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Overture to Death: 1943

Overture to Death: 1943

October 1943. Washington, D.C. "Servicemen and girl at a party." Our title comes from the bookshelf, although it could be from the girl. Strategically, her companion has the right idea: Get your lady comfortable with food and drink, and maybe a pillow. Add conversation and stir. Operationally, though, we'd say the execution needs work. Photo by Esther Bubley, Office of War Information. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

Thanks for recommendation

Checked out a collection of four Eric Ambler stories contained in one book titled "Intrigue" from the local library. Just finished reading "A Coffin for Dimitrios" and found it superb.

I was initially surprised that the book was still available for checkout especially since it was first placed into circulation back in 1965 according to the checkout card still located inside the back cover of the book. It also indicates that the book was checked out 36 times between November 4, 1965 through October 27,1986. It then sat for almost six years before being taken out again. The last entry appears in '94 after which the book was likely moved to electronic record keeping. It appears that the book still gets out enough in circulation to warrant keeping it around...

Those books!

Those books are collectible the ones with the keyhole on the spine are "Map Backs",mystery books with maps printed on the back of the book,to illustrate where the story takes place. Early writers on that genre got a start there.

Above Suspicion

Three books to the left of Eric Ambler's superb A Coffin For Demetrios (top row of paperbacks) is another book to check out.

Above Suspicion (1941) was the first book by Helen MacInnes. It tells a terrific pursuit and escape story of a newlywed British couple who are asked by a friend in intelligence to go to Germany on their honeymoon and pass a few messages to certain people in certain cities. They were picked for the job because they'd be "above suspicion."

The time, I think, is summer 1938. The tenseness of the period is very well handled, and you'll get a thoroughly convincing feel for the quiet menace behind everyday German life.

Nero and Agatha

Lots of good Nero Wolfe titles on that shelf, and Agatha Christie too. Nice to see some of the classics.

The Man Who Murdered Himself

By Geoffrey Homes, published by William Morrow in 1936, and by Avon as a paperback in 1942. Competition for Siamese Twin Mystery in Peter's most-thought-provoking-title category.

Overture to Death

is still in print, and I have a copy too. It's a pretty funny book about two spinsters vying to be the top dog in an English village. It's by Ngaio Marsh.

Two Familiar Items

My mother's unfiltered Pall Malls. I might have snuck one or two. They were pretty rough but what I most remember is studying the heraldic looking thing on the front of the pack when I was mid single digits.

My copy of Victory Through Air Power is not much worse for wear than the one here and dated 1942. The jacket is a dark or navy blue toward the top of the jacket fading to a lighter blue with gray clouds at the bottom.

Literary tastes

I respect the reader's choice of Willa Cather's "Sapphira and the Slave Girl"; probably the foremost novelist on those shelves.

Book Identification

The large volume on the lower shelf is "Currier & Ives Printmakers to the American People" by Harry T. Peters.


When one looks up some of the titles on that bookshelf, some should still be readable (Eric Ambler, for instance).

Although almost all seem to be out of print by now. However, some are called out with an astonishing price tag on the used book platforms.

Ah, the irony

It might not have been a bad idea for the serviceman to have perused Headhunting in the Solomon Islands, as it's not impossible that he ended up there. The islands were the site of some heavy fighting which continued to the very end of the war, even if the worst was over by the photo's date.

While most of the titles have long since faded into obscurity, two that stand out are Cross Creek, the memoirs of Yearling author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and of course Pygmalion. Sapphira and the Slave Girl by Willa Cather is an example of a rather obscure book (her last, in fact) by a famous author. As for A Coffin for Dimitrios, I fully agree with an earlier comment that Eric Ambler was an excellent writer.

Still, the most thought-provoking title by far is Siamese Twin Mystery. What happens if one of them is a murderer? You can't throw him in prison without punishing the other, innocent one, so what do you do?


The woman in the photo bears a striking resemblance to . . . Esther Bubley. I note that only one of her hands is visible, and that one of the books on the lower shelf is the photo-geek bible, "Photo Lab Index."

[Here she is in a 1944 photo by John Vachon. -tterrace]

The next day he said with a wink:

"Guys, I tell you, I just met her last night and in no time I had her head on a pillow, if you know what I mean!"

Pall Malls

My mother used to smoke these and when I was much younger I used to swipe a few and go up in the attic to smoke!

Was This Esther's Bubley's Apartment?

On the bottom shelf is a copy of The Photolab Index which was a compendium of all kinds of technical photographic information. It would have been owned by a serious photographer who needed ready access to data from all the then current manufacturers, as well as articles on chemistry, optics, etc.

Disney's "Victory Through Air Power"

Disney used the shown book "Victory Through Air Power" as a basis for a highly successful 1943 propaganda film of the same name.

The Pocket Book of Boners

When I was eleven years old, looking for entertainment at a cabin on an island in the north woods, I discovered that book. It kept me laughing for days.
In those old days, the word "boner" was slang for a mistake. Here's one that was hysterically funny for me at age eleven: From a classroom quiz, one student's answer to the question of the conquest of Mexico was, "Mexico was conquered by Kotex."

Successful jump from shelf to screen

The best book on that shelf is "A Coffin for Dimitrios" by Eric Ambler. It's about a reporter traveling Europe between the world wars who crosses the path of an international master criminal. Picked up at a yard sale in the early 1970s, it is one of the best books I've ever read for mystery, espionage and treachery. I pictured Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet as characters. Low and behold in the 1980's, while walking by a little theater of Drexel University in Phila, the next movie to be watched and discussed was "The Mask of Dimitrios" Yes it was, and starring the actors I had imagined. The movie was oh so good!

Pall Mall

Long time since I have seen a pack of Pall Mall. About 1946 [ my Aunt].

Old Hat

On top of the bookcase are 2 U.S. Army WW2 enlisted men's Class A Uniform Visor Caps. The badges are upside down and too blurry for me to make out. Attached is the American Eagle emblem usually worn on this headgear. The Officer's cap had a larger image not encircled.

Headhunting In The Solomon Islands

Caroline Mytinger and her pal Margaret Warner on their own in the prewar Solomons looking for heads they could paint!

I have that book and those two ladies were simply amazing. A very nice bookshelf IMO.

I Spy

My copy of 'Victory Through Air Power'. Interesting book. I've always wondered where it had come from.

Doubt you'll post this but --

I'd have gone with "The Pocket Book of Boners."

Too Gauche?

"The Pocket Book of Boners."

Another possible title

"Pocket Book of Boners" might have been more appropriate.

Alternate Alternate Title

The Pocket Book of ... no, that's too easy.


potential title: Farewell, My Lovely. He looks like he's about to slide down and disappear. And his buddy looks ready to be more then happy to take his place.

No Fun Here!

There is no ashtray for the long-ashed cigarette; the glasses appear empty (at least to me); the girl appears bored; the guy appears desperate.

Doesn't look like anyone is having a good time, except his buddy, who seems to be laughing at the whole thing.

I wonder if Dr. Seuss

ever regretted doing the illustrations for 'The Pocket Book of Boners'?

Alternate Title

Goodbye, Mr. Chips.

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