Monday, February 09, 2009

Putting Up a Good Front

I hope I’m not establishing a trend here, but I have chosen to participate in my second meme of 2009. The first one required that I post 16 random facts about myself. This time, I am tagging onto a meme that started at a Web site called Weekly Geeks. The assignment is to “pick a book--any book, really--and search out multiple book cover images for that book. They could span a decade or two (or more) ... Or they could span several countries. Which cover is your favorite? Which one is your least favorite? Which one best ‘captures’ what the book is about?”

One of the half dozen or so works I’m currently reading is Turn on the Heat, the second installment of the classic Bertha Cool and Donald Lam detective series, created by novelist Erle Stanley Gardner under the pseudonym “A.A. Fair.” That series began with The Bigger They Come in 1939 and continued until 1970, when the 29th Cool and Lam novel, All Grass Isn’t Green, was published.

Turn on the Heat originally went on sale in January 1940. It finds obese private eye Bertha Cool and her “half-pint runt” of an operative, former attorney Donald Lam, being hired by a mysterious “Mr. Smith” to track down Amelia Lintig, the wife of an eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist who disappeared from the small town of Oakville, California, 21 years before. That disappearance followed a marital scandal involving Dr. James Lintig’s young nurse; neither Mrs. Lintig nor her unfaithful hubby has been spotted since. However, when Lam visits Oakville, he discovers that--by apparent coincidence--Amelia Lintig has also just dropped into town for the unexpected purpose of dismissing her long-ago divorce case, leaving her still married to James Lintig. Before Lam can get a handle on all of this, Amelia Lintig vanishes again, he’s given a thorough beating by parties unrecognized, he falls for and gains the assistance of an Oakview reporter, and a link is sought between the Lintigs’ troubled past and a political campaign in the present--a race that could be seriously jeopardized by revelations about extramarital dalliances of yore. As with most of Gardner/Fair’s Cool and Lam stories, clients are deceptive, Lam cleverly manipulates suspects toward a satisfying resolution of the case, and Mrs. Cool begrudgingly goes along with her op’s illegal connivances, because she knows there’s a guarantee of financial reward in the long run.

Searching carefully through the Web, I was able to come up with six different covers that have featured on Turn on the Heat over the years. The first two come from the 1940s; the rest were published at various times in the 1960s and ’70s:

Honestly, none of these jackets does a perfect job of representing Gardner/Fair’s tale, though the second one in the top row--showing a naked woman being strangled with a cord--was at least inspired by an event in this novel. The first jacket, with what looks like a vintage blow torch, signals the escalating tensions of Turn on the Heat, but the other fronts seem intended to draw the eyes of male book buyers, rather than capture anything about the plot on offer in this work. The two jackets on the bottom are particularly worthless--examples of what book designers of the “make love, not war” era thought was cool, but having only scant connection to Turn on the Heat. Those covers could have been featured on any number of ’60s detective novels, and worked just as well--or just as poorly--as they do on this one.

As far as I can tell, there hasn’t been another American edition of Turn on the Heat since the last one shown here (bottom right), which came out from Dell Publishing in 1972.

If you would like to see what other bloggers have been doing with this “judge a book by its cover” meme, click here.


Corey Wilde said...

I'm a long-time Cool and Lam fan, but I've never seen those first two covers. Thanks!

Prof. Hex said...

Cool meme. I like it, though I think that pulpy books lend themselves better to the idea. I'm probably prejudiced though. I've only read the one Gardner that Hard Case put out but I liked it enough to look for others.

Actually, I think that first cover shows a heat torch of some sort.

J. Kingston Pierce said...

I think you might be write about the "heat torch" idea. I found a photograph of a vintage blow torch that bears a marked resemblance to the illustration on this book:

I'm going to go ahead and change my description of the device. It makes sense that it should be a blow torch, rather than a tea kettle. If anybody has a different idea of what device is featured on the front of that first book jacket, please let me know.


Kerrie said...

They are all pretty provocative covers aren't theY/

Ed Gorman said...

Just when I think your blog can't get any cooler you come up with all these Lam & Cool covers. If Gardner kept all his foreign editions in one location it must have rivaled a a public library.

RJR said...

I think Bertha would be considered less than obese today.


RJR said...

I vote for the .45 cent cover.


Lightheaded said...

My mom's copy is the first one from the second row. Since I can't recall the story now I can't say whether the other covers were as apt as they can given that judging by the covers of most mystery/suspense books released within that same decade or two, most of them tend to peddle the scantily clad women in front than the story inside.

gautami tripathy said...

I simply love all his books! I got a lot!