Stark House Books for rediscovering these should-be classics, and collecting them in new volume with three illuminating essays by historian Rick Ollerman, close friend Ki Longfellow, and daughter Belle Marko.

A radical blending of 1960s counterculture and noir sensibilities, Trinian’s novels evoke the West Coast spirit of the times with the doomy melancholy of Goodis. The plots vaguely touch on murder, but they're more like hangout books, with the characters drunk or stoned most of the time. Booze, drugs, and art flow freely through these pages—at times the inebriation is a pure high, at others it’s a hazy attempt to block out reality. But unlike something like Lawrence Block’s A Diet of Treacle, these books aren’t Beatnik-sploitation, or caricatures of the scene. Trinian, who was pals with Richard Brautigan, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac, lived the lives he writes about. With each passing page, there’s an authenticity to North Beach Girl and Scandal on the Sand that can’t be faked—it gives the books their realism, but it also gives them their sadness. Trinian feels for his characters, their troubled pasts, their hazy futures, and their lost present.

Though at first glance, the title North Beach Girl might sound like some Frankie and Annette sandstorm, it is nothing of the sort. Erin, the main character, just quit her job as an artists’ model. She crashes as a garage paid for by another woman named Bruno, who runs a local art gallery. The gallery has attracted a local crew of beatniks, drunks, artists, wannabes and has-beens, including Riley, a painter who comes knocking on Erin’s door late one night, piss drunk, wanting to hire her as a model. Bruno, who obviously has some sort of affection for Erin, is resentful and jealous. Deep in debt and looking for a way out, Bruno wants Erin to borrow money from her dying grandmother in order to invest in a larger gallery space. And Erin, indecisive in life and love alike, hasn’t made up her mind what to do about anything.

“The bitter confusion of her life became magnified and it seemed to melt into a solid lump of nothingness. Why should she think about it? Life was wretched and disgusting. It was mean for the stupid idiots who could swallow its lies and shadowy promises. Only fools lived in peace. She thought of the cemetery where her mother was buried. Give and take, old ashes to even older ashes … have another drink and the hell with it. One negated the other.”

It’s as gloomy as any of Goodis’ gutter monologues, a pure mainline dose of 100% noir.

Trinian’s first line in North Beach Girl establishes the theme of entrapment that runs throughout the novel: “Erin covered herself with the pale green robe and sat on the empty packing crate by the narrow barred window.” From her workplace to the garage to the gallery to her grandmother’s house—and of course the variety of places where she goes to drink—Erin never has a place of her own. Always in between, borrowing, crashing, or killing time, she lives in a permanent state of impermanence. While she may be an anti-establishment figure of the time who has dropped out from mainstream society, Erin isn’t a romantic or idealistic character at all. She’s realistic as hell. Most of us have either known an Erin, or been like her (at least for a little bit). And that’s where the power of North Beach Girl is—in the characters. Unlike Riley who likes his “entertainment real simple,” where “the good guy wears a big white hat and the bad guy wears a black one,” Trinian writes ambiguous characters who are neither good nor bad, neither heroes or villains, nor even anti-heroes. They’re screwy people who drink too much and say stupid things and waste time and never seem to figure out what they’re supposed to do. And that’s why Trinian’s characters are among the most recognizably human—and modern—in all of the Gold Medal paperbacks.

Though sex, drugs and murder are very much a part of the story North Beach Girl, the novel isn’t plotted like your standard head-first-into-the-action thriller. Trinian takes his time, slowly developing the characters, their relationships, and their inebriated trajectories. North Beach Girl is structured like an extended bender, coming out of the haze for brief moments of recognition and sobriety, only to drive back into the fog once they see the bleakness of their circumstances.

“Hell,” Erin said softly, “people drink a lot.”

One aspect of Trinian’s writing that does remind me of Lawrence Block, and also anticipates the work of Ed Gorman, is the portrayal of alcohol and drugs. These aren’t people who drink to have fun, or get high to have a good time—they’re just sad wrecks of people. Trinian has great sympathy for them and their constant need substances—and he never pities them, perhaps because he was something like them, himself. As his daughter, Belle Marko, writes, “He was popular and unreliable, his own worst enemy in many ways, getting in his own way with self-sabotage and isolation, depression and bouts of rage and horrible remorse. He was plagued with demons …” One of the biggest clichés of noir literature is its senseless and unrealistic celebration of alcoholism. Trinian, on the other hand, hammers home the unpleasantness of what it really is like.

The second book in the anthology, Scandal on the Sand, also sounds like a Frankie and Annette movie, but it is even less like one than the preceding novel. It begins with a great, and totally surreal, first line:

“In the deep, in cold darkness, a hundred feet below he rocky cliffs and half-hidden among the fan fronds and greenly-waving fields of sea grass, the great gray whale hovered, his tail fins moving now and then to maintain his depth.”

