20 November 2023

An Alvin Schwartz Cover Cavalcade

Alvin Schwartz's debut novel, The Blowtop, was published in 1946 by Dial Press. It followed dozens of shorter works, including: "His Lordship's Double" (Batman #21), "Superman's Search for Clark Kent" (Superman #32), "The Toughest School in the World" (Superboy #10), and at least eight comic romance stories titled "A Date With Judy" (A Date With Judy #1-3).

I've not read The Blowtop, but it sounds right up my alley:

Le Cinglé, its French translation, was a bestseller overseas.

Le Cinglé
Paris: L'élan, 1950

Schwartz wrote or co-wrote six other novels, all of which were issued as "Sophisticates" by Arco, a publisher previously known for The Handy Manual of House Care and Repair (1949) and How to Win Prize Contests (1950). I've read and written about a couple of Schwartz's Sophisticates, Touchable and Hot Star, but I'm not sure I'll bother with the others. They're becoming increasingly rare, increasingly expensive, and... well, truth be told, those I have tackled haven't been terribly interesting. To be frank, I'd much rather read "The Superwoman of Metropolis!", which Schwartz wrote for Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane #8.  

Do not be fooled by the publisher's descriptions, Arco Sophisticates promise much more than they deliver: 

Sinful Daughter
New York: Arco, 1951
SINFUL DAUGHTER is different, unlike any book Jack Woodford has ever written. Sabra is the daughter who tries to tear herself away from her mother's wickedness because she fears her own weakness and voluptuous nature. Reared amid scenes of splendor and debauchery, she has never succumbed to temptation. To avoid trouble she submerges herself in mediocrity and through error finally discovers the right way of life for her. A very exciting book.
New York: Arco, 1951
From young Arch Rader, Ruth learned of passion. From Blackie Dawson she learned of love. From Mike, the bartender, she learned of bestial lust, and its unexplainable allure. From Tony, the lesbian, she learned of the strange, exotic, frightening fasination of abnormal relations. From Bruno she learned the utter depths of degradation. And from Clare, she learned the terror, the hopeless despair of dope. And at the last, out of this inferno, which had her helpess in its grip, she learned the possibility of redemption... from herself.
City Girl
New York: Arco, 1951
You may know a number of girls in the city, but you've never met anyone like Clio Haven. Never, that is, unless you travelled with the bootlegging set of Prohibition Chicago. Clio was a bootlegger's girl; bootlegging was Clio's security. Then in walked Bob, Logan, and half the Chicago police force to help her change her mind. it would make any girl wonder if it's safe to be desirable.

Sword of Desire
New York: Arco, 1952
Big City corruption and gambling successfully withstand a Senate Committee investigation, until psychiatrist Dr. Varesi's mysterious power works to reveal the secrets of the women involved. The ironic result is as unusual as it is intriguing.
Hot Star
New York: Arco, 1952
Maybe the thing that happened to Betty Frenck could happen to any young actress. She became a star of illegitimate pictures; became, too, a creature of desire and passion, caught in the magical spell of Director Perepoint's talent, and a victim of Producer Kern's contempt for all women. Whatever your opinion of her, you're sure to agree that there's never been a HOT STAR like Betty, either in or out of pictures. 
Man Made
New York: Arco, 1952
Man Maid is a bit of a mystery; all I've ever seen is its cover. 

I like to think that Alvin Schwartz made good money with Arco, but have my doubts. Late in life, he wrote two memoirs, of a kind, which may or may not support my skepticism. The first, An Unlikely Prophet, went through two editions. Originally self-published, the second edition replaces the subtitle and cover to emphasise his work with DC.

An Unlikely Prophet: Revelations on the Path Without Form
[np]: Divina, 1997
An Unlikely Prophet:
A Metaphysical Memoir by the Legendary Writer of Superman and Batman

Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2006

A Gathering of Selves: The Spiritual Journey of the Legendary Writer of Superman and Batman (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2006) was his last published work.

Alvin Schwartz died five years later. By all accounts, he left this world from his Chesterville home, roughly fifty kilometres southeast of downtown Ottawa. 

Alvin Schwartz
17 November 1919, New York, New York
28 October 2011, Chesterville, Ontario
Who am I kidding.

Researching this piece, I happened upon a Minnesota bookseller who was selling a lot of twelve "erotic" books at a price that amounts to fifteen dollars apiece. Sword of Desire and Man Maid were two of the twelve.

I bought the twelve for those two.

You knew I would.

Related posts:

13 November 2023

Dick Tricks Chicks Into Hot Pix!

Hot Star
Robert W. Tracy [Alvin Schwartz]
New York: Arco, 1952
179 pages

Betty and Bob's honeymoon was a disaster, but don't blame the bride. Bob had been burned – their nuptial room didn't even feature a bath – yet he couldn't bring himself to complain to the front desk. The clerk had spotted him as a virgin, and Bob wasn't about to subject himself to further humiliation. Betty too had been a virgin. She'd imagined their wedding night as one of romance, sensuality, and tender passion, only to have her groom become a pouty, demanding man-child:

"I thought when we talked it over you understood – that a man's got to... Oh why can't you be sensible about it, Betty? You – you act as though I'm not your husband. Haven't I got a right after all this waiting? What are you trying to do – torture me more?
There would be no dinner, no dancing, and no time to change into something more comfortable.

Flash forward two weeks. The couple are still married, if not entirely happily. Bob works the assembly line at the Ross Machinery Company, while Betty spends her days keeping their tiny rented home. Her nights are spent warding off Bob's advances – often unsuccessfully – "wondering if that was all sex was; something for a man to enjoy."

Betty's dreams of becoming a professional actress make life somewhat bearable – what's more, it gets her out of the house. Cast as the lead in a community theatre production of Anna, a drama about a boozy floozy, she researches the role by pulling up a stool at a local bar. Lest anything go wrong, Bob sits in the adjoining dining room.

A handsome man in brown gaberdine topcoat buys Betty a highball. Betty is certain he's trying to pick her up, until he introduces himself as Carl Perepoint, a director at Experimental Motion Picture Studios: "You don't mean you are interested in me as-as – Oh, no! I can't believe it."

In fact, Perepoint was trying to pick her up, but Betty's mention of nearby Bob put an end to that.

And what of Bob? What is his dream? Well, he hopes to one day leave the assembly line for a career as a comic strip artist. If anything, this is an even more uncommon occupation than professional actress, but it would've been familiar to Alvin Schwartz, who between 1942 and 1959 wrote for DC Comics. Bizarro Superman was one of his creations.

I make a point in mentioning this because the introduction of Perepoint propels Hot Star along a path in which we find tropes belonging to comics' Golden Age. Consider Experimental Motion Picture Studios, which is located in a failed amusement park and is owned by a mysterious crime syndicate.

Perepoint would have Betty believe that Experimental is just that – experimental – and is the latest venture of an unnamed Hollywood studio. He takes advantage of the newlywed's naïveté to score footage of her in the flesh, assuring the actress that that this "professional screen test" is an industry standard: "It's very simple Betty... Before we invest money in a girl, we must know her figure as an artist would know it."

Hot Star isn't exactly hot stuff, but then no Arco Sophisticate is. Ellipses serve to suggest.

Perepoint provides Betty with coffee and cigarettes spiked with a drug that promotes sexual arousal. As the it takes effect, he puts on a record, Festival of Aphrodite, and Betty strips.

The girl can't help it.

From this point on, Betty acts as a Pavlovian bitch, becoming aroused whenever the music plays. 

Remove the sex and drugs from these dance scenes and you have an ideal tale for Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane. A better story, buried within the early chapters, involves Frank Legault, who works the assembly line beside Bob: "He was a powerfully built, blond young man of thirty-one and, despite he handicap of his artificial legs, could stand up at a bench or drilling press for hours."

Frank lost his lower limbs in the war. He peddles pornographic photos  on the side and has started screening spicy films at the local union hall with the goal of earning enough money to open a small novelty store. His wife wants to help, but her vision is failing. She's learning Braille.

Frank's is not as sophisticated a story as Betty and Bob's, but isn't it the one you'd rather read? Is it not more real?

I've always preferred Earth-One to Bizarro World.

Favourite passage: Questions regarding punctuation, capitalization, and more are best left addressed to the Arco editor. 

He told her that he was going to star her in an adaptation of the Madame Bovary classic, with emphasis on nude love scenes. "especially that scene in the garden where Madame Bovary keeps a tryst with her new lover, while her husband is asleep inside. How does that appeal to you Betty?"
     "I've always wanted to play Madame Bovary," she said.

Trivia: Though Hot Star was published sixteen years before Alvin Schwartz left the United States for Canada, there is Canadian content. The second night of Betty and Bob's honeymoon takes place in Montreal: 

Their so awfully disappointing second night, when they drank wine, and Bob, instead of becoming an exciting lover under its influence, only became silly and had burst out laughing even while he... until what might have been glorious fulfillment to their romance had become a joke... on her. This stranger, or that Frenchman, she felt sure, would have made her feel... feel.... 

Object: Cheap paper bound in sturdy yellow boards. The novel proper is followed by nine pages of adverts for other Arco titles, beginning with Touchable (1951), co-written by Schwartz and 

Access: One copy is listed for sale online; at US$15.00, it's a steal. Evidence suggests that not even Library and Archives Canada has a copy.

Go get it!

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11 November 2023

Remembrance Day

Daniel Issac Vernon Eaton was the father of novelist Evelyn Eaton, whose 1940 international bestseller Quietly My Captain Waits was reviewed here this past April. Known as Vernon, he was born on 19 September 1869 at Salmon River, Nova Scotia. Eaton was a civil engineer, surveyor, typographer, and geologist, but believed military service to be his true calling. At twenty-six, he left a good position at the Geological Survey of Canada for a career as a soldier. Eaton served in the South African War and the Great War, during which he was promoted to lieutenant-colonel.

Records indicate that during the latter conflict his wife, Myra Eaton (née Fitz Randolph), relocated from Kingston to London. It's possible, but not certain, that daughter Evelyn was living in the Big Smoke when news was received that her father had been killed whilst preparing to take Vimy Ridge.

Eaton's entry in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography is recommended. Written by Glenn Wright, it concludes:

Vernon Eaton was tall and handsome with steely grey eyes and a dark complexion. He was keenly aware of his Eaton family heritage and proudly wore a tattoo of the family crest on his right arm. Twice he was mentioned in dispatches for gallant and distinguished service in the field. In many ways he epitomizes the professional soldier in Canada in the period from the 1890s to World War I. With opportunities for training and for active service, Eaton carved out a promising career for himself as an experienced artillery officer of the first rank, only to lose his life on the eve of Canada’s greatest military achievement of the Great War.

Daniel Issac Vernon Eaton
19 September 1869, Salmon River, Nova Scotia, Canada
11 April 1917, Vimy Ridge, France

02 November 2023

Abraham's Bosom and the Great Change of Life

Abraham's Bosom
Basil King
New York: Harper & Brothers, 1918
54 pages

A short story masquerading as a novella, Abraham's Bosom first appeared in the March 30, 1918 edition of The Saturday Evening Post. Its publication nearly coincided with Germany's devastating spring offensive, which resulted in more than 862,000 Allied dead and wounded. 

Abraham's Bosom begins in a doctor's office. Berkley Noone, first rector of St Thomas, is told that he is suffering from the very same rare disease that had afflicted organist Ned Angel. A "near-sighted fellow with a limp," Angel had trained the choir of St Thomas for forty years – "without salary" – only to be dismissed by Noone after sharing his diagnosis.

Abraham's Bosom frontispiece.
The organist died two months later.

After receiving his own diagnosis, Noone walks about the city a bit before taking to his death bed. As he lies dying, the reverend reflects upon on his marriage and children. Wife Emily hovers about, propping him up in what she insists are the most comfortable positions. Their five children, whom he considers disappointments, visit from time to time. All are present during his final moments as the reverend gazes somewhat vacantly at an engraving of his favourite painting, William Homan Hunt's The Light of the World. His eyes see the lantern glowing brighter and brighter until it outshines the afternoon sun.

It takes time for Noone to recognize his passing. He'd expected an instant in which his soul would "tear its way out of his body and he should be thrust, a naked, quivering bundle of spiritual nerves, before angels and archangels and principalities and powers, and a God whose first question would be that which was put to Cain: "What hast thou done?"

Instead, he's met by Ned Angel.

As a story, Abraham's Bosom is much shorter than it appears. The diagnosis, wandering, and death bed scenes are brief; the better part of the book involves theological discussion as Angel sets Noone straight on things theosophical and what the reverend may expect now that he has passed through the "great change." It was followed six months later by King's far superior Going West, which concerns a ghostly journey shared by German and American soldiers who have killed each another in battle. 

Both are products of the author's growing interest in spiritualism, sown in Flanders and other bloody fields. In this respect, he was far from alone amongst bestselling authors – Arthur Conan Doyle, for example – but he did stand out as a popular Anglican minister who challenged church doctrine. Reverend King did not believe in death, rather the continuance of life. In Reverend Noone's case, as with everyone, there is no sudden tearing of the soul from the body, rather a gentle imperceptible "great change."

That term – "great change" – features three times in the text, and on the first of three different dust jackets Harper used to sell book (above). I suspect King himself wrote its words. Note the second paragraph:
This story will bring Comfort and Consolation to many who are in trouble of mind about the Hereafter.
In the Hereafter, as King believes it to be, those who have passed through this great change see things with different eyes. Berkley Noone sees his wife and children as themselves but themselves glorified:
Emily was again the dryad of their youthful days; but a dryad with ways of light and tenderness he had never known her to possess. Each of the children was bathed in the same beautifying radiance. He knew them – and yet he didn't know them. All he could affirm of them exactly was that his doubts and worryings and disappointments on account of them were past. He felt what Angel had just been telling him, that he was waking from some troubled dream on their behalf.
Noone's familial relationships will continue. As with the soldiers in Going West, he will be able to visit and even communicate. 

If anything, Reverend King's The Abolishing of Death (1919), an account of his experiences communicating with nineteenth-century chemist Henry Talbot – but not really – would've brought further comfort and consolation to the greiving.

Knowing the date of composition, some nine months before the Armistice, what struck me most about Abraham's Bosom is its disconnect from the Great War.  The conflict, which plays such a part in his novels  The High Heart (1917), Going West (1918), The Thread of Flame (1920), The Empty Sack (1921) is not so much as mentioned. Or might it be that the allusion is subtle? Here's Ned Angel:
"How are the Children of Dust making use of the knowledge they've gained during the last fifty years of their counting? Is it to help one another? Is it to benefit themselves? Is it to make the world happier, or more peaceful, or more prosperous? Haven't they taken all their new resources, all their increased facilities, all their approximations to Truth, all their approaches to God – the things which belonged to their peace, as Jesus of Nazareth called them – and made them instruments of mutual destruction? Aren't they straining their ingenuity to devise undreamed-of methods for doing one another harm?''
I write this nine days short of the 105th anniversary of that Armistice. 

Object and Access: My copy, which is in pretty rotten shape, was purchased seven years ago as one title in a box containing twenty or thirty old Canadian books. Price: $20.

The frontispiece featuring afflicted organist Ned Angel is one of four Walter H. Everett illustrations commissioned for The Saturday Evening Post. Interestingly, no matter the placing, all depict scenes and from the first third of the story. This image, with caption from the opening pages of the story, appears at on the final page of its Post debut:

The "timid, wild-eyed nymph of a thing who had incarnated for him all that was poetry in the year when he was twenty-eight" is Reverend Noon's wife. She's a cutie!

Online booksellers list copies beginning at five American dollars, but they'll demand a further US$30 or US$35 for shipping. Some have dust jackets, some do not. The one you want to buy is offered by a Massachusetts bookseller who promises an inscribed copy at US$75.

All claim to be offering the first edition, but as I've discovered, there are at least three variants.

Related posts:

31 October 2023

Harlequin Halloween Horror: So Much Satan!

Jean Plaidy – not her real name – wrote 191 novels. Daughter of Satan may be number 23, but I expect the authoress herself wouldn't have known for certain. What I know for certain is that it was the 203rd Harlequin Book, but only because the number appears on its cover. 

Daughter of Satan concerns a young woman, Tamar, who is believed to be the spawn of the devil. This has something to do with her mother having attended a midsummer coven of witches. Tamar's conception in no way dissuades her male suiters, not even puritan Humility Brown.

And here I'd thought Humility was a girl's name.

Daughter of Satan was the first Harlequin book to feature Satan in its title. I've found seven others, but I suspect there are more. What I find most interesting is the uptick during the Satanic Panic.

Make of that what you will. 

26 October 2023

Whispering City: Horace Brown's Second Encore

Arriving in bookstores as I write, the eighteenth Ricochet Books title. Whispering City is based on the Quebec City film noir of the same name. First published in 1947, it is one of the most sought after post-war Canadian paperbacks. A lone copy of that only other edition is listed online at $305.90.

The new Ricochet edition will set you back $15.95.

I provide a new intro.

Copies can be purchased through the usual online booksellers and at the Véhicule Press website.

Related posts:

23 October 2023

Whither the Canadian American Bestseller?

Earlier this month, I tried to sell a friend on Basil King, as is my habit. I mentioned that in 1909 his novel The Inner Shrine outsold every other book in the United States, adding that he very nearly repeated that accomplishment the following year, and again the year after that. In this regard, King bested fellow Prince Edward Islander L.M. Montgomery, who never once made the annual top ten.

The annual top ten?

I refer here to lists compiled by The Bookman and Publisher's Weekly. The former cobbled together the first in 1895, the year Scotsman Ian Maclaren's Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush was all the rage. It didn't take long for a Canadian to appear. In 1896, Gilbert Parker's The Seats of the Mighty placed third, blocked from the top spot by Francis Hopkinson Smith's Tom Grogan and A Lady of Quality by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which I'm sure you've all read.

Gilbert Parker – later, Sir Gilbert Parker – was a publisher's dream. Scribner's 1912 twenty-four volume Works of Gilbert Parker is a beautiful thing. The more expensive editions come with a tipped in handwritten autographed letter.

And there was more to come! In 1914, Sir Gilbert's The Judgement House ended up as the republic's fourth best-selling book.

Parker is one of eight Canadians to hit the American year-end top ten. What follows is a year-by-year list  of those authors and their titles, beginning with Parker's The Seats of the Mighty. Some may question the inclusion of Saul Bellow and Arthur Hailey. My position on both men is simple. Saul Bellow was born in Lachine, Quebec. He was a nine-year-old when his family left Canada for the United States. Arthur Hailey immigrated to this country after the Second World War and became a Canadian citizen.

Long-time Toronto resident John Irving's The Hotel New Hampshire, which placed second in 1981, is not included because it wasn't until 2019 that he became a Canadian citizen.

W.H. Blake's translation of Louis Hémon's Maria Chapdelain, which in 1922 was the eighth bestselling book in the United States is excluded. Though the novel has been described as a "a classic of French-Canadian literature," Hémon was French, not French-Canadian. His visit to this country lasted months, not years. My late friend Michael Gnarowski argued that Hémon would've become a citizen had he not been struck and killed by a train whilst walking the tracks outside Chapleau, Ontario. On this we disagreed.


#3 – The Seats of the Mighty by Gilbert Parker

"A Romance of Old Quebec" with cameos by Wolfe and Montcalm, The Seats of the Mighty was the only Parker novel to been adopted as a New Canadian Library title. It's available today through Wilfrid Laurier Press.


#4 – The Right of Way by Gilbert Parker

#4The Right of Way by Gilbert Parker

A Montreal melodrama involving amnesia, murder, drinking, romance, and false identity, I raced through The Right of Way last year. Recommended.

Two spots down from Parker – at #6 – we find The Visits of Elizabeth, the debut novel by one-time Guelph girl Elinor Glyn.


#4 – The Right of Way by Gilbert Parker#6 – The Right of Way by Gilbert Parker

The Right of Way again, and why not! It's a hell of a story, as evidenced by the fact that it was adapted for Broadway. Hollywood took it on three times!


#2  The Weavers by Gilbert Parker

"A Tale of England and Egypt of Fifty Years Ago," this one concerns a young Quaker who brings the Gospel to the Land of the Pharaohs. Must admit that each time I see this title I hear "Goodnight, Irene." 

#9 The Doctor by Ralph Connor [Charles W. Gordon] 

I've not read this Connor, but Ron Scheer did. Sadly, Ron is no longer with us. I miss his scholarship and astute criticism. Happily, his blog survives. Ron's review of The Doctor is a fine example of his work.


#10  The Weavers by Gilbert Parker

The Weavers again, yet unlike The Right of Way, this one never made Broadway, nor was it adapted by Hollywood.

Seems an opportunity.


#1 – The Inner Shrine by Anonymous [Basil King]

Reverend King's sixth novel, The Inner Shrine was the year's literary sensation. I think that much of the interest had to do with questions over authorship. Did it come from the pen of Edith Wharton? Henry James? How about the daughter of Willian Dean Howells?


#3 – The Wild Olive by the author of The Inner Shrine [Basil King]

Publisher Harper maintains the mystery.

I once described The Wild Olive as the best Basil King novel I'd ever read. Ah, but that was seven years ago and I was so young; The Empty Sack and The Thread of Flame are even better.


#2  – The Street Called Straight by the author of The Inner Shrine [Basil King]

Shortly after The Street Called Straight was published, Reverend King revealed himself as the author of all three books. He continued to have success commercially, but his books never again appeared in the year-end top ten.


#4  The Judgement House by Gilbert Parker

Lesser-known today – but then isn't Parker himself? – The Judgement House is set against the backdrop of the Boer War. Apparently, a femme fatale features – and so, I've just ordered a copy. 

#7  The Major by Ralph Connor [Charles W. Gordon]

One of Connor's Alberta novels, as expected, it was heavily influenced by the Great War. Germans and their country's imperialist aspirations don't come off nearly so well as settlers establishing themselves on the Prairies.


#5 – The Sky Pilot in No Man's Land by Ralph Connor [Charles W. Gordon]

A Great War novel, complete with horrors. The author served as Chaplain in the 43rd Cameron Highlanders. I have more to say on this in an old post on New Canadian Library intros.


– Jalna by Mazo de la Roche

The book that launched the longest running series of novels in Canadian history. Sixteen in total! 


– Jalna by Mazo de la Roche

Jalna. Of course, Jalna. Do not get me started on the CBC's disastrous The Whiteoaks of Jalna, which at age ten served as my introduction to the works of Mazo de la Roche, and nearly killed my interest in Canadian literature.


– Finch's Fortune by Mazo de la Roche

Interestingly, Finch's Fortune is the third volume in the Jalna saga; Whiteoaks of Jalna, the second, failed to make the year-end top ten.



#7 – The Master of Jalna by Mazo de la Roche

The last in the series make the year-end top ten, which is not to say that Jalna was abandoned by the reading public. The surprisingly brief de la Roche Canadian Encyclopedia entry reports: "Jalna novels have sold 9 million copies in 193 English- and 92 foreign-language editions."


#3 – 
The Black Rose by Thomas B. Costain

The Black Rose sold over two million copies. I learned this courtesy of The Canadian Encylopedia's entry on Costain, which is even shorter than de la Roche's!

More anon.

– Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham

The author's second and final novel, I've made the argument that its success had a paralyzing effect. Earth and High Heaven was to have been a film starring Katherine Hepburn, but Gentleman's Agreement, which deals with similar material, put an end to all that.


#8 – 
The Black Rose by Thomas B. Costain

The Black Rose is a historical novel about a young Saxon's adventures in thirteenth-century China. I'm not much taken by the idea, but millions were. To be frank, I'm much more interested in the Hollywood adaptation starring Orson Welles, Tyrone Power, and Cécile Aubry, but not so much that I've seen it.


– The Moneyman by Thomas B. Costain

Apparently, Thomas B. Costain wrote four unpublished historical novels in high school, one of which focussed on Maurice of Nassau, Prince of OrangeThe Moneyman takes as its inspiration the life of Jacques Couer, royal banker to Charles VII of France.


The High Towers by Thomas B. Costain

One of two historical novels Costain set in what is now Canada; the other being Son of a Hundred Kings (1950). It was through my father's copy of the 1950 Bantam paperback edition that I was introduced to Costain. and so I share its cover and not Doubleday's bland and predictable jacket illustration.


– The Silver Chalice by Thomas B. Costain

Here Costain enters Lloyd C. Douglas territory with the tale of Basil of Antioch, a sensitive silversmith who is commissioned to decorate the chalice used by Christ in the last supper.


– The Silver Chalice by Thomas B. Costain

The novel continued to sell, but I wonder whether Costain missed the opportunity to write a sequel inspired by the burial of the Holy Grail on Oak Island by the Knights Templar.


#9  – The Tontine by Thomas B. Costain

Book of the Month Club copies once littered every church rummage sale. The same might be said of many BOMC selections, but what set The Tontine apart was that it was published in two volumes, meaning that there were twice as many seemingly identical books. I never managed to pair volumes one and two. 


– Below the Salt by Thomas B. Costain

New to me, Below the Salt marked a bit of a departure for Costain. It relies on the theory of reincarnation, linking a modern-day senator (American) to a thirteenth-century serf (English).


– Herzog by Saul Bellow

How to explain Herzog's presence? It was awarded the National Book Award, but so had The Adventures of Augie March, and so would Mr. Sammler's Planet, and they didn't make the year-end top ten.


– Herzog by Saul Bellow

In my first year of university I found a very nice first edition in dust jacket. I've carried it from home to home ever since, but it was only in putting this piece together that I saw the face in the cover.

That perfect font is so distracting.

– Hotel by Arthur Hailey

In Hailey's bibliography, Hotel follows In High Places (1962), a political thriller centred on challenges both domestic and international faced by Canadian prime minister James McCallum. Hotel doesn't sound nearly so interesting, though it did inspire a 1967 feature film and the ABC prime time soap of the same name starring James Brolin. 


– Airport by Arthur Hailey

The novel that spawned Airport, Airport 1975, Airport '77, The Concorde - Airport '79Airplane!, and Airplane II: The Sequel,  Airport was the second Canadian novel I ever read. I think there were some sexy bits, but I'm not sure. If they existed, they weren't so memorable as the stuff in Harold Robbins' The Carpetbaggers.


– Wheels by Arthur Hailey

A novel set inside the Detroit auto industry. Interestingly, the ten-hour five-part 1978 NBC mini-series starring Rock Hudson and Lee Remick is set in the 'sixties. It's a period piece, though you wouldn't know it.  


– The Moneychangers by Arthur Hailey

The idea of a novel centring on banking, finance and investing doesn't sound nearly so interesting as one about a sleek and powerful car, which may explain why The Moneychangers failed to land at #1. It was kept from top spot by E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime


– Overload by Arthur Hailey

Here the author whose previous novels were set in the hospitalty industry, the aviation industry, the automotive industry, and the banking industry, presents a 512-page novel focussed on a California utility company.

There will be brownouts!

And that's it.

Arthur Hailey went on to write three more novels: Strong Medicine (1984), The Evening News (1990), and Detective (1997). All were bestsellers, but not so much that they dominated the bestseller lists. He died in 2004, the eighth and last Canadian to have written a book that landed in the year-end top ten.

Between 1896 and 1979 eight Canadians wrote twenty-seven novels in the annual list of top American bestsellers. Six of the twenty-seven titles appeared two years running. These figures are impressive, until one realizes that all happened within an eighty-three-year span, and that it's been forty-three years since any Canadian writer has done the same. Margaret Atwood? Not even The Testaments. Life of Pi didn't make the cut, nor did The English Patient.

Why is that?

All my theories have fallen flat.

Any ideas?