01 July 2022

Verse by the First of Dominion Poetesses



Verse for the day by Agnes Maule Machar from Lays of the 'True North' and Other Canadian Poems (Toronto: Copp, Clark, 1899). No less a critic than Edwin Arnold considered Miss Machar "the first of Dominion poetesses." See if you don't agree.


CANADA'S BIRTHDAY

With feu de joie, and merry bells, and cannons' thundering peal,
And pennons fluttering on the breeze, and serried rows of steel,
We greet once more the birthday morn of our Canadian land,
Wide stretching from Atlantic shore to far Pacific strand,
With sweeping rivers, ocean lakes, and prairies wide and free,
And waterfalls and forests dim, and mountains by the sea;
A country on whose birth there smiled the genius of romance,
Above whose cradle brave hands hung the lilied flag of France;
Whose infancy was grimly nursed in peril, pain and woe,
When gallant hearts found early graves beneath Canadian snow;
When savage raid and ambuscade and famine's sore distress
Combined their strength in vain to crush the gallant French noblesse;
While her dim, trackless forests lured again and yet again
From silken courts of sunny France her flower, the brave Champlain;
And now her proud traditions guard four ancient rolls of fame,
Crécy's and Flodden's combatants for ancestors we claim!
Past feud and battle buried far behind the peaceful years,
While Gaul and Celt and Saxon turn to pruning-hooks their spears;
Four nations welded into one with long, historic past,
Have found in these our western wilds one common life at last.

Through the young giant's mighty limbs that reach from sea to sea
There runs a throb of conscious life, of waking energy;
From Nova Scotia's misty coast to far Pacific shore
She wakes, a band of scattered homes and colonies no more,
But a young nation, with her life full beating in her breast;
A noble future in her eyes, the Britain of the West.
Hers be the generous task to fill the yet untrodden plains
With fruitful, many-sided life that courses through her veins:
The English honour, nerve and pluck, the Scotchman's faith in right,
The grace and courtesy of France, the Irish fancy bright,
The Saxon's faithful love of home and home's affections blest,
And chief of all, our holy faith, of all her treasures best!

May she, though poor in luxuries, wax rich in noble deeds,
Knowing that righteousness exalts the people that it leads.
As yet the waxen mould is soft, the opening page is fair;
It rests with those who rule us now to leave their impress there,
The stamp of true nobility, high honour, stainless truth,
The earnest quest of noble ends, the generous heart of youth;
The love of country, soaring far above all party strife,
The love of culture, art and song, the crowning grace of life,
The love of science reaching far through Nature's hidden ways,
The love and fear of Nature's God, a nation's highest praise;
So, in the long hereafter, our Canada shall be
The worthy heir of British power and British liberty,
Spreading their blessings 'neath her sway to her remotest bounds,
While with the fame of her fair name a continent resounds,
True to the high traditions of our Britain's ancient glory
Of patriots, prophets, martyrs, saints, who live in deathless story,
Strong in their liberty and truth, to shed from shore to shore
A light among the nations, till nations are no more!

27 June 2022

E.T. Cash In



P.E.T: Pierre Elliott Trudeau and his unearthly adventures
Jude Waples
New York: Avon, 1983
93 pages

E.T. was the summer blockbuster of 1982. I saw it on my twentieth birthday.

Most embarrassing.

At twenty, Pierre Trudeau was very nearly the only prime minister I'd ever known. He assumed the office when I was in kindergarten and stepped down when I was in university, that long stretch being interrupted by 273 days of Joe Clark.

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
Michelle Le Grand and Allison Fay
Don Mills: Greywood, 1972

P.E.T. followed Sex and the Single Prime MinisterThe Naked Prime Minister, and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden; laughs that paired photographs with imagined conversation. This being a jubilee year, I present this example:


P.E.T. is very much a departure in that it relies on illustrations and actual quotations. The concept is that Pierre Elliott Trudeau is an extra-terrestrial or perhaps one of a race of extra-terrestrials who has/have played havoc throughout the centuries. 




I read the last image as a nod to Stanley Burke and Roy Peterson. Those who were twenty or older in the summer of '82 will remember.

Frog Fables & Beaver Tales
Stanley Burke and Roy Peterson
Toronto: J Lewis & Samuel, 1973

The odd placement of Parliament Hill aside, most striking is the near-absence of humour; it's more mean-spirited than anything.


That's meant to be Margaret Trudeau to the right of Joe Clark.

According to the 26 May 1983 edition of the Ottawa Citizen, Jude Waples was provided the quotations, and found them "scary." "I was careful to make sure none of the quotations weren't used out of context," she told journalist Kathleen Walker.

I'm not convinced, though given current times, I found this one particularly interesting.


Well, the man did attend the London School of Economics.

Like Waples' monster, P.E.T. is an awkward thing. Not all the quotes Avon provided belong to Trudeau. Here Margaret Trudeau's words are given to a horse:


Nine years ago, I described P.E.T.: Pierre Elliott Trudeau and his unearthly adventures as the ugliest Canadian book cover of all time. The interior isn't any prettier, though I've experienced far uglier things between the covers.

Is it quibbling to point out that some of the quotations are inaccurate?

Perhaps.

There's no way P.E.T. wasn't a rush job. As exploitation product goes, I like it just as much as this strange Montreal MusicWorks single, which somehow went gold in Canada:


P.E.T. isn't quite so memorable, but is it easier on the ears.


Full disclosure: I voted Liberal in 1988. Not sure about 1997.

Object and Access: A slim, trade-sized paperback. Purchased last year for for US$12, the old World's Biggest Bookstore price sticker was a nice surprise. The five copies currently listed for sale online range in price from US$7.99 to US$115.00. Condition is not a factor. I recommend the copy going for US$7.99.

The Library of Parliament, Library and Archives Canada, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, and five of our university libraries hold copies.


24 June 2022

'La Fête nationale' par Léon Lorrain


Léon Lorrain
1855 - 1892
RIP
Verse for the day from Léon Lorrain's Les Fleurs poétiques, simples bluettes (Montreal: Beauchemin, 1890).

LA FÊTE NATIONALE

(La Saint-Jean-Baptiste)

A L'HONORABLE M. F.-G. MARCHAND
          Vingt-quatre juin! Salut! ― Ô fête solennelle!
          Apporte dans nos cœurs l'amitié fraternelle,
          Ce sentiment si beau qu'on le dit surhumain!
          Retardez votre cours, heures patriotiques!
          Laissez-nous savourer les plaisirs pacifiques
               Dont vous semez votre chemin!

          Le soleil radieux, comme un puissant génie,
          Répand à flots vermeils le jour et l'harmonie;
          Il féconde nos champs de ses subtils rayons;
          Il dispense partout dans sa course enflammée
          La vie et l'abondance; une brise embaumée
               S'élève de nos frais sillons.

          Notre libre drapeau flotte, au gré de la brise,
          Au sommet d'une tour, au clocher d'une église
          Et domine nos champs, ― resplendissants tableaux! ―
          Sous ses replis mouvants, l'enthousiaste foule
          Se rallie et se presse, ensuite se déroule
               Ondulante comme les flots!

          Tous les cœurs sont émus par la même pensée.
          Voyez se réunir cette foule empressée.
          Elle confond ensemble, en ce jour patronal,
          Au seuil du temple saint où souvent elle prie,
          L'amour du Tout-Puissant, l'amour de la patrie,
              Dans le devoir national!

II

          Du ciel où vous vivez, de ces célestes dômes,
          Esprits de nos aïeux, ô bien-aimés fantômes,
               Venez contemplez vos enfants.
          Dans le ravissement leur âme se déploie;
          Leur chère liberté, le bonheur et la joie
               Brillent sur leurs fronts triomphants!
          Voyez qu'elle sied bien à leur tête ennoblie,
          La couronne de fleurs que vous avez cueillie, ―
               La couronne de liberté!
          Ils ne l'ont pas flétri, ce lys emblématique;
          Mais ils l'ont cultivé de leur main héroïque
               Comme on cultive un fruit d'été!
Félix-Gabriel Marchand
1832 - 1900
RIP

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20 June 2022

Good Times Never Seemed So Good


Caroline
André Norton and Enid Cushing
New York: Tor, 1983
320 pages


Caroline was published in January 1983, eight months before Enid Cushing's death. Her passing was not recognized by the Montreal Gazette, her hometown's surviving English-language daily, though her family did publish an obituary in the 30 August 1983 edition.


