29 August 2016

Cheese! What a Story!

The Mystery of the Folded Paper
Hulbert Footner
New York: Collier, n.d.

The British title is The Folded Paper Mystery.

Any better?

I would have dropped "Mystery," which isn't much in evidence. The first page introduces Finlay Corveth, a young go-getter who mines the criminal underworld for material he uses in his short stories. Today he's on the hunt for of a brass ball that went missing during a break-in
at Nick Peters' flat. Tony Casino grabbed it from the bed frame, used it to knock out Nick, and then took off with the thing in his hand. What Tony and Fin don't know is that the ball contains an antique locket, which in turn contains a folded paper upon which is a message that leads to the basement of a large house in on the outskirts of New York. Sealed in the brick wall behind the furnace is a box that holds information relating to the line of succession in a fictional monarchy on the Black Sea.

I haven't spoiled a thing. The Mystery of the Folded Paper tells a familiar tale; the reader will recognize it with the entrance of pretty Mariula, a sixteen-year-old private schoolgirl with a mysterious past.

There will be a murder and a suicide, and yet this is one of the happiest novels I've ever read: boy meets girl, boy never loses girl, and girl turns out to be a princess. Pay no mind that the boy is twenty-five and the girl is sixteen.

So, yes, a happy story... and not at all taxing! Anyone not paying attention will be set right by frequent explanations and summaries.

Small wonder that few people have bothered writing about The Mystery of the Folded Paper; those who have invariably mention the appearance of the author's friend Christopher Morley as a character.

Is he, really?

The Mystery of the Folded Paper features someone named Christopher Morley, but he's a theatre director, not a writer. I suppose it may be that the character shares something of Morley's... um, character, but I'm not interested enough to investigate further.

It's also noted that The Mystery of the Folded Paper is the first of Hulbert Footner's Amos Lee Mappin mysteries.

I was sorry to hear it.

Mappin is a bland figure. A bloated bachelor, spoiled by privilege, he lives a life of luxury and leisure in an expansive Manhattan apartment run by manservant Jermyn. Fin bows to the older writer's judgment, as younger writers so often do, for no other reason than he has published a few books. Though Mappin's deal with the criminal mind, he doesn't bring much insight. His greatest contribution comes in the way of funds.

Things are left to Fin, the boy who meets the girl, to carry the story to its predictable conclusion. Energetic, chatty and crazily optimistic, he's  always ready with a word and smile, as in this scene which finds him running for his life beside a woman whom he's endangered:
"You're doing fine!" Fin said to Daisy, grinning. "It's no cinch to run uphill!"
Though I can't recommend The Mystery of the Folded Paper, Fin's boyish over-the-top enthusiasm and cheery, positive attitude make it worth a fleeting look. This snippet of dialogue should suffice:
"Cheese! Tony, you sure are some nervy kid! It's a treat to hear you! You must tell me some more stories!"
Reaching the end of the novel, I couldn't help but wonder whether the whole thing wasn't a parody of something I'd never read. Again, I'm not interested enough to investigate further.

No, the only truly intriguing thing about The Mystery of the Folded Paper is this: With all Fin's snooping around the criminal class, never mind the stories he publishes about its crimes, wouldn't he have been offed long ago?

I suppose it's worth nothing that Fin doesn't feature in any of the other Amos Lee Mappin mysteries.

Object: A well-constructed 350-page hardcover in crimson boards with gold stamping, my copy belongs to Collier's Front Page Mysteries series. It was purchased earlier this year at London's Attic Books. Price: $10.00.

Access: First published in 1930 by Harper in the United States and Collins in the United Kingdom. As one might expect, a cheap Burt edition followed. I haven't been able to determine just when the Collier edition appeared.

Used copies are not plentiful, but they are cheap. The least expensive, a jacketless, cocked copy of the Collins first, is listed online for US$7.61. The only copy of the Collier edition - not quite so nice as mine - can be had for US$20.00. One Pennsylvania bookseller is trying to get away with selling the Burt reprint as a first edition. Price: US$300. Steer clear.

Remarkably, The Mystery of the Folded Paper was reissued in 2014 by Coachwhip Publications.

Seven of our university libraries hold copies.

19 August 2016

Wishing the Prime Minister Dead: The Tory Joke That Wasn't as Funny the Third Time Around

Last week the Conservative Party of Canada used taxpayer dollars to create and post a meme to its Facebook page. There's nothing at all remarkable in this – they do it several times a week – but a couple of things made this particular meme noteworthy. The first is that a variation appeared the very next day.

The second is that the original meme was reposted two days later.

Noteworthy, but not remarkable; just further evidence that the party is bereft of ideas. It does little more than attack, and when pressed for something new, repeats itself. This is the very strategy that cost last year's election.

No, what made these posts truly remarkable weren't the memes themselves, but the reactions from the party's Facebook followers.

Some expressed relief:

Others told us not to be concerned:

Several suggested looking in Mecca, mosques, gay bars and bathhouses:

While others remembered the prime minister's brother Michel, who in 1998 was killed when an avalanche swept him into Kokanee Lake.

Ryan Horvath and Tyrone Newton's comments were anything but unique. Nearly one hundred people took the time to express their hopes that the prime minister would die. Most wished a violent end:

And then there's this:

That all comments remain on the Facebook page of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition raises many questions, the most important being:

How is it that Conservative MPs and party brass are not reading their own page?

I mean, we must assume they're not. The alternative is too disturbing to contemplate.

Update: An expanded, somewhat altered version of this post was published here on 25 August at the Walrus

15 August 2016

Ricochet and the Charles Ross Graham Mystery

The tenth Ricochet Books title is back from the printers and is now on its way to better bookstores. Given the series' raison d'être, it is appropriate that Gambling with Fire by David Montrose was chosen to be that title. After all, Ricochet began with the author's 1950 debut, The Crime on Cote des Neiges; Montrose's Murder Over Dorval and The Body on Mount Royal were books two and three.

Gambling with Fire is the author's laggardly fourth novel. Published in 1969, seventeen years after the last, it holds distinction as his only hardcover. There was no paperback edition... until now.

Gambling with Fire stands apart from the rest in other ways. For example, it is the only Montrose novel not to feature private detective Russell Teed.

And then there's the little thing about the author's death.

Montrose – real name: Charles Ross Graham – died when Gambling with Fire was at press. He never held a copy.

In the Introduction to the Ricochet reissue, John McFetridge presents a compelling case that Gambling with Fire isn't Montrose's fourth novel, rather that it was written before the others. Will we ever know, I wonder.

At the risk of being a big head, I find it astonishing that no one who knew Charles Ross Graham has been in contact. In the seven years since The Dusty Bookcase began, I've heard from Diane Bataille's nephew, Horace Brown's daughter, Lillian Vaux MacKinnon's granddaughter, Ronald J. Cooke's grandson, Danny Halperin's son, and the daughters-in-law of Leo Orenstein and Harold S. Wood. It was through an email from Nancy Vichert, daughter of James Benson Nablo, that we were able to republish his lone novel, The Long Novemberas a Ricochet title.

Charles Ross Graham spent nearly his entire adult life in Montreal, and yet not a single writer I know who was working in the city at the time remembers the man. And so, both pleased and proud as I am in having returned Gambling with Fire to print, I must cast a line:

Anyone out there?


Related posts:

08 August 2016

The Further Frustrations of Jimmie Dale

The Further Adventures of Jimmie Dale
Frank L. Packard
New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1931

"The Gray Seal is dead."

So ends The Adventures of Jimmie Dale. I enjoyed reading those words, even if I knew they weren't true; Packard published four more Jimmie Dale books, The Further Adventures of Jimmie Dale being the second.

Don't get me wrong. I really liked Jimmie – much more than most millionaires – but I was growing tired of the Gray Seal, his crime fighting alter-ego. The Adventures of Jimmie Dale clocks in at 468 pages, and there is only so much pulp a man can digest in one sitting. What kept me going was the promise that Jimmie would finally be united with the mystery woman behind his adventures.

I do like a happy ending.

Slowly, very slowly, veils are cast aside, until the mystery woman is revealed as Marie LaSalle, a beautiful heiress who has been living amongst the dregs of society disguised a hag known as Silver Mag. In the novel's climactic scene, both Jimmie and Marie shed their respective secret identities when the Crime Club, the group that had caused absolutely sweet Marie to go into hiding, is destroyed. Witnesses are convinced that Silver Mag and the Gray Seal perished in an inferno.

As I say, I do like a happy ending.

I picked up The Further Adventures of Jimmie Dale because I was curious to see how Jimmie and Marie were getting along. I expected them to be married, living lives of luxury in a Park Avenue penthouse, and solving crimes for kicks like Nick and Nora Charles (only without the drinking or the humour). My heart fell when I learned that Jimmie and Marie weren't together. There was no break-up. Ever cautious Marie decides that surviving members of the Crime Club might be suspicious of their relationship; after all, she and Jimmie hadn't known each other before the troubles started. She determines that the best course of action is to stay away from one another for a year or so.

And then Marie disappears.

