29 January 2020

Published in the Age of Unravelling

Can it be? Not four weeks into the New Year and already a new Canadian Notes & Queries? A theme issue – "Writing in the Age of Unravelling" – it makes for some uncomfortable reading. Catherine Bush contributes an essay on representations of the climate crisis in fiction. Jacky Sawatzky writes on her memorial to the endangered giraffe. Jennifer Ilse Black and Waubgeshig Rice are interviewed. Andrew Forbes presents a cli-fi primer.

Credit goes to Guest Editors Patricia Robertson and Sharon English.

The issue's Dusty Bookcase concerns Hotter Than Hell, the 1974 Kiss album produced by Kenny Kenner and Richie Wise.

I jest. It's about the 2005 dystopian novel of the same title.

Political animals will remember Hotter Than Hell as the small press book the newly-elected Harper Conservatives made famous by silencing its author, government scientist Mark Tushington.

What intrigued me is that for all the coverage – The Globe & MailThe New York Times, The Scientist, et al – no one appeared to have taken the time to read the damn thing.

Well, I've read it. And now you don't have to.

Here's a typical passage:
The Eighteenth Guard (Pennsylvania) and Eighth Guard (New York) divisions, supported by the 1st Marine and 57th Urban brigades were attacking, The First Guard Division was being badly defeated in every sector. The 28th and 29th regiments were quickly pushed out of Abany and up the length of the Mohawk Valley. It was only then that we retreated into Utica that my forces could hold. Because of the inactivity of the IV Corps, I took a supreme gamble and withdrew elements of the 6th Armored Brigade from covering Montreal.
You're welcome.

Other contributors include:
Madhur Anand
Peter Anson
Nicholas Bradley
Yuan Changming
Stephen Fowler
Lise Gaston
Roger Greenwald
Mahak Jain
Joanna Lilley
JF Martel
David Mason
Catherine Owen
Roz Spafford
Erika Thorkelson
RM Vaughan
Mary Lou Zeitown
The issue also features the annual Book Review supplement.

Thirty-two pages of goodness, provided by:
Michel Basilières
Steven W. Beattie
Jeff Bursey
Andreae Callahan
Laura Cameron
Paige Cooper
Trevor Corkum
André Forget
Monique Giroux
James Granger
Brett Josef Grubisic
Katia Grubisic
Stephen Henighan
Dancy Mason
Rohan Maitzen
Rod Moody-Corbet
Rudrapriya Rathore
Patricia Robertson
Matthew D. Rodrigues
Mark Sampson
Jonathan Valelly
Derek Webster
Bruce Whiteman
Apparently, there's a sequel to Hotter Than Hell.

I'll leave it to others to explore.

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20 January 2020

An R.T.M. Scott Cover Cavalcade

It seems appropriate that a man taken with mysticism and the supernatural would end up as a phantom. Reginald Thomas Maitland Scott – R.T.M. Scott – isn't to be found in The Canadian Encyclopedia, The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, or W.H. New's Encyclopedia of Canadian Literature. Forget about Alberto Manguel's Canadian Mystery Stories. I first saw Scott's name as a kid on a couple of paperback reprints. I had no idea that Scott was Canadian. I didn't know that he'd received a Royal Military College education. I didn't know that he'd served in the First World War. I still don't know what brought him to writing.

Scott published his first story, "Such Bluff as Dreams Are Made Of," in the 3 April 1920 issue of Adventure. Look carefully and you'll see him listed last on the issue's cover.

Scott was thirty-seven when that first story was published. He wrote for a further twenty-six years, only to fall silent during his final two decades.

The cover of Scott's first book, Secret Service Smith, looks like something from another time. What I mean to say is that it looks like something that is not of its time – more Edwardian than Roaring Twenties.

Secret Service Smith (New York: Dutton, 1923)
The first of eight Secret Service Smith books, the cover is nothing like The Black Magician, its follow-up:

The Black Magician (New York: Dutton, 1925)
I think the first editions of Ann's Crime and Aurelius Smith – Detective, the third and fourth Secret Service Smith books are the two best covers to grace an R.T.M. Scott novel:

Ann's Crime (New York: Dutton, 1926)
Aurelius Smith – Detective (New York: Dutton, 1927)
Though I do like this later treatment of the former:

Ann's Crime (New York: Dutton: 1938)
That Ann. What a badass. Quite different from this Jazz Age honey:

Complete Detective Novel Magazine (November 1928)
The Secret Service Smith adventures are pretty good – writes a man who has read only one – but Scott is much better known as the author of the first two Spider novels:

The Spider (October 1933)
The Spider (November 1933)
Pure pulp, they came and went in the autumn of 1933 – and weren't available in book form until 1969, three years after Scott's death. These were the covers on which I first read Scott's name:

The Spider Strikes! (New York: Berkley, 1969)
The Wheel of Death (New York: Berkley, 1969)
I remember seeing these several years after publication – most likely in our local used bookstore – but turned up my nose. The Spider seemed to owe too much to the Shadow, which had become something of an obsession. Had I known they were written by a fellow Canadian I might've given them a chance.

