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.

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