04 April 2014

A Sailor's Story

Overnight Escapade
Stephen Mark
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1950

The publisher comes clean on the title page. "Overnight Escapade" is no novel, but the longest of a number of stories bound in a cheap paperback that is sure to come apart in your hands. 

I admit to being shocked by its beginning: "The glory hole stank more than usual from the sweat of men".

No seaman, I was unaware of "glory hole" as a nautical term.

"Overnight Escapade" is less about ships than shore leave. Central character sailor Steve Green is a man adrift with no attachment to anyone or anything:
Ten years I'd been going to sea – looking for something. I didn't know what when I started – I still don't know, but there's that lousy feeling I get in my stomach and in my brain every now and then.  
Now, some might call that a hangover, but Steve is no boozehond. While fellow crewmen check out the public houses of London, the latest port of call, he continues his aimless wandering on dry land. He's taking a breather in front of the Criterion Theatre at Piccadilly Circus when a long black Daimler draws up. Inside a veiled woman with voice "like Margaret Sullivan [sic] only a thousand times more sexy" beckons.

Who can resist!

The mystery woman takes him to a Regent's Park mansion, up a darkened staircase, through a gathering of men and women in evening dress, and into her warm bed.

Seconds of pleasure follow.

This is no slight on Steve – such is the pace of his overnight escapade that there's barely time for a quickie. He hasn't even hitched up his pants before the mystery woman, Elspeth, asks for a favour. He soon finds himself smuggling a package past the well-dressed group. Per instructions, he takes a cab to Denman Street, where he delivers same to one Anthony Masker, the most unattractive transvestite I've yet encountered in our literature.
This was a fruit factory and it looked as if I was the guy about to be served for dessert.
Though Steve is rather rude in declining Anthony's invitation to a bit of fun with a "pretty young queen" in Chinese pyjamas, he politely accepts a drink… which turn out to be a mickey finn. When he comes to, he finds Anthony gone and the queen "as cold as a prostitute's kiss – dead as yesterday's news." Not one hour has passed since our hero enjoyed the pleasures of Elspeth's flesh.

(cliquez pour agrandir)
As I say, "Overnight Escapade" is fast paced. Before the night is up, Steve will have run into a pal in a pub, accompanied a floozy to a hotel room, and been abducted no less than three times. He'll have travelled by train, cab, ship and submarine. Our hero will have also visited a secret island full of Nazi planes and atomic bombs one hundred or so metres off the English coast.

Reading Steve's story I was reminded of the overnight escapade in Douglas Sanderson's Flee from Terror. It only works if the reader accepts a world in which ships bound from London reach the North Sea in well under an hour, and one can travel by rail from Clacton-on-Sea to Liverpool Street station in fifteen minutes. It only works if one believes that the House of Commons is 24/7 and Scotland Yard inspectors are at their desks by five in the morning. It only works if…

Of course, "Overnight Escapade" doesn't work at all. That is, unless the reader recognizes that Steve, our narrator, loses consciousness three more times in its telling – twice from blows to the head.

Favourite passage: 
Just as she gets to me she raises her arm and lifts her veil off her face.
     I don't know what I was expecting but it sure didn't measure up to what I got. Hedy Lamarr is a bag compared to this – and I would never kick Hedy Lamarr out of bed. 

Favourite sentence:
When I reached the end of the dock I glanced back at my ship, squatting black and ugly, like an old woman relieving herself.
The dames had to force themselves to follow Frank around the glory hole.
Object: A poorly produced 160-page mass market paperback, edited in typical NSL style.

Cover by Syd Dyke!

Access: News Stand Library printed separate editions for the Canadian and American markets, then let the novel slip away. Only one copy of the Canadian, the true first, is listed online. A Very Good copy at US$10, it's a bargain. Three copies of the American, all Very Good, are on offer at US$15 to US$20. They are to be considered if the Canadian is gone.

WorldCat lists one copy – the American edition – held at Library and Archives Canada. C'est tout.

1 comment:

  1. Count me among those who never knew the origins of "glory hole". I always thought in its more familar slang that it was intended to be campily ironic. Just like the campily ironic term "tea room" applied to a public rest room that might have a "glory hole."