04 November 2016

Testing Jimmie Dale's Patience (and mine)

Jimmie Dale and the Phantom Clue
Frank L. Packard
Toronto: Copp, Clark, 1922

This third Gray Seal book begins where the second, The Further Adventures of Jimmie Dale, leaves off. Gentleman Jimmie and lady Marie LaSalle are entwined, adrift in a small boat on the East River. Wizard Marre is dead... and with him the last remnant of the Crime Club that had once threatened their lives. Eventually, Marie breaks the embrace and begins to row. Jimmie looks on, "drinking in the lithe, graceful swing of her body, the rhythmic stroke of the heavy oars." All is calm and the pace is slow, despite Marie's exertion, until they reach Manhattan.

Marie acts quickly. Gaining terra firma, she flings the oars in the water, then pushes the boat – and Jimmie – back into the river.
"Jimmie! Oh, Jimmie!" Her voice reached him in a low, broken sob. "There was no other way. It's in your pocket, Jimmie. I put it there when – when you were – were holding me."
Jimmie watches as Marie disappears into the crowded street, and I nearly threw the book against the wall.

The pattern repeats. Jimmie Dale and the Phantom Clue begins in
much the same way as The Further Adventures of Jimmie Dale. Our hero has vanquished the villains of the previous volume only to learn that another threatens Marie. Fearful that the link between she and he will expose the millionaire clubman's secret identity as the Gray Seal, Marie disappears to take on her new foe. The difference this time is that she expects to call on Jimmie's help every once in a while, as detailed in a letter she had left in his pocket.

There follows a new set of Gray Seal adventures; some work toward the defeating Marie's new nemesis, a mysterious figure she calls the Phantom, while others don't. The plots are clever and the writing is on par, but it's all a bit too familiar... and familiarity breeds contempt. I grew tired of reading details of Jimmie's costume changes and elderly
 butler Jason's pride at having "dandled" the infant Jimmie on his knee. We're told three times that the underworld's slogan is "Death to the Gray Seal!" (down from four in The Adventures of Jimmie Dale and eight in the The Further Adventures of Jimmie Dale). Because the adventures were first published apart in pulp magazines, one might expect a certain amount of repetition and reminding, but the absence of an editor's red pen here just adds to the stagnant nature of the book.

I like to think that Jimmie Dale and the Blue Envelope Murder, the next Gray Seal volume, opens with the two crimefighters together, perhaps married with children, but I  really don't care enough to investigate.

At the end, I cast my mind back to the beginning, and wondered why Jimmie hadn't simply swum to shore.

Object: A 301-page novel in bland blue cloth with damaged dust jacket. The cover illustration is by A.D. Rahn. I purchased my copy in 2012 at London's Attic Books. Price: $15.00.

I have a second copy, one of the ten Gray Seal Edition Packards I bought two years ago. Price: US$25.00 (for the ten).

Access: First published in 1922 by Copp, Clark (Canada) and Doran (United States). The following year, Hodder & Stoughton put out the first UK edition. As far as I can tell, the novel was last published in 1942 by Novel Selections as Jimmy Dale and the Phantom Clue.

The novel is held by nineteen of our universities, but not one library serving the public. Library and Archives fails, as does the more reliable Toronto Public Library.

Twenty-two copies of one edition or another is listed by online booksellers, ranging in price from US$4.50 (a cheap A.L. Burt reprint) to US$100 (the Copp, Clark Canadian first, "near fine in very good dj"). My advice is to try Attic Books.

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  1. Frank L. Packard. I have a copy of The Beloved Traitor sitting here which I've not yet delved into. Not one of the Jimmie/Jimmy Dales, which, if I'm reading you correctly, were most enthralling in the early part of the elongated series.

    What I'm *really* wanting to say is that I recently spent a good long session over on the Richard Rohmer blog, and, though the thought of delving into his epic (cough, cough) works tempts me not a little, I believe I will be able to resist.

    Until I stumble upon one of his books, of course. Though they look to be largish, so that might be a painful impact. In every sense.

    Thank you for the good reading. Had to smile when I saw the whole thing about "Who the heck is Charles de Lint?" Coincidence, because I was reading one of his books at the time. The first one I've finished, though I have sampled others from time to time, thinking "Maybe this time it'll take..." before losing interst and wandering away. I do on occasion like to dabble in fantasy, but the quality tends to be iffy in the genre at the best of times, I find.

    Anyway, I see I am rambling, so I will sign off. Happy reading in November!

    1. I think I'm done with Jimmie, though I do own a copy of the next, Jimmie Dale and the Blue Envelope Murder. I've come to realize that I much prefer Packard's early work. The Miracle Man (1914) is by far my favourite thus far. Though I haven't read Beloved Traitor, I can't help but note that it was published the very next year. I see this as a good sign.

      Rohmer! Gosh, darn it, we seem stuck with four titles to go before we can say we've tackled his oeuvre. The problem is that two of those titles are government reports from the middle of last century, while the other two are self-published books that we simply can't find anywhere.

      If you do want to read one - and I am by no means recommending you do - I suggest Ultimatum. It's his biggest seller, of course, but more than this it is marginally better than most. Bonus: It isn't so long, though I've theorized that Exxoneration is really just the second half of the same novel. Reading Separation and Separation Two back to back might be fun, but then you'd also have to read Exodus/UK ('cause Separation is really just the second half of that novel).

      I did enjoy reading about your reading Charles de Lint - in part because I'm fairly sure I'll never read him. I'm sure he's a nice guy and everything, but I can't... I just can't.

      Happy November reading to you, too. Tonight I'm going to start in on forgotten Montrealer Katherine Roy's 1959 novel The Gentle Fraud. It looks promising... and it isn't too long.