FALCON BOOKS

-A New York Publisher, circa. 1952-

by Gary Lovisi


 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


 
To the average viewer, they were digest-sized paperbacks featuring sexy pin-up cover art. But a closer look reveals a treasure trove of crime and private eye fiction from key 1950s writers who would become legends in the genre. There’s some great stuff here and more than just a few surprises as well.
Falcons are digest-size paperbacks, bound with staples. Books in the series change format slightly becoming a bit shorter – about a half inch shorter than the standard digest size. There seems to be no logic or order to this sizing. Falcon Books were published by the same outfit that published similar sexy digest series, Exotic Books, Ecstasy Books, and Rainbow Books, but none of those had the accent on mystery and crime that the Falcons did.
The series begins for no apparent reason, with book #21, the sleazy crime drama, Season For Sin by Anthony Scott in 1952, and ran for a total of 24 amazing books, to end with #44, Honky Tonk Girl by Charles Beckman, Jr. If possible, an even more searing hard crime sleazer. Cover blurbs on this one proudly proclaim, “It was the last stop for the scum of humanity on the road to hell!”

Well, it doesn’t get any better than that in the pulp crime genre of the 1950s.

As collectables, Falcon Books are coveted acquisitions and usually sell for a premium, when you can find them. These days they only seem to be listed as auction books, and hence go for auction-type prices. Nevertheless, almost any book in the series, in about Fine condition, could set you back close to $100.
They’re that popular and in demand. Some sell in excess of many hundreds of dollars!
Like everything else, some books are more common than others. With some elusive titles downright impossible to find today. A key reason for collector demand is all the gems in the series: hard-boiled crime, rare drug books, key juvenile delinquent novels, outrageous campy sleaze, all topped off by incredible sexy girl pin-up cover art. For many collectors, what could be better?

Each of the 24 Falcon Books is unique in that they are hard crime and noir given the ultimate sexy treatment. You could call them hard-boiled sleaze, though published at least a decade before that genre would meld into the soft-core adult paperbacks of the 60s. The cover art in the Falcon series was superior to most other digests. It was well-drawn, bright with garish colors, all with sexy good-girl, or bad-girl pin-up cover art using reds and yellows. The covers offer a femme fatale feast for the eyes. Sleazy in some respects, but these girls were no victims, they were ‘happy’ to be bad girls. They’re naughty, and they’re enjoying it! Cover art was done by George Gross, Rudy Nappi, and others. All covers feature very sexy woman prominently displayed on the cover in provocative pin-up poses. They’re stunning and a main reason for the collectability of the books in the first place. The back covers are often just as interesting, with amusing and campy black and white photos, always duly noted as being, “posed by Professional Models”. Usually showing bad girls being…bad.
However, it’s not only what is on the covers – as nice as that may be -- that makes this series collectable. It’s what’s between those covers. That means the novels -- the stories themselves. Almost every book was written by a top professional crime and mystery pulpster. These were men who could tell a hell of a good story and they did. Their stories ring true, their characters are memorable. There’s some real sleepers in this series.
The Falcon Books series is also important because 20 of the 24 books are paperback originals. Aside from a prime drug book by Evan Hunter (a.k.a Ed McBain), and Richard Prather’s first book, there are no less than 13 books written under pseudonym. Of that number 7 were written by the same author under still more different names. That author is the prolific and professional pulpster, Norman A. Daniels.

So let’s begin with Daniels. He wrote seven books in the series under pseudonym, all paperback originals. Daniels wrote four books as by Mark Reed (#22, The Scarlet Bride; #26, Lay Down and Die!; #32, Sins of The Flesh; and #43, House of 1,000 Desires); two book as by Norma Dann (#27, Lida Lynn and #34, Shack Girl!); and one book as David Wade (#35; Raise The Devil!). Norman Daniels under his own name also wrote book #29, Mistress on a Deathbed!, and #38, Sweet Savage both paperback originals from 1952. Daniels all by himself had a total of nine books in this series!

One Daniels sleeper of interest is #35, Raise The Devil as by David Reed, a very dark early serial killer novel reminiscent of the brutal Black Dahlia murders and with a tough cop protagonist. It’s a minor classic and generally unacknowledged.

Another novel hiding under a pen name is #25, The Case of The Cancelled Redhead by Hamlin Daly, a paperback original from 1952. This novel was actually written by veteran pulp author, Weird Tales contributor and Oriental scholar, E. Hoffman Price. Another sleeper under pseudonym and generally unknown even by his many fans.

Lion Books crime author, Fredric Lorenz, also contributed one book for the Falcon series under a pseudonym. That book is #37, Woman Hunter, by Laura Hale. For years thought to be yet another Norman Daniels pseudonym, this book was discovered to be written by Lorenz and was a paperback original from 1952. It’s a searing crime novel.

Of the many interesting books in the series, one of the wildest is #28, Girls Out Of Hell by little-known Brooklyn crime and sleaze author, Joe Weiss. A paperback original from 1952, this scarce and very desirable juvenile delinquent girl-gang and woman in prison novel is very hard-boiled. It also has incredible bad-girl cover art by George Gross. One of his best covers in the series. Even the back cover is outstanding on this one – collectors will love it. The photo and blurbs here talk about reform school girls and tough gang girls. This book has become tougher to find. It used to be seen quite frequently at shows and on dealer lists, but not any more. This is one of the best JD novels by a writer who wrote gritty crime and JD fiction for Avon and other publishers in the 1950s (and in hardcover for The Woodford Press). Joe Weiss is an underrated author who is already collected by those in the know. These days this book has become one of the key Falcons, highly in demand, it can fetch $95-$200 on auctions and at book shows.

Perhaps the most sought after book in the Falcon series is #36, Junkie by Jonathan Craig, another paperback original from 1952. Cover art is signed by Ketor Seach. This is one of the two prime drug books in the series and very tough to find. It sports the same title as Ace #D-15 (Junkie by William Lee). However, this Falcon book has absolutely nothing to do with the Ace Book or Lee/Burroughs. In fact, this Falcon Book is much harder to come by and is probably worth almost as much in nice condition! This is one of the scarcer and most desirable drug-related crime paperbacks and an about Fine condition copy can easily go for $300-$700!
 

Three important big-name masters of mystery, crime and private eye fiction appear in the Falcon series with one book each. One of the most important is Richard A. Prather, with Falcon Book #30, Dagger of Flesh, from 1952. It features cover art showing a great sexy gang moll by Ruddy Nappi. This is Prather’s first book and his first novel. He was not very happy with the title, nor the cover art -- he didn’t like the sexy girl on the cover. It’s ironic that one of the reasons why collectors like the book so much is the exact reason why the author dislikes it so much. Also, the book was not a Shell Scott novel originally, but had a different hero named Mark Logan. Logan transformed into Shell Scott in later reprints. This book is also hard to find, especially in better condition, and can run you in the $125-300 price range.

The second important mystery and private eye writer in this series was Anthony Scott, who kicked-off the series with the first Falcon, book #21, Season For Sin. Scott was actually Brett Halliday (who was actually, David Dresser), the famous mystery author and creator of the Mike Shayne private eye series. This was an early Halliday novel under yet another pseudonym and generally not known.

The third important mystery and private eye author is Evan Hunter (aka Ed McBain, but born Salvatore Lombino, who sadly passed away recently). His book, #41, The Evil Sleep, is also a paperback original from 1952. This was Hunter’s first book and it is very much sought after. However, this is not only a crime novel, it is a very valuable drug book about heroin addiction, and collectors are eager to get their hands on the scarce number of copies available. The Evil Sleep is probably the rarest and most expensive Falcon Book. An about Fine condition copy could be worth from $400-$750! The book was never reprinted under this title. It was reprinted only once as So Nude, So Dead (Crest Book #139, 1956), under another Hunter pseudonym, Richard Marsten, and that revised edition is scarce and pricey as well. I believe these are the only editions of this scarce book.

Someone with the unlikely sounding name of Hodge Evens also wrote books in the Falcon series. For a long time some collectors assumed Hodge Evens was also Evan Hunter. This was because Hunter used so many pen names, the similarity of the names (Evens/Evan), and the fact that Hunter had already written one book in the Falcon series -- much like Norman Daniels who also used pseudonyms in this series. Also in some early reference books and lists, Evens name was incorrectly shown as Evans, so some assumed this was just another Evan Hunter pseudonym. Collectors (but especially book dealers) would have loved there to be three sleeper Evan Hunter digests discovered in the Falcon series. However, this was not to be. Hodge Evens is NOT Evan Hunter. He never was.
They are totally different authors. Hodge Evens wrote three books in the Falcon series: #24, Three For Passion, “An emotional whirlpool of crime, passion and love!”; #33, Yellow-Head; and #40, Whip-Hand, “a seething turmoil of passion, violence and hatred.” This last of the three Evens titles seems to be a very tough Falcon to find. All are paperback originals from 1952. It turns out that Hodge Evens is actually veteran genre author, Dudley Dean McGaughy, better known as Dean Owens. Owens, writing as Hodge Evens, also wrote books for Beacon and Rainbow Books and was another prolific pulpster.

T
here were also books by lesser mystery and crime authors who were mainstays in the crime digests of the 50s and 60s like Manhunt, Pursuit, and Hunted. One, already mentioned above, was Jonathan Craig with his book #36, Junkie. Two other crime genre authors with a book each in the Falcon series were Bryce Walton with #42, The Long Night, “a novel of hasty marriage…and hastier death”, and Charles Beckman, Jr. with #44, Honky Tonk Girl. These last two books might be first novels for them, as both wrote almost exclusively in shorter forms.
Three other books offer fodder for further investigation: #23, Mabel and Men! by George Boltari; #31, Slave Girl by Tom Roan; and #39, Joy Street by Chet Kinsey. These seem to be the author’s actual names but it is hard to tell for sure. Tom Roan wrote many western stories and novels in the pulps and paperbacks, and he also wrote under the name Adam Rebel, but whether Roan was a genuine name or a pseudonym is still a mystery. Obviously, there are still questions that need to be answered about these books.

Unlike most sexy digest series with the prerequisite girly pin-up cover art, Falcon Books also offer finely written hard-boiled crime and mystery novels. They’re good books in and of themselves, good to actually read. The best of the pulp paperbacks. They offer crime and suspense fiction by quality authors who can really tell a story. What could be better!

I’d estimate a complete set of all 24 Falcon Books in at least Very Good condition could be worth in the area of $1,500 to $2,500! In about Fine condition, perhaps as much as $3,000 to $4,000!

So with that kind of dollar value, sexy cover art and collectable authors, Falcon Books really do deserve a closer look!

 



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