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.