03 October 2009

Harlequin's Change of Heart

I've taken more than a few shots – here and elsewhere – at that great Canadian success story known as Harlequin Enterprises and its reluctance to acknowledge its varied past. As evidence, I point to
that peculiar corporate exhibit of last May, which included only passing recognition the publisher's first fifteen years. And then there's this bullying of a BC bookseller. Never mind, today I come to praise Harlequin for what it refers to as its 'Vintage Collection'. The publisher hasn't exactly been trumpeting this new 'miniseries' – there doesn't appear to have been any attempt at publicity and no mention is made on its main page (so, I provide this link). Again, never mind. Whoever is overseeing this thing has done a very nice job; and the books, which should appear in bookstores this month, are very reasonably priced.

Looking at the first six titles, it's pretty clear that Harlequin has focused on novels in which women feature prominently. Fine, I understand the concept of branding. Disappointment rears its head only with the realization that there are no Canadian books amongst this first batch. While I'm not expecting Wreath for a Redhead or The Executioners, both disowned by author Brian Moore, I hold out hope that November's offerings will feature something of this vast, fair Dominion.

And so, I present this modest three title wish list.

The Body on Mount Royal
David Montrose
Winnipeg: Harlequin, 1953
A mystery featuring Russell Teed, the hard-working, hard-drinking, Montreal private dick at the centre of The Crime on Cote des Neiges (Collins White Circle, 1951) and Murder Over Dorval (Collins White Circle, 1952). Not only is The Body on Mount Royal the darkest of the three, it has a cover that Harlequin has yet to surpass.

The Mayor of Côte St. Paul
Ronald J. Cooke
Winnipeg: Harlequin, 1950
Admire the cover, but don't focus too much on the clothing, hairstyles or that typewriter; this novel isn't set in the post-War era, but in 1920s Montreal. Organized crime, bootleggers, smugglers and slot machines... much like today, but with different cars.

Die with Me Lady [sic]
Ronald Cocking
Winnipeg: Harlequin, 1953
And finally, a book that appears to combine the dual dangers of drugs and overhead power lines. I've never felt the urge to read this this oddly titled novel, perhaps because the plot is spoiled by an overly descriptive back cover:
Throughout North America, despite the vigilance of law-enforcement agencies, the deadly traffic in narcatics grows by leaps and bounds.

One of the centres of this vicious traffic is Toronto, Canada - a fast growing city of a million people, facing New York State across the waters of Lake Ontario, and providing a ready link with the United States.

Al Morley, a Toronto newspaper reporter, in covering the apparently insignificant death of a humble newspaper seller, crosses the path of the celebrated and erudite Sir Wilfred Cremorne and his lovely daughter, Valerie.
From then on he finds himself drawn into a tangle web of intrigue with a dope ring at its centre. He watches while respectable people are bought to protect the operations of the million-dollar traffickers.

The story moves towards a terrifying climax where a group of horrified people, doomed by their own avarice, helplessly await death on a luxury yacht cruising on the sunny waters of Lake Ontario.
Update: Caveat emptor.


  1. Thanks for pointing this out. Surprise from Harlequin. I have the originals and now the reprints.
    It's hard to imagine Moore's 2 Harlequins ever coming out in new editions from anyone. I've read "The Executioners" and it is far from a lost gem. Moore was smart to keep it under "wraps".

  2. I've got all of Moore's pulps, but have only read Wreath for a Redhead (otherwise known as Sailor's Leave). Can't say that it made we want to dive into the others - though I know I will... eventually. I will say something on its behalf: Wreath for a Redhead is unique as the only English-language novel to begin in Lévis, Quebec. I'm pretty sure about this.