Long ago, before collecting "vintage" books became such an in-thing, Ted Mark (nee Theodore Mark Gottfried [19 Oct 1928 – 7 Mar 2004]) books were perhaps some of the most common paperbacks you could find on the bookshelves of your local thrift shops, possibly only outnumbered by the books of the Australian pulp author Carter Brown (nee Alan Geoffrey Yates [1 August 1923 – 5 May 1985]), one of the most productive authors ever.* Today, books by either author are a rare and happy find at such shops, especially if they're in a half-way decent condition, though they remain easily available and overpriced at any given online bookshop.
A family documentary
that gets some facts wrong:
And so it was that, while traversing the book aisles at some Vegas mega-thriftstore prior to the Age of Covid, we quickly snatched up this 1967 Lancer Book of Circle of Sin, "The Long-Awaited Major Novel by Ted Mark [that] Sets A New Trend in Psychological Candor". Big words for a writer who, in his pulpy trash novels of the 60s and 70s, tended to specialize in (to simply quote what we wrote in an earlier review of one of his typical products, The Pussycat Transplant [Berkley Medallion, 1968]) "the same type of hippie humor that Terry Southern specialized in his books Candy and The Magic Christian, but [whose works] read more like cheap, badly written imitations penned by pubescent boys who giggle at the word sex. Hit or miss affairs, they can elicit an occasional chuckle, but generally they wear thin quickly and become annoying, the humor being as dated as it is childish."**
But to return to Circle of Sin, the book which, should one choose to believe the claims of the cover, is "more than a murder story" and reveals the serious side of Ted Mark. The first flaw of the concept is that one can hardly "long await" something that had already been published elsewhere: as revealed in small print two pages in, "This book was previously published under the same title with the author listed by the name Leslie Behan." Indeed, Circle of Sin was published by Domino Books, a subsidy of Lancer specializing in sleaze, and Leslie Behan is the first of Theodore Mark Gottfried's many pseudonyms, the one under which he published his first book ever, The Midway at Midnight (1964), and retired after In Love's Dark Corners (1965). Needless to say, and as the book's roots would indicate, Circle of Sin is hardly a "major novel" proving that Mark's "talent transcends pure entertainment". No, if anything, the book simply proves that he could write vintage-age, guilt-ladled masturbatory sleaze as well as any of the rest, possibly even slightly better than most.
There is nary a mention of "Detective Lieutenant Thomas Durango" — the short but (we learn at the end) well-hung detective of Maltese descent whose in-book description does not come close to the detective pictured on the cover of the Lancer edition*** — in the Domino back cover description, but the Lancer reprint corrects that deficit in their back-cover synopsis: "It had to happen! There were eight people in the therapy group. Eight people: male, female, and in-between.**** Eight people with strange obsessions and warped perspectives on life. It was inevitable that one of them would find murder the only outlet for frustrated passion. Finding a killer was nothing new for Detective Lieutenant Thomas Durango. But this was a unique problem, and in finding the solution he had to probe deeply into eight human souls. With him, you'll acquire new insights into things that really make people tick…"
If you're expecting any deep psychological insight into the minds of the characters great and small along the lines of, say, the psychological thrillers of Ruth Rendell aka Barbara Vine (17 Feb 1930 – 2 May 2015), well, we have a bridge to sell you. True, Mark delves into the psychological in his book when he details the sexual predilections and/problems of the various patents of the murdered Dr. Mavis Golden, but he generally reduces everything to "mother's fault" and never comes across as anything more than an armchair psychologist pontificating "facts" as believed in 1965 — eight years before 1973, when "the American Psychiatric Association made history by issuing a resolution stating that homosexuality was not a mental illness or sickness. [HRC]" But even the APA probably never reduced everything down to "it's the mother's fault" or prescribed to the idea that all patients hate their shrinks because the doctor is a figurehead for their mother. Worse, the violent-prone and blatantly misogynist rapist is not only presented as equally (if not less) perverse than the homosexual and diverse lesbians, but even gets a girl (and an alibi) by hooking up with the group's nympho (soon after she almost gets raped by a Great Dane, as in woof-woof not smørrebrød). But then, if you see alternative sexual preference as an illness, as was done at the time and in this book, it is perhaps not surprising that being a rapist is seen as no worse than being a lesbian, homosexual, nympho, a sexually inadequate Afro-American male or whatever. (Even today, a rapist can become a Republican Party president, so obviously enough being a rapist isn't something intrinsically bad, right?)
You ever read Naked Came the Stranger? (The cover above is to a British edition.) That 1969 best seller was a literary hoax in that it was not written by "Penelope Ashe" but, rather twenty-four journalists, each of whom wrote a separate chapter, each chapter being a sexual adventure of the revenge-driven, sex-obsessed heroine. That book comes to mind when reading Circle of Sin, if only because the structure of Mark's book is 100% aligned to the structure that Stranger mocks: almost every chapter has a sex scene (with most many sex scenes transcending chapters). Aside from the opening chapter(s)/scene between Dr Golden and Debbie the Hot Hooker, there are, of course, the eight chapters of the eight main suspects, followed by scenes involving an additional small cadre of other patients (not part of the therapy group) that get pulled into the plot towards the end when it becomes obvious that none of the group is guilty, regardless of any and all murderous intent they all had by the end of their various sexcapades that sent them all out into the same night intent on confronting/raping/beating-up/killing the good Dr. Golden — whose professionalism, we learn at one point, extends to masturbating to the sex stories her patients tell while on the couch.
For all the sex, however, there is still more detail and non-sex narrative and plot than typical of the almost plotless sex novels of that were soon to start hitting the market via firms like Greenleaf Classics. Is the sex hot? Dunno, but maybe back then people were easier to titillate than today, because for all the turgid prose and detail, the book cannot be described as exciting, much less as "hot" – if anything, the situations, grotesquery and language often instigate sniggers or laughter, and while laughter and sex can go together well, in Circle of Sin the laughter is not instigated by intention. Other times, some of the scenes almost make you feel dirty – the semi-kiddy sex scene in which the mom gets her son to give her a massage, for example, or whenever the rapist is around.
For fans of Ted Mark's sex capers filled with his typically dated pubescent sex humor, Circle of Sin will be a disappointment. Ditto with fans of detective novels, for all the detecting done in this book is purely rote or questionable at best. As for the psychological insight of the novel, the book displays a depth that would leave an ant parched if it were water. #MeToo will probably find that Durango abuses his position when it comes to Debbie the Hot Hooker, but then there is little to nothing in this book that would in any way indicate any sort of enlightened attitude. Especially not when it comes to sex itself, for Circle of Sin is very true to its name in that for all the sex found in the narrative, the book is oddly anti-sex. On the plus side, Circle of Sin does display Mark's typically capable if not somewhat workmanlike writing capabilities and occasional odd choice of words*****, but that does little to truly save the book from occasionally being a real dirge that requires speed-reading to get to the resolution.
Is Circle of Sin in any way worth a read? Not really, if you ask us, although it will definitely help you achieve a new and improved appreciation of his sex farces like the O.R.G.Y. books, the previously mentioned Pussycat Transplant, or his other "comic" novels like The Unhatched Egghead (Lancer Books, 1966).
For an interesting if odd link between Ted Mark and Trump's dead former best buddy, Jeffrey Epstein — Trump: "[Epstein's] a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life." — let us suggest the final paragraphs of Mother Jones' article from 2020, I Called Everyone in Jeffrey Epstein's Little Black Book.
* Which isn't to say "Ted Mark" wasn't active, just under other names – including Lorayne Ashton, Ted Gottfried, Harry Gregory, Kathleen Fuller, Benjamin Kyle, Katherine Tobias and Leslie Behan. Mark was merely the most used pseudonym of New Yorker Theodore Mark Gottfried, a former Checker Cab driver (1952-55) who also wrote a yitload of "serious", non-fiction books for teens under his real name — and at times, according to the CV found online, supposedly worked as an editor on such fine publications as Dude and Gent (1963) and High Society (1976-77), although his supposed employment at the latter did not get him in the imprint or yet get noticed even in passing by the history-driven detectives of the Golden Age of Porn known as the Rialto Report.
** An opinion echoes by others. The New York Times, for example, wrote the following about the only movie ever made based on a Ted Mark book, James Hill's The Man from Orgy aka The Real Gone Girls: "A certain charming innocence pertains to all the low-level vulgarity, as it does to the plump, often pretty girls themselves, with their piled-up hairdo's, their freighted eyelids, and their brave little attempts to say their lines. [Wikipedia]" (The first book of the Man from Orgy series, the titular Man from Orgy, was published in 1965; The Real Gone Girls, from 1966, was — according to the cover numbering of the Lancer editions — the fourth book of the series. Which was used for the film: dunno.) The advert above is to a double feature in which the comedy was screened with the "drama" Female Animal — the director listed in that film's credits, "Juan Carlo Grinella", is actually Jerry Gross (26 Jan 1940 – 20 Nov 2002) himself, a man fondly remembered for helping to bring such great stuff as Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971 / "Producer") and Zombie (1979 / "Presenter") to the grindhouse screens of the USA.
Female Animal (1970):
*** While we have had no luck in finding out who the curvaceous lass in the itsy bitsy teenie weenie
yellow [red] polka-dot bikini is, the hunk-a-hunk of a
DILF — slim and muscular in a natural, non overly-ripped way that, much like
the look of the sexy blonde holding his gun, has gone totally out of style — is
no one less than the minor actor and book-cover model Steve Holland (8 Jan 1925 – 10 May
1997): "If you're a fan of vintage
paperbacks and men's pulp mags, Holland should look familiar to you. He was
highly popular as a male model in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. He's best known
as the model used for Doc Savage on the covers of the
Bantam reprint series, most of which were painted by artist James Bama (who also did many
covers and interior illos for men's adventure magazines). You'll also see
Holland's manly image the covers of other paperbacks, including reprints of
Kenneth Robeson's other series, The
Avenger, Mack Bolan's Executioner
series (featuring covers painted by men's adventure artist Gil Cohen) and many Westerns. [Men's Pulp Mags]"
**** Not quite true. There are men and women, straight & gay & bisexual & lesbian, but while one lesbian does a stage act as man and another is as butch as they come, there are actually no transgender individuals or anything that might be conceived as "in-between".
***** Italics ours: "Her hands moved downward, over the tiny waist to the flat belly. She massaged the belly for a long time, moving farther downward slowly to the trembling mound beneath it. And then her fingers were nearing their target, the tips becoming slippery with the dew of passion they found there. They caught the tiny polyp of flesh awaiting them and [began] stroking it."
Yet another extra:
From the Good Titles Never Die Department, we present the trailer to the first film ever entitled The Female Animal, from 1958, starring the amazingly beautiful, intelligent and tragic Hedy Lamaar (Sept. or 9 Nov. 1914 – 19 Jan 2000) and the then still-closeted DILF George Nader (19 Oct 1921 – 4 Feb 2002, of such classics as Robot Monster [1953 / trailer] and, with Maria Rohm, The House of 1,000 Dolls [1967 / trailer]) as the blameless stud who couldn't stop the women from throwing themselves at him.
Trailer to Harry Keller's
The Female Animal: