22 July 2021

Dustiest Bookcase: Q is for Quarrington

Short pieces on books I've always meant to review (but haven't).

The Service
Paul Quarrington
Toronto: Coach House, 1978
182 pages

On October 15, 1996, I shared a late night dinner with Paul Quarrington and Dave Badini at Suiki Japanese Restaurant on West Broadway in Vancouver. Earlier in the evening, at the 8th annual Vancouver International Writers Festival, both had read from Original Six (Toronto: Reed Books Canada, 1996), a collection of short stories inspired by teams from the NHL's golden age. Quarrington served as anthologist. Badini provided a story about the Chicago Blackhawks. Other contributors included Wayne Johnson (Montreal Canadiens), Judith Fitzgerald (Detroit Red Wings), Trent Frayne (Toronto Maple Leafs), and Jeff Z. Klein (New York Rangers). Quarrington himself wrote the Bruins story.

I didn't say much during our dinner; Paul and Dave were pals and collaborators, and I was happy to listen in.

Over dessert, I asked Paul if he'd do me the honour of signing my copy of The Service, his debut novel. As I remember it, he was surprised when I pushed it across the table. This is his inscription:

At the time, Random House seemed in the process of reissuing every Quarrington novel there was, yet it never returned The Service to print. I wonder why.

Paul and Dave had good fun that night.

Paul had been doing double duty at the festival, promoting Original Six and Fishing with My Old Man (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1996), an account of a trip with North American Casting Champion Gordon Deval. This signature never fails to raise a smile:

We ate a lot of sushi that night.

Douglas & McIntyre paid our bill.

Paul died eleven years ago at age 56, a victim of lung cancer.

Today would've been his sixty-eight birthday.

He is very much missed

13 July 2021

Fumbling Towards Legacy

Legacy of Fear
Garnett Weston
New York: W S Mill/William Morrow, 1950
245 pages

The jacket illustration suggests a gothic romance, but Legacy of Fear is a thriller. Its protagonist is no-nonsense American war vet Duff Catleigh. With the fighting over, he's returned to the States vowing to never again leave its borders. And yet, the novel's opening scene finds Duff on the cabin deck of the Princess Marguerite, a passenger ship of undetermined size, as it makes the short voyage from Seattle to Vancouver Island. Duff was talked into making the trip by Callender, his business partner: "You've got a knack of finding things, I haven't."

Their business is antique furniture.

"We haven't had a shipment of English or European antiques for years," says Callender. "We're stocked up with Colonial and New England and Mexican and a lot of hybrid junk I'm ashamed to have around." Because he's the tougher negotiator – so insists Callender – Duff makes from their New York office to the American West Coast, thence to Canada.

Aboard the Princess Marguerite, he spots a woman, "tall and slender with a curious rhythm, faintly undulant, in her walk, as if she moved to the sound of music audible to her ears alone." Duff pretends not to notice – and pretends not to notice again when the woman ejects a man from her cabin. That man as Temple Moxx, an inquisitive lawyer whom Duff had met earlier.

The Princess Marguerite reaches its destination early that evening. Duff decides to walk to the hotel at which he's made a reservation. Along the way, he interrupts a kidnapping attempt. The intended victim, Temple Moxx, flees the scene, leaving the newly arrived antique dealer to deal with Bob Brown, the constable walking the beat.

Later that same evening, Duff accompanies Brown to Moxx's flat in the Thunderbird Arms. The constable is looking to investigate the thwarted abduction, but finds the lawyer something less than forthcoming.

Duff  is disgusted by it all. He makes for his hotel, and dodges a knife thrown by a "Chinaman" he recognizes as one of Moxx's attackers. Duff retrieves the knife, returns to the Thunderbird Arms, tosses it it on Moxx's dining room table, and again leaves in disgust. Back at his hotel, Duff sees the woman from the Princess Marguerite getting into a limo. As the car drives away, he notices she's being followed. Turning around, Duff again sees the Chinaman – this time stealing out of the hotel with the woman's luggage. The thief disappears into a fish-and-chips restaurant. Duff follows, orders a meal which turns out to be drugged, and loses consciousness.

Our hero awakens bound in a storeroom. He's rescued by Constable Brown – now off-duty – and together they uncover a brothel/opium den. Brown returns to the station to alert his superiors. Duff returns to his hotel room to find his luggage gone.

That's an awful lot for one evening.

Thrillers with this much action have little room for character. As a tough guy with a passion for antiques, Duff is atypical, right? Brown is an honest cop, who likes to do detective work in his leisure time. That's different, right? What of the woman from the Princess Marguerite? Well, her name is Maureen O'Donnell. Curious gait aside, she's a conventional young Irish lass of a type that will be familiar to the reader. Maureen has made the journey to Vancouver Island after learning that her long-lost great-uncle, Philem O'Donnell, is alive.

