30 October 2018

Amazon Customer Reviews: Cancel, Cancel, Cancel

A Stranger in My Grave
Margaret Millar
New York: Random House, 1960

How Like an Angel
Margaret Millar
New York: Random House, 1962

The Fiend
Margaret Millar
New York: Random House, 1964

Beyond This Point Are Monsters
Margaret Millar
New York: Random House, 1970

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25 October 2018

A Conceited, Entirely Likeable Private Detective

The Triumphs of Eugène Valmont
Robert Barr
Harpenden, Herts: Gaslight Crime, 2015
303 pages

Eugène Valmont is Robert Barr's most enduring character. As evidence, I point to the fact that the volume bearing his name stands as the lone Barr book – he wrote twenty-three – currently in print. Valmont's adventures were first published in 1904 and 1905 numbers of Pearson's and Windsor Magazine; Americans enjoyed them through The Saturday Evening Post. This gathering of Valmont stories  eight in total was first published in 1906 by Collins (London) and Appleton (New York). Other editions by Hurst & Blackett (London, 1912), Remploy (London, 1978), Dover (New York, 1985), and Oxford University Press (Oxford, 1997) followed. In this way, The Triumphs of Eugène Valmont has done far better than any other Barr book, including his 1900 travelogue The Unchanging East and the remarkable 1896  Revenge!, which made last year's list of three out-of-print books I felt most deserved reviving.

It's now nearing the end of October. As temperatures head into a tailspin, thoughts turn to year's end. This may explain why it is that I finished The Triumphs of Eugène Valmont thinking it just may end up as my most enjoyable read of 2018. Valmont has everything to do with this opinion. Once "chief detective to the Government of France," he now lives in self-exile, working as a private investigator from his London flat. How this came to be so, is detailed in "The Mystery of the Five Hundred Diamonds," the first short story in this collection:
I may admit from the outset that I have no grievances to air. The French Government considered itself justified in dismissing me, and it did so. In this action it was quite within its right, and I should be the last to dispute that right; but, on the other hand, I consider myself justified in publishing the following account of what actually occurred, especially as so many false rumours have been put abroad concerning the case.
With no Watson, it is left to Valmont to recount his own adventures. He does so with sophistication, charm, elegant turns of phrase, and exactitude. I never once suspected the French detective of being an unreliable narrator, but will understand why others might. "The Mystery of the Five Hundred Diamonds" can be read as an attempt to defend the actions in the case that brought about his dismissal by the French government. And yet, so many of his other adventures are likewise tales of failure.

This is the beginning of "The Absent-Minded Coterie," the most anthologized Valmont story:
Some years ago I enjoyed the unique experience of pursuing a man for one crime, and getting evidence against him of another. He was innocent of the misdemeanour, the proof of which I sought, but was guilty of another most serious offense, yet he and his confederates escaped scot-free in circumstances which I now purpose to relate.
Valmont's triumphs are few, though significant: the recovery of a lost inheritance, the rescue of an imprisoned man, and the thwarting of an anarchist bombing. In "The Clue of the Silver Spoons," the private detective achieves his client's objective, the return of stolen bank notes, but only with the help of the man he'd wrongly believed guilty of the theft. My favourite story in the collection, in the telling Valmont reveals that he very nearly didn't take the case:
The name of Bentham Gibbes is familiar to everyone, connected as it is with the much-advertised pickles, whose glaring announcements in crude crimson and green strike the eye throughout Great Britain, and shock the artistic sense wherever seen. Me! I have never tasted them, and shall not so long as a French restaurant remains open in London. But I doubt not they are as pronounced to the palate as their advertisement is distressing to the eye. If, then, this gross pickle manufacturer expected me to track down those who were infringing upon the recipes for making his so-called sauces, chutneys, and the like, he would find himself mistaken, for I was now in a position to pick and choose my cases, and a case of pickles did not allure me. "Beware of imitations," said the advertisement; "none genuine without a facsimile of the signature of Bentham Gibbes." Ah, well, not for me were either the pickles or the tracking of imitators. A forged check! yes, if you like, but the forged signature of Mr. Gibbes on a pickle bottle was out of my line.
Valmont is one of Canadian literature's greatest snobs (though, I remind, he is not Canadian). He disdains much about the land that has afforded him refuge. English justice and methods of policing are targets of his most biting most criticism. "I have had my failures, of course," he acknowledges in "Lady Alicia's Emeralds":
Did I ever pretend to be otherwise than human? But what has been the cause of these failures? They have arisen through the conservatism of the English. When there is a mystery to be solved, the average Englishman almost invariably places it in the hands of the regular police. When these good people are utterly baffled; when their big boots have crushed out all evidences that the grounds may have had to offer to a discerning mind; when their clumsy hands have obliterated the clews which are everywhere around them, I am at last called in, and if I fail, they say:
     "What could you expect; he is a Frenchman."
The last Eugène Valmont story, I consider "Lady Alicia's Emeralds" the detective's most humiliating failure. Does Valmont? This reader came away convinced of his abilities and delighting in his humour:
Many Englishmen, if you speak to them of me, indulge themselves in a detraction that I hope they will not mind my saying is rarely graced by the delicacy of innuendo with which some of my own countrymen attempt to diminish whatever merit I possess. Mr. Spenser Hale, of Scotland Yard, whose lack of imagination I have so often endeavoured to amend, alas! without perceptible success, was good enough to say, after I had begun these reminiscences, which he read with affected scorn, that I was wise in setting down my successes, because the life of Methuselah himself would not be long enough to chronicle my failures, and the man to whom this was said replied that it was only my artfulness, a word of which these people are very fond; that I intended to use my successes as bait, issue a small pamphlet filled with them, and then record my failures in a thousand volumes, after the plan of a Chinese encyclopaedia, selling these to the public on the instalment plan.
Would that there were more Valmont stories; I would happily spend more time with the man. As it is, I'm left looking for another Barr character with whom to pass my evenings. This young lady looks most promising:

Trivia: In 1973, the BBC aired "The Absent-Minded Coterie" as an episode The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes. Screenwriter Alexander Baron – known for his adaptations of Austen, Sicken, Thackeray and, yes, Doyle – took some liberties. Charles Gray played Valmont.* Suzanne Neve played Miss Mackail, a character that does not feature in the original story.

Object: A trade-size paperback with two introductions – to Gaslight Crime and the novel itself – both by Gaslight Crime series editor Nick Rennison. The final page features an advert for the two other Gaslight Crime books: Israel Zwangwill's The Big Bow Mystery and The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes.

This edition also features two stories not found in the original: "The Adventures of Sherlaw Kombs" and "The Adventure of the Second Swag." First published in the May 1892 number of The Idler, the former is an early Sherlock Holmes parody. The second will appeal primarily to readers familiar with Arthur Conan Doyle's life and the magazines of late-Victorian London.

I found them both brilliant.

Access: Library and Archives Canada aside, The Triumphs of Eugène Valmont isn't to be found in our public libraries. This is a disgrace. I expect the librarians of Windsor Public Library, which serves the city in which Barr was raised, to hang their heads in shame.

Having lapsed into public domain in 1963, the book has long been at the mercy of print on demand vultures. Since beginning this blog, I've come under attack from these filthy scavengers (See: Tutis Classics), but have always been ready to provide a perch. Dodo ain't all that bad.

Need I provide more evidence that the vultures should be ignored? If so, here 'tis:

Buy the Gaslight Crime edition.

Those with deeper pockets will be discouraged to find that editions from Barr's own time aren't cheap. A Yankee bookseller tops the list of online offerings by asking US$750 for the 1912 Hurst & Blackett. The Appleton first American edition goes for US$475.

The 1906 Collins, which I believe to be the true first, is nowhere in sight.

Again, buy the Gaslight Crime edition.

As may be expected expected, The Triumphs of Eugene Valmont has been translated into the French: Eugène Valmont – L'Intégrale. I trust Jean-Daniel Brèque's translation is better than the cover. No Chinese characters feature in the novel, nor does Valmont visit any area that might be described as "Chinatown." Other translations include: Italian (I Trionfi Di Eugène Valmont), Portuguese (Os Triunfos de Eugène Valmont), Korean (위풍당당 명탐정 외젠 발몽), and Japanese (ウジェーヌ・ヴァルモンの勝利).

* Coincidentally, Gray also played Mycroft Holmes, a character created by Barr's friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976), The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1985), The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1988), and The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1994).

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22 October 2018

Toronto: Venice on the Lake or One Big Hothouse?

