22 January 2012

No Lady Before Judith Hearne

A Bullet for My Lady
Bernard Mara [pseud. Brian Moore]
New York: Gold Medal, 1955

As titles go, A Bullet for My Lady ain't so bad. The problem is that that narrator Josh Camp has no lady, and the only person who takes a slug is a small time crook named Domingo Jiménez.

Barcelona sets the stage. Camp, a trader in airplanes, arrives in "the biggest, roughest city in Spain" to search for AWOL business partner Harry Spoke. He's barely set foot on Spanish soil when met by a beautiful woman who reports that the missing man got drunk and fell from the balcony of a fourth class hotel. Camp doesn't believe a word. Harry, always one for routine and discipline, never strayed from a two drink maximum.

Camp takes a room in the selfsame flophouse, where he's visited by the beautiful bearer of bad news, a moustachioed marquesa, a lovely lush named Lucille and, of course, Domingo Jiménez. As it turns out, all are searching for the coffin of a cardinal who, centuries earlier, was buried wearing vestments inlaid with pearls, rubies and diamonds. What we have is a dark, violent, not so funny It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.

A Bullet for My Lady ain't so bad. While the plot isn't much and the characters cardboard, Moore's sketches of Spain are at times quite striking. (He banged out the early chapters in Barcelona and Majorca.)

The fourth of his disowned novels, it appeared two months before Judith Hearne. Back in 1955, the Gold Medal thriller was Moore's moneymaker, bringing an advance that was well over ten times that proffered by André Deutsch for the more literary undertaking.

Three more Moore pulps followed.

Can you blame him?

Object: A cheap mass market paperback with spicy cover illustration by James Meese. The back cover features a curious black and white photograph that looks for all the world like a still from a movie that was never made.

Access: The first and only printing arrived at news stands in March 1955. Very Good copies begin at US$45 and, for no good reason, go up to US$150. Non-circulating copies can be found at the Toronto Public Library, Library and Archives Canada, McMaster University, the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Calgary and Simon Fraser University.

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  2. The first American edition, published later in 1955 by Little, Brown, was the first to appear as The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne. As far as I know, the longer title has been used ever since (with this very curious exception).

  3. Who can resist a a moustachioed marquesa?

  4. Agreed. Who can resist such a vision:

    "A black lace mantilla was draped over her dusty-looking hair. Her face was the color of yellow soap, with harsh features running to fat. She had a black moustache, very ugly, on her upper lip."

  5. There's a man in Nancy Spain's Death before Wicket (see blog) who would have adored this person.

  6. Ah, I missed that - there was so much goodness to absorb in your very fine post. Must add that I've never before come across mention of that particular sexual fetish (and I really had to read up on such things in writing the Glassco bio).

  7. Brian Moore is an underrated writer. I'm a big fan of THE LUCK OF GINGER COFFEY. Perhaps Stark House will reprint the "Bernard Mara" books in one of their omnibus volumes.

  8. I read somewhere else on your blog about the Moore/Mara books and made a note to track down all of them. Thanks for this review which only impels me to find them sooner. I have a feeling there's a store in town that will have at least one. It has yet to fail me when I desire anything from Gold Medal.

  9. George, a bit of a tardy response, but I wanted to make certain to recommend the 1964 film adaptation of The Luck of Ginger Coffey. The best treatment of a Moore novel thus far, I think.

    John, would that I had a similar store nearby. If offered a choice, I'd go for A Bullet for My Lady before French for Murder. I haven't yet read Moore's This Gun for Gloria, his last Gold Medal. Next year!