16 October 2017

A Great War Veteran's Pre-War Thriller

Black Feather
Benge Atlee
New York: Scribners, 1939
345 pages
The weapons Britain is supplying to its Arab allies are somehow ending up in the hands of Eastern European fascists and the Foreign Office is not amused. One man, Gerald Burke, is called upon to put a stop to it. An Oxford-educated archeologist-turned-adventurer, Burke seems a good choice; he knows the region, has a good number of contacts, and hails from rural Nova Scotia (Chignecto, it is implied). What's more, Burke comes with Abdula el Zoghri, a manservant who has a talent for getting out of tight spots. 
After accepting the assignment, our hero returns to his Bloomsbury Square flat to find a warning in the form of a black feather, quill-upwards, protruding from the brass plaque bearing his name. The fact that they're onto him doesn't deter Burke from his mission. Burke makes for Marseilles, and is booking passage to Salonika when a pretty Russian girl literally falls into his arms. He knows she's a spy, Zoghri knows she's a spy, and yet they're happy to play along.
So begins my review of Black Feather, the lone novel by war hero and sometime pulp writer Harold Benge Atlee (1890-1978). You can read the entire piece here – gratis – at the Canadian Notes & Queries site.

Object: A solid, somewhat bulky book in bright yellow boards. My copy was a gift from James Calhoun, with whom I wrote the introduction to the latest edition of Peregrine Acland's Great War novel All Else is Folly. This year, James contributed the introduction to the reissue of second novel of the conflict, God's Sparrows by Philip Child.

Access: Five Canadian university libraries have copies, but not Dalhousie, at which he studied and later served as Professor and Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Our public libraries – Library and Archives Canada included – fail entirely

The Scribners edition is the only edition. It enjoyed a single printing. Only three copies are listed for sale online – US$30 to US$50 – none of which feature the dust jacket.

13 October 2017

Talking Ricochet in Quill & Quire

Steven W. Beattie's piece on Ricochet in the brand new Quill & Quire is available free online. Some guy named Busby is interviewed. You can read it here.

Busby will be speaking at Bouchercon tomorrow at 5:00 pm.

10 October 2017

Talking Ricochet at Bouchercon

I'll be speaking about Ricochet Books at Bouchercon 2017 as part of the 20 on the 20 Spotlight Sessions this coming Saturday. Please drop by and say hello if you get a chance. Always nice to put a face to a name.

Sheridan Centre
123 Queen Street West, Toronto

VIP Room, Concourse Level

Saturday, October 14
5:00 pm

08 October 2017

Edna Jaques' Award-Winning Thanksgiving Verse

For this Thanksgiving weekend, verse from Canada's beloved Poet Laureate of the Home. First published in 1932, "Thankful for What?" was named New York Times Outstanding Poem of the Year. She received twenty American dollars.

Thankful for What? 

     Not for the mighty world, O Lord, tonight,
          Nations and kingdoms in their fearful might —
     Let me be glad the kettle gently sings,
          Let me be thankful just for the little things. 
     Thankful for simple food and supper spread,
          Thankful for shelter and a warm, clean bed,
     For little joyful feet that gladly run
          To welcome me when my day's work is done. 
     Thankful for friends who share my woe or mirth,
          Glad for the warm, sweet fragrance of the earth,
     For golden pools of sunlight on the floor,
          For love that sheds its peace about my door. 
     For little friendly days that slip away,
          With only meals and bed, and work and play,
     A rocking-chair and kindly firelight —
          For little things let me be glad tonight.

A bonus:

from My Kitchen Window
Edna Jaques
Toronto: Thomas Allen, 1935
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05 October 2017

03 October 2017

The Hugh Hood Memorial Plaque

The plaque is cast!

This evening I'll be hosting the ninth annual plaque dedication at Montreal's Writers' Chapel, honouring novelist and short story writer Hugh Hood. Sarah Hood, the author's daughter will speak, as will Andre Furlani, and Michael Gnarowski.

As in the past, this is a free event and will be followed by a wine and cheese reception.
The Writers' Chapel
St Jax Montréal
1439 St Catherine Street West
(Bishops Street entrance)
Tuesday, October 3rd at 6:00 pm
All are welcome!

Related posts:

27 September 2017

The Unexpected Robert Barr (w/ two queries)

Robert Barr
[n.p.]: Dodo, [n.d]
240 pages

A collection of short stories united by a common theme, Revenge! was one of Robert Barr's best received books. This anonymous review from the 26 November 1896 issue of Public Opinion is typical:
Under the comprehensive title of "Revenge," Robert Barr collects a score of the wildest flights of his imagination, which land us in all sorts of places. Horrors dire lie cheek by jowl with the broadest of farces. All tastes are suited save those the readers who wish to derive moral benefit from their literary pabulum, for there is not a scrap of moral to be extracted, although one can be invented to fit almost anywhere.
The first American edition, with illustrations by Lancelot Speed, Stanley Wood, and G.G. Manton, is a thing of beauty. I wanted a copy for years, I searched for a copy for years, and in the end settled for this crummy print on demand thing from Dodo Press. I'm glad I did because Revenge! was not only this summer's favourite read, but it renewed my interest in its author.