Well, barely alive.

Philem lies in his death bed, believing that there is no kin to whom he can leave his vast estate. Moxx, who happens to be Philem O'Donnell's lawyer, has his eyes on his client's land, and so tries to prevent Maureen from seeing her great-uncle.

He's not alone.

Amongst other characters are John Hambly, Moxx's law partner (he's bad), sea captain Victor Mycroft (also bad), crime boss Sin Gun Pow (bad, obviously), Eurasian courtesan Vera (bad), calligrapher Mr Wu (bad), and Philem O'Donald's servants Donald and Morgan (both bad). Moxx too has a servant, Ling Chi, a seventy-year-old "houseboy." I can't say whether he's good or bad, though I certainly recognized him from old American movies and comic books:
"Missie Hambly, he call. Come after you have chow. You eatie quick now for he come. He catch you at chow, he say. 'No thank you; no have chow. Not hungry at all,' he say. Then he sit down an' eat allee sammee pig."
Ling Chi surprised me greatly because Garnett Weston wrote both the story and screenplay for Daughter of Shanghai (1937). Praised for its portrayal of Chinese-Americans, in 2006 it was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

I really like this film. If you have the time:

To be fair to Weston, Sin Gun Pow is no stereotype, nor is Vera, nor the girls working in the brothel. This is not to say that they have much flesh. How could they? As I've suggested, action crowds character. Things happen in Legacy of Fear, but too much for the four days in which the novel takes place. Both Maureen and Duff are drugged twice and kidnapped twice. Moxx too is drugged. He's rescued by Duff. May as well add that Duff suffers two blows to the head, and loses consciousness both times. Duff falls for Maureen, a woman he'd not so much as spoken twenty-four hours earlier. He proposes. She accepts. They're in love.

Like everything in this novel, the climax comes fast. It spoils nothing to reveal that Brown again comes to the rescue.

The final chapter isn't so much a denouement as a postscript. Callender shows up at Duff's hotel. He was worried by about Duff. The last paragraph – just two sentences – occur after Duff introduces Maureen to his business partner:
Smiling, he lifted the Irish girl's hand and kissed it gracefully. Only a man with a Vandyke beard could do it so well.
I have no idea what this means.

Is Callender bad?

Edward T. Lowe is best remembered as a producer and screenwriter. In the latter role, his greatest accomplishments are House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945); both penned in late career. Lowe and Weston's overlap in writing Bulldog Drummond films. Though they never wrote together, Lowe did produce the Weston-penned Bulldog Drummond in Africa (1938) and Bulldog Drummond's Secret Police (1939).

Lowe also produced Daughter of Shanghai.

Trivia: The Princess Marguerite docks in "Port Albert," which is clearly Victoria. Duff stays at an unnamed hotel, which is clearly The Empress. I think the obfuscation is explained by Weston's portrayal of Victoria as a city in which tourists and their belongings disappear with regularity (often from the  unnamed hotel).  

Humour: The increasingly unreliable WorldCat provides this information on Legacy of Fear:
Summary: A third baseman is sick with anxiety about whether or not to help his team by using his knack for knowing where the batter is going to hit the ball.

Rating: (not yet rated) 0 with reviews - Be the first.

Subjects: Baseball — Fiction
Object: Bound in red boards, typical of its time. To these eyes, the uncredited dust jacket anticipates Psycho. The rear flap has an advert for Poisonous Relations by Joanna Cannan. The back cover provides a second sales pitch for Poisonous Relations, then tries to sell three more Morrow Mysteries:

My copy was purchased in May from Scene of the Crime Books in St Catharine, Ontario. Price: US$40.00. 

Legacy of Fear first appeared as an eight-part serial in The Saturday Evening Post (6 May - 24 June 1950). James R Bingham did the illustrations. Here's the first:

The rest are just as good (see the illustration above in which Catleigh strikes a similar pose when dodging a knife).

As far as I can determine, the Mill/Morrow edition enjoyed just one printing. There have been no other editions, though the novel did join Christianna Brand's Cat And Mouse, and Erle Stanley Gardner's The Case of the One-Eyed Witness in the Detective Book Club's January 1951 3-in-1 omnibus. 

Library and Archives Canada has a copy of the Mill/Morrow, as do the Toronto Public Library, the Vancouver Public Library, the University of New Brunswick, McMaster University, the University of Alberta, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Victoria.

