01 August 2018

Mrs Lowry's West Coast Murder Mystery

"Malcolm Lowry has an entry in The Canadian Encyclopedia, so why not wife Margerie?" This is the question I pose in reviewing Margerie Bonner's 1946 novel The Shapes That Creep for the new Summer edition of Canadian Notes & Queries. As I point out, Bonner lived in Canada just as long as her husband, and published three novels during the couple's Canadian years. The Shapes That Creep, the first, is set in motion by the discovery of a murdered recluse in a community modelled on Deep Cove, British Columbia.

My review of The Shapes That Creep – with argument for Bonner's inclusion in the Encyclopedia – is the subject of my Dusty Bookcase column. Over at the What's Old feature, I recommend reissues of two Canadian classics, Hugh MacLennan's Two Solitudes and The Black Donnellys by Thomas P. Kelley; along with Jimmie Dale, Alias the Gray Seal, a new Gray Seal adventure written by fan Michael Howard.

This being the Genre Issue, Deborah Dundas writes on her relationship with romance novels, Rui Umezawa looks at Enter the Dragon, and Robert J. Wiersema considers Stephen King's It as a work of empathy. Gemma Files, Sandra Kasturi, David Nickle, Andrew Pyper, and Robert Rowe dare revisit their first monsters.

Seth provides a cover that can double as a Halloween mask.

All is overseen by guest editor James Grainger, who also contributes an excellent piece on the disturbing 1972 horror/comedy Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things. Other contributors include:
Myra Bloom
Daniel Donaldson
Justin Donnait
André Forget
Chris Gilmore
Alex Good
Camila Grudova
Sandra Kasturiit
Sibyl Lamb
Annick MacAskill
David Mason
Patricia Robertson
Keven Spenst
Jay Stephens
JC Sutcliffe
Drew Hayden Taylor
Bruce Whiteman

As always, things wrap up with Stephen Fowler. This issue he exhumes the Civil Defence Health Service's Casualty Simulation (Ottawa: Department of National Health and Welfare, 1955).

The horror! The horror!

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  1. I attempted to read Bonner's other murder mystery (THE LAST TWIST OF THE KNIFE) but never got past the first two chapters. The characters were loathsome; they all hated each other. Sometimes that can be amusing, but in this case it was repellent...at least to me. Those first forty pages or so were nothing but name calling and vile sentiments being hurled about. A purge book of sorts? The only action I remember amid all the insults was someone making drinks for the others. Somewhere on the internet it says that her mysteries are "in the vein of Agatha Christie." Not that I was looking for a Christie emulator but that is the typical kind of PR bait for mystery addicts. Likening Bonner to Christie is so off-base in the case of ...KNIFE.

    1. It's interesting you say this, John, because I found the main characters in The Shapes That Creep, newlyweds Vaughan and Sally Proudfoot, to be thoroughly dislikable. Both American (I'm sorry to report), they're in rural BC on a research grant. Vaughan, a university professor, is depicted as a man of great intelligence... so intelligent that he solves the mysteries surrounding the murder well before murderer and motivation are revealed. Inexplicably, he says nothing, watching the police investigation with bemusement. At least one person dies as a result of his inaction - something that Bonner fails to address as an issue. When not stroking her husband's ego, Sally gets her kicks in shocking the locals with her sophisticated urban dress. They are depicted as such simple folk - country bumpkins, really.

      So, yes, the Proudfoots are thoroughly dislikable, but as I write in CNQ, I very much doubt this was the author's intent.

  2. I'm sorry to be so late commenting. I haven't read the Bonner books but I know from a volume of Malcolm Lowry's collected letters that a horrible thing happened to The Last Twist of the Knife; Scribner's published it without the last chapter. There was nothing in the book to indicate that anything was missing, so readers just thought it was a terrible ending. Anthony Boucher's review in the San Francisco Chronicle (as quoted in The Anthony Boucher Chronicles: Reviews and Commentary 1942-1947, edited by Francis M. Nevins) said:

    THE LAST TWIST OF THE KNIFE. House party murder in Laguna Beach, so familiar, so padded, so eventless and so badly ended that it seems as though it could never possibly have come from the author of the delightful SHAPES THAT CREEP.

    I remember one of the devilish tricks perpetrated by (appropriately) the Devil in the 1967 film Bedazzled was removing the ends of Agatha Christie mysteries. Christie might have survived that; Bonner's career as a mystery writer did not.

    1. Thank you, Steve. I'd never seen Boucher's Last Twist of the Knife review. Interesting that he considered Shapes That Creep delightful. I found it less so, but do recommend it as one of the earliest mysteries set in BC. The second novel's fate seems grossly unfair. I mentioned it near the end of my review only because I felt Shapes, which ends with page after page of recapping and explanation, would've benefitted from a similar mistake.

      Now you've got me wanting to see Bedazzled!