03 June 2014

Milton Douglas, Canadian Author?

Sin for Your Supper
Milton Douglas
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949

Milton Douglas was a friend of John Glassco. If one is to believe the poet – and I don't – the two met briefly as young men in Paris, then recognized each another on a street in small-town Quebec several decades later. Again, I don't believe it, nor do I believe that the author of Sin for Your Supper is the same Milton Douglas.

The time spent reading this cheap paperback, something so clearly beneath me, is part of a renewed effort to uncover unrecognized Canadian novels. My method is simple: look into titles and authors that were published by Toronto's News Stand Library and no one else. Might these authors be fellow countrymen and women?

The great hope, of course, is that something – anything – might be familiar. Lest you think this is folly, consider Ted Allan's pseudonymous  Love is a Long Shot (1949), the News Stand Library title recycled in the 1984 Leacock Medal-winning novel.

Michael P.J. Kennedy has a very good article about the similarities between Waste No Tears, which Hugh Garner (a/k/a Jarvis Warwick) published with News Stand Library in 1950, and his short stories "The Yellow Sweater", "Lucy" and "Mama Says to Tell You She's Out".

(After more than six decades out-of print, Waste No Tears is again available. You'll find more info here. Yes, that's a plug.)

Mine is a summer project…  begun before summer. The first book read in the pursuit of heretofore unrecognized Canadiana was Stephen Mark's Overnight Escapade (1950). Was Mark Canadian? Vancouver, Prince George, Saskatoon, Halifax and Ronald J. Cooke's Craig Street figure in his fiction, but then so too does the segregated American South.

Gerry Martin's Too Many Women (1950) was second. It takes place in Hamilton, Niagara Falls, Buffalo and some undisclosed location on the shores of Lake Ontario.

Toronto is mentioned.

I recognized nothing in the writings of Mark and Martin, and am pretty sure that neither is W.O. Mitchell or Earle Birney. But really… Stephen Mark, Gerry Martin and now Milton Douglas. Those names have gotta be fake, right?

Sin for Your Supper is set apart from Overnight Escapade and Too Many Women in that Canada is barely mentioned. The action takes place almost entirely in  Manhattan, where ne'er-do-well Jimmy Martin – there's another of those names – preys upon rubes, drunks and harried cashiers. More than a grifter, he carries a gun and is not afraid to shoot a woman in order to get what he wants. Or so he says.

I don't think I've ever had less to say about a book – which is good because this post risks running long. Sin for Your Supper drifts aimlessly with Jimmy moving from scheme to scam and doll to dame. On a whim he kidnaps leggy Betty McGregor. Threatening with his Luger, he forces her to drive out to the country, then changes his mind. They become lovers because, I suppose, she has a thing for bad boys. That same evening, over drinks at the Hunt Club, Betty asks Jimmy why he does what he does.
"I don't know," Jimmy explained. "It's just something inside of me. I think the main reason is that it isn't boring."
But it is boring. Jimmy's unpredictability becomes predictable, actions lead nowhere, and the prose is pedestrian. To be fair, there are times when the author really tries, as in chapter ten, which is reproduced here in full:

What more can be said? Well, early in the novel we're treated to the step-by-step process through which Jimmy parleys a dollar bill into a room and steak dinner at the St Moritz.

That was pretty interesting. More than the sex scene, at least.

I suppose I should point out that the real name of Glassco's friend was Milton Kastilo.

Object: Another News Stand Library book – and you know what that means –  this one in particular is poorly produced in that the back cover has a faint print overlay bearing the stylized title for Shack-up Girl (NSL #48).

Access: One of the News Stand Library titles that had separate Canadian and American editions. The cover for the latter is interesting in that features… well, there's no telling which one of Jimmy's women that's supposed to be. A bait and switch, it hints at lesbianism, right? Perhaps that's just me.

WorldCat records just one copy – the American – which is held at the British Library.

I don't see any copies of the Canadian being offered online right now, though there are six of the American, running from US$4.00 and US$22.00. Condition explains everything.


  1. Too bad it wasn't good...Though it does have a great title and 2 great covers...Oh, well!

    1. The first is quite polished for NSL, the second is more typical. Looks a bit like the least convincing performer at Cleopatra's, don't you think?

  2. "But it is boring." That made me chuckle. Thanks for the review. Sorry you had to suffer through this one.

    1. Another sacrifice for Canadian literature, Kelly. Thanks for your kind words (and sympathy).