Barr was a better stylist than his contemporary Grant Allen, whom I describe in my new book (plug) as Victorian Canada's greatest novelist, but I'd long believed Barr lagged far behind his rival in weaving a good yarn.

I was wrong.

The stories in Revenge! are "wonderfully clever" – I quote Douglas Sladen (Literary Review, 23 October 1896) – the suspense, black humour, and twists remind me of nothing so much as Tales of the Unexpected, which so captivated as a kid.

Revenge! has twenty stories, all of which would've fit well in Roald Dahl's series. The first, "An Alpine Divorce," is one of Barr's most anthologized, which is not to say it is well-known. Because we never read it in school, what follows will likely spoil things.

As the title suggests, "An Alpine Divorce" concerns marital discord. It begins:
In some natures there are no half-tones; nothing but raw primary colours. John Bodman was a man who was always at one extreme or the other. This probably would have mattered little had he not married a wife whose nature was an exact duplicate of his own.
With all divorces one must pick a side. I chose to be with Mrs Bodman (she has no Christian name), but as the tale progressed she fell out of favour.

Things are set in motion when John Bodman books a holiday in the Swiss Alps. Saying nothing, his wife sets about preparing for the journey. At some point – the narrator is unsure as to just when – John gets the idea that a nearby picturesque outlook would be the perfect place to dispose of his wife. They'll hike there together – Mrs Bodman always insists on accompanying him everywhere –  and he'll simply push her over the outlook's crumbling wall.

Set out they do, in a scene that affords the reader the first and only glimpse of their married life. As the couple approach their destination, the wife pauses. "John," she asks, "don't you think that if you had been kinder to me at first, things might have been different?":
"It seems to me," he answered, not looking at her, "that it is rather late in the day for discussing that question."
     "I have much to regret," she said quaveringly. "Have you nothing?"
     "No," he answered."
     "Very well," replied his wife, with the usual hardness returning to her voice. "I was merely giving you a chance. Remember that."
     Her husband looked at her suspiciously. "What do you mean?" he asked, "giving me a chance? I want no chance nor anything else from you. A man accepts nothing from one he hates. My feeling towards you is, I imagine, no secret to you. We are tied together, and you have done your best to make the bondage insupportable."
     "Yes," she answered, with her eyes on the ground, "we are tied together, we are tied together!"
Mrs Bodman becomes increasingly agitated:
"Why do you walk about like a wild animal?" he cried. "Come here and sit down beside me, and be still." She faced him with a light he had never before seen in her eyes — a light of insanity and of hatred.
     "I walk like a wild animal," she said, " because I am one. You spoke a moment ago of your hatred of me; but you are a man, and your hatred is nothing to mine. Bad as you are, much as you wish to break the bond which ties us together, there are still things which I know you would not stoop to. I know there is no thought of murder in your heart, but there is in mine. I will show you, John Bodman, how much I hate you."
     The man nervously clutched the stone beside him, and gave a guilty start as she mentioned murder.
     "Yes," she continued, "I have told all my friends in England that I believed you intended to murder me in Switzerland."
     "Good God!" he cried. "How could you say such a thing?"
     "I say it to show how much I hate you — how much I am prepared to give for revenge. I have warned the people at the hotel, and when we left two men followed us. The proprietor tried to persuade me not to accompany you. In a few moments those two men will come in sight of the Outlook. Tell them, if you think they will believe you, that it was an accident."
     The mad woman tore from the front of her dress shreds of lace and scattered them around.
     Bodman started up to his feet, crying, "What are you about?" But before he could move toward her she precipitated herself over the wall, and went shrieking and whirling down the awful abyss.
Bloody hell! What an ending!

Now, I warned you I was going to spoil things. I did so because I wanted to give a sense of why Revenge! is worthy of attention. A collection of well-crafted, imaginative, disturbing, entertaining tales, it is the best Victoria's Canada offered. There are nineteen more tales – some better, some worse, most on equal footing.

Give it a read. Do not wait for next summer; it is a book for all seasons. I'm betting Roald Dahl would agree.

A query: The 14 November 1896 Atheneum has it that "An Alpine Divorce" was likely suggested by an "'over-true' tale of some years since." Does anyone have an idea as to the incident the reviewer is referencing?

A second query: "An Alpine Divorce" is one of two Revenge! stories to feature suicide, and murder features in most, but not all are touched by death. An example of this last is "The Bromley Gibberts' Story," which Sladen likens to a roman à clef, adding "it is hard not to think that the alphabetical resemblance of the hero's name to that of a well-known novelist of the day is entirely accidental, or that the resemblance of the name Shorely to that of one of the cleverest and most popular of our editors is purely fortuitous."

I have no idea just who he's on about. Do you?

