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. You can bet I'll be ordering 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?

17 October 2023

Adults Without a Clue

The Clue of the Dead Duck
Scott Young
Toronto: Little, Brown, 1962
159 pages

Morgan Perdue and Albert "Young Ab" Magee are up to no good. They've taken advantage of a trip taken by Black Ab – he's Young Ab's dad – to skip school and do a little illegal duck hunting. Friend Sally Connors wanted to join them, but the boys had waved her off. Morgan and Young Ab leave well before dawn, piloting a boat down Irishman's River to the very same floating bog Black Ab uses when hunting duck. No sooner do they arrive than they are attacked and Morgan is knocked out.

The boy regains consciousness to find Young Ab and the boat gone. He spends a long cold day on the bog before being rescued by Sally. She'd grown concerned when the boys hadn't returned. Morgan's rescue sets off a futile search for Young Ab. The Ontario Provincial Police are called in, the RCAF sends a helicopter from CFB Trenton, and yet there is no sign of the missing boy. 

There's suspicion from the start. Morgan Perdue is a foster child. He's spent his childhood being shuttled from place to place by Children's Aid. Morgan considers his two years at the Magee house the best he's ever lived, which is something given that the period coincides with Mrs Magee's sudden illness and death. Though no one blames the boy for her passing, Young Ab's Aunt Winnie has always considered Morgan a bad seed. She's certain he's hiding what really happened on Irishman's River:
"Are you sure you and Young Ab didn't didn't have some kind of an argument and then that that [sic] temper of yours didn't get the better of you?"
Detective Sergeant Bower of the OPP has a similar theory. A grim, unfriendly man he isn't so much intent on investigating as obtaining an a confession.

It's this treatment of Morgan, this terrible prejudice, that lends weight to what would otherwise be just another adventure story for children. The boy wants to clear his name, but more than anything he wants to find his friend.

The children of The Clue of the Dead Duck come off so much better than their elders. Sally proves herself a capable, loyal friend. Pearl, Young Ab's little sister comforts Morgan as the adults point fingers. Meanwhile, Morgan somehow manages to find the strength to continue his quest in the face of insinuations and accusations levelled by the adults. His actions, not those of the police, lead to the break in the case and the arrests of the persons responsible for Young Ab's disappearance. 

The Clue of the Dead Duck is the sixth book in Little, Brown's Secret Circle series. A strange name, don't you think? It suggests a group of crime solvers, like the Three Investigators, yet the books have no recurring characters. What they do have in common is Arthur Hammond, who not only served as the series' general editor, but provided plot outlines for each title. The subtle social commentary of The Clue of the Dead Duck sets it apart from Max Braithwaite's The Mystery of the Muffled Man, the only other Secret Circle book I've read. Whether this is the result of Young's influence or that of Hammond, a man known for his social activism, is a matter of further research. Ultimately, credit goes to the author. Sketching out a story is one thing, writing this is quite another: 
The last thing Young Ab said before he went to sleep was that the alarm was set for four o'clock and that we'd better get some sleep.
     But sometimes when I'm just about to go to sleep things seem very clear to me. If I've done something wrong during the day, it's in those few minutes before I go to sleep that I worry about it. Now I started thinking, suppose there's an accident? Suppose somebody gets shot? The faces of all the people I knew around Irishman's Lake, all the people who accepted me right now because I was under Black Ab's protection, came up in my mind. But as I  lay therein the dark, these faces seemed to be looking at me accusingly. Old ladies had their heads bent together and were looking out of the corners of their eyes at me, and I was scared.
Sadly, The Clue of the Dead Duck remains relevant. It hasn't aged.

Note: The Clue of the Dead Duck was read for the 1962 Club. Reviews by fellow club members can be found through this link.

Other books from 1962 reviewed here over the years:
Object: A well-constructed hardcover with series design. The eight illustrations, cover included, are by Douglas Johnson. I purchased my copy last year at Craigy Muir Curiousities in Spencerville, Ontario. Price: $5.00.

Access: Very few copies are listed for sale online – prices range from US$6.00 to US$13.96. Note that not one features the dust jacket.

In 1981, The Clue of the Dead Duck was reissued as a Seal mass market paperback. As far as I've been able to determine, it was a split run with Scholastic Canada. These editions are being sold by pretend booksellers like Thriftbooks at prices ranging from US$30.42 to $42.48.

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