Jimmie goes undercover and underground. As Smarlinghue, an impoverished painter and dope fiend, he moves amongst the criminal class in the hopes of finding a trail that will lead to Marie. Many adventures follow, few of which have anything to do with his objective. However, Jimmie is a good guy, so willingly places himself at risk to see justice done. In this respect and others, The Further Adventures of Jimmie Dale repeats The Adventures of Jimmie Dale. The reader is presented with a series of well-crafted plots, ingenious and intricate, some of which further the narrative. As in the first book, the second concludes with Jimmie and Marie coming together to defeat villainy. As in the first book, they escape certain disaster, this time in a small boat on the East River:
She was crouched in the bottom of the boat close beside him. He bent his head until his lips touched her hair, and lower still until his lips touched hers. And a long time passed. And the boat drifted on. And he drew her closer into his arms, and held her there. She was safe now, safe for always – and the road of fear lay behind. And into the night there seemed to come a great quiet, and a great joy, and a great thankfulness, and a wondrous peace.
     And the boat drifted on.
     And neither spoke – for they were going home.
And so, another happy ending. But will they be borne back ceaselessly into the past?

Object: A 340-page book bound in bland, suitably grey boards. I bought my copy two years ago as part of the Gray Seal Edition of Packard's works. Price: US$25.00 for ten volumes. Are there more than ten? I'm assuming so, if only because The Adventures of Jimmie Dale doesn't figure amongst my ten.

Access: Serialized in People's magazine (November 1916 - August 1917), The Further Adventures of Jimmy Dale first appeared as a book in 1919, published by Copp, Clark (Canada), Doran (the United States) and Cassell (the United Kingdom). It sold well in its day – the Hodder & Stoughton edition enjoyed at least ten printings! – and yet a mere eighteen copies are currently listed for sale online. The cheapest is a crappy A.L. Burt reprint with jacket pasted inside. Price: US$6.00. The best comes from a St Catharines bookseller, who offers a sad Copp, Clark first: "Only about 80% of the dust jacket remains. The spine is completely gone." Price: US$25.00. Not one copy of the Gray Seal Edition is listed.

The Further Adventures of Jimmie Dale enjoyed at least two translations: Spanish (El sello gris) and Czech (Šedá pečeť 2). I'd be surprised if there aren't more.

A few words about the Spanish cover: That grey seal is much too large. Jimmie always takes care to handle same using tweezers. I'm pretty certain the mask depicted is not made of silk.

Canadians looking to borrow The Further Adventures of Jimmie Dale from their local library are pretty much out of luck; only our universities and the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec have copies.

It can be read here – gratis – thanks to the Internet Archive.

Related post:

01 August 2016

Watch it tumbling down, tumbling down...

Gee, but it's hard when one lowers one's guard to the vultures.

They began tearing down the old school next to our home last week. It was an ugly scene. The first part to be destroyed dated from 1875, when it was known as the St Marys Collegiate Institute. Built in the Italian Renaissance style, it was an impressive structure for so small a town. As the town grew, so did the school, with each extension less attractive than the last. An argument can be made that the devastation began long before the excavators showed up.

My wife put it best in a letter published earlier this year in our local newspaper:
Where were its advocates when the destruction started and the first of its many abysmal additions took form? Each a tumorous growth, defacing and deforming the once elegant building into a grotesque lump of bricks, as a mass it attracts no sympathy. The final insults now come through acts of vandalism committed by clueless, aimless, aggressive teens. But then, why should they care about this school when preceding generations did not? Children learn by example.
The building spent its last days as Arthur Meighen Public School, named in honour of the prime minister who had been educated within its walls. The nicest thing I can think to say about Meighen is that he considered Shakespeare the greatest Englishman of history. Meighen was a better speechwriter than politician, which is to say that he demonstrated real talent in putting words on paper but was otherwise a bastard. Fellow Collegiate alumnus Rev Dr Charles Gordon recognized him as such. Of course, we Canadians know Gordon as "Ralph Connor," the novelist who one hundred years ago dominated bestseller lists.

I lie. We don't remember the man – not even in St Marys.

The father of David Donnell, recipient of the 1983 Governor General's Award for Poetry, taught at the Collegiate. Fellow poet Ingrid Ruthig was a student during the years it was known as North Ward Public School. My daughter, Astrid, attended in its final days as Arthur Meighen.

Time passes.

Last week I saw a roof constructed in the nineteenth-century by local carpenters destroyed by a monster machine from the United States. I saw joists cut from trees that had grown in the time of Lord Simcoe being smashed to bits.

I turned away as a woman shed a tear at the loss.

Shame on me?

Shame on this town.

Related posts: