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Many years ago an unknown item in a book catalogue grabbed my attention like few had done before: a novel by John Slater called Beast Woman of Buchenwald. Always interested in the over the top, the offensive and the bizarre, how could I not go for something like this? It had the potential to be completely beyond the pale, so £1.50 seemed like a small price to pay. I bought it and read it and found a place in my mind to wonder about it. I'm still wondering today.
At first glance, the dubious little paperback finally in my hands, everything backed up the title.
A line under the author's name identifies 'stories of women in bondage', suggesting an S&M scenario, and the front and back cover blurbs back this up. The front cover reads:
'She was selected as the victim of the world's most notorious woman sadist.'
The back cover goes into more detail:
'She was forced to submit. The beautiful French model was subjected to pain and degradation at the hands of her female guards until the notorious Ilse Koch forced her to make a decision - further sadistic rape and torture or Prisoner of Love.'
The cover illustration, which is crudely but effectively drawn, tells us most of all. We see a woman on all fours, her face hidden by her hair. She is entirely naked but for a ball and chain attached to her right ankle. Her left hand is touching what could well be a bowl of dog food. There are bloody welts on her back, inflicted by another woman who is standing above her, a very butch woman wielding a leather belt.
In my years of collecting horror novels and dubious paperbacks, I've never seen anything in fiction so blatantly and deliberately offensive. The very fact that it seems so blatant even suggests that soliciting offense was the original goal, rather than the traditional one of selling potential customers on the idea of buying the book. I've never seen this concept in literature before, only in music where the punk ethic gave it a point or in film where John Waters had rewritten the rules with Pink Flamingos.
The Sex Pistols and their platform of anarchy and deliberate offense changed the face of popular music. The Stormtroopers of Death proved that being deliberately obnoxious could be funny, at least for the forty minutes or so it took Speak English or Die to work through its long track listing. The Macc Lads stretched the joke too far and so it eventually wore thin. Only The Mentors were really different, because you could never be sure if they were actually being serious or not and thus listening to their records leaves a bitter aftertaste.
Merely examining Beast Woman of Buchenwald anticipated that bitter aftertaste. Inside the cover is an 'also by' page that lists a whole slew of similar titles, suggesting that this was far from being a one off. How about Sadists Carry Knives? Experiment at Ravensbruck? Slave of the Apaches? These are but three of sixty or seventy such titles, all by the same author and published by the same company, Scripts Publications of North Sydney and Melbourne in Australia. I hadn't just discovered a book, I'd discovered an entire genre!
And then I read it. And this is the real clincher, what makes the book so fundamentally worth writing about: I discovered that, far from being the literary equivalent of the work of John Waters, Beast Woman of Buchenwald was a mild, tame, quiet little romance novel.
How could this be? None of it made any sense, according to any form of logic I knew, and I couldn't help thinking about it. Questions danced through my brain and I couldn't find the answers. One bizarre, ill conceived, paperback could be explained away easily enough, but a genre? For a start, what sort of a culture could make a success of a genre like this with at least seventy published volumes? Most importantly, how did this culture reconcile the outside with the inside? Surely anyone interested in the cover would find the contents far too tame, and anyone interested in the contents would be highly offended by the cover!
Naturally I investigated further and even managed to pick up a couple more from this bizarre exploitation romance genre: White Slaves of the Swastika (a John Slater reprint by demand) and Nazi Holocaust by another author, Jim Kent.
What filled in gaps was when I picked up a copy of Graeme Flanagan's exhaustive Australian Vintage Paperback Guide that provides a highly detailed glimpse of the range and the sheer volume of what was being published in Australia. Here are names and dates and bibliographies that really help to outline the scope of this bizarre genre. You can visit Flanagan's
For a start, the key publisher here is the Horwitz Company, a major Australian publishing house, founded in 1920, who started producing paperbacks in serious numbers after the war. 24 paperbacks a month allows for a lot of diversity and that was soon catered for. Horwitz published much of its adult-orientated fiction under its Scripts imprint.
It can't be too surprising to find that John Slater is a pseudonym. After all, would you want your mother to know you wrote books like Beast Woman of Buchenwald? Then again, Jim Kent was a real person who used a pseudonym (Julian Kemp) for other work!
John Slater is really Ray Slattery, who also wrote under further pseudonyms, including James Bent, Frank F Gunn, Roger Hunt, Karen Miller, Frank O'Hara and Terry West. Here's Ray Slattery's bibliography, as gleaned from Flanagan's Australian Vintage Paperback Guide, and here's Jim Kent's bibliography too.
Last update: 26th November, 2017