“Completing engrossing on every page,” proclaims a plug by Erskine Caldwell on the cover of the Signet paperback edition of James Aswell’s short novel, There’s One in Every Town (1951). It appears beneath a James Avati cover featuring a wary brunette in a Carmen blouse (is there any other kind in a James Avati cover?). So we know we’re in Tobacco Road country, where beautiful white trash girls have a Viagra-like effect on all the men in town. Not surprisingly, as Aswell was an old college classmate of Caldwell.
In this particular instance, Jackie Vose (nee Cvasek) gets a reputation as a fast girl, but a few men believe her to be an angel at the core. One is her neighbor, who narrates the story, and the other the town’s doctor. The doctor eventually falls for her, to the town’s censure, and the two come to an end that reminded me of those Nancy Reagan fables that National Lampoon used to publish: where, no matter what sin the protagonists had committed, they always ended up run over by a runaway schoolbus.
Aswell, the son of a congressman, hailed from Baton Rouge, and published a number of novels about life down in the steamy South. Several of these also got picked up by Signet and graced with a dramatic Avati cover: The Young and the Hungry Hearted (Signet 116) and The Birds and the Bees (Signet 1121). The Midsummer Fires, however, only rated an Avon paperback release with a cartoonish cover–this despite the fact that a Natchitoches reviewer considered it to have beat out novels by Caldwell and James M. Cain as “the most nauseating book of 1948.”
Aswell died in 1955 of a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 48.