18 September 2023

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Self-Improvement

Pagan Love
John Murray Gibbon
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1922
310 pages

The start of this novel sees a suicide thwarted. Walter Oliphant awakens to the dawn of a day he'd determined would be his last. He walks leisurely, fully resolved, to the bank of the Thames, where he catches sight of a figure falling into the drink:
Nothing to be seen yes, there a ripple and there a hand stretched out of the waters. It was not a hand that he altogether welcomed, but hands to shake were rare in these days, and so our loiterer stretched out to grasp it. This was foolish, for the grasp of a drowning man is not so easy to escape. The hand that clung to his became an arm and a shoulder and then, by some instinct, our loiterer used his feet as leverage, and pulled out from the stream a Man.
The "Man" had been mugged. A wallet had been stolen. A whack on the back of the head had been given. The victim is Frank A. Neruda, a visiting millionaire from New York City.

But this is Walter's tale, and the backstory is not pretty.

Walter had wanted to kill himself because he could not longer stand the pain of starvation. A young poet from Aberdeen, his condition has as much to do with public disinterest in his work as it does the Great War, during which he served as cannon fodder. "The two years of after-the-war had reduced him to atrophied inertia, a bundle of nerves barely attached to skin and bone."

Neruda takes Walter under a wet wing, slowly nursing him back to health. In doing so, the millionaire seeks to inspire by sharing the Frank A. Neruda Story. It begins with a Czech childhood, a mother's death, and emigration to America. Weeks after arrival, the father is crushed in a Pennsylvania coal mine.

Neruda's ascent begins as an orphaned breaker boy working by oil lamp at that same mine, and leads to a commercial empire valued at ten million American dollars.

A self-described self-efficiency expert, Neruda is intent on remaking Walter. The first lesson takes the form of a performance:
"Have you ever considered what puppets we all are?" remarked Neruda. He was manipulating, on a tiny stage, for Walter's entertainment, a marionette play in which Faust sold his soul to Mephistopheles and became a master of magic, raising spirits from the dead until the Devil came to fetch him, Neruda was so expert with the fantastic figurines, that the Devil himself could not be more inhumanly human.
   "Who is it that holds the strings?" asked Walter.
   "The God of Success for me," said Neruda. "I haven't yet made up my mind whether I am Faust or Mephistopheles.
This is by far the most whimsical scene in the novel. As part of his make-over, Walter is inundated with books and articles. All written in a staccato style, they coach Success:
"As you dress, repeat to yourself inspiring sentences. As you are brushing your teeth, say to yourself firmly:
   "'Let me never be the Skeleton In the Family Cupboard.'
   "When you are buckling on your garters, repeat these words three times:

            'I will not be a Has-Been.
             I will not be a Has-Been.
             I will not be a Has-Been.'

   "When you are tying your necktie, say four times:

            'Why should I not be a Pierpont Morgan?
             Why should I not be a Pierpont Morgan?
             Why should I not be a Pierpont Morgan?
             Why should I not be a Pierpont Morgan?'

   "Be god-like in your bearing. Grab off opportunity. Don't be afraid to be a Rockefeller. Learn to talk, and cash in on your conversation. Concentrate on Confidence. Get busy with old Tempus Fugit. Say 'Boo' to worry. Be virile, vital, valiant, versatile, invincible, vigorous. Know yourself for a Giant. Cultivate health, hope, happiness, hilarity, holiness. Prime yourself with pep, pugnacity, psychology and perfection. Purify the soul with purpose and publicity. Vibrate your solar complex. Conserve every moment. Develop your Conscious Cosmos and incarnate your essential quiddity. Put punch into your pith and ginger into your jocosity. Carry on your face the lines of rectitude and integrity. Move among the Brighter Intellects and the Masterfully Tactful. While your dinner digests, read Ruskin's Crown of Wild Olives [sic]. Cultivate Art. You can study Michael Angelo while you are sipping soup."
Neruda and apprentice travel by way of Quebec City to New York where Walter is installed as a staff writer for the millionaire's Aduren Publishing. Walter belongs to the company's House-Organ Department, contributing to publications tailored for corporate interests. Aduren's other half is the Foreign-Language Newspaper Agency. Though there is no communication between the Department and Agency, their raisons d'être are the very same same. Both are intended to mollify workers.

Walter rises quickly through the ranks at Aduren, his income seeming to double every fortnight.

A Success Story!

Before long, Walter is appointed General Editor of the House-Organ Department. He finds himself living in luxury building owned, as he discovers, by Frank A. Neruda. The millionaire demands Walter's time, but there are occasions to slip away.

The Scot has taken a shine to his boss's pretty, plump, petite secretary Beatrice Anderson, a gal from British Columbia who is caring for her dad. Father Tom Anderson is going blind, the result of a mine explosion, and hopes that New York doctors might save his eyesight. The Andersons introduce Walter to a welcoming contingent of Canadian expats: a musician, a singer, a painter, a doctor, and another writer. The sociability is a welcome relief from the Aduren day-to-day; a refuge, that is spoiled when Walter recognizes Neruda's attempts to separate him from Beatrice.

But why?

Anyone thinking of giving Pagan Love a read is advised to stop here.

The Regina Morning Leader, 4 November 1922
The 4 November 1922 Regina Morning Leader carried one of the novel's earliest reviews. For a newspaper, it's unusually long. It's also extremely positive, though its author, Prof William Talbot Allison of the University of Manitoba, expects not all will not share his opinion. He predicts that Pagan Love would "divide the critics and the reading public, to say nothing of Scotsman, New Yorkers, Labor leaders, Czechs, romanticists, moral uplifters, and the fair sex."

I would've thought the same, yet I've not found a single review that isn't enthusiastic about Pagan Love. The following year, the novel was awarded a prix David.  

Le Nationaliste et Le Devoir, 24 May 1923
Returning to Allison:
I read this story with avidity to the last line of the last page; in other words, I found it intensely interesting, but if I were at liberty to disclose the plot, which in fairness to Mr. Gibbon and to the readers of his book, I am unable to do, I could register my own personal reactions.
In fact, the professor does share his personal reactions – and the greater percentage of the plot. What Allison doesn't share is anything beyond the first twenty-three (of twenty-nine) chapters.

In 1922, Pagan Love was sold as "A Story of Mystery and Romance with a Surprising Climax."

I have no doubt readers of one hundred and one years ago were surprised. This twentieth-century boy – much younger than Marc Bolan – had the advantage of a twenty-first century viewpoint. The novel's great reveal was unexpected, though it didn't come as a great shock. There were hints, the most interesting being a conversation Neruda and Walter share as they stroll arm-in-arm during outside the Château Frontenac.

At the climax, Frank A. Neruda is revealed as a beautiful woman. In fact, she reveals herself – scantily-clad as Cleopatra for a masquerade ball. Her love for Walter gives the novel its title.

I'll say more because I don't want to spoil every last thing.

The St Petersburg Times, 18 March 1923
The first Canadian edition of Pagan Love was published by McClelland & Stewart. The first American edition was published by transplanted Torontonian George H. Doran. Neither company went back for a second printing. Given the critical reception, I found this surprising; all the more so because there is evidence of controversy.

Pagan Love is a tragedy. Walter may be the protagonist, but at the end of the day it is the story of a woman who must disguise herself as a man so as to achieve wealth and power. As a girl, it was only by pretending to be a boy – a breaker boy – that she was able to place a foot on lowest rung of the ladder that brought her success. I took away this lesson and two more:
It's hard to make an honest buck.

In business, it's who you know.
Personal note: Wikipedia informs that John Murray Gibbon had "a major impact on the creation of a bilingual, multicultural, national culture," yet I never encountered his name in high school. The same can be said about my university years, during which I majored in Canadian Studies and English. The Canadian Encyclopedia informs: "His book Canadian Mosaic (1938) popularized the 'mosaic' as a metaphor for the diversity of 'the Canadian people.' It has since been used by politicians, educators and policy makers to describe the cultural makeup of the country."

In my many decades, I've yet to hear a politician, educator or policy maker reference Gibbon.

Object and Access: An attractive hardcover, typical of its time, lacking the all-too-rare dust jacket. I purchased my copy, the first Canadian edition, earlier this year from a St John bookseller. Price: US$35. Awaiting its arrival, a Yankee bookseller listed a jacketless but inscribed copy at US$25, but what you really want is an inscribed Canadian first in dust jacket. Offered by a Nova Scotia bookseller, it can be found online at US$250.

I share the bookseller's photos so as to encourage the sale. If that isn't enough, I add that the inscription is addressed to a woman named Beatrice.

The novel has been out of print ever since.

Of all the out-of-print titles I've read, Pagan Love ranks amongst the two or three most deserving of a reissue.

I'm looking to you Invisible Publishing.

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05 September 2023

Summer of a Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Sexpo '69
Winston Smith [pseud Charles E. Fritch]
North Hollywood: Brandon House, 1969
176 pages

The years leading to '69 have not been easy on Lisa Garris. A twenty-something gal from upstate New York, she'd moved to Manhattan with dreams of Broadway, but Broadway hadn't been much interested. "There were too many girls who were prettier, more talented, and willing to sleep with anybody to get ahead in showbiz." Lisa tried a similar path by allowing a producer to paw her, but there'd been no callback. With her savings exhausted, Lisa was forced into a dead-end clerk-typist job and shared apartment. Roommate Jayne, a blonde buxom bombshell with a habit of walking around in the nude, is an impetuous gal; out of nowhere, she'd announced that she was leaving Manhattan for Montreal: "How about coming along, Lisa. It's a real swinging town, especially with Expo 69."

The Sherbrooke Daily Record, 20 May 1967

The two found a one-bedroom flat on Tupper Street. Jayne was in her element; Montreal satisfied her "nymphomaniacal tendencies." Lisa's pleasures are more innocent:

She enjoyed taking the bus up to Mount Royal lookout, where she could see the entire panorama of the city below, with its uncluttered skyline etched against the background of the St. Lawrence River and the blue sky. She loved to stroll through the downtown area, with its combination of gleaming new buildings such as the Royal Bank Building in the are around St. Catherine and Peel Streets, mixed with old-style architecture as the City Hall, the Mary Queen of the World Basilica, interrupted by green oases of parks such as Dominion Square...
And, of course, there were visits to Expo, though not even a world exposition could dim the "incandescence in her loins."

There's more to the backstory, but let's ignore all that and focus on the action. Sexpo '69 begins with Lisa entering her flat to the sight and very loud sounds of Joyce and her latest lover. The apartment is dark and the bedroom door is open. Lisa watches from the living room, raises her skirt, then searches for and finds "the seat of her mounting desire."

The Gazette, 9 December 1969
A few pages on, our heroine sneaks out in search of booze. This is something of a habit; dealing with her "familiar itch" by drowning herself in alcohol. She passes the Cock 'n Bull, ending up in an unidentified side street dive bar. After four strong drinks that run lowly Lisa is approached by a fat drunk who suggests they return to his apartment. She turns him down, he turns her over, pulls up her skirt, pulls down her panties, and gives her several swats on the derriere. This is followed by a chase into an uncommonly dark and deserted street. Somehow, the fat man manages to catch up with Lisa and is in the midst of assaulting her when scared away by the headlights of a passing car.

The woman behind the wheel rescues Lisa, takes her to her luxurious house, plies her with liquor, bathes her, plies her with more liquor, and takes her to bed: "I will make love to you, my darling, the way only another woman can." 

Sexpo '69 came in the afterglow of lesbian pulp fiction's golden age, and features many of the genre's greatest clichés. Consider Lisa's sexual relations with men, which are not only unfulfilling, but abusive in the extreme. Her backstory includes an ex-fiancé who, upon receiving the news of Lisa's pregnancy, kicked her in the stomach, causing a miscarriage.

Bobbie Posner, Lisa's rescuer, is an older, short-haired woman. After their initial "escapade" – Bobbie's word – the younger woman asks for space. The older woman will have none of it. Ignoring Lisa's wishes, she's aggressive in her pursuit, phoning persistently:
"The truth is, well, last night was sort of – well, unexpected, I have to have some time to think things over."
   "I understand, my pet,""Bobbie crooned. "May I call you tomorrow?"
   "I'll call you," Lisa decided.
   "Very well, my sweet, " Bobbie said softly,"but I shall miss you tonight, all alone in the big bed. I shall dream abut you, and perhaps tomorrow my dreams will come true."
Bobbie phones again the next morning.

Offstage is a milquetoast character with a curious name: Vince Balluck. He and Lisa went out on two perfectly fine dates when she lived in New York. Vince phones her long distance – which is not cheap! – because he's coming to Expo and would like to see her again. Turned down, he does not phone a second time.

Thrown into the mix are scenes set at Expo, the most memorable being an evening Lisa visits La Ronde with Bobbie and another lesbian couple, Lorraine and Nancy. This includes a page-long description of a ride on the Gyrotron, a ride I was too young to enjoy.

The following afternoon, finds our heroine in the Arts Centre, where some of Bobbie's paintings are on display:
It was no surprise to Lisa to discover that Bobbie's subject matter consisted of female nudes very realistically represented. She felt a pang of jealousy as she wondered if the artist had had affairs with all these girls. 
As genre dictates, Lisa's is knocked off-balance by her lover. Of a sudden, Bobbie flies off to Chicago with explanation that she has been invited to present a one-woman show. Is she being honest or unfaithful? It might be said that Lisa has herself been unfaithful, fantasizing about Joyce while having sex with Bobbie. One night, unable to control her urges, she slips into her sleeping roommates bed:
"I at least thought you'd have some understanding of the torment I've been going through. Remember when you didn't have any sex for a few days, you were going out of your mind."
   "But I didn't turn queer!" Joyce snapped.
Joyce is gone by morning.

That evening, Bobbie returns from Chicago. Lisa arrives at the artist's house to find Nancy in a "diaphanous shortie nightgown." A catfight ensues, which leads to sex and, eventually, a ménage a trois. The three women live together until Lisa, increasingly jealous, delivers Bobbie an ultimatum:
"I am sorry, Lisa, but I must choose Nancy."
   The words struck Lisa like an electric shock. She had never considered the fact that Bobbie wouldn't choose her. Tears stung in her eyes. "But –"
   "Why? Because Nancy was a lesbian when I met her, she is a lesbian now, and she always will be."
   "But I'm a lesbian now and always will be," Lisa protested.
   Bobbie shook her head sadly. "Do you know how many heterosexual women have lesbian experiences? More than you would guess. College girls who have pajama parties with other college girls and go on to become housewives. Housewives bored with their life who invite other housewives over on afternoons to have fun in bed while their husbands are away at the office... You've had bad experiences with men, and good experiences with me – but that doesn't make you a lesbian necessarily."
It's a dramatic scene, but the climax – unconvincing – comes when Joyce makes a surprise return to the apartment she'd once shared with Lisa. She apologizes to her former roommate, revealing that she had in the past, on occasion, been with other women:
"Nothing serious or very long, just a few pajama parties in college where we – well, sort of fooled around. I tried to kid myself that it was the same as masturbating, but I know it wasn't. I guess I knew subconsciously I tended to be bisexual all along and consciously tried to disprove it by sleeping with as many men as I could." 
And with that out of the way, Joyce tries to convince Lisa that she too is bisexual. She encourages her friend to go out on another date with Vince. Maybe she'll enjoy sex with him. After all, Lisa has had sex with only five men. Sure, she didn't like it, and sure the ladies are batting three for three in this regard, but who knows? She may even marry Vince! And if Lisa feels the need for lesbian sex there are always ladies "bridge clubs."
"Where does this leave us now?" Lisa asked.
   "Friends, I hope ," Joyce said sincerely. "I'd like to be your roommate again, if you'll have me."
   "I'd like that, Joyce, very much – except I'm not sure I can keep my hands off you."
   Joyce gave a reassuring smile. "After that little escapade we had honey, I'm not sure I want you to keep your hands off me. Who the hell do I think I'm kidding anyway. I enjoy sex, all kinds, and putting a label on certain kinds is making life difficult."
And then Lisa and Joyce have fun in bed; this time consensually.

So, a happy ending after all, but not terribly satisfying.

About the author: For the most obvious of reasons I'd assumed "Winston Smith" to be a nom de plume. Was the author even Canadian? Brandon House provides no biography. All seemed a mystery – and not only to me – until I happened upon this entry in the Catalog of Copyright Entries, Third Series: January-June, 1969, published by the Library of Congress:

Charles Edward Fritch (1927-2012) was a writer of science fiction, mystery, and horror. Erotica can now be added to the mix. Consensus has it that Negative of a Nude (1959) was his first published novel.

Fritch's bibliography is a matter of further research. Sexpo '69 was not the only book he wrote under a pseudonym. To known works Strip for Murder (1960; as Eric Thomas),  Seven Deadly Sinners (1961; as Christopher Sly), and Psycho Sinner (1961; as Eric Thomas), I add Lesbian Blow-Up (1968). Winston Smith erotica, it seems to have garnered one lone review: 

Unsigned, it's found in the December 1968/January1969 issue of The Ladder, published by the Daughters of Bilitis. The same issue includes 'The House Guest,' an uncollected short story by Jane Rule.

Fritch was not Canadian. He was born in Utica, New York, and lived his life in the United States. I wondered whether he'd visited Expo '67 – hundreds of thousands of Americans did – until I found this photo of Fritch (right) with science fiction writer William F Nolan taken outside Fort Edmonton at La Ronde.

My thanks to members of the Expo 67 Facebook page for identifying the location.

I wonder whether Fritch saw the 27 May 1967 edition of Tab International:

Object: A mass market paperback, typical of its time, the novel itself is followed by sixteen pages of adverts for other Brandon House titles, including the classics Candy, Teleny, EvelineFanny Hill, My Secret Life, The Pearl, The 120 Days of Sodom, and of course Lesbian Blow-Up.

Access: WorldCat suggests that only UCLA and the San Francisco Public Library have copies.

I purchased my copy last year, ending a hunt that began in the 20th century. Price: US$45.

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28 August 2023

One Non Blonde

Incendiary Blonde
Keith Edgar
Toronto: National Publishing, 1945
126 pages

When is a blonde not a blonde? When is a novel not a novel? Is a novel that is not a novel a series of novelettes? These questions weighed as I made my way through Keith Edgar's Incendiary Blonde, sure to be this year's most baffling read. Consider the title page:

'The Case of the Incendiary Blonde' has as its hero, lanky Star-Advertizer photographer George MacGregor. He's first seen leaning against a pillar in Grand Central Station, having fallen asleep whilst waiting to snap Hollywood heartthrob Yvonne La Flame. "We got to get some glammer shots of dis skoit," says a competing shutterbug. "She's got classy gams."

Indeed! Yvonne has legs and she knows how to use them, "perched on a baggage truck to coyly display the 'classy gams.'"

MacGregor wakes up in time to get the pics, but as he makes to return to the Star-Advertizer darkroom he's canoodled and smooched by a "red-haired girl" with "auburn curls." She whisks our hero into a cab, tells him she is a German spy on the run from G-men, and makes him take her to his uptown apartment. Once there, our hero gives her a good sound spanking.

Classic Edgar, it continues apace, adding a Nazi cabbie, an ineffective butler, a sinister trading company, and a Lone Ranger Cap Pistol into the mix. My only complaint is that it's all over too fast. At under seventeen thousand words, 'The Case of the Incendiary Blonde' is not a novel – not even a 20th-century novel. The publisher's note fails to clarify: 

MacGregor's adventure is the first and longest of what the cover sells as "STORIES OF MYSTERY & CRIME." Most of the remaining seven are bland retellings of true crime cases.

How bland? Here's a paragraph from 'Murder on the Steamer "Okanagan",' which begins with the 1912 manhunt for Walter Boyd James, a North Dakotan who'd held up a Kelowna general store:

At Penticton, 40 miles away, Provincial Const. Geoffrey H. Aston was stationed. Aston, a soldierly figure who had served in the 17th Lancers and the North West Mounted Police, had received a description of the bandit from Tooth, and immediately acquainted Penticton's Chief of Police, Michael Roche, with details of the Kelowna crime.

'Who Murdered Laura Kruse?' focusses on the still unsolved 1937 killing of a Minneapolis beauty school student. It features this passage:

Witnesses were called to review the case from all angles. They included Claussen, the milkman, Hanson, the motorman, F,W. Perlich, who found the body, M.T. Silvertsen, who found the personal effects, Mrs. Christ Larson [sic], near whose home the murder was believed to have been committed, Mrs. Carl Lind, who saw the flash of light as a car was leaving the alley, Arthur Kruse, brother of the girl, Sheriff Hannes Rykema of Pine County, Irene Chimelski, a friend of Miss Kruse, Ray Harrington, police identification officer, Dr. McCartney, Dr. Seashore, Detective Adam Smith, Arthur Olyson, Walter Hansford, John Anderson, morgue keeper, and Capt. Arnold Neitzel of the 6th precinct police station. 
Still awake?

When it comes to non-fiction, Edgar isn't much of a storyteller. To his credit, he does stick to facts, and makes only the occasional error. For example, in 'Drink, the Devil, and the Third Degree,' concerning the 1882 murder of Louis Hanier, the victim is a "French wine merchant" when in reality he was a Hell's Kitchen saloonkeeper. The case is broken by Thomas Byrnes, whom Edgar describes, unimaginatively, as "a real-life Sherlock Holmes."

Incendiary Blonde follows I Hate You to Death (1944) and Arctic Rendez-vous (1949) as my third Edgar. Both are quirky, fanciful, strange, perverse, titillating, and never dull.

"Do you expect me to believe this absurd story?" the main baddy asks MacGregor at the climax of 'The Case of the Incendiary Blonde.' Absurdity is at the heart of Edgar's writing (see: 'The Wonderful World of Mortimer Tombs'). Sadly, it comes and goes with the first "novelette."

At 126 pages, Incendiary Blonde should've been a quick read, but wasn't. It took a long time to tackle; much more than it was worth. 

It's all a damn shame. I was really looking forward to it. The cover art promised the craziest Edgar book yet! The blonde! The devil! The four floating heads! Sadly, none of these feature in the book. I guess I'll never know the significance of the aqua blotch on the lower right-hand corner.

You can't judge a book by its cover, but you sure can sell it. That said, I think Incendiary Redhead is a much more exciting title.

Trivia: Incendiary Blonde was published the same year as a Hollywood film with the same title. It stars Betty Hutton as Texas Guinan, "Queen of the Night Clubs." I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest this is coincidence.

Object and Access: A cheap digest-sized paperback with thin glossy covers, it bears the swan logo of F.E. Howard, the publisher of Edgar's previous books. My copy appears to have been distributed in the U.K. by the now-defunct Rolls House Publishing Company.

Of interest is this notice on the interior cover:

I don't buy it. Is this the look of a layout resulting from space constraints?

Pages 86 and 87.

My copy of Incendiary Blonde was purchased earlier this year from a Lincolnshire bookseller. Price: £20.00. The very same bookseller is right now offering another copy, in similar condition to mine, at the very same price! 

There is only one other copy listed online. Also in similar condition, it's offered by another UK bookseller at £15.00. Seems a bargain until one reads the shipping cost: C$60.25.

You know which copy to purchase.

Incendiary Blonde can be found at the British Library.

That's it.

Not even Library and Archives Canada has a copy.

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21 August 2023

The Legs of Mary Roberts

Much of this past weekend was spent rereading Horace Brown's 1947 Whispering City; this in preparing its return to print as the next Ricochet Book. Whispering City is unlike the series' sixteen previous titles in that it is a novelization of a film. The heroine of both versions, young Mary Roberts, works the crime beat at fictional Quebec City newspaper L'Information. Brown himself was a reporter for the all-too-real Ottawa Citizen. I dare say he knew something of how a woman in Mary's position might've been treated:

She got up, not very tall, and walked on good legs to a door marked “M. Durant, Redacteur.” Her grey tweed suit set off her trim figure. Her very carriage seemed to radiate vitality and poise. Two or three pairs of eyes raised to follow her wistfully, then bent back to their tasks. The owners of those eyes had learnt that Mary Roberts was not interested.
The film is perhaps not so realistic. Mary's fellow reporters display no interest in her legs or trim figure. Professionals each and every one, their focus is on copy and the rush to put the paper to bed.

Brown's references to Mary's lower limbs amuse because the film makes nothing of them. This scene, which takes place in Quebec's Palais de Justice, provides a brief, distant, modest glimpse:

Brown's description:
Mary shrugged her shoulders prettily, and tapped briskly along the marble floor, while masculine heads turned to watch her twinkling legs.
Trust me, no one turns to watch.

Key to the plot is a performance of 'Quebec Concerto' by suspected wife-killer Michel Lacoste.

(In reality, the concerto was composed by André Mathieu, who was himself a tragic figure.)

After hearing a rehearsal, Mary returns to “M. Durant, Redacteur.”
“The Concerto is good, yes.” Mary Roberts sat on the edge of the editor’s desk, one shapely leg swinging in fast time with her thoughts. “So’s the story onto which I think I’ve stumbled.”
The scene plays out differently onscreen. Mary doesn't sit on the edge of Durant's desk. She never swings a twinkling leg.

In the film, Durant reaches into a desk drawer to hand the reporter a pistol. Brown's Mary cut her teeth at a New York tabloid; she already carries a gun:
The editor shook his head after her in some bewilderment. So much feminine charm running around on such nice legs should not be so efficient and possessed of that pistol in the handbag.
The pistol features in a key scene. Though smart as a whip, Mary has made a mistake. Chasing the story, she ends up scaling Montmorency Falls with the suspected wife-killer:
Her shapely thighs bared, as she climbed to the ledge where he was waiting. She looked down at her legs ruefully. “Just as I thought,” she said. “My nylons are gone. Guess I should have been wearing slacks for a climb like this. I’ll have to fix my garter.”

The displaced garter is used as an excuse to transfer the pistol from handbag to coat pocket. Mary's shapely thighs are not bared in the film; its ninety-eight minute run time features not so much as a knee.

Horace Brown's final mention of Mary's gams comes in the final pages as she struggles with the story's villain:
Her slim legs kicked futilely at him, became entangled in the evening gown that was to have been her happiness and now would be her shroud. His hand was pulsing hard against her breasts.
The film features no kicking. Not one breast is pulsed.

I'm keen on Whispering City as a film, but not on its ending; Horace Brown's is much better.

A muddy copy of the celluloid Whispering City can be seen – gratis – through the Internet Archive. As of this writing, only one copy Horace Brown's novelization is listed for sale online. Price: $316.50.

Whispering City returns to print in October. Price: $15.95.

Update: Whispering City has made the Globe & Mail list of sixty-two books to read this fall.

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