The first couple pages are all from the whale’s point of view—an unorthodox narrative as exciting and it is insane, and yet Trinian pulls it off perfectly. The story is set into motion when the whale washes up on the beach, gets stuck, and can’t get back to the ocean.

An ensemble narrative like John D. MacDonald’s Cry Fast, Cry Hard, Scandal on the Sand follows a group of characters on a single afternoon that all come together because of the spectacle of the beached whale. There’s Karen and Hobart, a hookup from the night before that Karen resents and that Hobart thinks will lead to marriage. There’s Joe Bonniano, a wanted hitman whose picture is on the front page of the newspaper and who is hanging around for a delivery of money. Also near by is Mulford, a cop whose stupidity is matched by his ego and quick temper. Out for a stroll are Fredric, a one-time Hollywood star-turned-dope addict, and his wife, Becky; Riley, an ex-con tow truck driver; and even a sleaze photographer named Earle and his two bikini models. And overseeing all of this is Alex, a lifeguard too hungover to notice what is unfolding on his beach.

Scandal on the Sand is, in my eyes, an even greater accomplishment than North Beach Girl. Structuring the novel around the beached whale is just a magnificent, maverick concept that borders on the avant-garde. The whale functions as a unifying symbol for all the characters: a manifestation of their collective problems, disappointments, uncertainties, and pains. Confronting the whale brings out their true character—in some it reveals compassion, in others indifference, opportunism, and violence.

Like in North Beach Girl, Trinian’s characters are distinguished by their waywardness and uncertainty. In Scandal on the Sand, the action may be compressed into a single afternoon, but the characters experience years of life through their reveries and regrets. Unable to actualize any change in their lives, they’re stuck in a limbo consisting always of nights-before and nights-after-next; days are spent forgetting and planning, and rarely doing. Of Karen, Trinian writes, “She felt a terrible need to search for something, anything, inside or outside herself that would help erase the idiotic outcome of the night before.” Trinian also has Fredric ask his wife, “Becky, do you think that if I can manage it on pills today, pills alone, without anything else, that I’ll still be all right by this evening?” These aren’t characters living for the day so much as they’re struggling to just make it through. As Earle sums it up, “Sometimes I do good; sometimes I don’t. Beer one day, champagne the next. Up and down, and down and up. That’s life.”

Scandal on the Sand also has its moments of hardboiled noir philosophy, like this line that reads like something out of Richard Hallas’ You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up:

“What had Herb said? That Joe wouldn’t even break away from the post? That the odds weren’t in his favor? That was a laugh and a half. Joe had known that all along. Because that’s the way it had always been. Not matter what. Dice, roulette, poker, the horses. Everything always ended with a bust-out.”

North Beach Girl and Scandal on the Sand have whetted my appetite for Trinian, and convinced me that he is one of the true unheralded greats of the Gold Medal canon.
Apr 092014
 
Paperback 762: Gold Medal 645 (PBO, 1957)

Title: Case of the Cold Coquette
Author: Jonathan Craig
Cover artist: George Mayers

Yours for: $11

GM645

Best things about this cover:
  • Cold? Maybe if she put her shirt back on …
  • Oh, *that* kind of iceberg. The ones that are beautiful and are thawed by money. I was thinking of the ones that are made of ice and float in the ocean and are thawed by the rays of the sun. But I get it now. Good analogy.
  • If you're looking for your right shoe, lady, it's under the bench … there … toward your left … no, not in the corner—down … straight down … are you even trying? 
  • Seriously, what is she doing? Some kind of weird half-naked bench yoga?

GM645bc

Best things about this back cover:
  • "I'm a cop." Original!
  • Champagne tastes … but caviar guts-on-the-track!
  • We get it. Cold, thaw, etc. Give the metaphor a rest; I think it's tired.
  • I always say, the best leads are succulent leads. Like aloe. A great lead, aloe.

Page 123~

"The mark is so hotted up he can't think straight."

~RP

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]
Feb 232014
 
Paperback 745: Gold Medal 111 (PBO, 1950)

Title: The Wild Horse
Author: Les Savage, Jr.
Cover artist: Uncredited

Yours for: $10

GM111

Best things about this cover:
  • The horse or the girl! Every man must choose.
  • When you find your horse "desirable," well, it reacts like this.
  • Few writers were more savage than … Les Savage!"
  • Musculature lovingly drawn by someone who appears to have spent a Lot of time underneath a horse.

GM111bc

Best things about this back cover:
  • "If you like girls and horses and especially girl horses, prepare your blood for stirring!"
  • Oh, the horse is a him. The plot thickens.
  • Look, there's "horse lover" and then there's whatever bizarre romance novel shenanigans is going on here. If your horse is kindling in your breast a wild dream of possession for more than four hours, see a doctor.
  • He's written best-sellers before, so … who's to say he won't some time again in the future. Les Savage!

Page 123~

"Why not put it in words, Rockwall? It's been in both our minds for a long time now. You can't deny it, can you?"

I really, really want the horse's name to be 'Rockwall.'

~RP

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]
Oct 302013
 
Paperback 716: Gold Medal 250 (PBO, 1952)

Title: Dark Intruder
Author: Vin Packer
Cover artist: Amos Sewell

Yours for: [not for sale]

GM250

Best things about this cover:
  • Hide-and-seek fail.
  • He doesn't look that dark.
  • The only way that pose of hers makes any sense is if she's plunging her left arm down into the hay in hopes of recovering a lost earring.
  • OMG his right hand WTF? For Halloween, I'm gonna dress as this guy's middle finger. Frightening.
  • Vin Packer is a pseudonym for Marijane Meaker, a fine writer of PBO thrillers. Also, a woman. Also, the lesbian paperback writer Ann Aldrich. Also, the children's lit writer M.E. Kerr. And other things.

GM250bc

Best things about this back cover:
  • "Father and daughter rode roughshod..." is not my favorite phrase.
  • "Then Luke Came" would be a great gay porn paperback title.
  • It's interesting to me how much the front and back covers play up "Spring Fire"—I think I underappreciated what a sensation that book was. See it here (Paperback 466).
Page 123~

She could not help thinking of what Raol had said about his mother, feeling a slow, teasing jealousy mount inside her.

First, yes, Raol, not Raul or Raoul. Second, the end of this passage makes me giggle.

~RP

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]
Oct 242013
 
Paperback 714: Gold Medal 554 (PBO, 1956)

Title: The Violent Hours
Author: Frank Castle
Cover artist: Lu Kimmel

Yours for: $14

GM554

Best things about this cover:
  • "Hi, Murder? Hi! I was wondering, if you weren't too busy, maybe you'd like to come over for some love? .... You would!? Great! I'll put on something red and light a candle. See you soon!"
  • There is a whole subgenre of cover art that involves Girls Spilling Over The Edges Of Beds. Here's one. I know I've seen Many, many more.
  • This position offers Optimal Breast Viewing but does pretty terrible things to every other part of the body. Her hair looks like a wasp's nest.

GM554bc

Best things about this back cover:
  • "Ooh, it's half past murder. Time to look in my pants again!"
  • "Sheeted."
  • "Webb Grayburn" is not a name that inspires confidence. Sounds like a guy who owns an above-ground pool dealership.
  • OK, it's mostly text, but I still love the asymmetrical, crayon-like design with the whimsical, face-free clock hands. 
  • The book comes pre-distressed, so the actual wear and tear around the edges of the book fits right in with the book's original aesthetic.

Page 123~

It became so quiet in the room that the distant clatter of a teletype became loud.

It's not the most elegant sentence, by a longshot, but I do like the aural experience it provides.

~RP

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]
Oct 112013
 
Paperback 708: Gold Medal d1682 (3rd ptg, 1966)

Title: Nightmare in Pink
Author: John D. MacDonald
Cover artist: [Ron Lesser]

Yours for: $7 (yeah, I paid only $3, but ... inflation/postage — his books are being rereleased in $14 trade paperbacks ... why, WHY would you buy those when you can get beat-up '60s-era stuff, which is much cooler *and* much cheaper?)

GM1682

Best things about this cover:
  • Really hate the turn cover art took in the '60s—toward text/branding, away from full-page cover art—and I associate MacDonald's books most closely with that trend, to the extent that I almost blame MacDonald personally. Over the years, the girls get smaller, while the whole MacDonald/McGee Brand swells up and dominates. Probably smart marketing. But sucky from a purely aesthetic perspective. 
  • I do like the way Pink suffuses every corner of this thing.
  • Her hair is, frankly, terrible. 

GM1682bc-1

Best things about this back cover:
  • It's bad enough you've shrunk her and made her all modest on the front—this bland-and-white corner punishment is just degrading. Even John D's like "C'mon guys. Too far."
  • OK, I haven't read a sexier phrase than "sweetly wanton career girl, living alone in a Manhattan walk-up" in a Long time.
  • Not sure what is meant in this context by "Cafe Society," but I would like to join.
  • "And introducing ... LSD!"

Page 123~

Terry Drummond rapped at my door and I let her in. She wore fifteen thousand dollars worth of glossy fur coat. Her brown simian face wrinkled with distaste as she looked around. "God, what a scrimey hole!" The coat swung open.

This is the kind of passage that makes me wonder why I have not read more MacDonald than I have. Love it.