Object and Access: A trade-size paperback. I paid US$10.99 for my copy.

Of all the print on demand vultures, Dodo has the nicest cover – that's James Tissot's July: Specimen of a Portrait (1878). The strangest positions Robert Barr as a pulp writer, and reimagines Mrs Bodman as a woman who knows how to handle a gun.

The 1896 Stokes first edition I searched for isn't horribly expensive, but it exceeds my current budget. Copies begin at US$65 and, for no good reason, reach US$500. "Tastefully stamped with silver and colors," says the ad in the November 1896 edition of the Pocket Magazine. I've seen copies on yellow, red, green, and tan boards, with no indication as to which, if any, is the true first. A yellow copy of the Stokes edition can be read online here – gratis – at the Internet Archive.

An English edition was published the same year by Chatto & Windus.

Held by nine Canadian university libraries. All our public libraries fail.

25 September 2017

Hugh Hood and Me

I'll be in Montreal next week for what looks to be an eventful thirty-eight hours. On the Tuesday, October 3rd, I'll be hosting the ninth annual plaque dedication at the Writers' Chapel. This year we'll be honouring Hugh Hood, author of Flying a Red Kite, The Camera Always Lies, and thirty other books. Andre Furlani, Michael Gnarowski, and Sarah Hood will speak. As in the past, this is a free event and will be followed by a wine and cheese reception.
The Writers' Chapel
St Jax Montréal
1439 St Catherine Street West
(Bishops Street entrance)

Tuesday, October 3rd at 6:00 pm
The next day, Wednesday, sees the launch of my new book, The Dusty Bookcase, at the legendary Word bookstore. I'll be speaking briefly and will at some point hold up a copy of what I now know to be the very first Canadian novel I ever read. Please do consider dropping by to say "hello." I'm told there will be ever more wine and cheese!

The Word
469 Milton Street

Wednesday, October 4th at 7:30 pm

Related posts:

22 September 2017

'Autumn, 1917' and 'Autumn, 1917'

For this first day of the season, two century-old poems of the Great War, both titled "Autumn, 1917," both written by women on the homefront. The first, by Helena Coleman, the pride of Newcastle, Ontario, is found in her chapbook Marching Men (Toronto: Dent, 1917):

AUTUMN, 1917
               We know by many a tender token
                    When Indian-summer days have come,
               By rustling leaves in branches oaken
                    And by the cricket's sleepy hum. 
               By aspen leaves no longer shaken,
                    And by the river's silvered thread,
               The oriole's swinging cup forsaken,
                    Emptied of music overhead. 
               By long slant lines on field and fallow.
                    By mellowing portals of the wood,
               By silences that seem to hallow
                    Inviting us to solitude.... 
               Are there young hearts in France recalling
                    These dream-filled, blue Canadian days,
               When gold and scarlet flames are falling
                    From beech and maple set ablaze? 
              Pluck they again the pale, wild aster,
                   The bending plume of golden-rod?
              And do their exiled hearts beat faster
                   Roaming in thought their native sod? 
              Dream they of Canada crowned and golden,
                  Flushed with her Autumn diadem?
              In years to come when time is olden,
                  Canada's dream shall be of them — 
              Shall be of them who gave for others
                   The ardour of their radiant years; —
              Your name in Canada's heart, my brothers,
                   Shall be remembered long with tears! 
              We give you vision back for vision,
                  Forgetting not the price you paid,
              O bearers of the world's decision,
                  On whom the nations' debt was laid! 
              No heart can view these highways glowing
                  With gold transmuted from the clod,
              But crowns your glorious manhood, knowing
                  You gave us back our faith in God.
Miss Coleman's poem also features in John W. Garvin's Canadian Poems of the Great War (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1917), in which we find another "Autumn, 1917." This one comes from the pen of Elizabeth Roberts MacDonald, sister to fellow poets Sir Charles God Damn, Theodore Goodrich, and William Carman Roberts.

AUTUMN, 1917 
                       The rain and the leaves together
                            Go drifting over the world;
                       Autumn has slipped his tether
                            And his flag of death unfurled. 
                       'Tomorrow — tomorrow — tomorrow — '
                            Hear how the grey wind cries!
                       Tomorrow the stark bare branches,
                            Tomorrow the steel-cold skies. 
                       The garnet leaves and the golden
                            Are tossed and trampled and thrown
                       As the hopes of man when the trumpets
                            Of crimson war are blown. 
                       Unleashed are the hounds of anguish
                            That hunt the heart of man
                       To tear its dream-bright garments,
                            To rend its valiant plan; 
                       Honour and valour, the priceless
                            Blood of our heroes slain, —
                       Shall their offering all be wasted,
                            Their sacrifice be vain? 
                       No; for the great ideal
                            For which our hearts have bled
                       Lives — by each field of honour,
                            Lives — by our countless dead; 
                       And a wind of Life is blowing,
                            A golden trumpet calls:—
                       'Rally — rally — rally, — 
                            Till the dark fortress falls!'

