27 August 2017

The Dusty Bookcase in the National Post

An extremely positive write-up by writer and editor Michael Melgaard in this weekend's National Post. "Anyone interested in the odd, the peculiar or the just plain fun will find something worth reading in The Dusty Bookcase," writes the reviewer. He concludes:
Even if you're not interested in reading the books, The Dusty Bookcase's tour through an alternate New Canadian Library is well worth reading for Busby's good humour. But if you're the sort of person who spends time digging through used bookshop dollar bins looking for forgotten gems, this is an indispensable guide to the hits and misses of Canadian literature's past.
Once again, the head doth swell!

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21 August 2017

The Dusty Bookcase — The Book!

The Dusty Bookcase arrived at our home this past Friday, meaning copies are now making their way to bookstores across the country.

I'm a lucky man.

This blog began as a place to record and share my thoughts on obscure Canadian writing. At most, I was hoping to hear from others who had, say, read Brian Moore's pulp thrillers, or perhaps someone who'd encountered the mysterious David Montrose (né Charles Ross Graham). I didn't expect this blog would find life as a column in Canadian Notes & Queries. I wouldn't have dreamed it would lead to a gig as Series Editor of Véhicule Press's Ricochet imprint, through which the very obscurities I'd been writing about – Montrose included – would be returned to print.

As I say, I'm a lucky man.

Now comes The Dusty Bookcase book, published this week by Biblioasis, a collection of over one hundred of my favourite reviews, revisited and revised. I didn't expect this, either.

"Please tell me Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow made the cut." writes a friend. Indeed it did! What follows is a Table of Contents:
For Maimie's Sake - Grant Allen
The Devil's Die -Grant Allen
Michael's Crag - Grant Allen
Under Sealed Orders - Grant Allen
Hilda Wade - Grant Allen 
The Unreasoning Heart - Constance Beresford-Howe
The Plouffe Family - Roger Lemelin
Mr. Ames Against Time - Philip Child
Fasting Friar - Edward McCourt
The Sin Sniper - Hugh Garner
The Secret of Jalna - Ronald Hambleton
Orphan Street - André Langevin 
The Destiny of The British Empire and The U.S.A. -
"The Roadbuilder"
The Canada Doctor - Clay Perry and John L.E. Pell
The Squeaking Wheel - John Mercer
The Happy Hairdresser - Nicholas Loupos
Bilingual Today, French Tomorrow - J.V. Andrew
Retaliation - Richard Rohmer
Enough! - J.V. Andrew 
Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk - Maria Monk
Neville Trueman - W.H. Withrow
The Master Motive - Laure Conan
The Broken Trail - George W. Kerby
The Abolishing of Death - Basil King
The Pyx - John Buell
Jean Rivard - Antoine Gérin-Lajoie
Arming for Armageddon - John Wesley White 
Up the Hill and Over - Isabel Ecclestone Mackay
Bannertail - Ernest Thompson Seton
Artists, Models and Murder - Tedd Steele
The Penthouse Killings - Horace Brown
Die with Me, Lady - Ronald Cocking
Hot Freeze - Martin Brett
The Darker Traffic - Martin Brett
Return to Rainbow Country - William Davidson 
The Door Between - Neil H. Perrin
Touchable - Lee Scott and Robert W. Tracy
The Whip Angels - Selena Warfield
A Stranger and Afraid - Marika Robert 
Erres boréales - Florent Laurin
The House that Stood Still - A.E. van Vogt
The Lord's Pink Ocean - David Walker
The Last Canadian - William C. Heine
For My Country - Jules-Paul Tardival
Fermez la porte, on géle - René Carrier 
The Midnight Queen - May Agnes Fleming
The Lane That Had No Turning - Gilbert Parker
Cattle - Winnifred Eaton
Crazy to Kill - Ann Cardwell
The Little Yellow House - Jessie McEwen
Satan's Bell - Joy Carroll
I Die Slowly - Kenneth Millar
The Iron Gates - Margaret Millar
Vanish in an Instant - Margaret Millar
An Air That Kills - Margaret Millar
The Fiend - Margaret Millar 
Disowned and Distant
Sailor's Leave - Brian Moore
This Gun for Gloria - Bernard Mara
Intent to Kill - Michael Bryan
Murder in Majorca - Michael Bryan 
The Land of Afternoon - Gilbert Knox
Forgotten Men - Claudius Gregory
The Governor's Mistress - Warren Desmond
Margaret Trudeau - Felicity Cochrane
How Do You Spell Abducted? - Cherylyn Stacey  
The Adventures of Jimmie Dale - Frank L. Packard
The Hohenzollerns in America - Stephen Leacock
Manhandled - Arthur Stringer and Russell Holman
Love is a Long Shot - Ted Allan
Soft to the Touch - Clark W. Dailey
Sugar-Puss on Dorchester Street - Al Palmer
Present Reckoning - Hugh Garner
Flee the Night in Anger - Dan Keller
A Body for a Blonde - Ken McLeod
Dale of the Mounted: Atlantic Assignment - Joe Holliday
The Quebec Plot - Leo Heaps 
The Story of Louis Riel, the Rebel Chief - Anonymous
Barbara Ladd - Charles G.D. Roberts
The Chivalry of Keith Lancaster - Robert Allison Hood
The Wine of Life - Arthur Stringer
Miriam of Queens - Lilian Vaux MacKinnon
The Window-Gazer - Isabel Ecclestone Mackay
He Will Return - Helen Dickson Reynolds
Firebrand - Rosemary Aubert 
Dark Passions Subdue - Douglas Sanderson
Murder Without Regret - E. Louise Cushing
The Queers of New York - Leo Orenstein 
Bad Men of Canada - Thomas P. Kelley
Adopted Derelicts - Bluebell S. Phillips
The Confessions of a Bank Swindler - Lucius A. Parmalee 
The Four Jameses - William Arthur Deacon
Everyday Children - Edith Lelean Groves
Poems of Arthur Henry Ward Jr. - Arthur Henry Ward 
In the Midst of Alarms - Robert Barr
Similia Similibus - Ulric Barthe
The Hidden Places - Bertrand W. Sinclair
The Runner - Ralph Connor
The Sixth of June - Lionel Shapiro 
Toronto Doctor - Sol Allen
The House on Craig Street - Ronald J. Cooke
The Errand Runner - Leah Rosenberg
I Lost It All in Montreal - Donna Steinberg
This lucky man thanks Seth for the cover and design. I thank Chris Andrechek, who not only typeset the book but dealt with the 150 or so images I kept sending his way. My editor, Emily Donaldson, made me seem less stupider than I really is. Finally, I thank publisher Dan Wells for having faith in this book and my other crazy ideas.

