Nailing down the Westlake sleaze catalog, part II: The Midwood books (part II)

The first post in this series included the series introduction and covered the first five sleaze novels that Donald Westlake wrote for Midwood Books. This post will cover the second and final five.

Here is some backstory on Midwood from Lynn Munroe:

Harry Shorten came from the Midwood section of Brooklyn NY. With his partner, artist Al Fagaly, Shorten made his fortune with a comic strip called THERE OUGHTA BE A LAW. Shorten thought up the ideas and Fagaly would do the drawings. Looking around for somewhere to invest all the money he was making from his cartoon, Shorten decided to become a paperback book publisher. He looked at the success of Beacon Books, a series of slick cheap throwaway melodramas and sexy romances with flashy girlie art covers marketed to men and published by Universal Distributing. Shorten figured he could do the same, and at 505 8th Avenue in Manhattan, in 1957, he started a paperback book line named for his old neighborhood…

…Shorten was getting his early manuscripts from the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, where Meredith’s band of employees and clients were soon churning out a book a month for Nightstand Books, too. And he was getting his cover paintings from the Balcourt Art Service, the same agency that supplied many of the covers for Beacon.

Although nobody at Midwood knew it then, most of the books were by the same writers turning out the Nightstands. For example, Loren Beauchamp (Robert Silverberg) would become Don Elliott a year later at Nightstand, Sheldon Lord (Lawrence Block) would become Andrew Shaw. Some of the writers, like Alan Marshall and Clyde Allison and Al James, used the same name for both.

Amazingly, just 5 men wrote almost all of the first 40 numbered Midwoods. This hard-working group (Beauchamp, Lord, Marshall, Orrie Hitt and Don Holliday) carried and established Midwood until Shorten was able to build his own stable of regulars – names like March Hastings, Dallas Mayo, Kimberly Kemp, Joan Ellis, Jason Hytes and Sloane Britain.

For a book publisher, Shorten may not have known much about literature or good books…but he understood what the average American slob liked. His books are bright, colorful, flashy and above all eye-catching. That’s why cover artists like [Rudy] Nappi, [Paul] Rader and Robert Maguire were so important to Shorten’s success. The covers sold the books. Midwoods were not great literature, but they were usually great fun. PG-rated sex scenes popped up every few pages full of innuendo and veiled references to “throbbing manhood” and ‘dark triangles”.

If you’d like to read more, and you should, please check out Lynn’s full article, which features fascinating interviews with two Midwood writers.

The Midwood books, part II

The Wife Next Door, by Alan Marshall (1960)

Pictured above. That’s a pretty great cover. (More pics)

Virgin’s Summer by Alan Marshall (1960)

The halves of her bikini aren’t the only thing mismatched here. When you look at this cover, do you think, “Oh, yeah! This is obviously the shocking story of what goes on behind the locked doors of a motel!”

Perhaps I’m staying at the wrong motels. (More pics)

I’m mostly just doing front covers for this series, but the back of this one is pretty great, both because it’s horizontal (presumably like most of its cast) and because the blurb is almost poetry.

Moving on.

A Girl Called Honey, by Sheldon Lord and Alan Marshall (1960)

This one’s no secret. “Sheldon Lord” is Lawrence Block. This one was reprinted in the gorgeous omnibus Hellcats and Honeygirls, which contains three sleaze novels co-written by the legends (the second one is immediately below) and a terrific introduction by Block. You should have bought that limited edition hardcover when I told you to, because it now costs a small fortune.

Lucky for you, the three books in the omnibus are available as e-books. Of course, collectively those three e-books will cost you nearly as much as the gorgeous hardcover collection. When I say buy, buy. (More pics)

So Willing, by Sheldon Lord and Alan Marshall (1960)

The second Block collaboration, also collected in Hellcats and Honeygirls. (More pics)

All About Annette, by Alan Marshall (1960)

This is the final book that Donald Westlake wrote for Midwood. This one was long thought to be a Westlake because there is a character who, via Lynn Munroe, is an oversexed writer named “Larry Lord,” a pretty blatant nod to Lawrence Block and his frequent sleaze pseudonym, Sheldon Lord.

It is now, along with all of the rest of these, 100% confirmed. (More pics)

Posts in this series

Nailing down the Westlake sleaze catalog, part I: The Midwood books (part I)

Nailing down the Westlake sleaze catalog, part I: The Midwood books (part II) (this post)