20 April 2020

A Fine Cure for Brain Fag: Earlier Opinions of Hopkins Moorhouse's Every Man for Himself

Further thoughts on Every Man for Himself, the subject of last week's post.

I first learned of Every Man for Himself through "Canadian Crime Writing in English" by David Skene-Melvin, one of thirteen essays on Canadian crime fiction, television, and film included in the anthology Detecting Canada (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2014), edited by Jeannette Sloniowski and Marilyn Rose. Skene-Melvin says little about Every Man for Himself other than it is "set along the North Shore of Lake Superior." In fact, the better part (and best part) of the novel takes place in Toronto.*

Bookseller & Stationer, April 1920
Never mind, it's mere existence as a 1920 mystery with a Canadian setting was enough to get me interested. Was there even another?

Further investigation found that Every Man for Himself had received heaps of praise in its day, much of it having to do with the author having set the novel in his home and native land:
Many Canadian writers like to tell a story of any country but Canada. They seem to forget that nothing better can be offered than a background of our own country. Not so Hopkins Moorhouse, author of "Every Man for Himself." It is a yarn punctuated with some rapid-fire detective work and a real romance — the whole thing is put together with a skill of a Victor Hugo.
Bookseller & Stationer, August 1920 
This book is not intended for the school library but is a wonderfully good story, full of action — a fine cure for teacher's "brain fag."
The School, September 1920 
A bully of a Canadian novel of mystery, romance and political intrigue, with a smashing climax ... The local color of this novel, so thoroughly Canadian in its setting and tone is one of the most fascinating features.
The Grain Growers' Guide, 8 December 1920 
The book is a sit-up-till-you-get-to-the-last-word work, fresh as a new pin with a characterization wholly Canadian. 
The Canadian Railroader, 5 February 1921
The most greatest praise is found in the 10 August 1920 edition of Windsor's Border Cities Star. A remarkable review, it's worth quoting in full:
"Every Man for Himself." It might mean something serious. You might open the cover. The story starts in Toronto. It is 4 a.m. with the wee sma' hours dying around you but you have read the last word not noticing the time pass. How does an author manage to accomplish this with a reader? Hopkins Moorhouse, who wrote "Every Man for Himself," accomplish it with overwhelming plot with a dash of style as keen as a rapier in action, It is a plot as distinctive as any written by Conan Doyle. It is entertainment fashioned for all people. The college girl, the farm hand, the business man, the sport enthusiast, and Sir George Foster or Premier Drury would find in it equal pleasure. It is so unusual that a big motion picture company in Los Angeles, Cal., has offered Mr. Moorhouse five thousand dollars for the motion picture rights. He is holding out for just two thousand five hundred more than that, and will get it. This Canadian author knows what he is worth.
     This novel, his second, is a scenario of action worthy of Dumas, with a French nearness to life, a Gallic skill of intrigue. As a matter of fact Mr. Moorhouse has French blood in his veins, and he rivals in his writing the cleverest of the race. But while the skill displayed in the book is worthy of the masters of entertainment, its setting is entirely Canadian and its types. Tom Edison would leave aside his next invention, to read it. It is this quality that will make Hopkins Moorhouse with his next two or three books Canada's most popular novelist. "Every Man for Himself" is not "ought-to read" stuff; it's the kind you cannot help reading whether you ought to or not. It carries the charm of the outdoors, the intimacy of Canadian politics and extraordinary type of Canadian heroine, the matched wits of big business men, the young man learning the game of life – a constant interweaving of different elements, situations and flashing change.
     Jot down the name Hopkins Moorhouse in your notebook. It will be the most prominent name among Canadian novelists within five years. To get read evidence of this and enjoy the most enthralling book of the season, read "Every Man for Himself," which has just been published and is Mr. Moorhouse's second book to date.
     "Deep Furrows," was his first, a story of facts picturing the struggles of the Western farmer – a wonderful book and serious reading. "Every Man for Himself," is entertainment, a story for story's sake. a book you cannot put down, a tale of plot, action and speed, a keenness and piquant knowledge as distinct as is found in the works of Arnold Bennett. One taste of the first chapter and you consume to the end. It's as irresistable [sic] as possum to a darky; a concoction inspiringly pleasureable [sic] for the multitude.
     There is no story you have read that is like it. In his descent Mr. Moorhouse carries a liberal dash of courtly French blood. French authors have combined plot and unusual writings as those of no other race in the world, and this is exactly what Mr. Moorhouse has done in "Every Man for Himself," – staging it in Canada with Canadian types.
Rambling, repetitive, drunken... but ignoring the bit about the book being "as irresistable as possum to a darky," who wouldn't like to receive such a review? As sufferer of brain fag myself, can you blame me for splurging on an old copy of Every Man for Himself?

Can you imagine my disappointment?

I'm banking on Every Man for Himself ending up as my most disappointing novel of the year.

Here's hoping.

* Curiously, Skene-Melvin makes similar mistakes with other novels I've covered: "In 1946, Margery Bonner (Mrs. Malcolm Lowry) set her The Shapes That Creep in Vancouver, and Jane Layhew chose Montreal as the scene for her Rx for Murder." In fact, The Shapes That Creep takes place entirely in Deep Cove, BC ("Deep Water" in the novel). Jane Layhew's Rx for Murder is set in Vancouver and its surroundings. Skene-Melvin goes on to write that E. Louise Cushing's 1953 mystery Murder's No Picnic features "Inspector MacKay of the Toronto Police Department." It does not. What's more, the novel takes place in Montreal and the Laurentians.

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  1. Gosh. What a stunningly pointless review from the Border Cities Star. Not a syllable about what the book is about, just paragraph after paragraph about why people (I, the college girl, the farmhand, the Premier, etc) should read it.

    I'm intrigued that The Grain Growers' Guide and The Canadian Railroader did book reviews.

    1. I'm guessing that The Canadian Railroader was interested because a railroad features in the story. I may be wrong. On the other hand, pretty much every Canadian periodical once reviewed books. Depressing to think that today even the dailies are giving it up.

  2. I'm not ready your review yet as I have this on my to-read pile. After picking up his "The Gauntlet of Alceste' as a random Canadian book, I found it good enough to want to read another. (Good enough in an odd sense of that idea). Flipping through it now I remember that what stood out was the weird voice - A rustic fantasy of urbain society.

    I recently lucked into quite a stash. After picking up a few old Canadian books at a thrift shop, the proprietor said "if you like old Canadian books I have a couple more boxes in the basement." Some obscure stuff, lots of literary, some self published, some small press. "Perilous Passage" by Arthur Mayse stands out as relevant to this blog. A 1949 mystery set along the B.C. coast.

    The other one that got me excited was "The Reluctant Pioneer" by Pearl Packard. Dedicated to her husband Frank Lucius Packard. So far the writing isn't pretty, but I think I'll finish it.

    1. I was prepared to pay a hefty price for Moorhouse's The Gauntlet of Alceste, but Every Man for Himself took away all incentive.

      Where do you find these wonderful bookstores, Beau? I'm envious! Perilous Passage is a book I've been considering for the Ricochet series. Attempts to bring BC into the mix - Rebound and Rx for Murder - have proven disappointing. You're encouraging me to read my copy.

      I'd love your opinion on The Reluctant Pioneer. The last I saw Pearl Packard's name was on the family's obelisk at Mount Royal Cemetery... now, sadly, closed. Hoping you're keeping safe.