One of my favorite discussion topics lately has been Fawcett Gold Medal, the legendary publisher that took the world of print by storm back in the 50s. I don't want to rake up the same old stuff I explained in my last Gold Medal article, so I'll give some background in a different way. To say it was a big influence on the publishing industry is an understatement.

By being the first or at least one of the first publishers to release paperback originals (PBOs) and inventing a generous compensation plan for their authors, Fawcett pretty much forced the hand of hardcover publishers to adjust their business models to compete. This actually leveled the playing for writers and many of them were actually making more money writing paperbacks then they were with hardcovers. Fawcett wouldn't be remembered today if not for their stellar writers. They occasionally published horror but at least enough for me to write about them sometimes, so I'll dive in.

Nightshades and Damnations by Gerald Kersh and edited by Harlan Ellison. I was intrigued by Ellison's remarks about Kersh's work and any praise from Ellison is worth paying attention to since he didn't pull punches whenever he came across something he didn't like. Kersh had immense range. "A Lucky Day for the Boar" takes place in British colonial India and is a cunning tale of psychological torture. "The Queen of Pig Island" tells of the ironically sad fate of a group of shipwrecked circus freaks. "The Brighton Monster" is the 18th century account of an encounter that Englishmen had with a man scarred by radiation after being blasted into the past from a nuclear explosion in 1945. The man is deformed and cannot speak English an unfortunately the superstitious folk didn't know what to make of him. Kersh had an unusual way with examining race relations in his fiction and this one feels like the plot of an original Twilight Zone episode. "Men Without Bones" is the quintessential classic monster story and any serious horror reader needs to seek it out. "Busto Is A Ghost, Too Mean to Give Us A Fright" has one of the most brilliant epiphanies ever written. Valancourt Books reprinted this one and also released an audiobook. Get either one.

The Slasher by Ovid Demaris. A serial killer is cutting up victims in 1950s L.A. There is only so much the police can do even when they have an ideal suspect in their sights. Now, the killer is seeking out the one victim who survived an encounter with him, a man who has to regain the will to live to save himself and his wife. It's a plausible take on the perspective of a delusional murderer as well as an insightful view of miserable people and how they reached the slumps they are in. Overall, it's a well-written book, efficiently done. There is a jaw-dropping scene in this one that made me exclaim, "Whoa!" Demaris wrote several Fawcett Gold Medal books and a great deal of his reputation is built on his true crime books on the Mafia. Currently, The Slasher is available as an ebook.

Mansion of Evil by Joseph Millard is also available as an ebook. This book has been credited as the first graphic novel and was an early effort by Fawcett to innovate with their Gold Medal line. This one was drawn by E.C. artist George Evans and is a modern gothic about a woman kept prisoner in an old mansion. Pretty standard stuff and not exactly remarkable but still a piece of comic and horror history. A physical copy of this book
runs in the hundreds of dollars these days.

Blood Marks by Bill Crider. An excellent serial killer book by a respected mystery writer. My memory of this one is hazy but I remember liking it a great deal. It is about a murderer who wipes out his victims because of visual hallucinations that mark the people that become his victims. Crider knew his crime literature history and was an authority on Gold Medal. This one is an audiobook.

In Crider's Gold Medal Corner Column (found on the Mysteryfile website), he wrote about the books of Marvin Albert. Regarding Albert's book Devil in Dungarees, he wrote "which is actually a Crest book, but that's the same as a Gold Medal. Trust me." Considering that Fawcett's Crest line published some similar material, I don't think this is a stretch and welcome the Crest books into the fold.

Robert Bloch's novels Psycho, American Gothic, and Night-World were all published with Crest at one point. So was Richard Matheson's A Stir of Echoes and First Blood by David Morrell too. Yes, I call First Blood a horror novel. Unlike the movie, Rambo doesn't just wound the men who try to stop him, he eviscerates them. Rambo in the film killed one man by accident, Rambo in the book shows no restraint and no mercy. From disemboweling his first victim to shooting down a helicopter to going on his last killing rampage before getting blown away by Colonel Trautman, First Blood is a hyperviolent novel.

I still have several horrific Gold Medals to read and will share my findings later.

Written by Nicholas Montelongo

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