The Agony Column Murders (New York: Dutton, 1946)
Scott's two final novels, The Agony Column Murders and The Nameless Ones, were published during a time of grief. His son and namesake had followed him into service in a World War – and, like his father, he'd survived. Unlike his father, he was killed in an accident before returning home.

The former editor of Mystical Science Magazine, Reginald Thomas Maitland Scott, fis, shared his father's beliefs concerning the unseen world. I see now that I've done both a disservice with my earlier reference to Scott's interest in the supernatural – "supernormal" is the word Reginald Thomas Maitland Scott, pere, would've used.

The Nameless Ones (New York: Dutton, 1947)
We've done both R.T.M. Scotts a disservice in not recognizing their writings.

Neither deserves to be a phantom.

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13 January 2020

That Old Black Magician

The Black Magician
R.T.M. Scott
New York: Triangle, 1938
244 pages

The Black Magician is the first Aurelius Smith novel, but it does not mark his debut. Earlier adventures appeared throughout the early 'twenties in the pages of AdventureThe Black MaskAction Stories, and other pulp magazines. Back then, Smith was an agent with the Criminal Intelligence Department of India. How he came to lose his position is covered in one of those adventures, though I can't say which one. Was it "The Emerald Coffin" (Detective Tales, April/May 1923)?

Just a guess.

Whenever it happened, whatever the cause, the Aurelius Smith of The Black Magician is no longer with the department. Now a private detective, he lives and works in a converted Manhattan garage with manservant and cook Langa Doonh, pretty stenographer Bernice Asterley, and a former Chicago street kid named Jimmie. Nothing is to be made of the living arrangements; Langa Doonh's space is by the kitchen, Bernice has two rooms to herself by the main door, and Aurelius and young Jimmie sleep on the second floor.

Again, make nothing of it.

Those unfamiliar with Aurelius Smith – Mr J.H. Scanton, for example – may be taken aback by his languid, seemingly indifferent demeanor. Scranton visits the former garage because he wants Smith to catch the man who stole his wife's necklace at the Hotel Magnifique:
"Necklace an investment?" queried Smith. "Will you suffer if you don't get it back?"
     "Certainly not!" retorted Scranton. "I could lose ten times as much and sleep well. I'm here because I never let anybody beat me and the police have failed."
At that, Smith declines the case, and Langa Doonh ushers an astonished Scranton to the door. A second prospective client, a man named Grayson, will offer something more mysterious and less self-serving, but before he can begin, Jimmie bursts into the room: "Gee! Mr. Smith! Dere's a swell guy croaked on de front steps wid a stovepipe lid!"

The dead man is, of course, Scranton, as depicted here with Smith on the cover of the July 1929 issue of Compete Detective Novel Magazine:

Searching for a pulse, Smith notices a faint pin-prick on the dead man's right thumb. Resting beside the body is a small, five-pointed silver star.

After the police arrive, Smith returns to Grayson, who shares his concerns for the wellbeing of the female employees working in his department store. In the space of two short months, one has committed suicide and another has been placed in a sanatorium. Then, just yesterday, Grayson's secretary suffered a breakdown after opening an envelope to find a small, five-pointed silver star!

Young Jimmie is sent out to trail anyone who looks to be searching the ground where Scranton had fallen. The payoff is nearly immediate, leading Smith to Jerome Cardan, a mystic who claims to be the reincarnation of sixteenth-century Italian polymath Girolamo Cardano. The charlatan – is he a charlatan? – has been using his skills as a mesmerist to manipulate Grayson's wife in order to get his hands on the family fortune.

But to what end?

When first identified as the villain, Cardan tells Smith that he wants a million dollars in order to "erect a suitable institute of knowledge in Europe." Later in the novel, the villain reveals that his goal is half of Grayson's wealth, which he will use to seize power in Russia. I didn't much care which was true; my interest had long wained as Smith came to rely less on deduction and more on derring-do.

What kept me reading to the end were trace elements of the author's life. For example, the detective makes several references to his involvement in the Great War, including a four-page account of an experience he'd had while serving with Canadian forces at Ypres. Scott himself fought at Ypres as a captain in the 21st Battalion. His exit from the war came in 1917 – the result of a shell concussion which left him with headaches and deafness in both ears.

(Interestingly, one of the mysteries of the novel is explained by Cardan's "supernormal hearing." He's able to trace Smith's movements about a room by focussing on the ticking of the detective's wristwatch.)

