Sunday, March 20, 2011

"As inarticulate as the feeling of a Newfoundlander for rum"

Here's a bit from Murder Over Dorval (1952) by David Montrose, second in Véhicule Press' Ricochet series of vintage Canadian hard-boiled reprints:
"You take these great, over-engined, chrome-bedizened American monstrosities of cars … they now have gears that change themselves. To someone who likes to drive a car, that’s about as sensible as a machine for making babies would be to anyone who likes to manufacture them naturally.

“My Riley is different. My Riley takes a delicate hand on the gear lever, like a good jockey's grip on a racehorse’s reins. And the results are about the same. About the time I’m going fifty, when I’m just ready to shift into high, I can look in the rear-view mirror and the American cars that got away from the stop light the same time I did are a blur in the distance."

The Riley was a British car, yet the prose here would not be out of place in a U.S. paperback original. A blend of British and American. That's one good way to think about Canada, at least in the middle of the last century.
For a uniquely Canadian touch, here's how protagonist Russell Teed loves the car he has just described for you:
“ … I’d tell you how much I love it if I could, but the feeling of a car-lover for his machine is as inarticulate as the feeling of a Newfoundlander for rum: you just have to sense it.”

Here's my post on The Crime on Cote des Neiges, the first of the David Montrose reprints from Véhicule.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Blogger seana graham said...

No nostalgic weighing in from your fellow Canadians yet, then. Montrose sounds like someone I'd enjoy, if only for the period it would evoke.

March 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

My post on The Crime on Cote des Neiges drew one comment from a fellow Canadian. I also received a nice note from the publisher, who wrote that he was glad the book had made me nostalgic for Montreal. It had done so, though, in addition to that, it pointed up slight differences between American and Canadian attitudes.

It would be interesting to hear what a literate, intelligent American crime-fiction reader had to say about the books. Montrose was a good writer, up there with some of the authors from the 1950s whom Hard Case Crime has published.

March 20, 2011  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, von Clausewitz described war as politics by other means but I felt the quote you provided by David Montrose was car description as politics by other means. Is he really talking about cars when he says:

You take these great, over-engined, chrome-bedizened American monstrosities ...?

Surely, he's giving us a stereotypical version of the Canadian idea of what American people are like. And as opposition to that he gives us the Riley, a quintessentially British creation, a going concern back in 1952, but in retrospect, a harbinger of the death of the British car industry. I have never driven a Riley or a 1950s American monstrosity, so I can't comment, but I wouldn't take David Montrose as an unbiased authority on the quality of American or British cars.

the feeling of a car-lover for his machine is as inarticulate as the feeling of a Newfoundlander for rum: you just have to sense it.

I'm not a Newfoundlander but do you think the average Newfoundlander would be happy with such stereotyping?

Some people are nostalgic for the '50s. Not me.

Apparently, 'David Montrose' was a Harvard-educated economist. I'm trying to think up a good insult for the man, but sometimes there's just no improving on reality.

March 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Let's hope Blogger does not eat this reply the way it ate my previous effort.

I hope you're not disappointed that I find nothing to disagree with in what you say. Yes, Teed's assessment of American cars may well be something of a political comment. The author was Canadian but spent a fair amount of time in the U.S. and knew Americans. That's an unusual perspective for most crime-fiction readers, and it constitutes part of what makes the book interesting.

Newfoundlanders are a traditional butt of Canadian jokes and I might not have quoted this passage so readily had I been a Newfie myself. But this one is mild (as are all the Newfie jokes I've heard) and susceptible of benign interpretation, so I went ahead with it.

I mentioned Montrose's educational background in the comments on my post about "Crime on Cote des Neiges." His protagonist is of relatively affluent background, and Montrose makes good use of this in one passage in the first book. That alone makes Teed unusual among hard-boiled heroes.

March 20, 2011  
Anonymous solo said...

Peter, on mature reflection, as we like to say in these parts, I realize my comment about people having nostalgia for the 50s is a little vague. It would be understandable if the recipient of such a comment harboured unkind suspicions about where that comment was aimed at. It certainly wasn't aimed at you.

My point was that casual racism or ethnic or regional slurs would have passed almost unnoticed in the 50s and despite complaints of PC overkill we're better off where we are now.

Of course, we have our own regional jokes here in Ireland but I think writers would be careful about how they use them.

Would modern day Canadian writers use Newfie jokes unironically or describe Newfoundlanders as specialists in the imbibing of rum? Or are they all wonderfully PC now?

March 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, Blogger apparently could not stand the strain of providing uninterrupted service for several months and is now eating comments again. So, here goes my second try at this one:

I think both these books include warnings that they reflect racist and sexist attitudes of their time, the early 1950s. But I don't see the warnings as necessary, and the Canadian author who wrote an introduction for the second book agrees with me. Such expressions of racism and sexism are exceedingly mild. Four of the villains in Murder of Dorval are black, for instance, and the closest thing to slurs against them are passing references on the order of "He took a shot at me, and then I was waylaid by four black boys on the way over here."

A minor female character is referred to several times in terms along the lines of "the ugliest woman you could imagine," and Montrose has a hardworking, generally admirable French Canadian police officer speak English with a French Canadian accent. And that's it, as far as I can recall -- that and the Newfoundlander line. English has a rich lexicon of offensive terms for all these groups, but you won't read them in these books.

As for the Newfoundlander line, the few Newfie jokes I remember from my youth had to do with intelligence or lack thereof rather than with drinking. More to the point, they were identical to jokes one would hear about other ethnic groups, only with the names changed. They were thoroughly pro forma and without imagination, in other words.

It might be worth remembering as well that Newfoundland did not join the Canadian confederation as a province until 1949. So there may have been a certain weird exoticism to Newfoundlanders in the 1950s.

The publisher's list includes lots of twentieth-century Montreal history, so nostalgia of a kind may play a role in its decision to revive these mysteries. A general revival of interest in pulp, as reflected in Hard Case Crime's success, may also play a role. FInally, the books are pretty good examples of their type. I may prepare a post to that effect.

March 20, 2011  

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