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."


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

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. 

Related posts:

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."

 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.

Related posts:

01 May 2022

Is This the Dominion's Only Goose Girl Poem?

Now that National Poetry Month is over, a poem for May by Virna Sheard, pride of Cobourg, Ontario, from Candle Flame (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1926).

It follows verse in which she rightly praises postmen.


I saw a lovely lady walk along a leafy lane,
When primroses were blowing and the cuckoo sang again;
She wore a ruffled gown of pink, a hat of rosy hues,
And twinkling silver buckles on her little high-heeled shoes;
     Most daintily she carried a tall tasselled cane,
     While a small beribboned poodle came following in her train.

Then said I to the morning sun: "O do not let her pass!
A more bewitching, beauteous maid ne'er owned a looking-glass!
And if she turns in any gate, and goes I know not where,
It's probable I'll never see another maid as fair!
     Without the faintest knowledge of her charming name, alas!
     I sallied forth to meet her across the young green grass.

My hand upon my fluttering heart, I bowed extremely low,
And said: "A thousand pardons, but my way I do not know,
For since I chanced to see you from yon blossoming orchard tree,
The West is East, the South is North,—and all the same to me!
     And I have not any notion which way the four winds blow,
     Or on what highroad, up or down, t'would be the best to go!

"Of your kindness pray direct me to the left—or to the right;—
(You really should—because 'tis you have put my wits to flight,)
And I'd be quite madly joyful, and grateful this sweet day
If it should hap, by any luck, that your way was my way.
     There surely never was a morn more gay and golden-bright,
     And I have not a thing to do, but walk about till night."

Alack! That shining lady in that green primrosy lane,
Turned first to whitest marble—and then turned back again!
Her cheeks flamed red with fury—and her eyes flamed black with rage,
And she looked at me as might a queen at a good-for-nothing page!
     She tossed her head, and firmly, set down the tasselled cane,
     "I do not know you Sir!" she said,—and walked on with disdain.

"Beauty altogether perfect, cannot possibly be rude,"
Said I, and went the other way—but in a chastened mood;
Nor did I start a-whistling—as on such a day one should—
Till I reached the village common where a little goose-girl stood,
     Egad! The prettiest goose-girl that I have ever viewed!
     (Her flock was one grey gosling, by a frantic dog pursued.)

But tears were falling from her eyes, her eyes of blue-bell blue;
So I said: "Come! Come! Now what's amiss? Why all of this ado?"
And she cried: "O Sir! My darling geese! Of them I am bereft!
Of all the lovely twenty-five, there's only this one left!
     What shall I do! What shall I do! Whatever shall I do!
     The huntsmen came a-riding by—and all my geese just flew!"

I could not bear to see a little maiden so forlorn,
(I noticed that her curls were just the color of ripe corn;)
"Why go along with me!" said I, "tame geese will not fly far, 
And you and I together will discover where they are!"
     So hand in hand we hunted geese that mellow May-day morn,
     And I found that little goose-girl was a rose without a thorn.

Related posts: