Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Douglas Sanderson and Canadian exceptionalism

Douglas Sanderson, a hard-boiled writer who spent the middle of his life in Montreal and set several books there, got good mileage out of turning Canadian stereotypes on their heads.

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

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Blogger RTD said...

Except for my knowledge of and experience with Louise Penny, I haven't given much thought to Canadian authors; I appreciate your posting because I now have another Canadian author to sample (and I suspect this will be a better experience). So, thanks for your fine posting. Over at "Talking About Detective Fiction," I am asking visitors to respond to a conversation-starting question. You are cordially invited.

December 10, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the note, and where do I find Talking About Detective Fiction?

You might also take a look at John McFetridge, Dietrich Kalteis, and others among Canadian writers. Whether or not one finds Douglas Sanderson or anyone else a better writer than Louise Peny depends on what kind of crime fiction one likes. They are very different sorts of writers.

December 10, 2015  
Blogger RTD said...

This link should help:

December 10, 2015  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...


December 10, 2015  

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