Over My Dead Body The Sensational Age of the American Paperback: 1945–1955
by Lee Server, Chronicle Books, 108 pages
As pulp magazines died off after the Second World War, the lurid paperback arose and flourished in their place. The first softcovers were nonlurid hardcover titles repackaged for an audience grown used to portable Army editions. Very quickly, however, publishers discovered a large market for paperback originals with titles like Nude in Mink ; Lady, Don’t Die on My Doorstep ; Hitch-Hike Hussy ; and Benny Muscles In , lascivious and streetwise stories that made steady work for a generation of writers. The Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt had early success writing about molls and gumshoes; John Faulkner’s novels of backwoods brothels were shorter and sexier than his brother William’s books. The genre’s first star was Mickey Spillane, with his pitiless hero, Mike Hammer.
The charm of this entertaining book lies in its reproductions of many of the books’ covers. Lee Server, also the author of Danger Is My Business , an illustrated history of the pulp magazines, points out in his fond, expert text that in the fifties the cheap paperback was as explicit as popular art got. The so-called Rembrandt of the pulp illustrators was James Avati, who used people from his small New Jersey town as models for his desperate characters. Over My Dead Body is voluptuously produced in suitably overripe colors.