Scooped! On my own turf!!!
Yesterday the Divine Ms. Sarah
blogged a little about Montreal pulp fiction and even though she generously linked to assorted scribblings I've previously done on the topic, I still feel a little, well, uh, violated.
Of course, being a stand-up gal, she gave me a heads-up and get this: it turns out we BOTH recently ordered the same book (SUGAR-PUSS by Al Palmer, a 1950 paperback about a fallen girl in our mutual big bad city).
Of course, I'm ALWAYS interested in Montreal pulp and crime fiction, but lately it's been rekindled because I'm writing an intro for Stark House Press' reprint of the third (and final) novel in the Mike Garfin private eye series by Martin Brett.
Mike (actually Michel) is the real deal, an honest-to-goodness Montreal P.I., half-French-Canadian, half-Irish-Canadian (nowadays he'd be referred to as half-Quebecois, half Anglophone), an ex-Mountie turned private peeper working the mean streets of "la ville ouverte," a wide-open city full of all the good things Montreal had to offer in the thirties, forties and fifties: sin, sin and more sin, all greased along by corruption at almost every level of government, which no doubt inspired Chandler himself to once refer (perhaps with a little jealousy) to Montreal as "almost as crooked as we are."
Ah, the good old days, when sex was still considered "dirty"...
Garfin's an eye straight out of the Spillane mold, then, a mass of social and ethical contradictions and hypocrisies and more than a few psychological issues. He loves/hates women, despises homosexuals, and displays offensive attitudes towards various ethnic and national groups with alarming frequency -- in short, he's gloriously politically incorrect. But he never seems anything less than real, even if his cases do sometimes devolve into swirling whirlpools of coincidence and head-scratching plot twists.
He was created by Martin Brett, a writer with more than a few "issues" himself. Brett was a pseudonym of Ronald Douglas Sanderson. He was British by birth but later became a Canadian citizen, and wrote several documentaries for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, before eventually returning to Europe. But one quick read of the Garfin novels and you know that he was a Montrealer through and through -- at least for a while. His renderings of Montreal come alive, in a way the dry and juiceless warblings of a currently popular mystery writer never do.
Besides the Mike Garfin books, Brett wrote several other hard-boiled novels (sometimes under the pen name of Malcolm Douglas) in the fifties and sixties, including Exit In Green, Flee From Terror (set in Yugoslavia), Murder Comes Calling, Rain of Terror, Prey By Night, And All Flesh Dies, The Final Run, Dead Connection, Shout For The Killer and The Deadly Dames (featuring Montreal P.I. Bill Yates, who is actually Garfin under another name for another publisher). The books are all solidly pulpy affairs, that all seem to take place in a eternal night full of treacherous women, evil foreigners, slimy drug dealers and sexually ambiguous thugs -- sweaty fever dreams of sex and violence that seem worlds away from the carefully articulated self-conscious but oh-so-literary blow-dried, semi-detached perversions of even our most twisted hard-boiled crime writers.
Those guys (and we all know who they are) regularly get Edgar nominations and literary acclaim. All Sanderson got was obscurity. But read one of his books and I guarantee you'll come away with a slightly dirty feeling, like you've inadvertently enjoyed something a little nasty. But by God, you'll know you'll have read something. A little viscerality can go a long way...
Which is why it's such a thrill that Stark House is bringing them back in all their occasionally repugnant glory, and I'm so jazzed about writing the intros. (I also wrote the intro for a 2004 two-fer that reprinted PURE SWEET HELL and CATCH A FALLEN STARLET
And the third Garfin novel, the one I'm doing the new intro for, is possibly the best yet, a real treat. It was actually written in 1961, several years after the first few entries in the series, and offers a more global perspective (by this point Sanderson's wanderlust had brought him to Spain, I believe). Garfin gets roped into a case involving a deposed president from an unnamed but volatile South American country, hiding out from his political enemies (after ransacking his homeland's treasury) in a mansion up on Mont Royal, who fear his return may spark another coup.
At times, the plot seems depressingly timely, what with its cynical talk of insurgents and true believers, and the summary of the president's revolution-torn homeland reads like modern-day talking points from newspaper reports and TV broadcasts from abroad (or even closer to home): "...seven sorts of secret police. The clamp's on... the jails are fuller than ever. Torture is back. The... government is made up of idealists... You don't need trials when you have ideals."
The title of the book (which may partially explain why it's so hard to find a good used copy) is -- and I kid you not -- A DUM-DUM FOR THE PRESIDENT. But rest assured -- despite all the thriller-like foreign intrigue, Garfin remains Garfin.
I'm enough of a goody two-shoes to enjoy a good, morally uplifting tale as much as the next doofus, but sometimes I just wanna wallow. And the Garfin novels are the perfect cure.
Plus, they're great for homesickness.