As of this writing, no used copies were being offered for sale online.

02 July 2021

Have Bomb – Will Travel

This Suitcase is Going to Explode
Tom Ardies
Calabasas, CA: Brash Books, 2021
220 pages

Of all the books I've read in 2021, This Suitcase is Going to Explode has the best title by far. It follows Their Man in the White House as the second novel to feature journalist and sometime secret agent Charlie Sparrow. Our hero wasn't doing so well at the end of that first adventure. Had Sparrow been institutionalized? I don't quite remember. What I can say with certainty is that he was in a very bad place. The woman he loved had been killed and a man he knew to be a Russian plant had been elected President of the United States.

This Suitcase is Going to Explode opens with Sparrow back working for Morley, the head of CI-2, a secret American intelligence agency. Both are in a darkened room watching poorly edited surveillance footage of a frail, elderly man wandering slowly about the streets of Washington, DC. Where Sparrow sees a tourist, Morley sees a threat.

The old man is a German nuclear scientist by the name of Erik R. Schuler. In 1942, Morley was involved in a risky effort to steal Schuler away from the Nazis. Make no mistake, the scientist wanted escape. Schuler so hated Nazi Germany that he risked his life to join the Americans in the race to build the first atomic bomb. With the German surrender in May of 1945, Schuler breathed a sigh of relief, believing that he'd worked on a weapon that would never be used.

Then came Hiroshima.

Then came Nagasaki.

And then, after writing a letter condemning the United States for its use of the bomb, Schuler disappeared. The missing scientist's name was quickly scrubbed from the history of the Manhattan Project. Morley didn't know if Schuler was alive or dead until the footage arrived on his desk. What's most disconcerting is that neither he nor the agency has any idea who sent it.

English, the first assigned to find Schuler, is assumed to have had a live grenade shoved up his rectum.  It looks that way. Sparrow has much better luck in that he not only tracks down the scientist, but manages to bring him in – alive – to the Washington mansion Morley is using as a front.     

Schuler proves to be a confused old man whose actions are prompted by instructions received through an earpiece. He isn't all there, yet manages to relay with clarity that suitcases containing nuclear bombs have been placed in cities throughout the United States. Did Schuler, have something to do with these devices? He says not, but when questioned further appears to have forgotten about them entirely. Scars suggest he's had a bilateral temporal lobectomy.    

I enjoyed This Suitcase is Going to Explode even more than Their Man in the White House. The writing is tighter and the novel has a greater reliance on dialogue.

I do like dialogue.

Interviews at time of publication have Ardies describing his Sparrow thrillers as something of a lark. Perhaps they were. There's certainly a good amount of fun to be had in the reading. Early on, Sparrow is tasked with driving home Volrich, an egghead who's been probing Dr Schuler's damaged brain:
Volrich raised his newly acquired pistol and sighted down the barrel. His finger tightened on the trigger and he began chanting out a deliberate count. "One... two... three..."
     Is that thing loaded?" I asked.
     "Of course," Volrich said. "I thought that was one of the rules. 'You'll never kill anyone with an empty gun.'" His eye moved back to the gunsight. "Four... five...
     "Is it? I haven't looked in the rulebook lately."
     "Your problem," Volrich said. "One of your many problems..." He closed his eyes and squeezed as hard as he could. The hammer clicked on an empty chamber. "How long does it take to kill a man?"
     We had about a minute more to wait. I took a last drag and stubbed out my cigarette. "It all depends. But, I'll tell you one thing. You just took too long."
Volrich is a prig. When he's had enough, Sparrow pushes "Magic Violins of Villafontana [sic]" into the tape deck. 

I made a point of tracking down the recording...

...and listening to it as I read the rest of the scene. As the Magic Violins play, we get several more pages of their exchange, beginning with this:
"You may need the gun, " I said the. "The best idea is not to think about it. If you take time to think it will be too late."
     Volrich removed his pipe. The stem made a small circular motion. "With all this protection..."
     "It could happen, I said. "So don't count, huh? Don't think at all..."
     He looked at me with disgust.
You just know Volrich is going to die.

I prefer The Magic Violins' A Night at the Villa Fontana myself, but that has everything to do with the cover. 

Having come to know Sparrow through Their Man in the White House and This Suitcase is Going to Explode, I'm betting he would agree. He appears for the last time in the 1973 thriller Pandemic.

I'm looking forward to getting to know him even better.   

Object and Access: An attractive trade-sized paperback, the Brash Books edition is the first in 45 years. It was sent to me by the publisher, along with three other Ardies reissues. Having now read the novel – I'd never encountered a copy of a previous edition – I'm happy to add it to my collection.

This Suitcase is Going to Explode
was first published in 1972 by McClelland & Stewart (Canada) and Doubleday (United States). Two years later, PaperJacks and Panther published Canadian and UK mass market editions. Curiously, it wasn't until 1976 that Fawcett issued the first American mass market. The publisher made up for the tardiness with a really cool hologram cover (right).

Used copies of Doubleday's American first are being offered online at prices ranging from US$3.00 to US$10.45, but all look to be in rotten shape. The much more common Fawcett is more expensive – something to do with that hologram cover, I expect. Decent copies hover in the ten to twenty dollar range, though some booksellers are asking for much more. Some joker in Florida wants US$100.94 for a 46-year-old copy he claims is "Brand New!"

The McClelland & Stewart, PaperJacks and Panther editions are nowhere in sight, though I once managed of capture this petite screenshot of the elusive PaperJacks edition:

Reminds me of Logan's Run

My advice is to purchase the Brash Books edition.

A French translation, Une valise qui explose, was published in 1973 by Hachette. Are we to assume the nuclear weapon was retrieved from a baggage carousel?

Library and Archives Canada, the Toronto Public Library, and sixteen of our universities hold copies. Sadly, the Vancouver Public Library – its main branch, just a short walk from the Vancouver Sun, at which Ardies worked – hasn't one copy of his twelve novels. This Suitcase is Going to Explode is more common south of the border, I was interested to discover that those serving at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico will find it in their library.

No Canadian library has a copy of Une valise qui explose.

01 July 2021

"We first saw light in Canada..."

Verse for this Canada Day by E. Pauline Johnson – Tekahionwake – from Canadian Born (Toronto: Morang, 1903), her second volume.

We first saw light in Canada, the land beloved of God;
We are the pulse of Canada, its marrow and its blood:
And we, the men of Canada, can face the world and brag
That we were born in Canada beneath the British flag.

Few of us have the blood of kings, few are of courtly birth,
But few are vagabonds or rogues of doubtful name and worth;
And all have one credential that entitles us to brag—
That we were born in Canada beneath the British flag.

We've yet to make our money, we've yet to make our fame,
But we have gold and glory in our clean colonial name; 
And every man's a millionaire if only he can brag
That he was born in Canada beneath the British flag.

No title and no coronet is half so proudly worn
As that which we inherited as men Canadian born.
We count no man so noble as the one who makes the brag 
That he was born in Canada beneath the British flag.

The Dutch may have their Holland, the Spaniard have his Spain,
The Yankee to the south of us must south of us remain;
For not a man dare lift a hand against the men who brag
That they were born in Canada beneath the British flag.

25 June 2021

Dustiest Bookcase: P is for Price-Brown

Short pieces on books I've always meant to review (but haven't).

The Mac's of '37: A Story of the Canadian Rebellion
Price-Brown [John Price Brown]
Toronto: McLeod & Allen, 1910
332 pages

The December 1931 issue of Outlook for the Blind, published by the American Foundation for the Blind, features the most thorough biography yet of John Price Brown. It's found within a review of Laura the Undaunted (Toronto: Ryerson, 1930), the last of the author's five historical novels. Through book critic S.C. Swift we learn that Brown was born in Manchester on 30 March 1844 and emigrated to Upper Canada as a child. As a young man, Brown earned distinctions as a medical student at the University of Toronto. He came to specialize in otorhinolaryngology, an interest which would lead to the publication of his first book, Diseases of the Nose and Throat (Philadelphia: F.A. Davis, 1900).

You can read it here, courtesy of the Internet Archive. The illustrations – it is heavily illustrated – are not for the squeamish. Amongst the easier to take, this is my favourite:

Might Laura the Undaunted be even easier to swallow?* The novel's titular character being Laura Secord, it can't avoid touching on the bloody War of 1812, but S.C. Swift informs that the novel's focus is on Laura's life before that conflict. In that same review, the critic devotes several paragraphs to The Mac's of '37, beginning with a bit of background for his American readers: 
You must know that in the year 1837, Upper and Lower Canada (the present provinces of Ontario and Quebec) staged a little flurry termed a rebellion, the result of discontent at the slow progress of complete self- government. The affair in itself was not of much moment, but its results were far-reaching, since they were responsible in the long run for the birth of the present Dominion of Canada thirty years later. The Macs of '37 [sic] is a novel dealing with the rebellion. It achieved considerable popularity and is rated in present-day histories of Canadian literature as one of the best books of Canadian vintage dealing with a purely Canadian topic.
Outlook for the Blind reviewed biographies and autobiographies of the blind, so why this historical novel about the heroine of the Battle of Beaver Dams? Well, as Swift explains, John Price Brown was himself blind: "he has been without sight for close on twenty years."

The Mac's of '37 was published twenty years before Laura the Undaunted. At the time, Brown was Associate Professor of Laryngology and Rhinology at the University of Toronto. Was he without sight then? I somehow doubt it, but wonder if he didn't know he was losing his sight. Skimming over the novel, I was struck by this paragraph:

In 1914, Brown resigned his position at the University of Toronto. He was in his seventieth year. It's tempting to think of Doctor Brown as a man who, like Reverend King, gave up his vocation and turned to fiction as his sight began to fail; however, in doing so, one would be ignoring Brown's earliest novels, How Hartman Won: A Story of Old Ontario (Toronto: Morang, 1903) and In the Van; or, The Builders (Toronto: McLeod & Allen, 1906).

Swift concludes his review by claiming that Price-Brown is "doubtless the oldest living blind man creating and publishing in the literary world." I imagine he was right. King sold many more books, but was a younger man, and was three years in his grave when Laura the Undaunted appeared.

My copy of Laura the Undaunted was rescued in the melancholy final hour of a library book sale. As reflected by its state, the book was well read.

You can't fake that kind of wear. Compare its title page to that of Diseases of the Nose and Throat


24 June 2021

Debout, Canadiens-français!

George William Alphred Chapman
13 December 1850, Saint-François-de-Beauce, Canada East
23 February 1917, Ottawa, Ontario

For la Fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste, this William Chapman poem from his critically-acclaimed Les fleurs de givre (Paris: Éditions de la Revue des poètes, 1912).


                         Nous sommes des fils de guerriers,
                         Et nos pères, pleins de vaillance,
                         Vinrent au bord d’un fleuve immense
                         Planter leurs étendards altiers.
                         Durant un siècle, sur nos plages
                         Ces lutteurs au bras redouté
                         Pour la France et la chrétienté
                         Déployèrent tous les courages.

                         Debout, Canadiens-français!
                         Luttons comme ont lutté nos pères!
                         Au milieu de races prospères.
                         Déroulons au vent du Progrès,
                         Qui souffle à travers les forêts,
                         Nos vieilles et saintes bannières!
                         Luttons comme ont lutté nos pères!

                         Debout, Canadiens-français!

                         Forts d’une foi que rien n’émeut,
                         Comme les Croisés, leurs ancêtres.
                         Ces preux, marins, soldats et prêtres,
                         Partout répétaient: «Dieu le veut»!
                         Jusqu’aux glaçons géants du Pôle,
                         De l’Équateur au Groenland,
                         Ils dirent, dans leur noble élan,
                         Les refrains bénis de la Gaule.

                         Debout, Canadiens-français!

                         Ils furent grands dans le danger,
                         Ils furent beaux dans les batailles...
                         Mais, hélas! la cour de Versailles
                         Céda leurs bords à l’étranger.
                         Orgueilleux, malgré la conquête,
                         Ces hommes au cœur de lion
                         Sous la bannière d’Albion
                         Ne courbèrent jamais la tête.

                         Debout, Canadiens-français!

                         Fidèles aux maîtres nouveaux,
                         Et toujours pleins d’ardeurs guerrières,
                         Pour chasser l’Aigle des frontières,
                         Nous avons suivi leurs drapeaux.
                         Des conscrits, altérés de gloire,
                         Vainquirent un peuple aguerri;
                         Et le nom de Salaberry
                         Luit comme un soleil dans l’Histoire.

                         Debout, Canadiens-français!

                         Le sang ne rougit plus nos prés;
                         L’astre du Travail y flamboie,
                         Et sur tous nos foyers en joie
                         La Paix répand ses fruits dorés.
                         L’Espoir de ses rayons inonde
                         Tous les cœurs et tous les cerveaux...
                         Demain nous serons les rivaux
                         Des grands peuples de l’ancien monde.

                         Debout, Canadiens-français!

Bonne fête!

14 June 2021

The Dustiest Bookcase: O is for Oxley

Short pieces on books I've always meant to review (but haven't).

North Overland with Franklin
J Macdonald Oxley
New York: Crowell, 1907
286 pages

I'm not sure what's going on here, but the image does remind me of this iconic cover:

I read Bear as a twenty-year-old, and have not revisited.

Do the two novels have much in common?

Doubt it. North Overland was Franklin was first published by the Religious Tract Society. My copy features this bookplate:

I'm a bit peeved. As a boy, my father, an Anglican, was awarded many books for regularity and punctuality at the Church of St John the Baptist, Pointe Claire, Quebec. Walter Scott's The Black Arrow was one, but the novel that made he greatest impression was Number 44 by Harold M Sherman.

Not only that, my father was presented pins recognizing these accomplishment to be worn proudly on his lapel.

I too was raised an Anglican. Regularity and punctuality were not rewarded at my childhood church – St Marys, Kirkland, Quebec – though we children enjoyed juice and cookies after Sunday School.

The 2011 Canadian Census records George Bee (born 1895) as the eldest son of David and Catherine Bee. The Bee family lived at 240 Gerrard Street, now home to the Virginia Hamara Law Office.

I can't quite recall how I came to have George Bee's copy of North Overland with Franklin in my collection, but am fairly certain that I picked it up somewhere in Ontario and paid no more than two dollars. I do remember thinking that the Franklin of the title might just be Sir John Franklin, and that Oxley had penned a fantasy in which the explorer had somehow overcome the terror of HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, and had made his way toward Rupert's Land.

But then it would've been South Overland with Franklin, right?

To be fair – to myself – I wasn't far off. The hero of North Overland with Franklin is the very same John Franklin, though Oxley's adventure imagines the explorer's ill-fated Coppermine Expedition, which ended over three decades before his ill-fated Northwest Passage Expedition began.

Because the former featured a murder, dinners made of boiled boots, and suggestions of cannibalism, North Overland with Franklin might make for an interesting read; remember, it  began as a Religious Tract Society publication.

That said, because I believe in placing books in the best hands, I'm eager to return this copy of North Overland with Franklin to the Bee family, whether it's a descendent of George Bee or of one of his siblings: Ethel (b 1894) and Edward (b 1899).

Please contact me in the comments or by email through my profile.

11 June 2021

Love is a Long Shot on the Nose

The Calgary Herald, 29 September 1978

This weekend the 29th Toronto Jewish Film Festival presents Love on the Nose.

Do you know it?

I didn't before being contacted by the Toronto Jewish Film Foundation. A made-for-TV movie, Love on the Nose, aired on the CBC in September 1978... and then never again. The screenplay, credited to  "John Smith" (read: Ted Allan), tells the story of David (Saul Rubinek), a young Trotskyite who, thanks to his uncle (Paul Soles), lands a job at Keller's cigar store in Depression-era Montreal. The establishment is a front for a bookie joint, which allows David a good amount of time for on-the-job studies of Karl Marx.

Love on the Nose received glowing reviews; I've yet to find a critic who said a bad word. Much of the praise landed on Saul Rubinek. He played a character a decade younger than himself, though you'd never know it. Al Waxman was singled out for playing a crime boss, a character so very different than the Larry King we'd come to love on The King of Kensington. Reading the reviews, it's clear that to that point the critics hadn't recognized the actor's range.

Months later, the Windsor Star was still going on about it.

The Windsor Star, 9 January 1979

I was contacted by the Festival because of my writing on Allan this blog, in Canadian Notes & Queries, and in my most recent book. It was my pleasure to provide a short video postscript to the film in which I discuss Love on the Nose, its relationship to Allan's 1949 pulp Love is a Long Shot, and the lighter 1984 version published by McClelland & Stewart.

What I didn't mention – but should've – is that Love on the Nose is the best of the three.

Tickets for Love on the Nose can be purchased through this link.

You will not be disappointed.

Related posts:

07 June 2021

Criminal Notes & Queries

The most recent number of Canadian Notes & Queries – The Crime Issue – arrived last week in our Upper Canada rural mailbox. I was honoured to serve as Guest Editor. It was a pleasure putting it together, though I must admit that the heavy lifting was done by regular editor Emily Donaldson.

As always, Seth's provides the front and back covers. Tell the truth, do you not see yourself in one of his mugshots?

In The Landscape, Seth shares an undated, uncredited insert from The Weekend Magazine – which, as he notes, was itself an insert.

"What’s Old," our regular salute to reissues, coupled with offerings from the country’s antiquarian booksellers features Austin Clarke's When He Was Free and Young and He Used to Wear Silks (Anansi, 2021),  Carmine Starnino's Dirty Words: Selected Poems, 1997-2016 (Gaspereau, 2021), a new translation of Markoosie Patsauq's Hunter with Harpoon (MQUP, 2021). Windsor's Juniper Books offers The Executioners (Harlequin, 1951) and French for Murder (Fawcett, 1954), two old Brian Moore pulps that the late author's estate has kept out of print.

The Guest Editor’s Note, in which I recall childhood trauma brought on by a speeding ticket, is followed by the issue's Dusty Bookcase. This one is unusual in that the volume covered, Grant Allen's fin de siècle novel An African Millionaire, is not only in print, but is a certified Penguin Classic. We all remember studying it in high school, right?

Adam Sol and Manahil Bandukwala provide verse.

The issue's features begin with "Sin City," Will Straw's look at Police Journal, the post-war Montreal crime tabloid that anticipated Allô Police.

In "A Requiem for Skid Row," Amy Lavender Harris writes about a Toronto that has fallen to condos, but lives on in the works of Juan Butler, Austin Clarke, and Hugh Garner.

Novelist Trevor Ferguson (aka John Farrow) writes of his encounters with the criminal element in  "Fringe Elements."

Dedicated readers will remember my interest in the mysterious Kenneth Orvis (aka Kenneth Lemieux), author of Hickory House, The Damned and Destroyed,  Cry, Hallelujah!, and four other novels. You may even remember my 2016 plea for information about the man. Imagine my surprise in discovering that former 39 Steps frontman Chris Barry – whom I've seen onstage in Montreal and onscreen in Hannah and Her Sisters – is the mystery man's nephew.  Chris' "Uncle Ken, We Hardly Knew Ye: Kenneth Orvis’ Nephew Surveys the Writer’s Life, Hustles, and Mysterious Disappearance" helps fill in the gaps.

In "Vale of Fears," Monika Bartyzel looks at the influence of a 1935 murder on the fiction of Phyllis Brett Young, our most unjustly neglected novelist.

Jennifer Hambleton disturbs with "Shut Out: How University Libraries are Increasingly Limiting Public Access.

David Frank writes on the relationship between Jack London and all but forgotten Canadian socialist Wilfrid Gribble.

Chris Kelly looks at Blue City, the 1986 adaptation of the 1947 Ross Macdonald novel of the same name. You remember it, right? Judd Nelson and Ally Sheedy starred.


This GIF may refresh you memory.

I intrude again with an interview with Danny McAuley of Brome Lake Books in Knowlton, Quebec.

David Mason's Used and Rare column concerns book thieves and a revelation about a certain famous author.

In the North Wing - selections from the Lost Library of CanLit Graphic Novels -  Nathan Campagnaro adapts Thomas King’s DreadfulWater.

We've also got a new short story from Caroline Adderson, “All Our Auld Acquaintances Are Gone.”

At a time when newspapers and magazines are slashing space devoted to book reviews, we buck the trend with:
Bruce Whiteman on Erin McLaren’s Little Resilience
Rohan Maitzen on Anna Porter’s The Appraisal and Deceptions
Laura Cameron on Amanda LeDuc’s The Centaur’s Wife 
Brett Josef Grubisic on Michael Melgaard’s Pallbearing 
Alex Good on Pasha Malla’s Kill the Mall 
Paige Cooper on Carrie Jenkins’ Victoria Sees It 
Dancy Mason on Patricia Robertson’s Hour of the Crab 
James Grainger on Andrée A Michaud’s Mirror Lake
Emily Donaldson on Sarah Berman’s Don’t Call it a Cult
The Shelf Talker belongs to The Bookshelf in Guelph. Catherine Bush's Blaze Island is one of their four titles.

As always, we finish off with Stephen Fowler's Exhumations. His pick this issue is Writing Thrillers for Profit: A Practical Guide by Basil Hogarth (London, Black, 1936), a volume that once belonged to "a recently deceased author of detective novels." Stephen suggests that it may have been a "joke gift." I'm betting he's right.

The CNQ Crime Issue can be purchased through this link.

It's a steal.

01 June 2021

Little Willie, Willie Won't Go Home

Willie the Squowse
Ted Allan
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1977
57 pages

What I admire most about Ted Allan was his ability to take an idea and rework it repeatedly, in the process supporting himself, his wife, and his children. "Lies My Father Told Me," a very, very short story – 782 words – was written on the instant for a 1949 issue of The Canadian Jewish Congress Bulletin. It went on to become a radio drama, a television drama, a stage drama, and a feature film for which Allan earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

On March 29, 1976, the evening of the award gala, Allan joined Federico Fellini (Amarcord) and Robert Towne (Shampoo) in learning that he'd lost to Frank Pierson, who'd written the script for Dog Day Afternoon. The bad news came from Gore Vidal:

Allan's screenplay is brilliant and moving, but it was not original. I think he received the nomination because the story had been published in a monthly Canadian newspaper, and not, say, The New Yorker. I'm guessing that not too many people in Hollywood heard the adaptation he'd written for CBC Radio. I'll wager fewer still saw the hour-long European television production, in which Allan moved the setting from Montreal to Dublin. I've yet to meet anyone who remembers the play. From what I understand, it included musical numbers.

