26 June 2013

To the Big House... or not

The Little Yellow House
Jessie McEwen
Toronto: Ryerson, 1953

Mark Crosbie is a damaged war vet. A few years back, whilst downing Messerschmitts over Denmark, his plane took fire. Mark managed to parachute to safety and – more luck – found sanctuary in a little yellow house inhabited by an exiled German university professor and his beautiful daughter. Sadly, the airman's injuries necessitated the amputation of a leg; happily, he and the beautiful daughter, Adella, fell for one another.

This novel opens two years after the war's end with our hero standing on the deck of a ship bound for Canada. Poor Mark is returning to Toronto empty-armed, having spent a frustrating few months travelling through Europe in a failed search for Adella and her scholarly father. Mark hasn't even settled into his deck chair before he's approached by Charlie Griswold, a boozy friend of his cousin Alec. In the manner of drunks everywhere, ol' Charlie latches onto his semi-acquaintence and begins to babble:
"Got hitched in Lun'on a month ago and she's the fines' bit o' luggage I ever did see. Ain't nuthin' like her in the whole wide world."
The bit o' luggage – name: Margery – isn't all that, but there's something about her that reminds Mark of Adella.

Sadly, Charlie's honeymoon is short-lived. On the sixth night at sea he corners Mark. "She says she's going to dish me when we dock." mutters Charlie. "Says she only fastened on to me for a free ride."

The unhappy newlywed tries to enlist Mark's help in discrediting Margery: "swear you know she's a flossie [sic], fleesie or a what-have-you". In exchange, Charlie will give the goods on Alec. Mark refuses and returns to his cabin. A few hours later, he's awoken with the news that Charlie has gone overboard.

But wait, there's more.

It seems that Mark has long been suspicious of his cousin. This may have something to do with Alec's father, Alexander, who decades earlier embezzled money and property from the Crosbie family company. Alec's sister Monica, a columnist for The Toronto Daily Graphic, is so worried that her brother inherited dad's dishonest nature that she's set up a secret account to cover anticipated legal fees. She's also written a drama about a man who is caught stealing from his children. Efforts to sell the play brought her into contact with Isy Lerman, "a famous New York play agent", to whom she is now engaged. Monica is about to leave Toronto to marry her fiancé when she's stopped by Alec. Her fears have come true. Alec has been stealing from the family firm, just like dear old dad, and now needs her help.

Hold on, there's still more.

Alec is playing for time, and has managed to secure a good chunk of it in thwarting Mark's European search. Just as the one-legged veteran began his hobbling through Copenhagen, Cologne, Paris, Bruges, and who knows how many towns and villages on the Rhine, he had pal Charlie whisk Adella and her father off to Canada. They've spent the ensuing months at Ruthven House, the long neglected, seldom visited Crosbie family estate in rural Ontario. An odd place, "almost like a castle", it comes complete with a tower and hidden dungeon, but no telephone. Adella and her dad are cut off, and dare not venture outside as Alec has warned them of the deep hatred Canadians have of Germans.

Alec dispatches Monica to keep an eye on his Ruthven House house guests, trusting that she will stick by his story that Mark has been committed to a psychiatric hospital.

When Mark arrives back in Toronto, he's told by Alec that the missing Monica "has cracked up, gone to pieces."

It's a lot to take in, and the reader has only three chapters in which to do it. Things get easier but less interesting in the fourteen that follow as Mark and Monica struggle with indecision. The one-legged war hero tries to convince himself that Alec is good – "Alec is good. Mark said to himself. Alec is very good." – in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. When he finally does admit to himself that Alec is not good, Mark knows not what to do. Meanwhile, Monica spends some 200 or so densely packed pages debating whether she should come clean with Adella and the professor:

From chapter 14, this is one in a great number of angst-ridden paragraphs that I can't be bothered to count. Was it not enough to have read it? I trudged on as the book's editor fell by the wayside. This later passage is typical:
The inability to tell was an enormous, throbbing pain that took such fierce possession of her that, no matter with whom she was when it gained possession of her that, she rushed to Alec where he still cowered in the bedroom.
After the title page, after the copyright information, after the Table of Contents, the reader encounters a stark statement on an otherwise blank page:
This is the story of a crime.
Which one?

When time finally runs out for Alec, it's revealed that his criminal acts run aplenty – arson and attempted murder figure – yet he faces no charges because... because... Well, you must understand that as the wealthy son of a convicted man he was greatly disadvantaged.

