29 March 2012

A Dick's Deadly Dames

The Deadly Dames
Malcolm Douglas [pseud. Douglas Sanderson]
Greenwich, CT: Gold Medal, 1956

Douglas Sanderson's fifth novel, The Deadly Dames was the first to be published as a paperback original. Not quite the same as "straight to DVD", of course, but I don't think it's such a coincidence that this book is by far the weakest of the lot.

With The Deadly Dames we have a new publisher, a new nom de plume and a new hero. Sort of. That hero, Bill Yates, shares something with Mike Garfin, the protagonist of Sanderson's two preceding books: both are Montreal private investigators, both are the sons of French Canadian mothers and both have Scotch landladies.

As with Garfin's outings – Hot Freeze and The Darker Traffic – things start rolling when the private investigator is hired by someone of considerable wealth. In this case, the client is Philip Corday, a spoiled lush who hopes to get the goods that will allow him to divorce his cheating wife Grace. Yates has only just accepted the job when an expensively dressed woman tries to hire him away. Minutes later, she's crushed under the wheels of a streetcar rounding the corner of St Catherine and Peel. And so, what began as a bland divorce case takes a deadly turn. Pun intended.

St Catherine and Peel, Montreal, 1956

Mike doesn't stick around. No pun intended. Hoping of catch Grace and her lover, he heads north to the Corday country home. Things become complicated when he confuses the unfaithful wife with her beautiful older sister. Some PI.

Bodies pile up quickly in The Deadly Dames – nine corpses in 160 pages – but our man Yates is not one of them. Dozens of shots are fired in his direction, but none find their mark. He's beaten senseless repeatedly, but bounces back with superhuman speed. Not even a broken nose slows him down. Good thing too, because the action in this novel clocks in at well under 72 hours.

A lazy novel, the fast pace is provided by characters that exist for no other reason than to propel the plot. There's Corday's chatty Russian housekeeper, a talkative cop with an encyclopedic knowledge of Montreal's underworld and a rural hashslinger who likes nothing more than to listen to the police waveband. As for Yates, he's not so much Mike Garfin under a different name as a pale imitation. There's not much to him, and yet every woman, bar none, throws herself at him.

I lie.

There was that lady who was run over by the streetcar, but she never had a chance.

Worst sentence: "In that dress, in those surroundings, she looked like a poem that got printed by accident in an anthology of prose."

Object: A slim mass market paperback with vibrant cover image by Bob Peake, whose work graced this pretty pink book belonging to my mother:

Warner Brothers Presents My Fair Lady
New York: Warner Brothers Pictures, 1964

Access: The first edition enjoyed one lone printing. A handful are listed online, with decent copies gong for under ten dollars. I could find no library copies outside Ohio State University's William Charvet Collection of American Fiction. Yep, "American Fiction". The first British edition, published in 1961 by Consul, is both less attractive and less common. Two crummy copies are listed for sale online at £2 and £5.
Translated by Laurette Brunius, in 1956 Galimard published a French language edition titled Du Rebecca chez les femmes. The original features no character named Rebecca.

In 2006, a half century after the Gold Medal edition, The Deadly Dames was paired with Sanderson's next novel, A Dum-Dum for the President, and returned to print by the dedicated people at Stark House. The twofer is blessed with a very fine essay by expat Montreal critic Kevin Burton Smith, and an all too brief interview with the author. My copy, a second printing, was bought south of the border. The book is unavailable in Canada. 

27 March 2012

The Retired Reverend King on Abolishing Death

A new Canadian Notes and Queries arrives bringing another Dusty Bookcase sur papier. This one, a bit longer than usual, focuses on that old odd bird Basil King's spiritualism.  Eternally fascinating.

Seth's superhero cover compliments an appreciation of Alvin Schwartz by Devon Code, my old dining parter Shaena Lambert contributes a new short story and Michel Basilières reviews The Sister Brothers. Steven W. Beattie, Marc Bell, Alex Boyd, Michael Bryson, Mark Callanan, Kerry Clare, Emily Donaldson, Aaron Gilbreath, Alex Good, Philip Marchand, John Martz, David Mason, K.D. Miller, Tara Murphy, Shane Nelson, Tina Northrup, Patricia Robertson, Christian Schumann, Kenneth Sherman, Zachariah Wells and Nathan Whitlock add to the goodness. But let me draw attention to Mike Barnes' contributions: an essay and The Reasonable Ogre, a Biblioasis chapbook featuring a new short story with illustrations by Segbingway.

Produced in an edition of 450 copies as a collectible for subscribers of CNQ. My copy's #149.

Information on subscriptions to Canadian Notes & Queries can be found here.

22 March 2012

a/k/a Frank Tarbeaux

Tarboe: The Story of a Life
Gilbert Parker
Toronto: Copp Clarke, 1927

Imagine how old fashioned a fellow Sir Gilbert must have seemed when Tarboe first hit the bookstores. In 1927, the bewhiskered baronet had been a member of His Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council for nearly a decade. While he'd begun his career in fin de siecle London, the author had had nothing to do with Oscar Wilde, the Decadents and The Yellow Book. In the Jazz Age, Tarboe fought a losing battle against Men Without Women and To the Lighthouse for the reader's dollar.

Published late in the author's life, just five years before the end, Tarboe stands alone in a bibliography dominated by adventure romances and historic novels. What is meant to be "the story of a life" –  another man's life – is in reality nothing more than accounts of encounters Parker shared with a man named Frank Tarbeaux. Like the knighted Canadian novelist, the American Tarbeaux is pretty much forgotten today, but in his time he appeared with some regularity in English-language newspapers.

The New York Times, 21 April 1913
A colourful character, "The King of the Card Sharks", Tarbeaux's portrait is painted here by an unnamed journalist in the 10 August 1895 edition of the Auckland Star:
He is uneducated and quite illiterate, but he is as clever as a monkey at what is called, in thieves' slang, "faking the broads," bunko steering, slim gambling, the gyp game, three-card monte, and is a proficient horse-shark, and an expert in green goods.

Nearly every mention I can find of Tarboe describes the book as a novel. The title – Tarboe, not Tarbeaux – more than hints that liberties have been taken. Parker has changed names to protect the innocent, the not-so-innocent and, I expect, the litigious. Of those we see touched by the card-shark's hand, only three, Hawai'i's King Kalākaua, Prince Consort John Owen Dominis and author George W. Peck are accurately recorded.* I think it no coincidence that all were long dead at time of publication.

Tarboe is not a novel; the proof lies in its structure. Parker was far too fine a craftsman to have composed so a rambling story. Here he is constrained by fact, limited by both what he had witnessed and what he had been told by his subject.

The drama takes place far away from the restaurants, art galleries and Parisian streets in which Tarbeaux tells his tales. It's in a comfortable Melbourne hotel room that he claims to be the sole survivor of Custer's Last Stand. His adventures with bounty hunters in the Transvaal are related at the Bodega on the rue de Rivoli.

The years go by and, as Parker notes (with some boasting, I think), encounters become less frequent:
The interests of my life grew wider and I entered the British Parliament but I had travelled before that in Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Greece, Turkey, Austria, Italy, Germany, and nearly all the European States, and since then in America, South America and elsewhere. I met many distinguished and notorious people, but never one with such interest for me as Frank Tarboe.
The final encounter, at a New York restaurant, takes place only through Parker's persistent pursuit of his old acquaintance. "I was called Arizona Frank", says Tarboe, launching into a story of how he once performed with Buffalo Bill.

Parker makes it plain that he has great admiration for the card shark. I'll join in. As portrayed by Sir Gilbert, the Frank Tarbeaux of Tarboe, though a crook, seems a stand-up guy:
Here was a man capable of great things, now a gambler by lack of moral courage, a menace to society while he could have been its benefactor, criminal now though he might have become a saint.
These words, coming early in the book, are followed by this passage in the final pages:
I would sooner have gone to Frank Tarboe in trouble than any relative of mine, or any friend I ever had. I'm not ashamed to have known him, to have liked him much, and here I have put upon record some of his sins, and his folly; but if we would count sins and folly, how many would stand the test? 
Three years after the publication of Tarboe, Frank Tarbeaux told his story to Donald Henderson Clarke, a writer of risqué novels. The resulting "story of a life", published as The Autobiography of Frank Tarbeaux, is much more fanciful than Tarboe. Unlike Parker, Clarke transcribed, he did not question.

In the autobiography, Tarbeaux says this about a man whom he claims was his cousin: "I shot Bob Ford, got him through the right lung down in the Gunnison County, in Southern Carolina."

That's right, Frank Tarbeaux was the man who shot the man who shot Jesse James.

Don't you believe it.

Object: An attractive book in moss green cover with gilt lettering, the Copp Clarke edition features four woodcuts by American illustrator Harry Cimino.

My copy, bought a few months ago from a London bookseller for $3.00, once belonged to the Rodney Public Library. To be honest, I'm not at all sure that it's not their property still; there is no discard stamp. The library card indicates that it was last checked out in 1933.

Access: The Copp Clarke Canadian first is joined by editions published in England (Cassell) and the United States (Harper). I see no evidence that any but the English enjoyed a second printing (peut-être). Very Good copies of the Copp Clarke edition, sans dust jacket, begin at $12.00. While Tarboe is easily found in our universities, patrons of public libraries will have real problems.

* Well, kinda. Parker slips up in recording Peck's name as "James Peck".

20 March 2012

Montreal Noir at Blue Metropolis

Just announced by the good folks at the Blue Metropolis festival, a month tomorrow I'll have the honour of hosting 'Montreal Noir', a panel discussion focusing on the city's forgotten pulp past:
Cheap, disposable and sensationalistic, Montreal’s pulp fiction took its place on Canadian and American newsstands sixty years ago. It has since been ignored, neglected and, in some cases, hidden by its authors. What was so shameful about these books and why are we reviving them now?
Joining me on stage will be Trevor Ferguson, Jim Napier and Will Straw. Actor Marcel Jeannin will be reading excerpts from the work of Montreal's three best noir novelists. Who they? Buy a ticket and find out.
OPUS Montreal Hotel, Salon St-Laurent
10 Sherbrooke Street West
Saturday, 21 April, 8:30 pm 

17 March 2012

Dr. Drummond's Curious St. Patrick's Day Poem

The Quebec Saturday Budget, 2 April 1892
"He only Wore a Shamrock" 
He only wore a shamrock
On his faithful Irish breast,
Maybe a gift from his colleen one,
The maiden whom he loved best;
But the emblem of dear old Ireland,
Tho' worn on a jacket of red,
Was the emblem of rank disloyalty,
And treason most foul, they said. 
Had he but borne the heather,
That grows on the Scottish hills,
A rose from an English garden,
Or a leek from the Cambrian rills,
Then he might summon his comrades,
With trumpet, and fife, and drum.
And march through the breadth of England,
Till trumpet and fife were dumb.
But he only wore a shamrock,
And tho' Britain's most gracious Queen
Had pinned her cross on his bosom,
Yet the little trefoil of green
Might not nestle down beside it,
For the color, alas! was banned,
And the Celtic soldier was made to feel
That he trod an alien land.
Oh! poor little modest symbol,
Of the glorious Trinity,
Rather bloom on your native hill-side,
Than cross the dark Irish sea;
Rather rest on the loving bosom,
Of the Mother that gave you birth,
For even your virtues can't chasten
The ungrateful English earth.
Atypical verse from William Henry Drummond, the poet we prefer to forget, "He only Wore a Shamrock" was inspired by an incident in which an Irish soldier in the British Army was punished for refusing to remove a shamrock from his non-dress uniform. We know this because the poet tells us much in an appended note that credits an anonymous headline writer for giving his poem its title:

Here's the thing: On 18 March 1894, a Sunday, there was no edition of the Gazette. While it's tempting to think that Drummond merely misremembered the year – the incident in question having taken place on  St Patrick's Day 1892 – there's no such heading in the 18 March 1892 edition. In fact, it wasn't until the next day that the story was broken by the Daily News. Despite dogged detective work, the Gazette heading has eluded me.

I'm not sure what to make of the  awkwardly composed quote. A sub-heading? Drummond's own words? In either case, it's all wrong. According to Hansard, Private O'Grady's bit 'o green was stuck not in a buttonhole, but his glengarry cap. More importantly, O'Grady was not court marshalled, but was received a punishment of 48 hours of hard labour.

William Henry Drummond, physician, poet and poor historian? Or is this just a case of poetic licence spilling over onto an explanatory note?

15 March 2012

Irving Layton Rides a Rooster

Frank Newfeld doesn't figure in Irving Layton's memoir Waiting for the Messiah, he makes no appearance in Elspeth Cameron's 517-page Layton biography, and yet I'd argue that the designer's work played a key role in the poet's public persona.

I don't think I'm stepping out on too frail a limb in writing that The Laughing Rooster (working titles: Poems in Bad Taste and The Indelicate Touch) is the most illustrious Layton cover. It displays a bit of the whimsy that we might have seen in Newfeld's rejected "tits" cover for Leonard Cohen. Published by McClelland & Stewart in 1964, it opens in cinematic style with sixteen pages of images, credits, contents, dedication and more. At one point, rooster and poet face off.

The former seems to win – the rooster's image appears four more times before Layton begins his Preface.

Of course, it all really begins with Newfeld's first Layton cover, A Red Carpet for the Sun (1959). The poet's big press debut, it sold more than 8000 copies, elevating Layton to the level of national celebrity.