There are more to come, I'm afraid.

Available at the very best bookstores and through

18 August 2017

Soldiering On with Edith Percival

Caught in the Snare: The Sequel to Edith Percival
May Agnes Fleming
New York: Street & Smith, [c. 1917]
215 pages

Describing Caught in the Snare as the sequel to Edith Percival is like saying that the last twenty chapters of Two Solitudes is Two Solitudes Two. Really, Caught in the Snare is just the second half of Edith Percival, a novel publisher Street & Smith divided in two because the length didn't fit its New Eagle Series format. It begins where Street & Smith's Edith Percival (reviewed here last week) left off, with virtuous Edith the captive of Ralph de Lisle. If all goes according to the villain's devious plan, she will soon be forced to marry him with fellow captive Frederic Stanley, her one true love, as witness. The publisher provides a helpful synopsis for those new to the story:

To be frank, I didn't much care to continue with Edith's story, though I did want to know what mysterious words were whispered by the Hermit of the Cliffs in saving Fred Stanley from execution. I made something of this when I wrote my review, adding that I thought the hermit "the most interesting character in Edith Percival."

I've changed my mind.

The hermit is hardly seen in the first half of the novel, but is here, there and everywhere in the second, used as a rudder to steer both characters and plot from a premature end. Depicted here in this cover detail from the 1890 Upton edition, he appears at the Percival family home with information as to where the kidnapped Edith is being held. The hermit next appears as Fred again faces execution – this time as our hero is in the process of being burned at the stake by de Lisle and a tribe of "savages." Once again, Fred's life is spared; once again Fred is in awe:
''Your power extends over more than superstitious savages,'' said Fred, "my father, stern and haughty as he is, quails before you as he has never done before any other living man. Would I knew the secret of your mysterious power!"
     A shadow passed over the face of the hermit, and when he spoke again his voice was unusually low and solemn:
     "Some day, ere long perhaps, you will learn all. Until that time, rest in peace, and believe this mystery is all for the best. I go now to my home on the cliffs, but something tells me we will soon meet again."
The chance that Fred – and, presumably, the reader – would one day "learn all" didn't provide much incentive, and still I tramped onward.

I'm glad I did, because the second half of Caught in the Snare is a wild ride, complete with crossdressing, attempted murder, arson, suicide, a trial, a marriage, more crossdressing, and another marriage. As one character remarks, "this sems [sic] so strange – so improbable – so like an Eastern romance." On the final page, the author manages to slide in one final marriage before the concluding paragraph:
And now, reader, farewell We have journeyed together long; but nothing can last forever. All things must have a close, and the characters who have passed before you must disappear from your view at last. I, too, must go from your sight, for the daylight is dying out of the sky, and my task is ended. I trust, however, we may, ere long, meet again.
We will, May Agnes Fleming, we will.

Object: A 218-page book (adverts included) printed on cheap paper and bound in thin glossy wraps. The cover model is not the same as that used on Street & Smith's Edith Percival. She bears no closer resemblance to the heroine described in the novel. On the other hand, it is possible that the woman on the cover is meant to be Elva Snowe (whom I've not mentioned for fear of spoiling the plot).

I won my copy for one American dollar in an eBay auction last summer. There were no other bidders.

Access: The University of Toronto, the University of Alberta, and the University of Victoria hold copies of Caught in the Snare, but not one has Street & Smith's Edith Percival. This leads me to wonder whether those in charge of acquisitions were taken in by the publisher's claim that it is a sequel.

At the time of this writing, one copy of Caught in the Snare was being offered for sale online. Price: US$25.00. It can be read for free through this link thanks to the good folks at the Internet Archive.

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08 August 2017

The Parents of the Children of the Revolution

Edith Percival; Or, Her Heart or Her Hand
May Agnes Fleming
New York: Street & Smith [c. 1917]
215 pages

Published not long after the United States entered the Great War, my copy of Edith Percival features a request from the publishers. It seems Street & Smith were struggling with unspecified wartime conditions – paper shortages most probably – but were bravely soldiering on in trying to supply titles by bestsellers Bertha Clay, Charles Garvier, Nicholas Carter, Mary J. Holmes, Harriet Lewis, Horatio Alger, and New Brunswick's own May Agnes Fleming. And so, the request: "In short, we are asking you to take what your dealer can supply, rather than to insist upon just what you want. You won't lose anything by such substitution, because the books by the authors named are very uniform in quality."

I won't say that one May Agnes Fleming book is as as good as the next because Edith Percival pales beside The Midnight Queen, the only other I've read.

On the surface, the two are similar: historical novels with action, romance and a touch of the supernatural. The Midnight Queen takes place over the course of a particularly eventful evening in 1666 London; though a much shorter book, Edith Percival, spans many months, perhaps years, during the American Revolution. It begins with two handsome young men, good friends Fred Stanley and Gus Elliott, on the deck the Mermaid, a schooner bound from Paris to Boston. "Well, Fred," says Gus, in the novel's first line of dialogue, "since, as you say, you neither have a lady-love in America nor expect a legacy there, I confess it puzzles me to know what inducement could have been strong enough to make you quit Paris."

Clearly, Gus doesn't know all that much about his pal. Happily, Fred's response brings Gus and the reader up to speed. He and we learn that Fred is the son of Sir William Stanley, a bigamist with wives in both the Old and New Worlds. Though born in the Thirteen Colonies, he was raised and educated in England. The young man is now returning to the New World so as to confront his father, who expects his help in quelling disent. Fred's is an extreme case of nature over nurture: "Am I not an American by birth – an American in heart and soul – a thousand times prouder of the glorious land in which I was born than of my father's broad acres in merrie England?"

I don't know. Are you, Fred? After all, you've spent nearly all of your life in merrie England. Might your feelings have something to do with the way your father treated your late mother? As an orphan, friend Gus doesn't have mommy and daddy issues, though he does tend to go on about about the feelings he has for his cousin.

Enter Edith Percival!

No, wait. Before this happens the Mermaid goes down in an terrible storm. All hands are lost save Fred, Gus, and the ship's captain. The trio endure days of agony aboard a raft crafted in the maelstrom before being rescued by American privateers. "Yours was a narrow escape, Mr. Stanley," says Captain Dale, the commander of the privateer.

Indeed, it was! No sooner has Dale uttered the words than a burning ship is spotted on the horizon. Fred leads a team of men intent on saving souls – and then breaks away from the group, risking his life to rescue the only woman aboard.

Enter Edith Percival!

The Midnight Queen has an evil dwarf, whores playing at being aristocrats, and a seductive masked woman who at the end of the novel is revealed to have nothing but a skull for a head. Edith Percival is more restrained. Fred falls in love with Edith, but has a rival in Ralph De Lisle, to whom Edith has been betrothed since childhood. There
are uncomfortable encounters and things are left unsaid. After thirty pages of this, I had all but lost interest, until Nell, Edith's cheeky little sister, suggests a visit to the Hermit of the Cliffs.

Dismissed by Nugent, Edith's brother, as "some unfortunate, whom the cares of the world have made an idiot," the hermit is something of a mystic. Not only is he aware of the last meeting between Fred and his father, which ended with Sir William disowning his rebel son, he has can see something of the challenges the young man must meet in the future. The hermit is the most interesting character in Edith Percival – as recognized in the title publisher F.M. Upton gave its edition (c. 1865). Though we don't see much of the man, he plays a pivotal role in saving Fred's life. Mere seconds before our hero is to be executed as a traitor at the hands of his terrible father, the mystic man appears and whispers something in Sir William's ear:
The effect was appalling. Sir William staggered back, with ghastly face and straining eye-balls, then with one wild cry: "Oh, Great Heaven!" the strong man fell stricken to the ground.
All were bewildered, amazed, terrified! Several rushed forward to raise the prostrate man, whilst the others surrounded Fred, who had risen to his feet, under the vague impression that he was in some way about to escape. The hermit, as he passed him, whispered "Fear not, you are safe!" And a moment after he was gone.
What did the hermit whisper to Sir William? I couldn't wait to find out! But in reading the remaining eighty-six pages I became increasingly concerned. I recognized the story arc, and so came to wonder where all this was leading. The trajectory was ever upward:
  • Fred angers Major Percival by telling him that he's in love with Edith;
  • Edith declares her love for Fred and refuses to marry De Lisle;
  • De Lisle kidnaps Edith so as to force her into matrimony;
  • Fred, Gus, and Nugent attempt to rescue Edith, and are captured in the process;
  • De Lisle delays killing Fred because he wants him to witness his marriage to Edith.  
Things become dark, and darker still. I was riveted right up to the very last until sentence:
In No. 1036 of the NEW EAGLE LIBRARY, there will be found a sequel to "Edith Percival," under the title "Caught in the Snare."

Fortunately, my dealer was able to supply a copy.

To be continued, I guess.

About the cover: The work of an unknown artist who seems to have been unfamiliar with the text. Edith is described as a woman with "golden hair."

"That cover is gorgeous," writes a friend. "But why are her cheeks so red? Must be a food allergy."

Object: A fragile 215-page novel printed on cheap newsprint, bulked up by eight pages of adverts for other Street & Smith books. Mrs Fleming is well represented with thirty-three titles. It is one of the very oldest paperbacks in my collection.

Access: Edith Percival first appeared in 1861 editions of the New York Mercury. As The Hermit of the Cliffs, the Upton edition appears to mark its earliest appearance in book form. In 1893, New York publisher G.W. Dillingham issued the novel under its original title. I believe Street & Smith's Edith Percival and Caught in the Snare editions are the only to divide the novel in two. In whole or in part, it would seem that the novel has been out of print ever since.

Whether whole or divided in two, the only copies of Edith Percival listed for sale online are products of print on demand vultures. Prices range from US$13.01 to US$66.20. I won my century-old copy on eBay last summer for US$2.24.

The novel is held by twelve of out university libraries, but not in the Street & Smith edition. Library and Archives Canada fails entirely.

It can be read online here – gratis, in its entirety – thanks to the good folks at the Internet Archive.

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