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?


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


(La Saint-Jean-Baptiste)

          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!


          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

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20 June 2022

Good Times Never Seemed So Good

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 the 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.



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.