It's no surprise that the Gazette gave Enid Cushing's death no notice; the paper paid little attention to her writing career. Not one of her murder mysteries – Murder’s No Picnic (1953), Murder Without Regret (1954), Blood on My Rug (1956), The Unexpected Corpse (1957), and The Girl Who Bought a Dream (1957) – was reviewed in its pages. The same holds true for the titles she penned in her late-in-life resurrection as a writer of historical romances: Maid-At-Arms (1981) and Caroline (1983).

My interest in Enid Cushing began with the discovery of her 'fifties Montreal mysteries, but I'm much more intrigued by her two romances. Both Maid-At-Arms and Caroline are collaborations with celebrated American science fiction writer Andre Norton (aka André Norton; née Alice Mary Norton). While I've not been able to discover how the two came to work together, I have learned that their friendship dates back to at least 1953, the year Murder's No Picnic was published.


Maid-At-Arms stands with Rosemary Aubert's Firebrand as my very favourite Canadian romance novel. Caroline is a close third. 

The back cover copy is a touch misleading:


Caroline Warwick is indeed young, beautiful, and a free spirit, but she never expresses a wish to study medicine. This is not to suggest that Caroline isn't curious; the earliest scene has her looking to set a kitten's broken leg by consulting medical texts. There are a great many such books in her parents' Montreal home. Caroline's father, one of the city's most respected physicians, lectures at McGill. Elder brother Perry is studying medicine at the university. And then there's Richard: "Richard Harvey (he was not a Warwick at all, although he had lived with them since his mother died when he was born and his father had gone west and died in the wilderness) who seemed to be the truly devoted doctor."

Richard began his education in Canada and furthered it in Scotland. His unanticipated return, pretty new wife in tow, is met with mixed reception in the family's St Gabriel Street home. Doctor Warwick, Mrs Warwick, Caroline, and Perry are happy, but not Priscilla. The fifth member and eldest daughter of the household, Pris had a thing for Richard. It doesn't help that his bride is Lady Amelia, niece of Lord Elgin, the newly installed Governor General of the Province of Canada.

But Pris is something a coquette – "flirting and playacting" is how Irish housemaid Molly puts it – and so she's over it soon enough, turning her attentions of Lord Elgin's aides-de-camp, including Lady Amelia's bounder of a brother Captain Carruthers and dark brute Major Vickers. Before the Governor General's arrival, Pris had time for handsome Corbie Hannacker, the most eligible bachelor in all the province, but she now ignores him, much to the distress of her younger sister. Caroline sees Hannacker as everything Pris should want in a man. Like Richard, he's good, kind, and wonderful, so much so that he continues to visit because he knows how much Caroline, seventeen going on eighteen, admires his horses.

Caroline is a much more conventional romance than the gender-bending Maid-At-Arms. Seasoned readers of the genre will recognize in the early pages that its heroine is destined for Corbie's arms. The question is just how this happy union – there is a wedding – will come to be.

 

Caroline is a well-written, well-crafted novel; the headache-inducing sentence in which Richard is introduced is an anomaly. Given Enid Cushing's awkward mystery novels, one might conclude that Norton's name deserved place of prominence, but I argue otherwise. Norton had no connection with Canada, never mind Montreal – and Caroline is very much a Montreal novel. The action takes place over little more than twelve months in the city's history. Beginning in January 1847 with Lord Elgin's arrival, it incorporates the Summer of Sorrow and the opening of the Montreal & Lachine Railroad, ending in the early months of 1948. Throughout it all, I kept an eye out for historical inaccuracies, yet spotted nothing. I doubt credit goes to Norton, just as I doubt Norton, a science fiction novelist from Cleveland, Ohio, came up with the idea of a historical romance set in mid-nineteenth-century Canada. It's unlikely Caroline will ever be reprinted, but if it is, let's give Enid Cushing equal billing.

Trivia: This Montrealer has memories of a St Gabriel Street, location of the Warwick residence, but I couldn't quite place it. Investigation reveals that it is - unsurprisingly - in the oldest part of the city.

Adolphus Bourne, Map of the City of Montreal, 1843 (detail)
Three short blocks in length, it was once home to the Scotch Presbyterian Church. Its story was recorded by Rev Robert Campbell, "the last pastor," in A History of the Scotch Presbyterian Church, Saint Gabriel Street, Montreal (Montreal: Drysdale, 1887). Amongst the subscribers is a man named Charles Cushing. 

