Friday, February 5, 2016

Judge Not My Sins by Stuart James


Here’s a saucy paperback from Midwood in 1961 that’s easy to like. Midwood, an imprint of Tower Publications, specialized in the same type of adult prose that made Beacon-Signal profitable. They advertised themselves as a “dynamic, virile” fiction publisher with titles that “are fast-paced, bold, lusty, and packed with excitement!” As usual, the cover artwork offered an immediate enticement to the hot-blooded male readers who bought their books. The image of a beautiful young woman falling out of her dress guaranteed a quick sale of thirty-five cents. Mere pennies in today’s inflated market. Author Stuart James uses a snippet from Norman Mailer’s Barbary Shore as an epigram to set the tone: “If it was love, it was also fear, and we might have huddled behind a rock while the night wind devoured the plain...” That was my first clue that Judge Not My Sins was a little different from the average “sex paperback.” David Markham, a writer for the men’s adventure magazine market, is estranged from his wife in Connecticut and skilled at playing the field. One night he picks up a girl in a bar for a one-night-stand, but some connection between him and the girl, Leslie, results in a continuation of their turbulent affair. Leslie is demanding and gets under Markham’s skin. Their relationship suffers and a lot of soul searching ensues. There is nothing blatant in the descriptions of their lovemaking. Markham views himself as a hack writer, and underlying this is the idea that he wants to be better than he is. When he encounters a dog-eared copy of Norman Mailer’s Advertisements for Myself, he says: “Mailer on Mailer was an outcry to all writers...he said point blank that you can’t walk through shit without getting the stink on you...to read Mailer on the tail end of a three-day labor on a screen treatment was like pausing for a chat with Christ on the way to a whore house.” (p. 112) Judge Not My Sins is basically a character study of David Markham. It also has the feel of a book that offers a glimpse into a world that has vanished. The New York night-life and the men’s magazine market it describes are both long gone. I enjoyed Judge Not My Sins. Midwood paperbacks have a loyal following, and many authors including Robert Silverberg wrote books for Midwood under a pseudonym. I don’t know if Stuart James was an actual person, although there is a photo on the back cover of a beatnik-looking character who also wrote Bucks County Report. Books from Midwood and Beacon are the subject of numerous on-line essays and if you find this post interesting you can google it before searching for them on e-bay.

1 comment:

  1. I recently started collecting books by Stuart James — triggered by his bracingly good Lancer novelization of the Cassavetes film TOO LATE BLUES (if you thought he caught NY nightlife of the era in JUDGE, wait till you see how he gets into the L.A. jazz scene in BLUES) — and there aren't many, nor is there that much biographical info on him but he was, indeed, real. He had a peripatetic career, of which writer was only one job, and he did a stint as an editor at Midwood as well as writer. Extrapolating from what little I know about him, I think he did a long stint in Hollywood, writing commissioned treatments and scripts that were read by a handful of people and never filmed; and re-emerged briefly as a novelistin the late 80s with THE SPY IS FALLING and THE SPY WHO WOULDN'T DIE from Bantam. I'm guessing it's the same Stuart James (haven't read them yet; just ordered them) because they make his name very large on the covers, and because his one IMDB credit, from the mid 60s, is a film called COME SPY WITH ME. After the SPY books he seems to disappear for good.

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