29 May 2011

Six Pyxides for Sunday

Six editions of The Pyx, beginning with the very first paperback edition from Fawcett's Crest Books imprint. Published in 1960, its cover – the best of the lot – cautions:

A mystery this – the first edition has no such section.

The first English edition, published in 1960 by Secker & Warburg, with Elizabeth Lucy falling to her death.

Published in 1973, the first Popular Library edition draws on the movie poster. Karen Black makes a phone call, yes, but it's hardly crucial to the plot.
"The 'eerie' novel of a beautiful call girl and her deadly secret", says Best Sellers? Well, not really. Look closely and you'll see that what's quoted is nothing more than the word "eerie".

This later Popular Library edition holds keeps the one-word Best Sellers quote, while discarding Karen Black. What do we have instead? A semi-reptilian eye and a wholly-naked body, neither of which feature in the novel. By the way, Elizabeth Lucy is a redhead.

Quartet's 1974 edition introduces a cat – again, not in the novel – and replaces the pyx with a tiny locket containing a girl's photo and what appears to be an aspirin.

The only Canadian edition, published in 1991 by HarperCollins Canada. The novel has been out of print ever since.

26 May 2011

A Penthouse Killing in Montreal

The Pyx
John Buell
New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, 1959

In 1965, as the centennial approached and Expo 67 was beginning to take shape, Edmund Wilson published O Canada, his "notes on Canadian culture." A slight book, worth no more than a quick thumb through, it's remembered today only for the critic's oft-repeated pronouncement about Morley Callaghan: "...perhaps the most unjustly neglected novelist in the English-speaking world."

Wilson really didn't know much about Canada; in the book's first sentence the septuagenarian writes that his introduction to the country's "cultural life" took place only nine years earlier. The critic then goes on to thank Robert Weaver, "an official of CBS" – he means a CBC employee – through whom he met all sorts of Canadian writers and academics.

Only three English Canadian novelists are discussed in O Canada. As one might expect, MacLennan follows Callaghan, but the third, John Buell, is a bit of a surprise. Studying at Concordia, CanLit canon comrades Callaghan and MacLennan peppered my reading lists; Buell, professor emeritus at the very same institution, was never mentioned. My copy of The Pyx, the first of his five novels, was bought in 1984 for 50¢ at a garage sale not two blocks from the Loyola campus. A signed first edition, for 27 years it moved back and forth across the country without being read.

Why did I wait so long?

I'll blame the spoiler of a film, which I caught as a kid on CBMT, our local CBC – not CBS – station.

Here's a coincidence: Like the previous novel discussed in this blog, The Pyx begins with a woman falling from a penthouse. In this instance, the deceased is not addicted to cocaine, but heroin. She is Elizabeth Lucy, a high-class call girl who – and I don't mean to be flippant here – is very much the heroine of the novel. Police Sergeant Jim Henderson investigates the death, but this is less a detective story than a woman's struggle with herself and her situation.

Wilson makes much of Buell's background – a French Canadian mother, an English Canadian father – describing The Pyx as a French novel. I was reminded more of Graham Greene than Georges Simenon (yes, Belgian, I know), but most of all, I thought of Brian Moore, with whom Buell shares considerable talent in creating convincing female characters. Elizabeth is one, but there are others, including friend Sandra and Meg the madam.

It's difficult to write much about The Pyx without ruining things for the potential reader – and this novel is recommended highly. I'll add only that Wilson all but dismisses The Pyx as "a horror story", writing: "It is not really a serious book, but it creates an ever-tightening apprehension that may hold even a reader not particularly susceptible to the coils of this kind of fiction."

Nonsense – you will be held.

Trivia: While the dust jacket informs that the setting is Montreal, the city is not named in the novel. Street names are invented, though anyone who has visited will recognize this jewel of the St Lawrence.