Object and Access: A decaying mass market paperback. The cover illustration is by New Brunswicker Norm Eastman, best known for men's magazine covers like this:

New Man, October 1968

I purchased my copy last year for US$5.79 from an Ohio bookseller. 

As far as I can tell, not one Canadian library holds a copy.

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13 June 2022

An Old Novel of Misspent Youth



Blaze of Noon
Jeann Beattie
Toronto: Ryserson, 1950
353 pages

The sixth winner of Ryerson's in-house All-Canada Fiction Award, the publisher made much of Jeann Beattie. As the first woman and youngest person to win the award, her victory was played up on the back jacket.

Good thing I didn't read it before the novel; it would've put me off. 


Blaze of Noon begins in fictitious Weldon, Ontario, a community almost certainly based on St Catharines, the author's hometown. Young reporter Jan Fredericks, the narrator, meets even younger reporter Reed Alexander, and a friendship is struck. Both work for the Banner, Weldon's only newspaper. Snide copy boy Tommy suggests that the two gals wouldn't have their jobs if not for the war.

He's probably right. Both were hired to fill in for guys fighting overseas.

Reed tires of the constraints of a small Canadian city and looks to New York where a friend offers a job working for the British Government. Reed is certain that she can get Jan in too, and so the pair purchase train tickets for Grand Central Station.

Jan and Reed find a flat in Greenwich Village, adopt a stay cat, and attend parties populated by people who are considered good connections. They date and sometimes double-date Tim and Pete, two thirty-somethings who are both fifteen years their senior. Nothing is made of the age difference.

Blonde-haired, blue-eyed Reed, the more attractive of the two girls (this according to Jan), begins the novel as something of an ice queen. In Weldon, she's followed about by many men, the most devoted puppy being Richard Campbell, RCAF:
We heard later he had been killed in his first bombing mission. When I told Reed she sat silently in the chair, her body rigid, her eyes deepened to black and her face white. "Poor baby," she said "poor baby."
An unanticipated thaw sets in when Reed meets tall RAF officer Lauri Conroy. She's smitten, even though he treats Reed much as she'd teated her admirers. Eventually, Lauri returns to Europe, leaving her very weepy. On the rebound, Reed lands on moody John Schaeffer. When he comes out as a communist, the slow-moving story shifts to a stuttering crawl as Jan, Reed, Tim, Pete, and John discuss political philosophy and theory. They do this in letters, at restaurants, at parties, at each other's flats, on the street, and atop 30 Rockefeller Center. Really, the dialogue isn't much different after John is introduced, there's just more of it. Consider this early example, from Jan and Reed's first double-date with Tim and Pete:


Is it any wonder that Tim and Pete are bachelors?

The most interesting and atmospheric passages in the novel involve Jan and Reed's early days in New York, but like everything else, descriptions of the city and its culture soon give way to conversations about communism. The worst of it comes when Jan, Reed, Tim, and Pete visit to a "celebrated live joint on Second Avenue where one might hear the pure jazz." Once seated, they offer a tired-looking elderly man a place at their table. No jazz "enthusiast," he'd entered the club only to warm up. He too has thoughts on communism, which is shared over the course of six pages. 

Here are two. Feel free to skip. There will be no test.

cliquez pour agrandir
And the band played on.

It's all so exhausting. Dinner parties are ruined by page after page of back and forth bickering between John, the communist, and Jan, the champion of liberalism. Reed is too late in standing up to it all:
"Let's not talk about Communism or Democracy or any other political belief any more. You two argue, but you never convince each other. So... let's just stop talking about it."
Yes, stop. Please. Please, stop.

But it doesn't stop, dragging on long after John and Reed are through. After their break-up, Pete invites Jan, Reed, and Tim to yet another dinner at his apartment. "I take it," Reed says, "that we are to talk Communism."
"More intellectualizing?" Tim said with a yawn.
     "Who's intellectualizing? Pete's eyebrows lifted. "Although I was thinking of the last conversation we had before this fireplace.
     "That's right," Tim took out his pipe and began to fill it.
     "We settled it all nicely as I recall. There were some high-flown phrases I still don't get, but we tied up things. Now what shall we discuss? Books? The theatre?
     "Certainly not," Pete dug deeper into his chair. "As I recall we approached it from a psychological angle."
     "Approached it, " Tim groaned, "All right Socrates, make with the words. Don't leave us hanging..."
And yet Socrates couldn't say whether Hades was real.

Blaze of Noon was Jeann Beattie's first novel. Published when she was twenty-eight, it reads like the work of an even younger writer, less seasoned writer. It captures something of the curiosity and earnestness of youth, but little of its passion. Books? The theatre? Do any of these people have no interests outside political philosophy?

The front flap of the Ryerson edition – there was no other – promoted Blaze at Noon as "the most gripping story of 1950." The publisher's newspaper adverts describe it as the most timely: 

Regina Leader-Post, 21 October 1950
Strangers on a Train is the most gripping story of 1950.

Given last month's leak in the republic to the south, the most timely novel of 1950 may be Margaret Millar's Do Evil in Return.

How I wish it was otherwise.

Object: A bulky hardcover. The dust jacket design is uncredited. Its rear flap, listing past winners of the Ryerson All-Canada Fiction Award, is nothing less than depressing.


Access: Held by Library and Archives Canada, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, the Kingston-Frontenac Public Library, and six of our academic libraries. As of this writing, one copy – one – is listed for sale online. A Very Good copy lacking dust jacket, at US$15.00 it seems a deal.


06 June 2022

Accidents Never Happen in a Perfect World



Murder by Accident
Leonie Mason [Joan Suter]
London: C. & J. Temple, 1947
200 pages

Guy Warren is a demobbed major. The war over, he seeks rest and relaxation at Green Acres, an American-styled retreat in the English countryside. Henry and Christie Burton serve as host and hostess. Fellow guests include middle-aged middlebrow novelist Anna Rawlings, her much younger husband Frank, and her overworked secretary Angela Nash. Soon to be divorced brassy blonde Lydia French and wealthy hotelier George Hesketh round out Green Acres' vacationers. 

Was there a time in which hotel guests gathered in the common room for evenings of conversation and bridge? Murder by Accident suggests as much. With the sun setting on Guy's first day at Green Acres, Lydia begins making moves. He enjoys the attention until pretty Angela enters in the room.

The next morning, host Henry has to deal with novelist Anna turning up late for breakfast. On a typical day, this hour is set aside for going over business in private with Christie. Anna intrudes, takes a generous helping of eggs and mushrooms, retires to her room, becomes violently ill, and dies. Henry does better in that he survives.

The coroner is called, blame is placed on the local grocer for providing toadstools, and everyone moves on but not out. All stay at Green Acres, Guy and newly-unemployed Angela included; their burgeoning romance is fed by a shared conviction that Anna was murdered.

Joan Suter's second novel, Murder by Accident followed her first, East of Temple Bar by a matter of months. Of the two, I prefer the former, but only for its autobiographical elements.

Murder by Accident isn't terrible. Its most obvious flaw lies in the title, which serves as something of a spoiler. While Guy and Angela talk and talk and talk, positing this theory and that about Anna's death, the reader knows that the novelist's murder wasn't intentional.

The book's greatest flaw lies in its climax. I regret to report that this is one of those mysteries in which the murderer is given the opportunity to murder again so as to be caught in the act. Worst still, the intended method is absurd.

I'll say no more, but will be happy to share with the curious. You may just laugh.

Trivia: Both East of Temple Bar and Murder by Accident were thrown aside, never to be acknowledged after the author's emigration to Canada. As Joan Walker, wife of James Rankin Walker, the former Joan Suter (aka Leone Walker) wrote three more books: Pardon My Parka (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1954; winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour), Repent at Leisure (Toronto: Ryerson, 1957; winner of the Ryerson Fiction Prize), and Marriage of Harlequin (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1962; it won nothing). She lived a further thirty-five years after the last, but published no further books.

Object: A post-war artefact, Murder by Accident is a cheap production bound in flimsy red boards with delicate wraps. I paid eight pounds for my copy. Its dust jacket promotes The Attic Murder and Four Callers in Razor Street, two Temple mysteries by Sydney Fowler. How's this for a jacket illustration?


Access: I can find no evidence that any library has Murder by Accident in its holdings. A bookseller in Blackpool has listed a copy sans jacket at £7.25. After that, there's nothing.

Get it while you can!  

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03 June 2022

Reading Writing About Richard Rohmer


Lieutenant-General Richard Rohmer's commanding countenance graces the cover of the new issue of Zoomer, just now hitting the stands. A cover boy at 98, his appearance owes something to Her Majesty's Platinum Jubilee. In the corresponding article, "A General Fit for a Queen," Ian Coutts writes of Rohmer's decades-long relationship with our monarch, his life, his various careers, and his bestselling thrillers.

I'm honoured to have been interviewed for the piece. An elementary school discovery, Richard Rohmer was my very first favourite Canadian author. Eight years ago, with pals Chris Kelly and Stanley Whyte, I resolved to read every single one of his books. We very nearly succeeded. The blog Reading Richard Rohmer documents our adventure. 

Richard Rohmer hasn't published a new book since 2007's Ultimatum 2. And so, I was excited to read this in Ian's article: "As we wind down the interview, Rohmer hands me the dazzling, fiery abstract cover design for the non-fiction book he is working on, about high air temperatures in the Rockies and melting permafrost."

How's that for a teaser?

Long live the queen!

Long live the general!

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01 June 2022

The Dustiest Bookcase: W is for Wiseman


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

Testimonial Dinner
Adele Wiseman
Toronto: Prototype, 1978
58 pages

Adele Wiseman died thirty years ago today.

Still unread – by me, anyway – this copy of Testimonial Dinner was brought out of storage by a savvy bookseller the next day.

$15.00

Signed. 

I was an easy mark.

A play, Testimonial Dinner has the very look of a self-published book. Perhaps it was. In The Force of Vocation: The Literary Career of Adele Wiseman (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba, 2006), Ruth Panofsky, writes that it was "printed privately for the author."

I may not have read Testimonial Dinner, but I have read and reread the back cover. In my twenties, it seemed unbelievable. Thirty years later, Wiseman's experience doesn't surprise me in the least.


I really should read this book.

30 May 2022

Walking in on Virginia Box and Baird Rodd



The Girl From H.A.R.D.: Virginia Box and the "Unsatisfied"
James Moffatt
London: New English Library, 1974
112 pages 

I first visited the UK in 1974, arriving on a British Airways jet still painted in BOAC colours. My mother had brought us – my sister and myself – to meet relatives and friends of our late father. She gave me fifteen pounds, by far the most money I'd ever held held, which I spent it on a hardcover copy of the most recent Guinness Book of Records, a SHADO Interceptor, and a SHADO 2 Mobile.

The SHADO Dinkys have proven good investments – I have them still – but if I could go back in time, I would buy every copy of Skinhead, Suedehead, Demo, Boot Boys, Skinhead Escapes, Skinhead Girls, Glam, Smoothies, Sorts, Teeny Bopper Idol, Top Gear Skin, Trouble for Skinhead, and Skinhead Farewell I could find. Written by Canadian James Moffatt, sold for 30p, few can be purchased for under one hundred quid today. 

The Girl from H.A.R.D.: Virginia Box and the "Unsatisfied" was published during that 1974 summer in England. The second novel in the series, Moffatt presumes that the reader has read the first (right). I had not, but found it took little time to get up to speed. H.A.R.D. is the Hemisphere Administration for Regional Defence. Virginia Box – "leggy, busty blonde" – is its most valued agent. Baird Rodd is her superior. He sits on a "phallic-backed chair" behind a buttock-shaped "erotic desk."

Juvenile stuff, right? But things turn very dark in the fourth and fifth pages with Virginia working to procure an abortion for Ima Kissoff. Here the uninitiated are given a sense of what transpired in the the first Virginia Box novel. A Soviet agent, Ima was defeated by H.A.R.D., and at some point was raped by a man named Willi Kumm.

The Girl from H.A.R.D.: Virginia Box and the "Unsatisfied" is a lighter read. Our heroine is assigned to infiltrate Connie and the "Unsatisfied" (always in quotation marks), a rock band suspected of having ties with T.R.U.S.S. (Terrorism, Revolution and Underground Specialists in Sabotage). Much is made about lead singer Connie Linguistam being a lesbian, as are T.R.U.S.S. higher-ups Dolores Glamm and Magda Hott:
It stank of Rodd manipulation. As if her boss had deliberately put the computers to work and punched Box against lesbian and waited for a tray of cards to provide him with some inner, perverted sense of achievement.
May as well add that Ima Kissoff is also a lesbian.

Virginia's value to the agency is a sexuality so great that it can destroy creepy H.A.R.D. scientist Dr Spill's "sex computer" Exita (EXItments Transmitted into Action). Everyone is attracted to Virgina Box and wants to bed her. Club owner Dick Long gets lucky, but only because the agent was feeling amorous. There are no sex scenes, nor is there anything particularly sexy. Nothing else is so hot or inept as this passage:
Quickly now, she dressed. When she finished she postured before the mirrors again. The small, uplift brassiere did nothing except emphasise how firm her breasts really were and hoe exciting their nipples could be when fully awakened. The transparent blouse let every man see this. And the mini-skirt only served too whet appetites which could not, after one glance, have failed to be already whetted. Curvaceous legs, more curvaceous thighs beckoned sensually.
     "You're a sight for sore, lecherous eyes," she told her glassy self.
Late in the novel, Moffatt Rodd decides Virginia must uncover the identity of the man funding T.R.U.S.S. This she does by determining that his true initials are the reverse of those in his false name.

"'That's all you had to work on?' the man asked incredulously."

Yep.

All in all a frustrating, disappointing read. And not because it didn't last long.


Trivia:
The Girl from H.A.R.D. was retired after a third adventure, Perfect Assignment (1975), in which she crosses paths with Perfect Laye, queen of the London underworld. 

Object and Access: A slim softcover. If WorldCat is to believed  – why should it? – only the National Library of Scotland has a copy. Mine was bought four years ago. I see only one copy listed for sale online. At US$9.96 it might seem a bargain, but the bookseller lists the shipping from New Zealand to Canada at an even US$37.00. 

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13 May 2022

$2 Connors


I will pay no more than two dollars on a book by Ralph Connor. This policy has stood me well. To date, my Connor collection consists of eighteen volumes – nearly all first editions – purchased at a total cost of thirty dollars and fifty cents.

This 1901 Westminster copy of The Man from Glengarry is the oldest. One bookseller believed it to be a first edition, and hoped that it would bring twenty dollars. Perhaps it did. I rescued it from a pile of books considered too damaged to be sold in a Friends of St Marys Public Library book sale.


The very first Connor I ever bought is this Triangle edition of The Runner, his 1929 novel of the War of 1812. The only one to have a dust jacket, I was won over by the publisher's description. 

I found this 1917 McClelland, Goodchild & Stewart edition of The Major at an outdoor bookstall in London, Ontario. It's in pretty rough shape, but at one dollar I couldn't resist. Besides, it was about to rain.

Imagine my surprise in discovering this inscription after returning home:

I bought this copy of The Prospector for two dollars from a bookseller who knew it was signed. He'd given up on his dreams of making $9.95... or even $5.00. 


Beautiful penmanship, don't you think?

You too can own a signed Connor! They can be purchased online for as little as US$12.00.

Too dear for me.

I began this piece forgetting that I'd mentioned my $2 Connor policy in a 2016 review of The Man from Glengarry. At the time, my collection consisted of sixteen titles. In the six years that have followed that number has grown by only two.

Has inflation taken its toll? Is two dollars now too low? Should be I raising my cut-off to three dollars? Four?

What think you?


02 May 2022

Ralph Connor's Canada Dry



Corporal Cameron of the North West Mounted Police:
   A Tale of the MacLeod Trail

Ralph Connor [Charles W. Gordon]
Toronto: Westminster, 1912
454 pages

We begin on an Inverleith rugby pitch. Scotland is up against Wales in the International. It's a close contest, in part because Allan Cameron, fierce-fighting half-back of the Scottish line, hasn't been playing up to snuff. In the dying minutes, the Scots get a lucky break when the ball comes tumbling Cameron's way. He hesitates, and the promise of victory turns to defeat.

"Oh-h-h-h, Cam-er-on!" is the novel's first sentence. What has happened to Scotland's star player?

The answer is drink.

This is not to suggest that Cameron was under the influence during the game, rather that "he was out of condition; he had let himself run down last week, since the last match, indeed, got out of hand a bit."

The loss isn't the worst of it. Days later, Cameron faces arrest for passing a forged cheque. He doesn't remember doing so, but is unable to deny the charge because... well, you know, drink. 

The half-back is saved from arrest by Miss Brody, rugby-loving niece of the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Bank of Scotland, and Cameron's conscience is later cleared when a dishonourable drinking buddy owns up to the crime. However, the damage has been done; Cameron has decided to give up drink, give up his studies, and make a new life for himself in Canada, envisioning himself "a wealthy rancher, ranging over square miles of his estate upon a 'bucking broncho,' garbed in the picturesque cowboy dress."

Instead, he ends up a low-level clerk at a Montreal shipping company.

The job doesn't last long – something to do with losing his temper and throwing his superior against a wall – and so, newly unemployed, Cameron does what we've all done in the same situation by taking in a travelling circus. There he chances upon farmer Tom Haley and his son Timmy who've come to the city to take in the show and purchase provisions for the family farm. Sadly, young freckle-faced Timmy winds up outside one of the drinking tents dotting the circus grounds as inside his father – rather sloshed – begins dipping into the money meant for baking flour and such. Cameron comes to the rescue by dragging Tom out, beating back "circus toughs" in the process.

Grateful and somewhat sobered by the violence, Tom offers our hero a position on his farm, twelve miles outside of town. Cameron accepts. Before long, he's proven himself an expert milker of cows, hoer of beets, player of bagpipes, and temperate role model to young Timmy. Over the course of the growing season, unrefined Mandy, the farmer's daughter, falls for the new hired hand, which scares Cameron into setting out for the West.

Corporal Cameron of the North West Mounted Police is divided fairly evenly into three books, each with very different settings: Inverleith, Montreal and surrounding countryside, and the Canadian West. As a reader I found the first the most entertaining. As a Montrealer, the second held some interest, but only because it depicted a unilingual city that never existed. The last third, in which our hero finds an enemy in a whiskey trader, held the most action, but there's only so much fisticuffs and gunplay I can take. Its depiction of "our Indians" and mythologizing of the NWMP was particularly hard to stomach:

To the whole country the advent of the police proved an incalculable blessing. But to the Indian tribes especially was this the case. The natives soon learned to regard the police officers as their friends. In them they found protection from the unscrupulous traders who had hitherto cheated them without mercy or conscience, as well as from the whiskey runners through whose devilish activities their people had suffered irreparable loss.
     The administration of the law by the officers of the police with firm and patient justice put an end also to the frequent and bloody wars that had prevailed previously between the various tribes, till, by these wild and savage people the red coat came to be regarded with mingled awe and confidence, a terror to evil-doers and a protection to those that did well.
In the introduction to his anthology Best Mounted Police Stories (Edmonton: U of Alberta Press, 1978), Dick Harrison writes that Connor "did more to create the literary image of the Mountie than any other writer." He doesn't say whether this is a good thing, but I'll suggest it is not.


At the end of it all, I was left wondering whether early readers of Corporal Cameron of the North West Mounted Police were a touch disappointed. As Connor's title suggests, Cameron does indeed join the force, but this doesn't happen until the twenty-second of the novel's twenty-five chapters. By this point, I'd long since lost interest; the late introductions of Big Bear, Crowfoot, Louis Riel, and other historic figures to Cameron's story only irritated.  

Ultimately, Corporal Cameron of the North West Mounted Police turned out to be another of those novels that gets off to a fairly good start, but quickly loses momentum, grows tired and begins to wander, much like Cameron on the pitch at Inverleith.

I've nothing more to add. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get a drink.

Bloomer: "When a fellow gets on the bum and gets into a hole he knows well that there'll be a lot of people tumbling over each other to get him out, hence he deliberately and cheerfully slides in."


Trivia:
 The novel was adapted to the silent screen in 1921 as Cameron of the Royal Mounted; an interesting title change given that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had replaced the North-West Mounted Police (note the hyphen) just the previous year.

Filmed in Banff, directed by son of Toronto Henry MacRae, unlike the vast majority of silent-era films Cameron of the Royal Mounted is not lost!

Well, not entirely.

The first three of its nine reels are preserved at Library and Archives Canada.

Object and Access: An embossed hardcover, typical of its time, mine is a first Canadian edition. The book was purchased eight years ago in London, Ontario. At most, it set me back two dollars.

Used copies are plentiful and cheap. Of those listed for sale online, Doran's first American edition in uncommon dust jacket is the one to buy. Price: US$40.00.

The Internet Archive offers several editions online, including the Westminster, which can be be read through this link. Sadly, there was no photoplay edition.

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