I didn't buy it. Call me a law and order type, if you will, but I think some sort of police investigation was warranted. Besides, I'd really like to know who killed Charlie Griswold.

Trivia: An editor for Thomas Nelson Canada, Jessie McEwen (1899-1986) was the author of nine books, two of which were published under pseudonyms. Her most commercially successful work was the novel Taltrees (Toronto: Ryerson, 1949), which was translated into French as Les grandes arbres (Paris: Éditions Robert Laffont, 1951).

Object: A deceptively slim 249-page hardcover in dark blue boards with gilt lettering on spine. The uncredited dust jacket looks to be the work of a talented fifth grade student.

I purchased my two copies of the first edition – there was no other – in April and May of this year. The first, lacking dust jacket, cost $1.50; the second, with dust jacket, set me back an even dollar. I won't say that I didn't pay too much.

Access: Fourteen of our universities have copies, as does the Toronto Public Library. Five copies are currently listed for sale online, four of which are going for US$10 or less. At US$3.68, the one to buy is the cheapest.

24 June 2013

A Highly Inappropriate St-Jean-Baptiste Advert

Something for la Fête de la St-Jean – St-Jean-Baptiste Day to we Anglo Quebecers – this century-old advert from Ottawa's Gowling Business College.

(cliquez pour agrandir)
The English text suggests that the image ran elsewhere, but I've only seen it in the 1913 Programme officiel des fêtes, a commemorative booklet put together for  the sixtieth anniversary of la Société St-Jean-Baptiste d'Ottawa.

I dare say that once seen the Gowling Business College advert cannot be forgot, though the products sold by these fellow advertisers may just help.

If not them, a half dozen others are peddling similar products.

Bonne fête!

21 June 2013

The Poetic David Montrose

From Ottawa comes a new chapbook of hard-boiled epigrams drawn from the writings of one of our finest noir writers. The words this time belong to David Montrose, whose three Russell Teed mysteries – The Crime on Cote de Neiges, Murder Over Dorval, The Body on Mount Royal – were the first reissues in the Véhicule Press Ricochet Books series.

A limited edition of 25 copies, it follows last year's In The Darkness. Both are the work of J.C. Byers, who has produced what are by far the most elegant treatments of Canadian noir. An Easy Place to Die was printed with a Vandercook SP-15 press on St Armand Old Master, and features fourteen epigrams. My favourite comes from Murder Over Dorval, Montrose's second novel:
     She was a water dryad,
     And she came
     Dripping crystal sparks of light
     From the lake,
     And it was getting brighter,
     And that was good.
Montrealers will appreciate this:
     I couldn't sleep.
          because of the heat.
     It was hotter than hell.
     It was hotter than a fundamentalist
          thinks hell is.
     It was hotter than it had ever been
          before anywhere else in the world.
     It was almost as hot
          as it had been
          in Montreal
          last August.
Also included is a brief biography of David Montrose – Charles Ross Graham – in which Mr Byers considers Teed's misadventures:
Over the course of three novels Russell Teed's investigations taint him as a result of his contact with the criminal underworld. By the time the stories have ended he has been beaten, often, humiliated, and robbed. He has also seen strangers, friends, and lovers killed. He has nearly been killed and he himself has killed more than once, sometimes quite viciously.

"A Private Dick's Disturbing Descent into Darkness", I titled my piece on Murder Over Dorval. As the novels progress, the once upstanding McGill grad fairly comes apart. "The bottle becomes a refuge and it is easy to image Teed disappearing into it", writes J.C. Byers. "Indeed, one can hardly imagine an alternate fate."

Too right. He's done.

Those wishing to obtain copies of An Easy Place To Die may contact the publisher through Wollamshram's Blog.

Update: Back from the Ottawa Small Press Book Fair, Cameron Anstee has posted more photos of An Easy Place To Die. "My favourite purchase of the fair," says he.

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19 June 2013

Reverend Kerby Comes Upon a Blazing Bosom

Being the last of three posts on George W. Kerby's The Broken Trail.
I think I've been more than fair with Rev Kerby, accepting his stories while others, like Kenneth B. Leyton-Brown, question their veracity. I won't be so gentle here.

Rev Kerby's last tale, "The Outcast", is the shortest; there's not much to tell. Solly,  "a well-built, clean-shaven Hebrew" tells the pastor of a cabin on the outskirts of town in which a young woman named Esther lies dying. And then she does. Never mind. The important thing is that Rev Kerby was there to comfort and guide during Esther's final hours. "Her soul was struggling in the vortex of incredible sorrow", he writes. "The fires of hell were ablaze in her bosom."