Access: Though The Pyx has been discarded by our public libraries, the universities do serve. Those looking to buy a copy will be happy to see that used copies are listed online for less than one Canadian dollar. The uncommon first edition can be bought in Near Fine condition for as little as US$15.

"What the hell's a pyx?" Henderson asks in the movie. Good question. The fact that it's asked at all goes some way in explaining The Chosen Girl, the novel's alternate title. Foreign language editions vary. The Dutch title is De duivelse oproep (The Devilish Call), while the Germans know it as Mister K. Verliert die Partie (Mister K. Loses the Game). The 1973 film, starring Karen Black and Christopher Plummer, last appeared on DVD as The Hooker Cult Murders.


23 May 2011

Verse for Victoria Day by the Master of All Poets

Queen's Park, Toronto, 1910

James Gay (1810-1891) was a gunsmith, a locksmith, a carpenter and an innkeeper; but more than all these he was, in his own words, “Poet Laureate of Canada and Master of All Poets.” The man was never properly recognized by his countrymen, or by his fellow poets; his first book, the self-published Poems by James Gay, Poet Laureate of Canada, Master of All Poets (c.1882) has vanished without a trace. What little recognition he received came from the English house of Field & Tuer, which in 1884 published Canada's Poet. Gay's second and final book, it exists as the happy result of a misunderstanding: the publisher requested Poems by James Gay..., but instead received "a batch of original manuscript for publication".

Gay dedicated Canada's Poet to Alfred, Lord Tennyson. "Dear Sir," he begins, "Now Longfellow is gone there are only two of us left." It's a sad observation, one the Master of All Poets (as merely the "Master of Poets") repeats with this undated – and, it appears, unanswered – address to his queen.

Related posts:

21 May 2011

Horace Brown: Saturday Matinee

The first book to appear under his own name, Horace Brown's Whispering City is the rarest of things: a novelization of a Canadian feature film. The movie itself has shriveled to a footnote today, but in 1947, the year of its release, it was a very big deal. Shot twice – once in French, once in English – for a few months it looked to be the first fruit of a vibrant post-war Canadian film industry. Of course, all died on the vine. I expect the reason had much to do with money, though I blame Jack Valenti.

Whispering City is a pretty good little movie, a fine example film noir. Set in Quebec City, predating Hitchcock's I Confess by some seven years, it tells the story of pretty Mary Roberts, an intrepid lady reporter who gets caught up in a decades-old murder. Corruption, madness, suicide... it's all good fun, though the ending is so rushed that you'd almost think director Fyodor Otsep was counting each frame before he ran out of film.

Globe and Mail film critic Roly Young was amongst the greatest champions of Whispering City, giving the movie four stars (just half a star less than La Forteresse, the French-language version). It was, he wrote, "first-rate motion picture fare, and a pleasant augury for the future of Canadian-made films."

Over six decades later, it's easy enough to judge for ourselves; the entire film has been posted on YouTube:

Just how closely Horace Brown sticks to the screenplay, how adept an adaptor he was, I cannot say. I've not read his Whispering City, and know of only two extant copies: one held by the University of Calgary's Special Collections, the other belonging to bowdler of Fly-by-night (who kindly provided the image above).

Whispering City was the only original title produced Brown's own Global Publishing Company, a short-lived venture that produced a handful of movie tie-in editions (like Great Expectations and Henry V) and the two-issue Original Detective Stories.

Horace Brown died in 1996 at the grand old age of 88. The Globe and Mail provided no obituary, which doesn't seem at all right when one considers his twelve years of service as a Toronto city alderman. In this role, he provided a great deal of copy for the newspaper, including this front page story from 14 March 1972:

I don't see that the Globe and Mail or anyone else paid much attention to Brown's novels. I'm inclined to believe that more has been written this past week here and at Fly-by-night – and, by remarkable coincidence, at Mystery File – than has appeared in the last sixty-five years.

Is it time more attention was paid? Don't think so, but I will raise my glass to a hardworking man, a writer who left behind a number of CanLit curiosities.

Related posts:

17 May 2011

Horace Brown: Fritzi in Flight or a Coincidence?

A quick follow-up to yesterday's post with something spotted earlier today. Above is the April 1948 debut of Original Detective Stories, devoted to Horace Brown's "Murder à la Carte", a "BOOK LENGTH NOVEL – NEVER BEFORE PUBLISHED". I've never come across a copy, so can only wonder whether this might just be the first appearance of The Penthouse Killings. The woman falling to her death is blonde and, I think it fair to say, could be known as "the dame with the —." Finally, like the unfortunate Fritzi, she wears a red dress on the evening of her murder. This last detail was particularly important to sometime suitor Squire Adams:
"Who is going to notice the bloodstains on the material, unless looking for it. If they are noticed, what will they be? Ordinary stains to be removed by dry-cleaning. If the blood comes off in the water or cleaning fluid, it is simply the dye running."
As I say, there were no more Squire Adams mysteries.

Original Detective Stories was a short-lived magazine from Brown's own Global Publishing Company, located in the media centre known as Pickering, Ontario. The second and final issue featured "Death to the Prime Minister" by Leslie Allen, one of Brown's pseudonyms. Over at Fly-by-night, bowdler has posted a piece on Murder in the Rough, a short "FULL-LENGTH MYSTERY NOVEL" that was also published under the nom de plume.

It's Horace Brown Week!

Update: I'm informed by bowdler, who has seen Brown's papers in Montreal, that "Murder à la Carte became The Penthouse Killings." Barring a bit of rewrite, the original title makes no sense. The most one can say is that in The Penthouse Killings the missing body of Fritzi Hahn is eventually discovered hanging from meat hook in a freezer. A reedy link with restaurants, but I've got nothing more.

16 May 2011

Horace Brown: From Penthouse to Pavement

The Penthouse Killings
Horace Brown
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1950

Characters come fast and furious in The Penthouse Killings; I'd counted eight by the end of page two. This avalanche of names and faces is a transparent trick, thrusting the reader into the whirlwind that is the life of private detective Squire Adams. You see, our improbably named hero has been given under fifteen hours – cover copy claims 48 – to help police solve the murder of a woman whose body was tossed from the top floor of Manhattan's Hotel Glamora. Failure means that Squire can kiss his license goodbye.

It's not hard to see that the NYPD needs help, but is it really so smart to put Squire in charge? As the private dick and several dozen boys in blue move about the 65-storey hotel, two more murders take place and the dead woman's body goes missing. A few people try to take their lives before Squire's eyes – though, to be fair, only one is successful. We're at hour ten before anyone – in this case, Ace Milliken of the Homicide Bureau – thinks to secure the scene of the first murder.
"Excuse me, Mr. Adams, it's none of my business mebbe, but don't you think we oughta turn that mob out of here? They may be messing up clues."
The private eye was thoughtful for a moment.
"I've been wondering the same thing, Ace. But I'd say not. Somehow I feel it's better to have them all where we want them for the time being. If we've missed any clues, we're liable not to find them now, anyway. Okay?"
Um... okay.

With so very many Manhattanites packed into the hotel, property of playboy Handsome Harry Hanover, it's to be expected that Squire would know one or two. There's the first victim, coked up blonde-haired beauty Fritzi Hahn, "the dame with the —." And may I add that she was also known for her "—"? Squire was "the one real love of her life". The second, Lydia Krakochenko, another old flame, is one of Handsome Harry's seven ex-wives. Lydia might be "the world's greatest ballerina", but she's not particularly memorable; certainly she won't rank amongst what the cover copy promises as "the most fantastic characters you've ever encountered". Speaking personally, I spotted just one candidate: Handsome Harry's hulking sibling Edith, a hermaphrodite who practices obstetrics at nearby Mercy Hospital.

