22 January 2010

Murderers Move In On Montreal

The Executioners
Brian Moore
Toronto: Harlequin, 1951

One year later, another Brian Moore pulp. The Executioners was the author's second novel, published just months after Wreath for a Redhead. Not nearly as much fun or as interesting, it lacks the quirkiness and much of the noirish language of his debut. This isn't to say that these are typical elements in the author's recognized oeuvre there's not much wackiness in Black Robe, and while its nights were dark, they weren't "as black as a showgirl's mascara" but here Moore's great strengths are also absent.

While the scenario is fairly pedestrian a group of foreign agents arrive in Montreal with orders to kidnap or kill an exiled leader – the greatest weakness is that the characters have no flesh. The hero, Mike Farrell, seems to have had some background in boxing, and we know he served in the Second World War. What else can we say about Farrell? Well, we're told that he's a native Montrealer – but this comes from the jacket copy, not the author. Small samplings of candy are provided by Janina, the beautiful blonde niece of the exiled leader. She is "everything you want and don't get, and most of it encased in a sheer blue dress", but not much more.

And then there's the leader himself, who Moore biographer Denis Sampson tells us was inspired by Stanislaw Mikołajczyk, the subject of the author's very first piece of journalism.

The statesman is described as a man with a "huge head". Seems right to me.

The Executioners shows signs of a rushed job. The first chapter, which begins in a pick-up joint frequented by buxom joy kids, is the strongest. In fact, the best line, concerning that same night club, appears on the first page: "The vice squad had closed it up as tight as a ballet dancer's pants two months before and I figured the girls had moved their trade." After this, like the joy kids' clients, we encounter more and more padding – in a book of only 157 pages – provided by frequent drives around town, trips out to Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue and talk of detailed schemes that are never put into action.

It's not at all surprising that Moore's agent succeeded in placing Wreath for a Redhead with an American publisher, but failed with The Executioners. I'm betting that the next pulp, French for Murder (1954) is better, but won't know for sure for another year. After The Executioners, it'll be an easy wait.

Object: A typical Harlequin. Printed on cheap paper, reading may lead to destruction. My copy, bought for two dollars at a bookstore that has since been swallowed up by the Palais des congrès, is in rotten shape. I handle it with loving care.

The cover image depicts two of the ne'r-do-wells outside the statesman's safe house, 26 Chablee Avenue. Though the street doesn't exist outside fiction, I think anyone who knows Montreal will agree that the architecture is, to put it politely, atypical.

Access: A non-circulating item found in rare book rooms and the like. The cheapest copy on offer, which looks to be in as rough shape as my own, will set you back C$50. There are much worse copies that go for even more. In fact, none of the nine currently listed online can be said to be anything better than Good. Most go for between C$60 and C$75. The most expensive copy – C$128 – comes with a signed slip of paper. An insult to both author and collector.

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1 comment:

  1. I was fortunate to get a nice condition copy of The Executioners a few years ago. Surprised at how little I enjoyed the book - remarkably bad for someone with Moore's reputation. Glad to hear that Wreath is better.