27 December 2018

Best Book Buys of 2018 (four of which were gifts)

Twenty-eighteen was a year of great change. In April, we sold our home of ten years and started packing up our belongings. We moved in early July, settling several hundred kilometres to the northeast. The books that once surrounded now lie boxed in the dark basement of the house we're renting on the banks of the Rideau Canal.

Living in a house without bookshelves is disorienting. Where I once knew where everything was, passing by the same books day after day, month after month, year after year, I now spend hours hunting. This past summer I bought a copy of James M. Cain's Serenade because I wanted to reread it. There's a copy in the basement... but where?

I purchased fewer books this year. Why add to the confusion? This annual list of ten best buys – best acquisitions, really – was made strong through the generosity of friends.

Grant Allen
London: Chatto & Windus, 1901

"A NEW EDITION" of Allen's first novel, published two years after his early death, this copy is well travelled. It began life in a Boots Booklovers Library, and somehow made its way to a British Columbia bookseller's shop. The book now sits on my desk, one hundred or so kilometres from Allen's birthplace.
Brother, Here's a Man!
Kim Beattie
New York: Macmillan, 1940

This birthday gift from my friend James Calhoun is the only biography of Joe Boyle. An extraordinary man, had Boyle been born south of the border, there would've been a movie and and a two-part American Experience documentary. We Canadians are so bad at these things.
Murder's No Picnic
E.L. Cushing
London: Wright & Brown, 1956

The first and only English edition of Cushing's 1953 debut novel, it vies Margerie Bonner's The Shapes That Creep as the worst mystery read this year. And yet my research into this forgotten Montreal mystery writer continues.
Enid Cushing [and Andre Norton]
New York: Fawcett, 1981

A curious romance about a closeted, corseted, petticoated poet and his masculine twin sister, written by an unsuccessful mystery writer in collaboration with a Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame member. Need I say more?

Dick Diespecker
Toronto: Harlequin, 1953

After years searching for the great – only? – Vancouver post-war pulp, I asked my friend bowdler of Fly-By-Night if he might have a spare copy.  He did... and gave it to me as a gift. It didn't quite live up to expectations... but that cover!

The Magpie
Douglas Durkin
Toronto: University of Toronto
   Press, 1974

Reviewing Basil King's The Empty Sack here last month, I wondered whether it might just be the Great Canadian Post-Great War Novel. Beau not only suggested The Magpie, but gave me a copy. To be read after the holidays.

The Arch-Satirist
Frances de Wolfe Fenwick
Boston: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard,

A first novel by a journalist and elocutionist who once served as secretary to fellow novelist Sir Andrew Macphail. Described as a "clever novel" in the April 1910 Canadian Bookman.

The Complete Poems of
   John Glassco
John Glassco
London, ON: Canadian
   Poetry Press, 2018

A gift from Brian Treherne, who worked for over a decade editing this monumental work. Invaluable to any Glassco scholar.
The Street Called Straight
Basil King
New York: Harper, 1912

I read two Basil King novels this year, both of which made my annual list of three out-of-print books deserving reissue. This book was purchased in error from Babylon Revised Rare Books for US$75. What I'd meant to buy was their signed copy, listed at US$100. Je ne regrette rien
Christie Redfern's Troubles
[Margaret Murray Robertson]
London: Religious Tract Society,
   [c. 1866]

The most popular novel ever written by an instructress of the Sherbrooke Ladies' Academy, Sherbrooke, Canada East. Despite its commercial success, used copies are uncommon. I was fortunate in spotting this one being offered online from a UK bookseller.

Bonne année!

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  1. When you mentioned bad mystery novels set in Montreal I immediately leaped to my shelf, knowing one that could compete: funny enough, also a Cushing tomb. "Blood on my Rug" is a bibliomystery, which pushes my buttons, but seems to be a genre of its own that takes some effort to appreciate.

    I have to read the Joe Boil bio. Ah, so many on this list to add to my own.

    1. Beau, I've been looking for a copy of Blood On My Rug for years! Murder's No Picnic was a bit of a disappointment in that its bland plot wasn't buoyed by quirk. On the other hand, Cushing's Murder Without Regret, has quirk aplenty. Another Montreal murder mystery, It haunts me still. I sometimes think I should reconsider it for the Ricochet series.

      I should've known you'd be familiar with Cushing.

    2. Re: Montreal detective novels. What other good ones, written in English, are there to recommend aside from the work of McFetridge and Farrow?

    3. Gerard, McFetridge and Farrow aside, these are my top three:

      Hot Freeze - Douglas Sanderson

      The Darker Traffic (aka Blondes Are My Trouble) - Douglas Sanderson

      The Crime on Cote des Neiges - David Montrose

      Post-war detective novels set in Montreal, all three are currently available through Véhicule Press's Ricochet Books imprint.

      Full disclosure: I helped usher them back into print as Ricochet series editor. On the other hand, I wouldn't have done it had I not believed in them. I wrote the intros to Hot Freeze and Crime on Cote des Neiges. JF Norris wrote the intro to Blondes Are My Trouble. Should add that John McFetridge wrote the intro to another Montrose book we brought back: Gambling with Fire.