15 July 2014

Richard Rohmer's Retaliation: The Chairmen Rave

Richard Rohmer
Toronto: PaperJacks, 1983

I wonder when Eaton's closed down its book department. Well before the end, wasn't it? I know it was still going on 26 June 1986 because that day I visited the downtown Montreal store where Jacques Hébert was signing copies of his most recent. I bought a copy for my mum.

No one else responded to the ad. A publicist tried to slow my departure by taking photos. Somewhere out there are shots of me with the senator (I'm wearing a Batman t-shirt). The only other book I can remember ever buying at Eaton's was a copy of Robert Harlow's Scann that had been marked down to 25¢ (on the cover, in the tradition of yard sales).

No one really went to Eaton's for books, did they? Yet, the lone paperback edition of Richard Rohmer's Retaliation provides strong evidence that its president, chairman and CEO was also a reader and a critic.

"This romp has appropriate amounts of financial ledger-demain, unscrupulous political acts, violence and romance. Lots of action and lots of fun."

Romp isn't the right word, nor is "ledger-demain" (he means legerdemain), but unscrupulous political acts, violence and romance do figure. Whether their amounts are appropriate depend, I think, on individual taste. Romance barely registers, levels of violence and political activity are a touch lower than one might expect in a thriller, and legerdemain is simply not in evidence.

The story is really quite simple:

Paul James, former executive of the "Canadian International Bank of Canada", comes up with a plan that would see the bank team up with the "Toronto Depository Bank" and Saudi Arabia to purchase "BankAmerica". Such is his confidence in the scheme that he commits $100 million of his own money – made in "the oil patch in Calgary" – to the effort. CIBC chairman Ross Harris encourages his old colleague to team up with the "Royal Canadian Bank", the "Bank of Montreal-Quebec" and Kuwait to also buy "Citicorp". No competition between banks, it seems.

Paul moves fast. Within two weeks, he has rented a Swiss castle, loaded it with computers, and has begun buying stock in both American banks. Disaster threatens when the Mafia abduct the computer supplier and his ugly daughter. This proves a momentary glitch. The ransom is paid, the kidnappers are killed, and the money is returned. The Mafia seek revenge, but fail. This being fiction, they throw in the towel.

By the end of the fourth trading day Paul has succeeded in getting controlling interest in the two banks, earning $1.86 million on his investment. Washington is pissed and imposes strict sanctions and the Canadian economy collapses, resulting in "a depression worse than that of the 1930s." Paul suns himself at his Barbados getaway.


The Globe & Mail, 6 November 1982
"This could happen!" C. Richard Sharpe, Chairman and CEO of Simpson-Sears, exclaims. Frankly, I thought the whole thing so patently absurd that any criticism would be stating the obvious.* But then Thomas J. Bell, Chairman of the Board at Abitibi-Price, weighs in with "very authentic… it could be true."

Who else do we got?

Well, there's Stephen B. Roman, who had once tried to sue Pierre Trudeau for coming out against the sale of an Ontario uranium mine to the Americans. Seems he still held a grudge.

There's also Donald Campbell, Chairman and CEO of Maclean-Hunter, publisher of Rohmer's The Green North. Bit of a book connection there, as there is with Jack Rhind, who apart from being Chairman and CEO of Confederation LIfe was a director with Cannon Book Distribution.

Not a banker among them, I note.

Bank notes: Paul's risky investment brings a return of 1.86 percent. Though inflation is in the double-digits, this is portrayed as considerable. As the result American sanctions, the value of the Canadian dollar falls to US$0.60. This appears to have had no effect on Paul's fortune. At the end of the novel, the Canadian banks are on the brink of collapse. Ross Harris regrets nothing.

Trivia: Simpson-Sears' C. Richard Sharpe served with the author in 411 Squadron.

Object: A mass market paperback. The page count is identical to that of the hardcover. Same plates? I can't be bothered to find out.

Access: Library and Archives Canada, Bibliothèque et Archives nationals du Québec and fifteen university libraries. More miss than hit in our public libraries.

Copies of the paperback are listed online for one dollar; copies of the hardcover first edition begin at two. One Toronto bookseller is selling a Fine copy inscribed by the author for $25.
*Anyone interested in my criticisms – and those of my pals Chris and Stan – is directed to the Reading Richard Rohmer project.


  1. Hey Dusky,
    I think I left a comment here this morning, but it seems to have vanished. (The computers in this castle are so unreliable.) I thought your readers should know that Richard Rohmer's How to Write a Bestseller is available from Amazon for $0.03 used and $2.432.64 new.

    1. At $2,432.64 you'll never make the Globe & Mail list. On the other hand, move 101 copies and you'll have achieved a quarter million in sales. It's a trade-off, really.

    2. Amazon lists the book at $3,988.35 on its Canadian site. Must be the 60¢ dollar.