A regular contributor to Mystic Magazine, Scott's interest in what is referred to as the "superphysical" is reflected not only in Cardan but in Smith. The characters' initial meeting takes place in a room lined with centuries-old copies of Pistis Sophia, Iamblichus' Theurgia, and the works of Cornelius Tacitus. Discussions of Paracelsus and Madame Blavatsky will figure, and Smith will challenge Grayson over the department store owner's atheism.

The November 1930 issue of Mystic Magazine,
featuring two articles by Scott:
'Mysteries of India’s Magic' and
'Mystic Magazine Gets Exclusive Message
from A. Conan Doyle.'
The end couldn't come fast enough, yet I was left wondering whether Smith hadn't found employ with some other secret service. He's turned down Scranton's offer of $10,000 (the equivalent of $149,000 today), had spent money with abandon in chasing Cardan, and had taken no payment from Grayson. How was he able to support himself, never mind Bernice, Jimmie, and Langa Doonh?

Ah, but let's not focus on the material world.

Object: A cheap production consisting of scarlet cloth boards, yellowing paper stock, and a poorly printed dust jacket, my copy was purchased last year from a Toronto bookseller. Price: $10.00. The uncredited jacket illustration depicts an event that doesn't take place in the novel. Is that meant to be Bernice? Whoever it is, she looks cold.

Access: The Black Magician was first published in July 1925 by Dutton. As far as I've been able to determine, the months that followed saw a second Dutton printing and two more from A.L. Burt. A UK edition was published in 1926 by Heinemann. In July 1929, The Black Magician reappeared as one of four works in the aforementioned issue of Complete Detective Novel Magazine. Given that the issue is 144 pages in length, I think it safe to assume it is an abridged version. My 1938 Triangle edition marks its last appearance in the English language.

The novel has appeared in at least two translations: Auf der Spur des schwarzen magiers (Munich: Georg Müller, 1928) and Le magician noir (Paris: Librairie des Champs-Elysées, 1952).

Library and Archives Canada has a copy of the novel, as does the University of Alberta. C'est tout. It appears no Canadian library has either translation.

Not many copies are listed for sake online. At the time of this writing, at US$8.99, the least expensive was a Burt in "acceptable condition," lacking dust jacket. A Dutton copy caps up things off at US$30.09 (VG+, lacking dust jacket). My advice is to buy the cheapest.

As always, print on demand vultures are to be ignored.

02 January 2020

Stranger in a Strange Land

Alan Sullivan
London: J.M. Dent, 1914
265 pages

Brian Blantyre is ship's doctor for the transatlantic steamer Harmonic. The position isn't at all taxing. It's rare that Blantyre has to deal with anything worse than the occasional case of mal de mer – whatever might be more serious is invariably passed on to hospitals at ports of call. A bored man, mild interest comes in attending the unwashed masses in steerage, many of whom have never so much as seen a medical man. For Blantyre, each voyage is the same as the last, until he spots Canadian beauty Stella Blake ascending the gangplank in New York Harbour.

Should that be "Harbor"?

Never mind. The important thing is that Stella stands out amongst the many, many thousands of passengers Blantyre has encountered over the years. After a few days at sea, he invites Stella and her travelling companion, spinster Aunt Catherine, to tea in his quarters. There he learns that Stella was orphaned at an early age, and that her "elderly" aunt – she is, after all, fifty – dedicated her life to raising the girl.

But Stella is a girl no longer. At twenty-five years of age, she's inherited a substantial fortune amassed by her long dead father. Blantyre has something in common with Stella in that his Anglo-Irish family once had money itself.

At the end of the Atlantic crossing, Stella and Aunt Catherine disembark at an unnamed Italian port. They spend two weeks or so exploring the countryside before a cable catches Stella in Rome: "May I come? – Brian Blantyre."

Stella's positive response owes everything to the sudden realisation that she's in love with Blantyre. Unfortunately, the impending reunion is marred somewhat by a marriage proposal from vacationing Canadian physician Stephen Ellison. Mere minutes after she declines, Blantyre arrives. I'm pretty sure they have sex:
She relaxed in his embrace. Very gently her lips were turned to his. A wordless space in which she felt only the strength of his arms, and then in the shadowed screen thrilled out a tiny voice. It rose and pulsed and paused, and ere its chain of melody broke there chimed in another and another throbbing sweetness, till the whole invisible choir scaled the heights together.
The coupling couple soon wed. With a bit of encouragement from his bride, Blantyre resigns the post on the Harmonic for a new life in Stella's hometown of Yorkton (read: Toronto). A few weeks later, Mrs Blantyre uses a minuscule portion of her inheritance to buy into the practice of a respected, elderly physician (he's even older than fifty). It turns out to be not the best of partnerships. Blantyre would've done well to consult Ellison before contracts were signed. For obvious reasons, Stella made no such suggestion.

Yorkton Toronto, 1911
A fun melodrama, right? Sadly, BlantyreAlien is often given over to page after page of talk about industry, economics, and politics – no surprise for an author whose best known novel, The Rapids (1922), was inspired by his admiration for financier and industrialist Francis Clergue.

Stalled, the plot settles into vignettes concerning Blantyre's practice. A selfish society woman asks him to perform an abortion (he refuses). A consumptive young father pleads with the doctor to lie on an insurance
application (he refuses). In one of the novel's most dramatic scenes, Blantyre is called to the home of a man named Parkinson, who takes his own life by consuming.... what exactly? Blantyre's efforts to save the man didn't involve a search. Moments after Parkinson expires, Ellison rushes in and finds an empty bottle of aconite under the dead man's desk. If only Blantyre had known! Parkinson might have been saved!

Or maybe not.

Blantyre's failing has no consequence. Life continues apace, enriched by his relationship with Stella – but herein lies the novel's greatest flaw. That Stella loves her husband is both stated and shown. The more reserved Blantyre appears much, much more than content in the marriage; so, it comes as a surprise when, well into the novel's second half, one of their acquaintances labels their marriage a failure. It comes as a much greater surprise when, even later, Blantyre expresses the very same judgement.

It's true that no one knows what goes on behind closed doors. But Charlie Rich shared, and so does Alan Sullivan. We see enough of the protagonist's married life – which, I think worth noting, is by far the most sexually active in a Canadian novel published before Harriet Marwood, Governess – to question everything that had gone before.

I felt deceived, but not nearly so much as Mrs Blantyre.

Strange: On the newlyweds' voyage to Canada they encounter a "former Canadian Prime Minister, now in opposition" who is described as "an old-world Gallic type."

Laurier, right?

Makes sense for a novel published in 1914, except that the scene takes place three years earlier, several months before Laurier lost power.  In further conversation, the former Canadian Prime Minister is referred to as "Sir John." The only knighted prime ministers to have borne that Christian name are Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir John Abbott, and Sir John Thompson, all of whom were long dead.

Object and Access: An attractive book bound in red boards with gold type. The final two page are given over to ads for Dent's Wayfarer's Library and what was then the author's only other book.

Dent published BlantyreAlien in both Great Britain and Canada. I take mine to be the former as its spine is stamped "DENT, LONDON". The novel was also published by in the United States by Dutton.

Blantyre—Alien can be found in the Toronto Public Library, Library and Archives Canada, and nineteen of our universities. As of this writing, three copies are being offered for sale online. The cheapest is $45.43. At US$75.00, the one to buy is inscribed by the author to a fellow member of Toronto's Arts & Letters Club.

The novel can be read heregratis – thanks to the good folks at the Internet Archive.

01 January 2020

'Welcoming the New Year' by Arthur Weir

      We gathered, a jovial party,
            Together on New Year's eve,
      To welcome the coming monarch
            And to see the old one leave. 
      We chatted around the fireside,
            And wondered what time would bring:
      We had not a tear for the parting year,
            But longed for the coming king. 
      For youth reaches ever forward,
            And drops from its eager clasp
      The realized gifts of fortune,
            Some phantom of hope to grasp. 
      Soon a maiden spoke of the custom,
            Now lapsed in this age of prose,
      To open the door for the New Year
            The instant the Old Year goes; 
      Then, leaving the door wide open,
            To stand in the silent street
      And, with a generous "welcome,"
            The entering guest to greet. 
      It suited our youthful fancy,
            And, when the glad chimes began,
      From our cosy nook by the fireside
            Down into the street we ran. 
      And, far and near, we all could hear
      The great bells ringing out the year,
            And, as they tolled, the music rolled,
            Hoarse-sounding, over town and wold. 
      "The year is dead," Gros Bourdon said,
      The clanging echoes quivering fled,
            And, far and wide, on every side,
            The bells to one another cried. 
      The mountain woke, and from its cloak
      Shook off the echoes, stroke for stroke.
            Then silence fell on hill and bell,
            And echoes ceased to sink and swell. 
      Standing beside the door wide open thrown,
      Her voice more musical than any bird's,
            And with a winning sweetness all its own,
            Our Queen thus winged her joyous thoughts with words: 
      "Ring out, bells, ring! Sing, mountain, sing!
      The king is dead, long live the king!
            Now fast, now slow; now loud, now low,
            Send out your chimes across the snow. 
      "Old Year, adieu; welcome the New,
      The door stands open here for you.
            Come in, come in, the bells begin
            To falter in their merry din." 
      Then, as the great bells ceased to swing, two broke
            A silver coin, for luck in days to come,
      And though no tender words of love they spoke,
            Yet hearts speak best when most the lips are dumb.

from Fleurs de Lys and Other Poems
Arthur Weir
Montreal: E.M. Renouf, 1884

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