We don't see much of Edith, "the half-man, half-woman sister", but Squire is present on every page. The reader will see him as a bumbler, but not so his fellow "fantastic characters". "Young man, you must have a fine mesh in that mind of yours", says Edith, who is impressed by Squire's memory. This about a man who, as the conclusion draws near, suddenly remembers an old secret pertinent to the case. "Lydia told me once," Squire explains, "and I had forgotten it, for she told me in bitter self-mockery..."

Um... okay.

It spoils nothing to reveal that Squire solves Fritzi's murder – that is, if one accepts his shaky account of what transpired – and he has his license renewed.

"I hope we get together again some time", says one cop as he walks out the door.

Never happened. There was no second Squire Adams mystery. Who would hire him?

Trivia: The Penthouse Killings is only Canadian pulp I've encountered to feature chapter titles. The first, "High Dive at Low Tide", sounds great, but makes little sense; the second, "Body, Body, Who's Got the Body?", only serves as a spoiler. Others, like "Whither Do You Wander?", send the eyes a-rollin'.

Object: The image at the top of this post comes courtesy of an online bookseller. My copy, which looks like it was pitched from a penthouse and then run over by a truck, is more reflective of the publisher's poor productions. Note that the caption, "VIOLENT MURDERS IN A PLAYBOY'S PENTHOUSE", is sliced down the centre.

The title of this post is a bit of a cheat, though not nearly so great a one as the crappy cover image. Fritzi's fall doesn't end at the street, but on the Hotel Glamora's fiftieth-floor terrace. She's dead and bloody before being tossed over the side... she's also naked. Spoiler: the murderer is a woman, not a grey-haired man.

Access: Worldcat informs that the University of Calgary and the University of California, San Diego have copies, but – perhaps – no other institution. Not to worry, there are over a dozen copies currently listed online. Priced between US$4 and US$20, condition doesn't appear to be much of a factor.

Update: When first posting, I reported that in 1950 The Penthouse Killings appeared on British newsstands as The Corpse was a Blonde. Though a handful of trusted booksellers make the claim, it is nevertheless incorrect; the latter is unrelated to the former. The cover corpse isn't Fritzi Hahn, but "the beautiful, young blonde Rita Salton, lying in the mud".

I'm indebted to bowdler for this correction... and am embarrassed to note that I not only read about, but commented on The Corpse was a Blonde just last year at his Bantam Publications of Los Angeles blog. There is a hole in the fine mesh of my mind (I write in bitter self-mockery).

13 May 2011

John Glassco, Ghostwriter

Relations and Complications
H.H. The Dayang Muda of Sarawak
London: John Lane, the Bodley Head, 1929

Bibliographer M. Clark Chambers lists Relations and Complications as Kay Boyle's first book. Although I take exception, we would at the very least agree that it is not the work of the Dayang Muda of Sarawak.

Née Gladys Milton Palmer, of the Huntley & Palmer biscuit empire, Her Highness led the most extraordinary life. Oscar Wilde, Alphonse Daudet and John Ruskin dined at her family's table, as did her godfather George Meredith.

George Meredith with the Dayang Muda's mother, undated.

A woman of amazonian beauty, in 1904 she married Bertram Brooke, whose grandfather, having wrestled approximately 125,000 square kilometres of Borneo from the Sultan of Brunei, was the first White Rajah of Sarawak.

It's not at all difficult to see what encouraged publisher John Lane to draw up a contract for the Dayang Muda's biography. Unforeseen was the sad fact the lady was anything but a memoirist. As Boyle describes it, “her valiant attempts to relive the memories of all she had been, or had not been, served no purpose except to stun her into silence.” And so, the Dayang Muda hired Boyle as a ghostwriter.

Just how many of these words rightfully belong to the American author is a matter to be debated. In her revised – bastardized, really – edition of Robert McAlmon's Being Geniuses Together, Boyle writes that the then-18-year-old Glassco, hired to type the manuscript, "inserted in the mouths of the long-dead great additional flights of repartee and far more brilliant bon mots than I had managed to invent alone.”

Robert McAlmon tells all through his roman à clef The Nightinghouls of Paris, in which Sudge Galbraith (Buffy Glassco) works with Dale Burke (Kay Boyle) on the final draft of the Princess of Faraway's story:
The new script of the memoirs was beautiful, for Sudge typed well and got the manuscript up with professional competence. Later, when the book appeared it had a slight success, but anybody knowing the Princess knew that all the dainty wit and bright malice in the book were Sudge’s. Dale had furnished Irish gaiety and wit here and there, but she admitted that Sudge slipped in the best cracks. He had a talent for drawing old dames and gents with cruel caricature, and while his contributions to the book were trivial, the memoirs were so trivial that Sudge’s contribution took on profundity.
Late in life, Boyle wrote Chambers that of the seventeen chapters, she had had nothing to do with the final two, believing that these had been written by Glassco and forgotten poet Archibald Craig, the Dayang Muda's cousin.

In his own Memoirs of Montparnasse, Glassco claims to have been nothing more than the typist. Typical of a man given to humility and self-abasement; typical also of one who took delight in literary subterfuge.

Object: A fairly thick book consisting of 271 pages and 29 plates, ending anti-climactically with a further six pages of advertisements for other John Lane titles. My copy seems to have suffered from a horrible skin condition (now in abeyance).

Access: Uncommon. Worldcat lists only seven libraries that hold copies – all in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Canadians and Malaysians are out of luck. Only two copies are currently listed for sale online. Though damaged, the cheaper is priced fairly at €275. Those with even deeper pockets will want to consider the more expensive volume. Offered by a Maryland bookseller at US$750, it features Boyle's signature and telling comment: "This was the hardest writing I have ever done." A man with pockets full of lint, for years I kept an eye out for an affordable copy. In all that time, I spotted not one in a dust jacket (which I'm beginning to believe did not exist). I bought my copy for US$85 from a California bookseller in the long, hot summer of 2004.

Cross-posted at A Gentleman of Pleasure.

09 May 2011

The Good Soldier Comes to Canada

The Good Soldier: The Story of Isaac Brock
D.J. Goodspeed
Toronto: Macmillan, 1967

With just over a year until the War of 1812 bicentiennial, things are becoming busy in my part of the country. Our cousins immediately to the south are perhaps a just bit less active. What some American historians call "The Forgotten War" is a conflict David Paterson didn't want recognized. In 2009, the then-governor of New York, the central state in the struggle, vetoed the creation of a War of 1812 200th Anniversary Commemoration Commission. Paterson now gone, the body was finally brought into being through a bill passed the month before last. No finances attached.

The commemoration of what was in essence a failed war of conquest should be interesting. I'll be paying particular attention to the treatments of Tecumseh and Isaac Brock in relation to, say, William Henry Harrison.

There is no Tecumseh Street in our little town, but Brock has been so honoured. It's not at all surprising. "If it had not been for Isaac Brock," writes author Goodspeed, "Jefferson's prediction that the conquest of Canada would be 'a mere matter of marching' might well have come true."

Published more than fifteen decades after the man's death, written for the children that followed another war, this book provides an excellent introduction for anyone coming to Brock's life for the first time. Donald James Goodspeed, a lieutenant-colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces, Senior Historian in the Canadian Defence Force's Historical section, had a talent for writing clean, clear and concise histories. His book on the Canadian Corps, The Road Past Vimy, covers the rather complicated story in just 185 pages. The Good Soldier is even shorter – 156 pages, punctuated by twenty line drawings – yet it provides not only a remarkably thorough account of Brock's life, but some good background on the causes of the conflict.

Volume #29 in the Great Stories of Canada series, The Good Soldier follows a strict format in that it features no references. Yet, it is possible to identify at least some of Goodspeed's sources: A Veteran of 1812, Mary Agnes FitzGibbon's 1894 life of John FitzGibbon; and The Life and Correspondence of Major-General Sir Isaac Brock, KB (1845) by Brock's nephew and correspondent, historian Ferdinand Brock Tupper.

