28 December 2009

Fact-Checking Gordon Sinclair



Bright Path [sic] to Adventure
Gordon Sinclair
Toronto: Harlequin, 1954

Was Gordon Sinclair ever so dashing a figure? I remember him from Front Page Challenge. Not nearly as sharp as Pierre Berton, lacking Betty Kennedy's class and poise, to my young eyes he was just a boorish little man in a loud sports jacket.

What I didn't know, sitting there on the floor in front of my family's Viking colour television, was that Sinclair had written a number of commercially successful books. Royalties from the first, Foot-loose in India (1932), paid for his faux-Georgian manor in Islington. Bright Path to Adventure was, perhaps, less successful. Still, in 1945 the Globe and Mail reported that it had sold 10,000 copies in just two months.

The Globe and Mail, 1 December 1945

At this distance, it's difficult to explain the popularity. Bright Path to Adventure is such a slapdash effort; a book that seems to rely on the author's memory alone. Sinclair offers up a collection of tales, which like the cover, are worthy of Men's Adventure, Man's Action and other muscle-flexing magazines of the post-war era. What jars is that such a prominent, respected journalist cares so little for truth or accuracy. Reading Sinclair's words is much like to listening to a half-drunken stranger at a dinner party going on about some article he once read in school. Everything is sketchy. Sinclair devotes several pages to the case against Jack Fiddler without once mentioning his name... or the name of his co-accused... or the name of his supposed victim; nor does he report the year or location of the alleged crime. He describes all, laughably, as a case of "cannibalism and voodoo".

We move from dinner party to campfire with a ghost story. It seems that one dark September night a car containing two unidentified female teachers from an unnamed girls' college broke down, unaccountably, on an unspecified Kansas highway. The journalist tells us that the pair took shelter in an abandoned farmhouse (location undisclosed) where they encountered the ghost of a fisherman. Then they learned from an innominate local that the farm had once belonged to a nameless man whose heart had been broken by a son who had gone off to sea. Sinclair writes that the apparition left behind some mysterious vegetation, "a type of seaweed only found on dead bodies." This, according to an anonymous professor of botany, who was "frankly dubious but curious. He showed the foliage to others who agreed that this type of seaweed could never have been found anywhere near the Kansas prairie."

Never.

Reportage from "Canada's most widely travelled journalist".

Object: Though it drops the Stanley Turner illustrations found in the McClelland and Stewart first edition, Bright Path to Adventure is fairly thick for a Harlequin. Curiously, this edition also drops the letter S from the title; Sinclair's bright paths becoming a single trail. Full page adverts for Raymond Marshall's Lady... Here's Your Wreath and Come Blonde, Came Murder by Peter George only contribute to buyer's remorse.

Access: The Toronto Public Library has a copy, as do a bunch of Canadian universities. A quarter century after Sinclair's death, signed copies of the Harlequin edition can be bought for as little as US$5. Good signed copies of the McClelland and Stewart edition can be had for under US$20. Unsigned copies are cheaper still.

3 comments:

  1. I have the M&S edition and I can now confirm that I was wise to never be tempted to read.
    The back cover has a younger version of the Sinclair on FPC that I remember - looking like he walked out of "The Front Page".

    The stories sound like something a slightly (?)more literate Thomas P. Kelley would have written.

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  3. I may be making too much of this - to be fair, I've read nothing else by the man - but I can't get over the sloppy, careless writing in this book. Kelley may have been guilty of something similar, but he never held the stature accorded Gordon Sinclair.

    My mind casts back to the high school English class in which I was taught the Five Ws of journalism. I don't think there is a single "story" of the hundred or so presented in Bright Path to Adventure that covers more than two or three.

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