05 May 2011

Dark Blondes



The Darker Traffic
Martin Brett [pseud. Douglas Sanderson]
New York: Dodd, Mead, 1954

There are seven female characters in The Darker Traffic, but the woman on the cover isn't one of them. I'm not so sure about the man, either – and that sure isn't Montreal in the background. Yet, the city and its island provide the settling of this, the second novel to feature the adventures of Mike Garfin, private detective.

I left off my review of the first, Hot Freeze, wondering whether Garfin's girl, Tessie, was a hooker. The answer comes about a fifth of the way into The Darker Traffic, when the private dick talks about marriage:
"It has to come some day. It's been a long time now, nearly two years since we met at that party."
"Yeah," Tessie said bitterly, "and nearly five years since I was a clever little girl who thought she'd found a way to make a hundred dollars. There was only going to be one time. I needed the dough. Two months later I didn't have an excuse any more and I was still doing it. Still am."
There's no real room for ambiguity in The Darker Traffic; not as far as Tessie and her chosen occupation are concerned. There can't be. Where Hot Freeze was all over the drug trade, this is a novel about prostitution. It begins with a visit to Garfin's office by "blindingly blonde" Gertrude Hess, moves to a Lakeshore mansion just west of "the township of Pointe Claire", then the roundabout by Dorval Airport and a roadside café on Highway 20. These are the details to which a reader like myself, who was raised just west of said township, cling.

A prostitute is murdered at that roadside café. Her prone body is placed under the carriage of a large truck and is then run over by an unsuspecting driver. I spoil things a bit in writing about the squished girl, doing so only because she appears to have been an Eastern European immigrant. Plus ça change... or should that be Чем больше все меняется?


St Catherine and Peel, July 1954 (photographer unknown)

There's more Montreal, including a scene that begins with Garfin leaving a drug store at the corner of St Catherine and Peel. He's chased, but for much of The Darker Traffic the private detective is the pursuer. Though at a disadvantage, Garfin makes good use of what little he has in his arsenal by drawing on his friendship with Police Captain Masson and an exhaustive knowledge of women's clothing and undergarments. I imply nothing here, and point out that rival Montreal private dick, David Montrose's Russell Teed, has an appreciation of fine interior decoration and design.

The Darker Traffic doesn't quite compare to Montrose, but then it also pales when placed beside Hot Freeze. The characters, quirkiness and quips exemplified in the latter are curiously lacking here; instead we have a fairly straightforward mystery that just happens to be set in the country's most fascinating city. Fortunately, the generic dust jacket does not reflect.

Object and access: A cheap yellow hardcover, only one copy in the fragile dust jacket is currently listed online. Price: US$99.99. There was no second printing. The first and only English edition, published in 1954 by Max Rheinhart, is just as uncommon: one copy at £16.90. The following year, it was resurrected in paperback by Popular Library as Blondes are My Trouble. Six copies are currently listed online, only one of which - at US$18 - is in anything that might be described as decent condition.

The French-language translation, published in 1956 by Gallimard, is saddled with the title Salmigonzeeses. Why? I have no idea.

2 comments:

  1. These reviews of Canadian private eyes and Canadian noir-like books are making me wish I could travel over the border faster to some used bookstore in - oh, say Windsor, or somewhere even closer. But that entails traveling to Michigan. And none of the Wisconsin ferries are running yet. Some trek just for bookstore hunt. I'm keeping a list of these unusual authors and their books. I bet the Chicago Public Library system has some Brett books - they seem to have a lot of the Dodd Mead authors, a publisher that specialized in selling to libraries way back when.

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  2. Not that I'd ever discourage a visit to Canada, but I'm finding that most of the noirish Canadian titles are more common south of the border. All three books by Sanderson/Brett in my collection were bought from American booksellers. I'm sure you're right about the Chicago Public Library - seems so few Canadian libraries hold these sort of titles.

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