Goodspeed limits all comment and opinion to the very last paragraphs. It's here that the lieutenant-colonel mentions Jefferson's prediction, adding: "Thus, in a very real sense, Canada's present independence is the gift of the soldier from Guernsey."

I wonder what that Channel Island has planned.

Trivia: D.J. Goodspeed is my club name.

Object: A slim hardcover in black and red boards, with drawings by sometime Great Stories of Canada illustrator Jack Ferguson (who, the dust jacket tells us, lives on a farm that once served as a campsite for Brock). My copy of The Good Soldier, a reprint of the 1964 Macmillan first, appears to have been issued at the same time as a paper edition.

Access: A couple of acceptable copies of the first edition are available from online booksellers at about $26. As one might expect, the reissue is cheaper. Brock University has a copy, as do a number of other academic institutions. Only two public libraries hold the book in their collections both, sadly, as non-circulating reference copies. In other words, children cannot take this book home to read.

05 May 2011

Dark Blondes

The Darker Traffic
Martin Brett [pseud. Douglas Sanderson]
New York: Dodd, Mead, 1954

There are seven female characters in The Darker Traffic, but the woman on the cover isn't one of them. I'm not so sure about the man, either – and that sure isn't Montreal in the background. Yet, the city and its island provide the settling of this, the second novel to feature the adventures of Mike Garfin, private detective.

I left off my review of the first, Hot Freeze, wondering whether Garfin's girl, Tessie, was a hooker. The answer comes about a fifth of the way into The Darker Traffic, when the private dick talks about marriage:
"It has to come some day. It's been a long time now, nearly two years since we met at that party."
"Yeah," Tessie said bitterly, "and nearly five years since I was a clever little girl who thought she'd found a way to make a hundred dollars. There was only going to be one time. I needed the dough. Two months later I didn't have an excuse any more and I was still doing it. Still am."
There's no real room for ambiguity in The Darker Traffic; not as far as Tessie and her chosen occupation are concerned. There can't be. Where Hot Freeze was all over the drug trade, this is a novel about prostitution. It begins with a visit to Garfin's office by "blindingly blonde" Gertrude Hess, moves to a Lakeshore mansion just west of "the township of Pointe Claire", then the roundabout by Dorval Airport and a roadside café on Highway 20. These are the details to which a reader like myself, who was raised just west of said township, cling.

A prostitute is murdered at that roadside café. Her prone body is placed under the carriage of a large truck and is then run over by an unsuspecting driver. I spoil things a bit in writing about the squished girl, doing so only because she appears to have been an Eastern European immigrant. Plus ça change... or should that be Чем больше все меняется?

St Catherine and Peel, July 1954 (photographer unknown)

There's more Montreal, including a scene that begins with Garfin leaving a drug store at the corner of St Catherine and Peel. He's chased, but for much of The Darker Traffic the private detective is the pursuer. Though at a disadvantage, Garfin makes good use of what little he has in his arsenal by drawing on his friendship with Police Captain Masson and an exhaustive knowledge of women's clothing and undergarments. I imply nothing here, and point out that rival Montreal private dick, David Montrose's Russell Teed, has an appreciation of fine interior decoration and design.

The Darker Traffic doesn't quite compare to Montrose, but then it also pales when placed beside Hot Freeze. The characters, quirkiness and quips exemplified in the latter are curiously lacking here; instead we have a fairly straightforward mystery that just happens to be set in the country's most fascinating city. Fortunately, the generic dust jacket does not reflect.

Object and access: A cheap yellow hardcover, only one copy in the fragile dust jacket is currently listed online. Price: US$99.99. There was no second printing. The first and only English edition, published in 1954 by Max Rheinhart, is just as uncommon: one copy at £16.90. The following year, it was resurrected in paperback by Popular Library as Blondes are My Trouble. Six copies are currently listed online, only one of which - at US$18 - is in anything that might be described as decent condition.