The inferno's origin is explained in this exchange with able-bodied Solly:
     "She is your wife, I suppose?"
     "Nay, sir," he replied, raising his heavy eyebrows, and with a look of surprise. "She is my luve."
     "Your love?" I repeated. "You mean — "
     "My luve," he again interjected, and there was a slight agitation in. his manner. "I've luved her for four years."
     " Four years — not so bad, sir, for a Hebrew..."
Yep, not so bad. But the pastor believes he's found further fuel feeding the raging breast fire in another visitor, "a woman of prepossessing appearance":
She bowed gracefully and shook hands with both of us. "This is her friend," he continued. "She don't talk much English," and forthwith they began an animated conversation in French.
     I observed her very closely. She was elaborately made up with paint and powder, and was heavily perfumed with parme violets. Almost immediately the awful conviction dawned on me that the bundle of humanity in the comer was a unit in the vast army of degraded and blighted womanhood.
One of two things we learn of Rev Kerby's character through this book is that he was quick to judge. His consideration of Solly serves as an example of the second:

Yes, not even for a Hebrew.

Hollander Wilbur Wolfendon, whose "physical prowess was the primal glory of the race", and  Solly, forever "gesticulating wildly after the manner of his race", are the two ends of a thread of racism that runs through Rev Kerby's book. Lest I be judged too quick to judge, consider this passage in which the author sets down his thoughts on immigration:
These men and women coming to us, so different in language, customs and ideals, constitute one of the most serious of our national problems. But the initial, experimental stage has already passed, and the immigrants from the northern countries of Europe have so readily adapted themselves to our conditions, and so easily assimilated our ideas, that we have nowhere in the empire a more contented, thrifty and patriotic people, and none more worthy of the privileges of citizenship.
     On the other hand, we have to reckon with a very grave peril in receiving the ignorant and inefficient — the lazzaroni from the slums of Southern Europe, born to be seekers for a soft job, preferring to extort money rather than to work for it, and forever sowing the seeds of anarchy and moral degeneracy, and who breed crime, disease and death wherever they go.
I don't see that The Broken Trail features any anarchist immigrants. Moral degenerates? I suppose in Rev Kerby's eyes that would be Solly, Esther and Ernest Cashel (the sweet-smelling, prepossessing prostitute might count, but I'm betting she's from Quebec and not an immigrant). Crime? Well, that would be Ernest and Esther (providing the pastor is correct in assuming her to be a fallen woman). Disease? What's Esther dying from anyway? We're never told. Death? Easy – Ernest killed a man.

The thing is that Ernest, Esther and Solly weren't from Southern Europe, but the United States.

In the end, The Broken Trail proves itself a degraded book, a blighted book... but it is prepossessing.

Object: An 189-page hardcover with seven plates by A.M.  Wickson. My copy, bought last January at London bookstore – price: $6 – once belonged to G.H. Millar of Thorold, Ontario. I've not been able to find anything about Mr Millar beyond the fact that he was a Mason. I like to think that he was in some way related to Kenneth Millar.

Access: Held by most of our better universities and colleges, including Mount Royal University (né College), at which Kerby served as principal. The fine folk of Toronto, Edmonton and, of course, Calgary are also in luck. While the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec has a copy, Library and Archives Canada does not.

The Broken Trail enjoyed two separate editions – in 1909 and 1910 – both published by William Briggs. I've not seen the second, so can't speak to whether there are any differences in text.

Ten copies are currently listed for sale online, ranging in price between US$8.60 (Very Good second edition) to US$82.50 (Very Good inscribed first edition). Those looking to add a copy to their collections are advised to keep in mind that Rev Kerby not only had a flock, but headed a college – of those ten copies, three are signed. Rest assured there are plenty more out there.

Being in the public domain, the print on demand vultures are apickin'. For C$25.39, Nabu Press offers an edition that is graced with a lovely image of sailboats on what all Canadians will recognize as the Great Alberta Sea.

Don't get me started on E-Books Delivery Service, which for US$9.99 will happily email you pdf download instructions for something available gratis through the Internet Archive.

You can download it for free here.

Related post:

17 June 2013

Reverend Kerby Warns Against the Dime Novel

Being the second of three posts on George W. Kerby's The Broken Tail.
Because he was a man of the cloth, I'm inclined to give Rev Kerby the benefit of the doubt. I believe he was told that crazy stuff about an orphaned lad and his evil uncle, just as I believe that the teller walked from Calgary to Winnipeg in the dead of winter. What I doubt is that the man's name was Wilbur Wolfendon. Rev Kerby tells us that the trek received a good deal of attention, so how else can we explain why, apart from scans of this book, the name has virtually no web presence?

A greater mystery is why Rev Kerby chooses to hide the identity the man at the centre of "The Desperado", his second tale. The sorry soul the pastor refers to as "Ernest            " is Ernest Cashel, an American outlaw who had made headlines throughout Canada and the United States in the years before The Broken Trail was published.

The Californian, 11 December 1903
But as we all know, the Mounties always get their man.

The Yukon Sun, 24 January 1904
Rev Kerby isn't so much concerned with the sin as the sinner. We're told nothing of the murder that brought Cashel's death sentence. There is a loose account of the prison break and subsequent recapture, but most of "The Desperado" has to do with the pastor's work to secure the condemned man's salvation.

The Globe & Mail, 3 February 1904

Not everyone accepted the story, but I again find myself giving Rev Kerby the benefit of the doubt. I believe him when he writes that Cashel confessed, repented and received communion in the last minute or so before his execution.

Cashel blamed novels for his fate. Such was his conviction (no pun intended) that he left behind a warning, which Rev Kerby shared in the pages of this book and at a special post-execution event held at Hull's Opera House:
Young men of Calgary: —
     Remember, boys, I am not In a position to make any exaggeration. Here is my experience in regard to books, such as Diamond Dick's, Nick Carter's, Buffalo Bill's and James Boys'. I think by my own experience they are the starting of a romantic life. I know I used to read those books before I left home, and think how nice it would be if I could belong to a gang of brigands. Well, boys, I did have lots of fun as long as it lasted. But when my days were numbered I thought of my romantic life, boys. Oh, boys, take my advice and stay away from saloons, gambling-houses, and shun bad company, especially the house of ill-fame, for you know one bad woman is worse than ten bad men. She can lead you into the clutches of the devil before you are aware of the fact, and I tell you with a true heart, stay away from those bad women.
     Here is the story of my life, boys. I used to read novels when I was home, and that started me to going into bad company, drinking, gambling, and the first thing I knew I was looking out from behind the bars. I met some bad men in jail, and we planned, and I got out, but they caught me again, and I got out again, and so on for five years, till I landed in a condemned cell. Escaped again, but Providence proved against me, and I was fetched back to meet my fatal doom on the scaffold. I had to leave my dear ones at home and go among strangers, lay out nights, go without anything to eat for two days at a time, be wet and cold, and I have sat down many a time and thought of my dear old mother at home, breaking her heart, longing for her boy.
     Oh, boys! don't go away from home. Just think of Ernest — me in my doomed cell. I would die a dozen times to take the disgrace off my family. But, boys, it is too late now. Oh, what is my dear old mother doing to-day? Maybe she is dead. I wish I could see her, but she is far, far away from here, and I am going to be hanged in about twenty-four hours. Take my advice, dear boys, and stay at home, shun novels, bad company, drink and cigarettes. Don't do anything you are afraid to let your mother know.
One hundred and nine years later, the dime novel is long gone and the Twinkie looks to be in trouble.

What to blame next?

Ernest Cashel
c. 1882 - 1904
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13 June 2013

Reverend Kerby Treads Carefully

The Broken Tail
George W. Kerby
Toronto: Briggs, 1909

The cover promises Mounties, but this is really a collection of a prairie pastor's tales. George W. Kerby was a Methodist minister from Ontario. He came West in 1903 to shepherd the good souls of Calgary's Central Methodist Church, and seven years later became the first principal of the newly established Mount Royal College.

Reverend Kerby's stories would've come early in his prairie ministry. As such, they provide some idea of a pastor's place during the opening of the West. At the time of his arrival, Calgary, a city of six thousand or so, was one of the most populous in the North-West Territories, and the Province of Alberta was naught but a twinkle in Wilfrid Laurier's eye. Though the three stories in The Broken Trail are tinged with tragedy, the reverend is quick to defend, writing in his Preface that he intends not "to convey the impression that the West is in any way worse than the East". Rev Kerby would also like the reader to know that the facts of the stories have been in no way altered, though some liberty has been taken in adding "coloring and shading to give them a better literary value."

For the most part, I think he succeeded. The first, "A Son of Holland", begins much like a gothic novel, but with a switch in genders. In place of a heroine, the pastor presents crying Dutchman Wilbur Wolfendon. A fine specimen of a man, "tall and broad-shouldered, neatly groomed and garbed," our hero appears unexpectedly at the parsonage one Christmas Eve, desiring to unload his tale of woe.

And what woe!

Orphaned as an adolescent somewhere in the Netherlands, Wilbur is made the ward of a conniving uncle who sends him to a monastic institution in France. There he falls under the influence of a young Russian monk, Father Cyril, who shows him "many personal favors", and with whom he walks "arm in arm in the secluded haunts of the abbey." Wilbur seems ready to accept "no other home than the home of Father Cyril, and no other friend than the young Russian Benedictine", when he is visited by a playmate from childhood. Their time together brings some suspicion of uncle's motives vis-à-vis his parents' estate, and awakens a strong desire within Wilbur to return home. Father Cyril's kisses, pleas and "many endearing terms" cannot dissuade. As Rev Kerby writes, "even that, strong and true as the love of a man for a man could be, could not silence the home stirrings in his soul."

A month or two later, Wilbur flees the monastery.

Whatever is the author getting at?

Wilbur isn't entirely soured on monastic life. Indeed, Rev Kerby writes the fugitive novice believed that "only through such discipline and sacrifice that men of certain proclivities – which he did not specify – could find the joy of living." Wilbur tells Rev Kerby that monasticism is "the only thing for men with temperaments like Father Cyril", adding that "it did not suit his temperament  – he was much too masculine for that."

Wilbur returns to his uncle's home in Delftshaven, but the stay is brief. After a few weeks, under cover of night, he's drugged and abducted by evil henchmen. Poor Wilbur awakens the next morning to find that he has been committed to an insane asylum. There he stays for fifteen months, until a change of staff brings people not involved in the conspiracy.

Finally free, Wilbur succeeds in making something of himself in the civil service. He falls in love with the beautiful Isabel, sister of the very same childhood friend who visited the French monastery all those years ago. Though she loves him too, her father does not approve – everybody knows that young Wilbur was in a lunatic asylum; besides, the man has no money, no property and no title, having been cheated of all by his dastardly uncle.

Unable to marry the woman he loves, Wilbur does what any man would in following the trail of the heartbroken to western Canada. It is a mistake. The farther he gets from Isabel, the more his love grows. Sure, Wilbur has some adventures – for a time he serves in the North-West Mounted Police (that's meant to be him on the cover) – but try as he may, he just can't stop thinking about Isabel.

Sitting in the Central Methodist parsonage that magical Christmas Eve, Wilbur exclaims that Isabel's obstructive father is no more:
"Dead – I feel he is dead!" The answer was given with the authority of one who had psychical insight into the hidden things.
Wilbur then announces that he will walk across the continent to return to Isabel. The triviality that is the Atlantic Ocean makes no never mind.

"You are aware," remarks Rev Kerby, "that you are just as liable to be frozen to death in the attempt, even to reach Winnipeg, as if you were making a dash for the North Pole!"

It was at this point that I began to think I'd once read something of Wilbur Wolfendon's sad story elsewhere. A few pages later, seeing this A.M. Wickson illustration, everything clicked.

It turns out that I'd first learned of Wilbur through George Johnston's It Happened in Canada, (Richmond Hill, ON: Scholastic, 1973), a book my mother bought me when I was ten.

If Rev Kerby's claim is correct, that the facts in The Broken Trail have been in no way altered, then Johnston is wrong; Isabel did not travel to Winnipeg, rather Wilbur walked to the city – a distance of roughly 1300 kilometres – on his way to her Amsterdam home.

Or has the pastor been caught out?

"The story of the young Hollander who was walking across a continent to meet his love appeared in the press," he writes, "although the details differed somewhat from those related in my study. It enlisted the sympathy and interest of the citizens of that city, and money was immediately subscribed to enable him to finish his journey to Holland."

Differed in what way, I wonder. Is Johnston correct? Did Isabel make an Atlantic crossing?

Never mind. The biggest question I have is whether Wilbur Wolfendon really existed. Rev Kerby tells us that his trek was covered in the press, so how is it that searching his name on the web brings just two hits: The Broken Trail and a lone sentence in an old textbook?

Call in the Mounties.

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10 June 2013

The Year L.M. Montgomery Became Lucy Maud

The Canadian Bookman, January 1909
I have Erica Brown of the wonderful Reading 1900-1950 to blame for time wasted this past weekend. It was she who demonstrated just how much fun can be had with the Google Ngram Viewer, a tool used in charting words, names and phrases found in the 5.2-million books that the corporation has digitized.