The very same year that "Lies My Father Told Me" appeared in The Canadian Jewish Congress Bulletin, Allan dashed off a pseudonymously published pulp novel, Love is a Long Shot, for News Stand Library, the paperback imprint of Export Publishing. Thirty-five years later, he rewrote the novel and managed to place it with McClelland & Stewart. It won the 1985 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. In between the two different versions, as "John Smith," Allan adapted the plot as a CBC movie titled Love on the Nose. As I understand, he later shopped another adaptation, this one titled Love is a Long Shot, around Hollywood. 

All this brings me to Willie the Squowse, which is by far the shortest and most enjoyable book I've read this year. It began as a story written for his children – unpublished, it would seem – which was bought by George Pal. It was reimagined by Hungarian expat László Vadnay as The Great Rupert. Look carefully, and you'll see Allan's name on the movie poster:

Sadly, Pal didn't direct the film, and Allan had nothing to do with its screen adaptation. According to son Norman Allan, Ted Allan hated the film.

In 1950, the year The Great Rupert was was released, the CBC broadcast Allan's radio adaptation. I find it charming. You can hear it through this link

Twenty-three years after that, Allan entered "Willie the Squowse" in the 1973 Times Children's Story Competition. It earned earned second place, was published in The Times Saturday Review, and was subsequently included in The Times Anthology of Children's Stories (London: Cape, 1974). I believe it's on that strength of this late notice that, at long last, "Willie the Squowse" appeared as a book on its own. Printed in Great Britain, all indications point to my McClelland & Stewart edition as a Cape co-publication; no effort has been made to alter the anglicisms.

The story takes place somewhere in England, in two houses – one well-kept, the other run-down – built back to back. Mr and Mrs Pickering live in the nicer place. They're supported by their son, Richard, who teaches at a university. An impoverished animal trainer named Joe lives in the lesser house. Willie, his most recent project, is a squowse – squirrel father/mouse mother – who swings on a trapeze, marches like a soldier, and can hum "Alouette." Seems pretty impressive, but theatrical agent Pete has a better understanding than I of the box office: "Sorry. The women would scream. There'd be panic in the theatre. No manager could risk it. An elephant act, a dog act, a seal act, even a cat act, but not a squowse act, Joe."

The failure to attract interest means Joe and Willie must leave their squalid lodgings the very next day. Joe falls asleep quite easily, but not Willie. The restless squowse paces about until he notices a small hole in the wall separating his home from the Pickerings'. While exploring, he's knocked out by a chunk of falling plaster. Because Joe can't find the squowse the next morning, he comes to the conclusion that pal Willie has left him. 

Money means nothing and everything in Willie the Squowse. Mr and Mrs Pickering are troubled by their reliance on Richard until they receive a fantastic letter stating that stock purchased long ago will now be paying off in weekly cheques of two hundred pounds. These they convert into ten pound notes which Mrs Pickering pushes through a hole she's made in the kitchen wall. "I want to know the money is near us," she explains to her husband. "I want to feel it around us." They never touch the money, nor do they tell Richard about their windfall, and so he continues to support his parents. 

Just the thought that the money is near brings the Pickerings peace of mind:
During their walks around the the park they noticed two trees they'd never noticed before. They heard music they had never heard before. And most of the neighbours seemed to be very neighbourly, which was something else they had never noticed before. They didn't worry when it rained and they didn't worry when the sun shine and sometimes they giggled thinking how silly they had been to worry so much.
What they don't know is that the money isn't there. For reasons I won't describe, Willie, who has taken up residence in the wall shared by the two houses, has begun pushing ten pound notes toward the new residents of his former home. 

Because Willie the Squowse is so short I'll say no more, except to recommend it. I'm even more keen on Allan's 1950 CBC radio adaptation. Ted Allan played Joe in that production. As I say, he really knew how to make money from his work.

Sadly, I'm nowhere near so savvy.

Object: A very slim hardcover with black boards. The jacket is, of course, by Quentin Blake. I count fifty Blake illustrations in the book itself. 

Access: Sadly, Willie the Squowse is no longer in print. Happily, used copies are plentiful online. The most common is the American edition, published in 1977 by Hastings House. The last edition was published in 1980 by Puffin.

Willie the Squowse
has been translated several times: French (Histoire d'un souricureuil), Spanish (Willie el ratiardilla), German (Willi die Eichmaus), Finnish (Ville Hiirava pankkiirina), and Chinese (松老鼠阿威).

The complete text to Willie the Squowse can be found here on Norman Allan's website.