Related posts:

19 September 2017

The Honesty's Too Much: Dan Hill's Comeback

My promised review of Comeback, the 1983 novel by singer/songwriter Dan Hill is now available at the Canadian Notes & Queries website. An excerpt:
I hesitate in describing Comeback as an extraordinary novel because it is not very good; what I mean to say is that it’s unlike anything I’ve read. Let’s begin by recognizing that the author modelled protagonist/rapist, singer/songwriter Cornelius Barnes IV on himself. Like his creator, Barnes achieves fame in his early twenties with a hit considered by some as “the most romantic song of the decade,” but his star soon falls into the gutter. Now pushing thirty, it’s been five years since his last hit, and Barnes is without a recording contract. The other characters of note come from the author’s life: Cornelius Barnes III is modelled on his father, Daniel Hill III. Timothy Reynolds, Barnes’ high school friend and musical collaborator, is based on music producer Matthew McCauley. Timothy’s father bankrolls Barnes’ first album, just as McCauley’s did for Hill. Bernie Fiedler, owner of the legendary Riverboat Coffee House, plays himself.
     Sadly, Lawrence Hill, the author’s Giller Award-winning younger brother, does not feature.
You can read the whole thing here:

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13 September 2017

Ten Dusty Favourites from The Dusty Bookcase

Brian shares ten noteworthy finds on his bibliophilic journey, including gossip about the Eaton family, radish-heavy dialogue, and "the worst sex scene in all of Canadian literature."
The good folks at All Lit Up have just posted my overview of ten favourite Dusty Bookcase finds. You can read it through here.

Yep, the worst sex scene in all of Canadian literature – and it wasn't written by Dan Hill.

Related posts:

11 September 2017

Sometimes When We Touch: Dan Hill Writes Six Sex Scenes (NSFW)

Things have been pretty quiet here, I know. Much of these past two weeks has been taken up by other writing and promotion of The Dusty Bookcase – the book. This is not to say I haven't found time to read. Just yesterday I finished Comeback, the 1983 novel by Dan Hill, brother of Lawrence. It's one of the most unusual books read in this journey through Canada's forgotten, neglected, and suppressed writing. For reasons outlined in my review, which should follow in a few days, it is also one of the most disturbing. A roman à clef infused with self-loathing and sex scenes, at time of publication Maclean's dismissed Comeback as "soft-porn."

Because used copies listed online begin at C$115 ("20 pages throughout the book have splatter stains" – coffee, I hope), I present these excerpts.

You may wish to close your eyes and hide.
She felt awkward – no man had undressed her before. Her legs were pressed so tightly together that he finally had to pull off her suit in hurried jerky motions. She felt his warm breath against the opening of her vagina. As his hands opened her legs she shuddered and whispered. "No – please – don't."
     "It's alright," he murmured, his breath pounding into her, "it's alright."
Her nipples felt as soft and pliant as the erasers at the tip of a pencil, but her breasts were hard and unyielding – like a pair of Prince Edward Island potatoes
She drew my mouth against hers, kissing me with unusual tenderness, but the moment I closed my eyes she slid her hand into the salad bowl, scooped up a handful of grapes, and dropping them down the front of my pants. I squawked indignantly, sliding down the refrigerator and toppling on the floor, pulling her down on top of me as I fell. The salad bowl hit the floor with a crack and I slid it out of our way, leaving Maria and me a good double bed's worth of space to flop around in.
"You can touch it if you like."
     I timidly obliged.
     "Now trace your way down...slowly...softly...until you reach the opening.... That's right...hmmmmm...hmmmm...that's right, you're catching on...just a little at a time.... Oooohhhh, that feels like...hmmmm...like you've got the knack of it...."
She started running her hand up and down my thigh, as if I were nothing more than an extension of the bedspread, something that needed to be unwrinkled, smoothed over.
I felt her hands pull down my pants, felt her mouth take me in – gradually, a little at a time. My body stiffened, coiling itself up for impending release. I tried to step away. But she clasped her hands around my buttocks and drew me closer, deeper, and I lost myself to the sensation sweeping through me like a waterfall. I started falling to the floor – I didn't care – and my hands grabbed hold of her shoulders, pulling her with me. Somehow her mouth stayed fastened to me – my body curled around either side of her face – her mouth still sucking long after the last drop had trailed down her throat.
Sadly, this has now lost its innocence:

27 August 2017

The Dusty Bookcase in the National Post

An extremely positive write-up by writer and editor Michael Melgaard in this weekend's National Post. "Anyone interested in the odd, the peculiar or the just plain fun will find something worth reading in The Dusty Bookcase," writes the reviewer. He concludes:
Even if you're not interested in reading the books, The Dusty Bookcase's tour through an alternate New Canadian Library is well worth reading for Busby's good humour. But if you're the sort of person who spends time digging through used bookshop dollar bins looking for forgotten gems, this is an indispensable guide to the hits and misses of Canadian literature's past.
Once again, the head doth swell!