A Red Carpet for the Sun
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1959

Those eyes. Were they too intense for our cousins to the south? A different Newfeld design was used in the American edition. A shame. 

A Red Carpet for the Sun
Highlands, NC: Jonathan Williams, 1959

The Swinging Flesh
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1961

Balls for a One-Armed Juggler
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1963

Periods of the Moon
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1967

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12 March 2012

A Song for the Irving Layton Centenary

Irving Peter Layton
(né Israel Pincu Lazarovitch)
12 March 1912 – 4 January 2006
He is the light of our generation and after his 130 or 140 years are over and the man's removed from his work so that nothing lies between the reader and the work, the universe Irving created will shine forever.
– Leonard Cohen, 1997

10 March 2012

Margaret Millar Saturday Matinée Spoilers

Having complained about spoilers dropped by a forgotten reviewer, I'll warn that I'm about to commit the same crime. Anyone who has not read Margaret Millar's Beast in View might want to stop at this point.

This is not about the novel, but the two television adaptations: 1964 and 1986 episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The first is worth watching, if only for Joan Hackett's portrayal of Helen Clarvoe.

On the surface, Hackett's casting is curious. She's meant to portray a Plain Jane, but little attempt is made to hide her good looks. Let's remember that this accomplished actress first garnered public attention as teenage model. Like her paper counterpart, television Helen lives in a hotel suite. While there's a slightly glamourous air about her – in the first scene, she looking over fashion drawings – she's otherwise very true to the character Millar created. Knowing what little I do about Ms Hackett, I'm not surprised. Supremely talented, but difficult to work with, she had a reputation as a perfectionist. I'm betting she read Millar's novel – and more than once.

James Bridges, who went on to write and direct The Paper Chase and The China Syndrome, had the task of adapting the novel for cathode ray tubes. The fifty minutes he was allotted cuts most characters, the foremost being Douglas, Evelyn's homosexual ex-husband. No real surprise there. Bridges adds motion in having Helen sabotage the wedding before it ever takes place, thus giving Evelyn – here named Dorothy – motivation for revenge. Clever. 

While it claims to be based upon the novel, the 1986 adaptation isn't an adaptation at all. Clocking in at a mere 23 minutes, credits and posthumous Hitchcock intro included, it's mercifully short and can be quickly described:

Privileged pop psychologist Marion McGregor, author of the bestseller Masculine Wants, Male Needs, marries former patient Cliff Potts. Her paradise is rocked by threatening messages left on her answering machine by first husband Gordon. But it can't be! Gordon died four years ago! The next thing you know Marion's dog is killed. We, but not she, see that a Peeping Tom is watching through the leaded glass windows of her luxurious home. The same man shows up at one of Marion's book signings and she flees for home

Cliff arrives to hear his wife struggling with Gordon. Cliff descends the cellar stairs, stumbles around a bit, and discovers Marion with the mummified corpse of her first husband. But is it really his wife? In her own twisted mind, she's become Gordon. As Marion chases Cliff, trying to kill him with a shovel, it becomes clear that she left those answering machine messages. The police arrive in the nick of time. The Peeping Tom turns out to be psychiatrist Dr Kaufman, who we learn has been treating Marion. Phew.

The climax of this Beast in View owes much to Psycho, and as with Psycho, everything is explained in the denouement:
Dr Kaufman: I should have institutionalized her four years ago when she first told me.
Cliff: Why didn't you?
Dr Kaufman: Why? Oh, professional ethics [emphasis mine], one shrink to another. I thought I could help her. She was making such great progress. Then when I found out she was marrying you, I knew it was happening all over again.
Cliff: What was happening?
Dr Kaufman: Marion was losing control.
Cliff: What about Gordon's body? I mean, why would she...
Dr Kaufman: Keep it? Because she loved him. And that's what you do when you love somebody, and he's a beast. The cellar is the only place to hide.
So, you see, a beast in view... or out of view. He's hidden because, um...

Oh, forget it.

06 March 2012

The Telephone Always Rings

Beast in View
Margaret Millar
New York: Bantam, 1956

Margaret Millar's big book, this was put aside for years after I read a review that gave away far too much of the plot. The same mistake will not be made here.

As with most Millars, things begin quietly. The protagonist, Helen Clarvoe, is not at all foreign to her fiction. Lonely and insecure she resides – but does not truly live – in a downtown hotel suite. Though just thirty, Helen meets the very definition of spinster. She has no friends or interests, dresses dowdy and is a bit of a prude. The suite might seem like an extravagance, but it only enables her to live as a shut-in; Helen is otherwise remarkably frugal.

