Douglas Sanderson and Canadian exceptionalism
In The Deadly Dames (1956), protagonist Bill Yates sweats his way through a 100-degree Montreal summer and comments on the old joke about the American who arrives in sweltering weather with skis strapped to his car, wondering where all the snow is. "It's a story good for two laughs per summer," Yates remarks. "It makes us feel superior."
Later Yates comments on the Quebec law that forbids shorts on the grounds of indecent exposure: "When we're not feeling superior we're feeling virtuous."
Finally, he notices the gambling club that operates openly despite laws against such activity:
"The sign was large. It possessed a unique property. Officially it wasn't there. I, the cops and maybe a quarter of the city's inhabitants knew that gambling went on in the club's second floor. Gambling is illegal. We don't like it. Therefore the club doesn't exist and there's no sign. When we're not feeling superior or virtuous we're being blind."Oh, and then there's
"We're nice, kindly, superior and virtuous, the newspapers insist. They add with a touch of pride that we're maybe drab and colorless. It's a great thing to see the kindly types kicking in each other's heads every night. Once in a while, like when they suspend the local hockey star. thousands of polite drab people go on a screaming, howling rampage twenty-hour hours of smashing and looting."The last is, presumably, a reference to the Richard riot of March 17, 1955. Popular memory regards the riot as an example of Montrealers' love for hockey or a watershed moment in French Canadian nationalism. It's part of Canada's "heritage," that self-preening substitute for history, and I like Sanderson's knocking it off its sentimental pedestal.
(Read more about Douglas Sanderson courtesy of my landsman Kevin Burton "Thrilling Detective Website" Smith.)
© Peter Rozovsky 2015