~RP

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]
Sep 232013
 
Paperback 699: Gold Medal s977 (PBO, 1960)

Title: Journey to a Woman
Author: Ann Bannon
Cover artist: photo cover, I think

Yours for: No. I keep. (probably worth about $60)

GM977

Best things about this cover:
  • It's cruddy. But this is a novel by one of the biggest names in lesbian pulp, so I'm fond of it nonetheless.
  • She's been ambered! (that reference was for "Fringe" fans only ... so, like, five of you)
  • Is that text supposed to be a poem? Whose / Bright idea was it to break the / Lines that / way?

GM977bc

Best things about this back cover:
  • Here's some important "gay" paperback code language: "half-" anything. Also, "shadows."
  • Hey, I wanna go "tearing through the night on a fool's errand at the whim of a beautiful spoiled woman who had beckoned." That sounds awesome!
  • "The strangely alluring woman called Vega!" — well, I've got at least one friend who will find this book interesting. A friend named 'Vega." You probably guessed that.

Page 123~

"Charlie has some idea for a new toy," Cleve went on. "He wants to call it 'The Scooth.' It's sort of a spring, a great big thing you can crawl inside or sit on top of and bounce."

Toys are important on your journey to a woman.

~RP

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]
Sep 152013
 
Paperback 696: Gold Medal s911 (PBO, 1959)

Title: Assignment—Lili Lamaris
Author: Edward S. Aarons
Cover artist: Barye Phillips

Yours for: $7

GM911

Best things about this cover:
  • Cover would be So Hot if it were less smudgy and closer-up. PAN IN!
  • This is somewhere between super-sexy and "help me, I've fallen."
  • She appears to be wearing ... mist. How convenient.
  • I like how she just jams her right leg into the text, like "Don't look at those stupid words! Why are you looking down there when I'm up here!?"

GM911bc

Best things about this back cover:
  • I like the attitude suggested by his face, i.e. "whatever, sketch me or don't sketch me, I don't give a fuck."
  • Since "the enemy" is unnamed, I'm gonna go ahead and assume it's "lizard people."
  • "Tenth book"?! He wrote 42 novels in this series! (This has been your "holy crap" literary moment of the day.)

Page 123~

He paused, listening to the silence here that was not quite a silence, but like the deep, patient breathing of a waiting animal. 

That's just Lili. She breathes funny when she's naked-crawling.

~RP

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]
Sep 132013
 
Paperback 695: Gold Medal 823 (PBO, 1958)

Title: Passage to Samoa
Author: Day Keene
Cover artist: Uncredited

Yours for: $14

GM823

Best things about this cover:
  • Roger was inconsolable when he found out they weren't going to Disney World
  • Roger was fastidious about thread-count.
  • Jerry Orbach IS ... Roger IN ... "Passage To Samoa"!
  • "They followed the random pink arrows ... to Death (or Murder or Love ... one of those)!"

GM823bc

Best things about this back cover:
  • An inside look at Roger's circulatory system reveals that he is all fucked up.
  • If that phony count doesn't have a sweet pencil mustache, I will be gravely disappointed.
  • Roger liked his sex the old-fashioned way: bundled.

Page 123~
Janice protested. "But you can't kill us for nothing. What on earth is back of this, anyway?"

"Well, I'll tell you now, Miss Hart," Hines grinned. "It's this way. Me and Sven and a certain other gent got tired of being poor. So—"

Hanson bellowed, "Shut up, you fool. It's none of their business."
I like how honest and ingenuous Hines is. "Uh, we wanted money, 'cause we didn't have none, so ..."

~RP

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]
Sep 112013
 
Paperback 694: Gold Medal 763 (2nd ptg, 1958)

Title: Stop This Man!
Author: Peter Rabe
Cover artist: Darcy

Yours for: $14

GM763

Best things about this cover:
  • A great, brutal cover marred only by the stupid slab of yellow Erskine at the top.
  • Love the unfinished quality of painting toward the bottom, the obvious dilapidation on the ceiling, the dynamic use of perspective, the framing of his left hand in the dead middle of the page, the believable fear on her face, the simple, understated, off-center title ... all fantastic.
  • Not sure what that shirt's made of though? Taffy?

GM763bc

Best things about this back cover:
  • OK, is it "could not put this book down," or, as the cover clearly states, "couldn't put this book down." I call bullshit.
  • I love (sarcastically) how this book basically belongs to Erskine Caldwell now. Sorry, Peter Rabe. I know it must be tough to get shown up on your own cover(s) by a 3-to-1 margin, but that's show business. Gotta move product.
  • The NYT review clearly has no appreciation for how much I like "the lurid modern crime thriller."

Page 123~

They put handcuffs on the Turtle and put him in a police car. Then they drove him downtown, to the office of the FBI. The Turtle didn't say anything during the long ride. He didn't think that funny talk would make any difference any more.

Aw, c'mon, The Turtle, you're not trying hard enough. Do your Nixon impression!

~RP

[Follow Rex Parker on Twitter and Tumblr]