A brief addendum to last week's post on Leonard Bertin's Target 2067: Canada's Second Century.

The image above serves to remind that in the 'sixties Montreal led the way into Canada's future. It still does. Montreal was also the country's largest city, so why is the focus of Leonard Bertin's Target 2067 (1968) on Toronto?

"Venice on the Lake," the title of the book's opening chapter, is a reference to Toronto; not Toronto as it was at time of publication, but the Toronto Bertin imaged it would become. This would be a city of skyscrapers measuring up to a mile in height, many built on artificial islands formed by dumping landfill into Lake Ontario. Each of these buildings would be self-contained communities, serviced by tunnels and tubes carrying water, gas, steam heat, electricity, drains, telephone cables, pneumatic delivery tubes, electronically controlled roads, and "robot passenger trains."

Not everyone would be a member of the mile-high club. For example, Bertin's future hero, space prospector John Green, lives in a building that is a mere half-mile high. Still others would live in sloped buildings, like those once proposed for Humber Bay.

A half-century on, Humber Bay doesn't appear nearly so fantastic:

The Pilkington Glass Age Development Committee incorporated similar sloping buildings in its designs for Sea City. A thirty-thousand soul community to be built off the shores of Toronto, it was seen as a "solution to the growing shortage of land for urban development."

Looks damp and chilly.

Those shunning Waterworld for the mainland would find a more temperate climate within the covered city advanced by Toronto engineer T.H. McLorg.

The executive vice-president of the Canadian Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Association, McLorg called for covering 145-square miles of Toronto with 2300 transparent fibreglass and plastic cupolas. These would be held aloft by internal air pressure, and tethered to the ground by hollow cables that would drain off rainwater and melted snow:
What advantages and economies would such a scheme bring? Mr. McLorg believes we can look forward to the day when Canadians will be able to grow oranges in their back gardens, watch roses bloom in December and cherry trees blossom in February; when they can play golf and tennis all winter, count on the same fifteen minutes to get to the office in January that it takes in July, buy a topless convertible for their wives, laugh when the heating bill arrives, and hang up their snow shovels for ever.
This uncommon reference to environmental impact is typical. In many ways, Target 2067 reads like a Victorian work. The environment doesn't much factor into anything, except as something that must be overcome. Bertin identifies only two "obvious snags" associated with T.H. McLorg's plastic covered city: airplanes and lightening strikes. If an airplane were to strike the city's cover, he acknowledges that the loss of air pressure might bring the whole thing down on the city. What then would happen to the orange trees, roses, and cherry blossoms? What he doesn't acknowledge is the environmental impact of such a structure on indigenous plants and wildlife. Migratory birds? He doesn't give them a thought.

And here we are in 2018 wringing our hands over wind turbines.

My wife is still hoping for a convertible.

Bonus: Three glimpses of a future past. Calgary's emigration to Oregon might best be explained by cheap glue.

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16 October 2018

Woah, We're Half Way There!

Target 2067: Canada’s Second Century
Leonard Bertin
Toronto: Macmillan, 1968
323 pages

Did Target 2067 miss its target? I ask because it has the very appearance of a centennial book, but was published the following year. Author Leonard Bertin was a journalist – ex-Daily Telegraph, ex-Toronto Star – and would've been familiar with deadlines. At time of publication, he was working as a science editor at the University of Toronto. Bertin already had a few books under his belt, most notably
his first, the cleverly-titled, Atom Harvest (1956), described in an advert placed in the March 1958 number of Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists as "the bitter story of how British-American atomic collaboration broke down after the war, leaving Britain with no bombs of its own, no plant or knowhow to build them. Mr. Bertin... tells about Britain's remarkably quick, economical and successful program to acquire without American help both nuclear weapons and effective power reactors."

And so, a happy story.

Take that, you ungrateful Yanks!

Bertin met his Italian wife, Eleonora, as Rome correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, but he was a science writer at heart. What I find most intriguing about his bibliography is a stark shift from optimism to concern. Atom Harvest was followed by The Boys' Book of Modern Scientific Wonders and Inventions (1957), The Boys' Book of Engineering Wonders of the World (1961), Target 2067 (1968), Noise (1972), Energy and Survival (1973), Nuclear Winter (1986), The Impact of Cruise Technology (1987).

Published seven years after The Boys' Book of Engineering Wonders of the World and four years before Noise, Target 2067 is something of a transition. Challenges are recognized, but faith in science and society remain strong. The book's simple intent is to detail the numerous advancements Canadians will enjoy as they approach their country's bicentennial.

It begins with a short work of science fiction, set in 2067, in which a man named John Green visits Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital. John's preparing for a new propecting job on Mars, and will be needing his anti-plasmodic shots and a full-scale microchemical check and encephalogram. He writes his name, address and social security number on a card "of the sort fed into computers, with holes punched in it here and there," and places it in a slot. One minute later, his records have been obtained from Ottawa. A woman enters "wearing the white paper coat and skirt of an interne [sic]," looks over yards of "teleparent copy," and performs the necessary tasks.

John leaves Sunnybrook an hour later. Forgoing the "moving pavement," he walks to the Bayview subway and settles in for the fifteen-mile journey to his home. John lives on one of the twenty or so small islands formed by landfill on Lake Ontario. His apartment in Centropolis isn't different much than any other. Located on the 201st storey, roughly half-way up his building, it offers views of Niagara Falls and Port Hope. It's a comfortable place, shared with wife Johanna Green and their unidentified child. The couple's greatest challenge is in keeping fit. Holovision and three-dimensional theatre tempt, as do the hot meals that can be called up by dialling the self-service centre below. How often have the Greens dropped their used plastic plates and cutlery into the garbage chute? Too often, I expect.

Bertin's second Canadian century is one of rapid growth and advancement. By 2067, he expects one hundred million people will live in Ontario alone. In this respect, Canada is no different than any other nation. The global population may reach 15 billion.

How to feed the billions? Fish farms, of course.

What of resources? Nuclear blasting will reveal the true extent of our mineral wealth. And let's not forget that we've only just begun mining the Athabaska tar sands.

Fresh water? Don't give it a second thought.

Pollution? The topic doesn't even feature in the book's index.

Keep sending those plastic plates and cutlery down your 201st-storey garbage chute, Green family.

Remember John’s visit to Sunnybrook? It seems a month prior, during a visit to Cape Kennedy, he'd suffered a bout of appendicitis. Asked by the paper-coated interne how he feels, John answers, "I feel grand... A couple of week’s vacation on the Great Barrier Reef did me a lot of good, but half the population of Ontario seemed to have the same idea. They were all down there scuba fishing."

Yesterday – by which I mean, October 15, 2018 – Bloomburg reported that nearly half the corals of the Great Barrier Reef are now dead.

Ah, but wasn't tomorrow wonderful!

Object: A brightly designed hardcover with jacket by Alan Daniel. I purchased my copy online this past summer from a Niagara Falls, New York, bookseller. Price: C$7.00. The postage and handling was reasonable, but the listing neglected to mention that it is a discard from North York Public Library.

Access: Target 2067 is held by at least thirty-six Canadian libraries, including the Library of Parliament, Library and Archives Canada, the National Science Library, the CMHC Housing Knowledge Centre library, and the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique library.

Used copies aren't plentiful, but online offerings are cheap, ranging from US$5.47 (Very Good in Good dust jacket) to US$22.00 ("GOOD X-LIB").

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13 October 2018

Archibald Lampman's 'October Sunset' in October

          One moment the slim cloudflakes seem to lean
          With their sad sunward faces aureoled,
          And longing lips set downward brightening
          To take the last sweet hand kiss of the king,
          Gone down beyond the closing west acold;
          Paying no reverence to the slender queen,
          That like a curved olive leaf of gold
          Hangs low in heaven, rounded toward the sun,
          Or the small stars that one by one unfold
          Down the gray border of the night begun.
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12 October 2018

Ce Soir à Montréal: The Louis Dudek Plaque

Tonight will see the Montreal Writers' Chapel 2018 plaque dedication.
This year's honouree is poet, critic and academic Louis Dudek.

Speakers include:
Bernhard Beutler
Simon Dardick
Gregory Dudek
and Michael Gnarowski.

Stephen Morrissey and Marc Plourde will read.

A wine and cheese reception will follow.
This is a free event. All are welcome!

I'll be there. Please come and say hello.

Friday, October 12 @ 6:00pm

St Jax
1439 St. Catherine Street West (Bishop Street Entrance)

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09 October 2018

The Dustiest Bookcase: K is for Kelley

Short pieces on books I've always meant to review (but haven't).
They're in storage as we build our new home.
Patience, please.

I Found Cleopatra
Thomas P. Kelley
West Linn, OR: Fax Collector's Editions, [1977]
111 pages

Thomas P. Kelley was a regular in the early years of the Dusty Bookcase. From 2009 to 2012, his writing was the focus of a steady parade of posts, which included reviews of No Tears for Goldie (1949), Bad Men of Canada (1950), and two markedly different versions of The Fabulous Kelley (1968), a loving memoir about his snake oil-selling father.*

All this came to an end my review of 'The Soul Eater', a lost world story Kelley published in the May 1942 number of Uncanny Tales. Of all the things I've written on Kelley, it's my favourite. So what made me stop?

Something to do with the remaining Kelley titles in my collection, I suppose.

I wasn't much interested in taking time to separate truth from fiction in his books about the DonnellysSimon Gunanoot, and the Mad Trapper of Rat River. Things would've been different if I'd found a copy of this:

After The Black Donnellys and Vengeance of the Black Donnellys, I Found Cleopatra is Kelley's most reprinted work. First published in the Weird Tales (November 1938) – and again in Uncanny Tales (July 1941) – the novel has appeared three times in book form, most recently  in 1980 by Borgo Press. I found and bought my Fax Collector's Editions copy last summer.

It's now in a storage locker just outside the town of Merrickville, Ontario.

Wish it wasn't.

* Here I ignore my growing suspicion that Kelley was the author of No Place in Heaven, a 1949 News Stand Library pulp published under the name "Laura Warren."

Note: Not to be confused with I Found Cléopâtre, the 1988 account of my discovery a Montreal drag bar with the longest and cheapest Happy Hour in the whole damn city.

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03 October 2018

No Picnic

Murder's No Picnic
E.L. Cushing
London: Wright & Brown, 1956
188 pages

My latest Dusty Bookcase review, of E.L. Cushing's Murder's No Picnic, is now available gratis at the Canadian Notes & Queries website:
A House Full of Orphans
I wish I could say I liked the novel. I didn't. Given its cover, I was at the very least expecting a fun read. It wasn't. Regular readers may remember my enjoyment of Murder Without Regret. Now that was fun!

I don't know that I'll read anything more by Cushing. Her books aren't at all common and tend to be quite expensive. My warped copy of Murder's No Picnic was purchased earlier this year £16.00 from an English bookseller located somewhere in Devon. With shipping added, the thing set me back well over fifty dollars. The true first edition was published in 1953 by New York's Arcadia House. There has never been a Canadian edition. I don't expect we'll ever see one.

Not a Ricochet Books candidate.

01 October 2018

Archibald Lampman's 'In October' in October

The Poems of Archibald Lampman (Toronto: Musson, 1900)
     Along the waste, a great way off, the pines
          Like tall slim priests of storm, stand up and bar
     The low long strip of dolorous red that lines
          The under west, where wet winds moan afar.
     The cornfields all are brown, and brown the meadows
          With the blown leaves' wind-heaped traceries,
     And the brown thistle stems that cast no shadows,
          And bear no bloom for bees. 
     As slowly earthward leaf by red leaf slips,
          The sad trees rustle in chill misery,
     A soft strange inner sound of pain-crazed lips,
          That move and murmur incoherently;
     As if all leaves, that yet have breath, were sighing,
          With pale hushed throats, for death is at the door,
     So many low soft masses for the dying
          Sweet leaves that live no more. 
     Here I will sit upon this naked stone,
          Draw my coat closer with my numbed hands,
     And hear the ferns sigh, and the wet woods moan,
          And send my heart out to the ashen lands;
     And I will ask myself what golden madness,
          What balmed breaths of dreamland spicery,
     What visions of soft laughter and light sadness
          Were sweet last month to me. 
     The dry dead leaves flit by with thin weird tunes,
          Like failing murmurs of some conquered creed,
     Graven in mystic markings with strange runes,
          That none but stars and biting winds may read;
     Here I will wait a little; I am weary,
          Not torn with pajn of any lurid hue,
     But only still and very gray and dreary,
          Sweet sombre lands, like you.

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