The French-language translation, published in 1956 by Gallimard, is saddled with the title Salmigonzeeses. Why? I have no idea.

02 May 2011

Ignatieff's Ink and Harper's Hockey Book

Election day in Canada. Unless the pollsters are way off, it looks like we'll be passing on the opportunity to have a Booker Prize nominee as prime minister... for now. Yann Martel, perhaps.

It's been pretty interesting having a critically acclaimed, award-winning author as Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, in part because his writing was so often used against him. Ezra Levant, for example, thumbed repeatedly through the Liberal leader's 1987 book, The Russian Album, in search of Ignatieff family riches and misdeeds. Time and again, the columnist told us how Ignatieff's great-grandfather, Nicholas, persecuted Jews in nineteenth-century Russia.

From where did Mr Levant acquire this information? Why from The Russian Album, of course. And who shares in Mr Levant's condemnation of Nicholas Ignatieff? Great-grandson Michael.

Levant was at least familiar with his material. Others not so much. Here's something from Blogging Tory co-founder Stephen Taylor:

And here's a partial list of those seventeen books:
The Russian Album (winner of the Governor General's Award for Non-fiction)
Blood and Belonging (winner of the Lionel Gelber Award)
Scar Tissue (shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Whitbread Novel Award)
The Rights Revolution (the 1997 Massey Lecture)
Isaiah Berlin: A Life (winner of the UBC Medal for Canadian Biography)
Virtual War (winner of the George Orwell Prize)
This distance from the world of books might just explain the confusion concerning the roles of author and publisher experienced by other Conservatives. On 23 April 2010, MP Chris Warkentin rose to report this "case of deceitfulness" to the House of Commons:
The Liberal leader claims on the inside of the front cover of his book [True Patriot Love] that the National Post, when reviewing his book, called it “well-written”. But that is not entirely true. What the National Post called it was “a well-written disappointment." This is the type of dishonesty that not even a first-year university student could get away with.
A graduate of the unaccredited Peace River Bible Institute, you wouldn't think the MP would know what a first-year university student could get away with – but then, these words, which appear in Hansard under Mr Warkentin's name, aren't his. He was merely reading from a Conservative Party press release.

"I'll take the blame from what's between the covers, not for the cover blurbs," Mr Ignatieff responded .

We've heard nothing further from Mr Warkentin – you see, the Conservative Party issued no follow-up press release.

While the monkeys at the keyboards of the Conservative Party have thrown feces at Michael Ignatieff's books, they've ignored titles by the other leaders. There's been no staining of Jack Layton's Homelessness and Speaking Out. Whether the subject is democracy or the environment, they've left the half-dozen books by Elizabeth May alone. Couldn't be bothered? Or is it that they simply "haven't heard of a single one of them"?

And Prime Minister Stephen Harper? He remains the only national leader without a book to his credit. His debut, a history of professional hockey's early days, has been long in the making. Five years ago, he published a 700-word teaser. No original research – nothing that isn't out there on the net – but it's a start. When might we expect to see this tome? In April 2006, Mr Harper told the CBC that he'd planned to finish it within the year. In September 2008, during the last election, the PM informed The Globe and Mail that he needed just three months of uninterrupted time. The two prorogations since, it seems, have not helped in moving the long-promised project along.

That said, if Mr Harper fails to deliver a Conservative majority government today – in his fourth attempt – that uninterrupted time might come sooner than he would like.

01 May 2011

The Wilfred Watson Centenary

The Calgary Herald, 3 July 1956

Canadian poet, playwright and professor Wilfred Watson was born one hundred years ago today in Rochester, England. I don't know what sort of celebrations are being planned at his birthplace, but I'm betting we'll see no acknowledgement in this country. The Calgary Herald will not find space in its sports pages.

"The award was for poetry."