Classic Cover – Mystery Valley

By Anne Perry

Posted on June 25, 2013 in Books with tags Book Covers, Westerns

An outburst of interest in commercial fiction in the 1920s led Hodder & Stoughton, then about sixty years old, to develop its ‘Yellow Jacket’ series – smaller format paperback reprints of successful crime and mystery fiction, usually reproducing the superb cover-art for which Hodder was known.

Sombrero, by Max Brand, is no exception. This particular edition is a 1952 reset of a 1930 original, and boasts one of my favourite Yellow Jacket covers. It’s a deceptively simple image: a man with a gun, reigning in his horse. But the white clouds and ombre-effect of the iconic yellow deepening into an unmistakably southwestern orange give the cover depth, and the dark shading on the horse, the man and the landscape features through which they ride suggest a creeping darkness. The way the rider pulls at the reigns, holds his gun uncertainly; the way the horse is caught in the act of rearing, nostrils flared, ears back and tail flying, all serve to give the tableau a dynamism missing from run-of-the-mill westerns.

Max Brand (1892 – 1944) was an interesting character, too: although his real name was Frederick Schiller Faust, he wrote under a variety of pseudonyms, including Max Brand, and only published his poetry – which he considered his only worthwhile literary effort – under his real name. His most famous creations were probably Destry and Dr Kildare, and he made a fortune off them. And, despite being of doubtful health and rather advance age, Faust insisted on serving as a front-line correspondent during WWII and died in Italy in 1944, after being hit by shrapnel.

Faust wrote at an astonishing speed; he penned more than 500 novels during his lifetime, and it is estimated that his total literary output comes to between 25 and 30 million words.

Mystery Valley by Max Brand



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