Prof Brown, whose work focusses on the history of popular fiction, used the GNV to trace the rise of the term "middlebrow". I began with "Ontario Gothic" (as with all, click the graph to enlarge):

An interesting result, though one that should be viewed with a cautious eye. As Prof Brown points out, "5.2 million books digitized sounds great – and it is – but it isn’t everything, and it is skewed towards US publications." I'll add that the tool doesn't capture anything published after 2008, and that any ngram that occurs in fewer than 40 books will deliver a rather deceptive 0% flatline. Still, while not entirely accurate, I think it goes far in reflecting trends.

Here, for example, is a search that charts the shift away from "L.M. Montgomery" to "Lucy Maud Montgomery". Interesting to note that the two lines converge in the mid-nineties, when most of her work entered the public domain.

The real fun comes in drawing comparisons between writers. Here, for example, are Canada's Booker Prize winners:

How about this graph featuring mentor Irving Layton and pupil Leonard Cohen:

Better yet, Irving Layton versus Louis Dudek:

Here we see the careers of rivals Ernest Thompson Seton and Charles G.D. Roberts:

The declining interest in Seton and Sir Charles made me curious about Sir Gilbert Parker, our biggest fin de siecle author.

Sobering. Wonder how I'm doing. 


07 June 2013

Pamela Wallin Issues a Challenge

Read over my morning coffee:
Despite all the motives attributed to us, journalists seldom set out to uncover human flaws or scandal just for the sake of creating pain, or embarrassment, or defeat. But we do quite deliberately look for contradictions and incompetence, which sometimes leads us to uncover the aforementioned. And I'll challenge those who would question our pursuits and our legitimate curiosity about those who seek to lead us to explain why, as citizens, the less we know the better we are able to make choices.
— Pamela Wallin, Since You Asked, p. 58

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05 June 2013

Frank L. Packard's Wire Thriller (and others)

My review of Frank L. Packard's The Wire Devils, newly reissued by the University of Minnesota Press, is now up on the Montreal Review of Books website. You can read it here.

How good it is to see Packard return to print. Yes, some of the man's work has been available from POD publishers, but just how much confidence can one have in things like this "Frank L. 1877-1942 Packard" edition from Nabu Press.

Wait, isn't that Montreal's Spiš Castle? You know, the one built by 12-century Hungarians?

Amazon.ca sells Nabu's The Wire Devils for $31.54, and the new University of Minnesota Press edition at $12.96. I recommend the latter – and not because I'm cheap. The UMP's is not only free of the "missing or blurred pages, poor pictures, errant marks, etc." that plague Nabu, but includes a very fine Introduction by Robert MacDougall of the University of Western Ontario.

Prof MacDougall describes the novel as a wire thriller, late 19th and early 20th-century works that use the railroad, telegraph and telephone "as a backdrop for adventure." Dime novelist Frederick Van Rensselaer Dey penned Fighting Electric Fiends (1898) and his Street & Smith stablemate Franklin Pitt served up Brothers of the Thin Wire (1915), but I think it was Canadians, in Packard and Arthur Stringer, who dominated the genre.

The Wire Devils first appeared as a serial that ran over six issues in The Popular Magazine (20 March - 7 June 1917), was published in Canada by Copp Clark, the US by George H. Doran and A.L. Burt, and in the United Kingdom enjoyed two Hodder & Stoughton editions.

Messrs Dey and Pitt would've envied Frank L. Packard's success, but I'd argue that the true King of the Wire Thrillers was the handsome, savvy Arthur Stringer.

As far as I can tell his first foray into the genre was a short story, "The Wire Tappers", published in the August 1903 issue of Smart Set. I've not seen it, but am willing to bet that it was the basis of Stringer's 1906 novel of the same name.

The next year brought Phantom Wires. By far the most commercially successful wire thriller, it saw editions from Little, Brown, Musson, McClelland & Stewart and Bobbs-Merrill, It's likely that the last, a cheapo from A.L. Burt, appeared in 1924.

Even in 1906 and 1907, when first editions of The Wire Tappers and Phantom Wires sat on bookstore shelves, the wire thriller must have seemed a touch old-fashioned. "Look!" exclaims the heroine of the latter "they're talking with their wireless!" Stringer anticipated the future by following the two with The Gun Runner, a novel in which a wireless operator from Nova Scotia plays hero.

Whither the fax thriller?

The Wire Tappers
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1922