“The Death Strain” (Killmaster #60, 2E) 1976

“The Death Strain” (Killmaster #60, 2E) 1976
by Steve Holland (1925-1997)
19×25 inches, acrylic on board
Coppola Collection

The fictional Nick Carter began as a private eye in 1886, in a serialized crime series appearing in the New York Weekly. In the 1930s and through the 1950s, with the genre moved towards the more “hard-boiled” and rough-and-tumble detectives who bordered on super-heroes (The Shadow, Doc Savage), Nick Carter was upgraded to match the times. In 1964, the year that Bond-author Ian Fleming died, Nick Carter was revived in the secret agent Bond mode (Nick Carter, Killmaster), with a secret organization, a gadget master, and the sex, and survived in a series of 260 paperback novels between 1964-1990.

“The Death Strain” was the 60thnovel in the Killmaster series, and it was written (uncredited) by Jon Messman (1E, 1970; 2E, 1976).  The cover text lays out the usual picture of science: “A crazed, power-hungry scientist threatens the world with a lethal virus. Nick Carter’s mission was nearly impossible! The Death Strain is a lethal virus which there is no antidote and which kills in a hideous, painful way.”

The artist for this piece, Steve Holland, has a particularly interesting history. He was primarily a model and a sometimes actor, having appeared as Flash Gordon in the 1954 TV series. And when the “Doc Savage, Man of Bronze” stories from the 1930s began to be reprinted as paperback novels (also in 1964), Holland was the model that artist James Bama used to give Doc Savage’s iconic covers their look over the nearly complete run of 181 books, from 1964-1990 … the same period as Nick Carter.

His biographies do not list him as an artist, but Holland provided the cover for this second edition of Nick Carter #60, and he painted himself into the cover as the guy in a trench coat with the gun.

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