Still, hotel suites don't come cheap. Miss Clarvoe is able to afford hers through an inheritance she's received from her late father. Estranged from her mother and sole sibling Douglas, Helen's only steady contact with the outside world comes in the form of Paul Blackshear, who handles her investments. It's to this man that Helen turns when things begin to go awry.

Much is made of Millar as someone who could pen psychological mysteries with a good twist, but I admire more her abilities to draw characters. In Beast in View the reader meets a good number of fascinating figures: Helen, her mother, Douglas, Blackshear, Jane the switchboard operator, school chum Eveleyn, charm school headmistress Lydia Hudson, photographer Jack Terola and painter Harley Moore, are just half of the cast. It says much that all are real, so fully fleshed, living in a novel that ends before hitting the bottom of page 120.

True, the type in this Bantam edition is small, but it's not at all dense. I've written before of my admiration for Millar's dialogue; here it is real and revealing to the point in which one feels that it would only be polite to close the book and leave the room. I can think of no better example than the six pages of dialogue in which Douglas reveals to his mother that he is gay.

This is the closest I'm going to come in spoiling the book.

It's tempting to slam Bantam for its author bio, which gives equal space to husband Ross Macdonald. However, after reading Millar on Beast in View, I'm willing to cut the publisher some slack.

In the Afterword to the 1993 International Polygionics edition, she writes that she abandoned the novel – "half-written" –  after happening upon a 1954 "television play" with a plot that was, in her words, "the same as the one I was writing."

The television play in question, Gore Vidal's Dark Possession, starring Geraldine Fitzgerald, is about... ah, but that would be spoiling things.

Millar tells us that her husband "stepped in as he often had in the past", presenting an idea that "altered the whole book". She reveals the idea, but I won't repeat it – again, that would be spoiling things.

Object: My copy, the first paperback edition, is as common as the first edition is scarce. What it has going for it is that cover. Equal parts sexy and scary, it beats all others. Anyone considering this edition would be wise to ignore the publisher's pitch page, which not only misleads, but tells far too much of what is to come. I present it here with spoilers blacked out:

Access: Reissued last autumn under the Orion imprint, British readers should have little trouble tracking down a copy. Canadians, meanwhile, are forced to look to used bookstores.

I've never encountered the 1955 Random House first edition, nor could I find an image. It's interesting to note that right now one – just one – copy is listed for sale online. It is signed not by Mrs Millar, but by Dorothy B. Hughes. The first British edition, published by Gollancz in 1955, seems to be just about as uncommon; two jacketless ex-library copies are listed, but nothing else. Those who don't care about such things will be pleased to learn that dozens of decent copies published by Bantam, Penguin, Avon, Orion, Corgi, Mystery Guild, International Polygonics, John Curley, Carroll & Graf and Hodder & Stoughton going for under five dollars.

Like most Margaret Millar novels, Beast in View has been translated numerous times. The first French edition, Mortellement vôtre (Paris: Presses de la Cité, 1957), is the most attractive, even if the cover was recycled from Jay Barbette's Death's Long Shadow. German, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Danish, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Polish, Japanese and Chinese also figure in the mix.

Most foreign-language titles have something to do with the idea of a beast –  狙った獣 (Aimed at the Beast), La bestia se acerca (The Beast is Coming). The best, 眼中的獵物 (The Eyes of the Prey), turns everything on its head. The worst, but most successful in terms of sales, is the German: Liebe Mutter, es geht mir gut... (Dear Mother, I Am Fine…).

Related post:

05 March 2012

POD Cover of the Month: The Sky Pilot

Tutis Classics' edition of Ralph Connor's nineteenth-century novel about nineteenth-century settlers and ranchers in the foothills of nineteenth-century Alberta. At the centre of it all is Arthur Wellington Moore, a modest missionary come to convert cowboys. In the 1921 film adaptation he was played by tragic Hollywood figure John Bowers.

Some good soul has uploaded the entire thing to YouTube:

First edition:

The Sky Pilot: A Tale of the Foothills
Chicago: Revell, 1899

Runner up:

Tutis' take on The Man from Glengarry, the story of Ranald Macdonald, a nineteenth-century logger  who grows into manhood with the aid of a pious woman and the mighty Ottawa River.

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01 March 2012

Freedom to Read Week: Under the Hill

Under the Hill
Aubrey Beardsley, completed by John Glassco
Paris: Olympia Press, 1959

An elegant favourite, in both appearance and content, I've written about Under the Hill here and in my biography of John Glassco. There will be few words today... just some images of a work that was seized and destroyed by French authorities. This is one of roughly 1500 copies that escaped the flames.

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