Related posts:

21 August 2017

The Dusty Bookcase — The Book!

The Dusty Bookcase arrived at our home this past Friday, meaning copies are now making their way to bookstores across the country.

I'm a lucky man.

This blog began as a place to record and share my thoughts on obscure Canadian writing. At most, I was hoping to hear from others who had, say, read Brian Moore's pulp thrillers, or perhaps someone who'd encountered the mysterious David Montrose (né Charles Ross Graham). I didn't expect this blog would find life as a column in Canadian Notes & Queries. I wouldn't have dreamed it would lead to a gig as Series Editor of Véhicule Press's Ricochet imprint, through which the very obscurities I'd been writing about – Montrose included – would be returned to print.

As I say, I'm a lucky man.

Now comes The Dusty Bookcase book, published this week by Biblioasis, a collection of over one hundred of my favourite reviews, revisited and revised. I didn't expect this, either.

"Please tell me Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow made the cut." writes a friend. Indeed it did! What follows is a Table of Contents:
For Maimie's Sake - Grant Allen
The Devil's Die -Grant Allen
Michael's Crag - Grant Allen
Under Sealed Orders - Grant Allen
Hilda Wade - Grant Allen 
The Unreasoning Heart - Constance Beresford-Howe
The Plouffe Family - Roger Lemelin
Mr. Ames Against Time - Philip Child
Fasting Friar - Edward McCourt
The Sin Sniper - Hugh Garner
The Secret of Jalna - Ronald Hambleton
Orphan Street - André Langevin 
The Destiny of The British Empire and The U.S.A. -
"The Roadbuilder"
The Canada Doctor - Clay Perry and John L.E. Pell
The Squeaking Wheel - John Mercer
The Happy Hairdresser - Nicholas Loupos
Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow - J.V. Andrew
Retaliation - Richard Rohmer
Enough! - J.V. Andrew 
Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk - Maria Monk
Neville Trueman - W.H. Withrow
The Master Motive - Laure Conan
The Broken Trail - George W. Kerby
The Abolishing of Death - Basil King
The Pyx - John Buell
Jean Rivard - Antoine Gérin-Lajoie
Arming for Armageddon - John Wesley White 
Up the Hill and Over - Isabel Ecclestone Mackay
Bannertail - Ernest Thompson Seton
Artists, Models and Murder - Tedd Steele
The Penthouse Killings - Horace Brown
Die with Me, Lady - Ronald Cocking
Hot Freeze - Martin Brett
The Darker Traffic - Martin Brett
Return to Rainbow Country - William Davidson 
The Door Between - Neil H. Perrin
Touchable - Lee Scott and Robert W. Tracy
The Whip Angels - Selena Warfield
A Stranger and Afraid - Marika Robert 
Erres boréales - Florent Laurin
The House that Stood Still - A.E. van Vogt
The Lord's Pink Ocean - David Walker
The Last Canadian - William C. Heine
For My Country - Jules-Paul Tardival
Ferme la porte, on géle - René Carrier 
The Midnight Queen - May Agnes Fleming
The Lane That Had No Turning - Gilbert Parker
Cattle - Winnifred Eaton
Crazy to Kill - Ann Cardwell
The Little Yellow House - Jessie McEwen
Satan's Bell - Joy Carroll
I Die Slowly - Kenneth Millar
The Iron Gates - Margaret Millar
Vanish in an Instant - Margaret Millar
An Air That Kills - Margaret Millar
The Fiend - Margaret Millar 
Disowned and Distant
Sailor's Leave - Brian Moore
This Gun for Gloria - Bernard Mara
Intent to Kill - Michael Bryan
Murder in Majorca - Michael Bryan 
The Land of Afternoon - Gilbert Knox
Forgotten Men - Claudius Gregory
The Governor's Mistress - Warren Desmond
Margaret Trudeau - Felicity Cochrane
How Do You Spell Abducted? - Cherylyn Stacey  
The Adventures of Jimmie Dale - Frank L. Packard
The Hohenzollerns in America - Stephen Leacock
Manhandled - Arthur Stringer and Russell Holman
Love is a Long Shot - Ted Allan
Soft to the Touch - Clark W. Dailey
Sugar-Puss on Dorchester Street - Al Palmer
Present Reckoning - Hugh Garner
Flee the Night in Anger - Dan Keller
A Body for a Blonde - Ken McLeod
Dale of the Mounted: Atlantic Assignment - Joe Holliday
The Quebec Plot - Leo Heaps 
The Story of Louis Riel, the Rebel Chief - Anonymous
Barbara Ladd - Charles G.D. Roberts
The Chivalry of Keith Lancaster - Robert Allison Hood
The Wine of Life - Arthur Stringer
Miriam of Queens - Lilian Vaux MacKinnon
The Window-Gazer - Isabel Ecclestone Mackay
He Will Return - Helen Dickson Reynolds
Firebrand - Rosemary Aubert 
Dark Passions Subdue - Douglas Sanderson
Murder Without Regret - E. Louise Cushing
The Queers of New York - Leo Orenstein 
Bad Men of Canada - Thomas P. Kelley
Adopted Derelicts - Bluebell S. Phillips
The Confessions of a Bank Swindler - Lucius A. Parmalee 
The Four Jameses - William Arthur Deacon
Everyday Children - Edith Lelean Groves
Poems of Arthur Henry Ward Jr. - Arthur Henry Ward 
In the Midst of Alarms - Robert Barr
Similia Similibus - Ulric Bathe
The Hidden Places - Bertrand W. Sinclair
The Runner - Ralph Connor
The Sixth of June - Lionel Shapiro 
Toronto Doctor - Sol Allen
The House on Craig Street - Ronald J. Cooke
The Errand Runner - Leah Rosenberg
I Lost It All in Montreal - Donna Steinberg
This lucky man thanks Seth for the cover and design. I thank Chris Andrechek, who not only typeset the book but dealt with the 150 or so images I kept sending his way. My editor, Emily Donaldson, made me seem less stupider than I really is. Finally, I thank publisher Dan Wells for having faith in this book and my other crazy ideas.

There are more to come, I'm afraid.

Available at the very best bookstores and through

18 August 2017

Soldiering On with Edith Percival

Caught in the Snare: The Sequel to Edith Percival
May Agnes Fleming
New York: Street & Smith, [c. 1917]
215 pages

Describing Caught in the Snare as the sequel to Edith Percival is like saying that the last twenty chapters of Two Solitudes is Two Solitudes Two. Really, Caught in the Snare is just the second half of Edith Percival, a novel publisher Street & Smith divided in two because the length didn't fit its New Eagle Series format. It begins where Street & Smith's Edith Percival (reviewed here last week) left off, with virtuous Edith the captive of Ralph de Lisle. If all goes according to the villain's devious plan, she will soon be forced to marry him with fellow captive Frederic Stanley, her one true love, as witness. The publisher provides a helpful synopsis for those new to the story:

To be frank, I didn't much care to continue with Edith's story, though I did want to know what mysterious words were whispered by the Hermit of the Cliffs in saving Fred Stanley from execution. I made something of this when I wrote my review, adding that I thought the hermit "the most interesting character in Edith Percival."

I've changed my mind.

The hermit is hardly seen in the first half of the novel, but is here, there and everywhere in the second, used as a rudder to steer both characters and plot from a premature end. Depicted here in this cover detail from the 1890 Upton edition, he appears at the Percival family home with information as to where the kidnapped Edith is being held. The hermit next appears as Fred again faces execution – this time as our hero is in the process of being burned at the stake by de Lisle and a tribe of "savages." Once again, Fred's life is spared; once again Fred is in awe:
''Your power extends over more than superstitious savages,'' said Fred, "my father, stern and haughty as he is, quails before you as he has never done before any other living man. Would I knew the secret of your mysterious power!"
     A shadow passed over the face of the hermit, and when he spoke again his voice was unusually low and solemn:
     "Some day, ere long perhaps, you will learn all. Until that time, rest in peace, and believe this mystery is all for the best. I go now to my home on the cliffs, but something tells me we will soon meet again."
The chance that Fred – and, presumably, the reader – would one day "learn all" didn't provide much incentive, and still I tramped onward.

I'm glad I did, because the second half of Caught in the Snare is a wild ride, complete with crossdressing, attempted murder, arson, suicide, a trial, a marriage, more crossdressing, and another marriage. As one character remarks, "this sems [sic] so strange – so improbable – so like an Eastern romance." On the final page, the author manages to slide in one final marriage before the concluding paragraph:
And now, reader, farewell We have journeyed together long; but nothing can last forever. All things must have a close, and the characters who have passed before you must disappear from your view at last. I, too, must go from your sight, for the daylight is dying out of the sky, and my task is ended. I trust, however, we may, ere long, meet again.
We will, May Agnes Fleming, we will.

Object: A 218-page book (adverts included) printed on cheap paper and bound in thin glossy wraps. The cover model is not the same as that used on Street & Smith's Edith Percival. She bears no closer resemblance to the heroine described in the novel. On the other hand, it is possible that the woman on the cover is meant to be Elva Snowe (whom I've not mentioned for fear of spoiling the plot).

I won my copy for one American dollar in an eBay auction last summer. There were no other bidders.

Access: The University of Toronto, the University of Alberta, and the University of Victoria hold copies of Caught in the Snare, but not one has Street & Smith's Edith Percival. This leads me to wonder whether those in charge of acquisitions were taken in by the publisher's claim that it is a sequel.

At the time of this writing, one copy of Caught in the Snare was being offered for sale online. Price: US$25.00. It can be read for free through this link thanks to the good folks at the Internet Archive.

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08 August 2017

The Parents of the Children of the Revolution

Edith Percival; Or, Her Heart or Her Hand
May Agnes Fleming
New York: Street & Smith [c. 1917]
215 pages

Published not long after the United States entered the Great War, my copy of Edith Percival features a request from the publishers. It seems Street & Smith were struggling with unspecified wartime conditions – paper shortages most probably – but were bravely soldiering on in trying to supply titles by bestsellers Bertha Clay, Charles Garvier, Nicholas Carter, Mary J. Holmes, Harriet Lewis, Horatio Alger, and New Brunswick's own May Agnes Fleming. And so, the request: "In short, we are asking you to take what your dealer can supply, rather than to insist upon just what you want. You won't lose anything by such substitution, because the books by the authors named are very uniform in quality."

I won't say that one May Agnes Fleming book is as as good as the next because Edith Percival pales beside The Midnight Queen, the only other I've read.

On the surface, the two are similar: historical novels with action, romance and a touch of the supernatural. The Midnight Queen takes place over the course of a particularly eventful evening in 1666 London; though a much shorter book, Edith Percival, spans many months, perhaps years, during the American Revolution. It begins with two handsome young men, good friends Fred Stanley and Gus Elliott, on the deck the Mermaid, a schooner bound from Paris to Boston. "Well, Fred," says Gus, in the novel's first line of dialogue, "since, as you say, you neither have a lady-love in America nor expect a legacy there, I confess it puzzles me to know what inducement could have been strong enough to make you quit Paris."

Clearly, Gus doesn't know all that much about his pal. Happily, Fred's response brings Gus and the reader up to speed. He and we learn that Fred is the son of Sir William Stanley, a bigamist with wives in both the Old and New Worlds. Though born in the Thirteen Colonies, he was raised and educated in England. The young man is now returning to the New World so as to confront his father, who expects his help in quelling disent. Fred's is an extreme case of nature over nurture: "Am I not an American by birth – an American in heart and soul – a thousand times prouder of the glorious land in which I was born than of my father's broad acres in merrie England?"

I don't know. Are you, Fred? After all, you've spent nearly all of your life in merrie England. Might your feelings have something to do with the way your father treated your late mother? As an orphan, friend Gus doesn't have mommy and daddy issues, though he does tend to go on about about the feelings he has for his cousin.

Enter Edith Percival!

No, wait. Before this happens the Mermaid goes down in an terrible storm. All hands are lost save Fred, Gus, and the ship's captain. The trio endure days of agony aboard a raft crafted in the maelstrom before being rescued by American privateers. "Yours was a narrow escape, Mr. Stanley," says Captain Dale, the commander of the privateer.

Indeed, it was! No sooner has Dale uttered the words than a burning ship is spotted on the horizon. Fred leads a team of men intent on saving souls – and then breaks away from the group, risking his life to rescue the only woman aboard.

Enter Edith Percival!

The Midnight Queen has an evil dwarf, whores playing at being aristocrats, and a seductive masked woman who at the end of the novel is revealed to have nothing but a skull for a head. Edith Percival is more restrained. Fred falls in love with Edith, but has a rival in Ralph De Lisle, to whom Edith has been betrothed since childhood. There
are uncomfortable encounters and things are left unsaid. After thirty pages of this, I had all but lost interest, until Nell, Edith's cheeky little sister, suggests a visit to the Hermit of the Cliffs.

Dismissed by Nugent, Edith's brother, as "some unfortunate, whom the cares of the world have made an idiot," the hermit is something of a mystic. Not only is he aware of the last meeting between Fred and his father, which ended with Sir William disowning his rebel son, he has can see something of the challenges the young man must meet in the future. The hermit is the most interesting character in Edith Percival – as recognized in the title publisher F.M. Upton gave its edition (c. 1865). Though we don't see much of the man, he plays a pivotal role in saving Fred's life. Mere seconds before our hero is to be executed as a traitor at the hands of his terrible father, the mystic man appears and whispers something in Sir William's ear:
The effect was appalling. Sir William staggered back, with ghastly face and straining eye-balls, then with one wild cry: "Oh, Great Heaven!" the strong man fell stricken to the ground.
All were bewildered, amazed, terrified! Several rushed forward to raise the prostrate man, whilst the others surrounded Fred, who had risen to his feet, under the vague impression that he was in some way about to escape. The hermit, as he passed him, whispered "Fear not, you are safe!" And a moment after he was gone.
What did the hermit whisper to Sir William? I couldn't wait to find out! But in reading the remaining eighty-six pages I became increasingly concerned. I recognized the story arc, and so came to wonder where all this was leading. The trajectory was ever upward:
  • Fred angers Major Percival by telling him that he's in love with Edith;
  • Edith declares her love for Fred and refuses to marry De Lisle;
  • De Lisle kidnaps Edith so as to force her into matrimony;
  • Fred, Gus, and Nugent attempt to rescue Edith, and are captured in the process;
  • De Lisle delays killing Fred because he wants him to witness his marriage to Edith.  
Things become dark, and darker still. I was riveted right up to the very last until sentence:
In No. 1036 of the NEW EAGLE LIBRARY, there will be found a sequel to "Edith Percival," under the title "Caught in the Snare."

Fortunately, my dealer was able to supply a copy.

To be continued, I guess.

About the cover: The work of an unknown artist who seems to have been unfamiliar with the text. Edith is described as a woman with "golden hair."

"That cover is gorgeous," writes a friend. "But why are her cheeks so red? Must be a food allergy."

Object: A fragile 215-page novel printed on cheap newsprint, bulked up by eight pages of adverts for other Street & Smith books. Mrs Fleming is well represented with thirty-three titles. It is one of the very oldest paperbacks in my collection.

Access: Edith Percival first appeared in 1861 editions of the New York Mercury. As The Hermit of the Cliffs, the Upton edition appears to mark its earliest appearance in book form. In 1893, New York publisher G.W. Dillingham issued the novel under its original title. I believe Street & Smith's Edith Percival and Caught in the Snare editions are the only to divide the novel in two. In whole or in part, it would seem that the novel has been out of print ever since.

Whether whole or divided in two, the only copies of Edith Percival listed for sale online are products of print on demand vultures. Prices range from US$13.01 to US$66.20. I won my century-old copy on eBay last summer for US$2.24.

The novel is held by twelve of out university libraries, but not in the Street & Smith edition. Library and Archives Canada fails entirely.

It can be read online here – gratis, in its entirety – thanks to the good folks at the Internet Archive.

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31 July 2017

'Over the Top: Ypres, July 31, 1917', a War Poem by Sergeant Stanley B. Fullerton, Returned Soldier

Century-old verse by Sergeant Stanley B. Fullerton (1869-1952), a son of Amherst, Nova Scotia, from his self-published chapbook Poems (1918). The poet's spelling and punctuation are respected.

Ypres, July 31, 1917 
Calm was the morning, not a Hun to be seen,
     As I peeped o'er the land which at one time was green
There in the distance, with a tangle and twine
     Lay the broken barbed wire of the German first line 
Peacefull it looks now, but, ah, they don't know
     That our Boys will be over, we have not long to go.
As I stood in the trench with my phone on my back,
     I looked at our boys who were soon to attack. 
You could tell by their faces, they were deeply in thought
     As you'll always see them before the battle is fought
I then heard a whisper, what's that I hear?
     It was passed by their Captain, is the signaller here. 
Yes, I replied, sir, he answered, thank you
     Two minutes, sir, for zero, it was time to stand to
In that two minutes, they filled the first line,
     Then a roll of great thunder and up went our mine. 
Oh, what an explosion it made one feel shocked
     As we stooped 'til it settled, Lord, how the ground rocked
Then, with a spring, a jump and a hop,
     Like pulled with a string we were over the top. 
Crash, bang, went our guns an unceasing clatter
     As the German first line we started to batter. 
It was like one long fire, with a bursting of shell 
     Nothing could be worse for him, no, not even hell, 
We reached their first line and were slashing them hard,
     Some called for mercy Oh, mercy comrad
With terror stricken faces they were trembling with fright,
     When we get to close quarters they've no heart to fight. 
Onward we went with a rush through the mud
     For our next obective which was, this time, a wood.
At this we were cautious, they had so many runs,
     We knew it was fortified with many machine guns. 
I spoke on my phone and warned my O. C.
     Fire on second target, sir, the big scraggy tree.
I'm going to fire now, he said, so take a good sight
     That is just about it, sir, try two degrees, right 
Got them, that's perfect let them have fifty rounds;
     I knew that would get them, they are running like hounds. 
Now for a smoke as calmly I stood
     Watching my shells burst into the wood. 
Then came a runner with a message that read
     Order all guns to lift, we will now go ahead.
Onward they went, some at the double
     Taking the same wood without so much trouble. 
Then came the report; our objectives are gained 
     The advance was completed so there they remained
It was now gettiug late and night drawing near
     So I found an old dug out, says I, I'l stop here. 
What a miserable feeling as I sat there alone 
     And smoked up my woodbine with my ear to the phone
Then laid my head on a dirty old sack
     Waiting, in case of a counter attack.  
It poured, Heavens hard, rained all through the night, 
     Wet through and slashed up, I did look a sight;
Moreover than that I was feeling half dead 
     Being forced to partake of some German black bread. 
Then came the next morning I was pleased to see light,
     Thanking God to myself for his guard through the night
On my phone came a call so I answered hello;
     A Battery, signaller, you may pick up and go. 
I then disconnected, put the phone on my back
     Then took a glimpse around to make sure of my track.
I braced myself up after picking my trace,
     Then set off in excitement, you bet, a good pace 
Firmiy I walked beneath the Hun's bursting shell
     I am in for a hot time, I know it quite well
Then eventually I reached my old battery once more
     I was pleased to sit down by my old dug out door 
I sat there thinking of what would come next
     I thought of the trenches so badly wrecked.
I have been in some battles but proved this the worst
     I will never forget YPRES on July thirty first

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