Miss Moneypenny's Fishnets & The Last Temptation of Bond
Saturday, March 29, 2014
Today I regret having abandoned my years of
dancing the Argentine Tango in Vancouver.
In the beginning my wife and I had attempted to learn together. There is one
incident I will never forget. I remember telling our dance teacher Carlos
Loyola, “I refuse to dance with that woman!” At the same time that I had my
dance spat with Rosemary she found out she had critical osteoporosis and the
constant turning of knees in tango did her in.
But I kept dancing and became what I would kindly consider to be an “efficient”
dancer. I was good enough not to be noticed.
But one of the high points of going to the
weekly milonga at the Polish Community Hall on Fraser Street was Zanna Downes. She had a
perfect British accent, the Queen herself. She had long blonde hair and a
lovely and warm face. She was polite and you could easily imagine her as a
countess lording over a castle in northern England. But that image was not for
me. She was Miss Moneypenny. And not, most definitely the Miss Moneypenny of
the James Bond films.
I danced with all sorts of beautiful women
who wore satin dresses with slits on the side. One, Indiana was 6 ft tall and
when I danced with her nobody noticed me because they noticed her. I looked
pretty good with Indiana.
Because she was tall, and because Argentine Tango dictates that one should
dance tightly this meant that the only way was for me to rest my head on her
But that was routine for me after a while. I
waited for the moment that Zanna (short for Alexandra) would arrive. She would
sit on a side bench to put on her dancing shoes. Most always she wore fishnets
on the most beautiful legs I have ever seen (up there with my mother’s and my
Rosemary). She would cross her legs and bend over to slip her high heeled tango
shoes. It never got any better except perhaps when I danced with her and she
would ask, “How are you?”
If Zanna had been Miss Moneypenny, perhaps
Bond would have retired a long time ago.
From Kimmy Beach's The Last Temptation of Bond
The World is Not Enough
HIM EVERY DAY, But she can have him anytime she likes.
comes into my office, tosses his hat on the rack, embraces
His lips on my cheek, his eyelashes brushing mine. He says,
what would I do without you?”
honestly don’t know. I’ve saved him repeatedly. I’ve made so many excuses for
have everything. But I have such longing. Such…I’d let myself be
for one night with him above me, inside me, all over me.
is so much darkness at my core. Darkness I cannot confess
myself, never mind to him. The horrifying thoughts I have of
his gun from its holster while he is embracing me. I don’t
him to know this darkness, this desire that consumes me.
temptation to pull that gun from his body, shoot him in the
In the place where a heart would be. The next shot for me.
want to cut him limb to limb. I want him to bend to my knife, let
open veins come all over me. Then I’d cut my own heart in half.
no other way for us.
my intercom. M and the bloody demands. Just once I’d
to tell M to stuff it, but I like my job. I like the people. I like
the secrecy. And I hate James
The Last Temptation of Bond
Metropolis - Moses - Jacobs - Charyn
Friday, March 28, 2014
Serendipity is particularly salient when
one looks back on it. When the events that combine for that serendipity happen,
the connection is not immediately obvious.
Consider that in October 1995 I traveled to
New York City to interview and photograph a
favourite author, Jerome Charyn in his Greenwich Village
apartment. A month later I received a phone call from
Vancouver Magazine columnist Sean Rossiter who told me:
“Jane Jacobs is in town. I strongly
recommend you take her picture. Let me arrange this for you, if you are
The soft-spoken urbanologist knocked on my
door and stepped in. She faced my camera and said,
"Don't try to soften up
my face, this is who I am."
What would be the connection between these
two, the urbanologist who in her later years resided in Toronto and Charyn the Bronx novelist?
Back that October I went to a lovely
bookstore, Posman Books in Rockefeller Centre and found a 1986 book by Charyn,
Metropolis – New York as Myth, Marketplace,
and Magical Land. I paid $20.00 for the first edition. I do not remember if Charyn told
me about the book and where I could find it. The book has a dedication by
Charyn to me. I remember little else.
But on page 147 (Chapter 7 – The Pharaoh
and the Unicorn) of this non fiction memoir of Charyn’s relationship with New York (especially with the Bronx
of his childhood he writes:
The Arsenal is a nineteenth-century fort in
Central Park that Robert Moses had seized
during his long rule of the City’s parks, playgrounds, and beaches. Moses had
been a hurly-burly man. The Parks Department was only a tiny portion of his
empire. He’d ruled bridges, tunnels, highways, dams and state parks. New York, city and state,
had had fifty years of Robert Moses, and for a while it seemed like he was the
most powerful son of a bitch on earth. He feuded with Franklin Roosevelt and
won. He hoodwinked La Guardia half a dozen times. He established is own
mayoralty under the Triborough
Bridge. He destroyed the Bronx with one of his expressways. And he would have
destroyed Greenwich Village too, declared it a slum and barreled a highway
under Washington Square Park, if Jane Jacobs and thousands of other people hadn’t screamed their heads off. He’d
become an ogre, an imperial wizard who couldn’t be reached. But there wouldn’t
have been much of a Parks Department without Robert Moses. He was an authentic New York creature, the
worst and best of men. But powerful as he was, the City has buried him under layers of dust and
sand. He’d become another ancient baron, half remembered.
What does Charyn write of Jane Jacobs in
Chapter Two - Land of the Spider Lady
In 1961 Jane Jacobs, a forty-five-year-old
editor at Architectural Forum, published her first book, The Death and Life of
Great American Cities, and our sense of the city has never been the same. Until
Jane Jacobs, we had Lewis Mumford, a graduate of Stuyvesant
High School, who’d been predicting the
death of New York
since 1938. “Each great capital sits like a spider in the midst of its
transportation web, “Mumford told us. New
York had little more to give than “shapeless giantism”
and “megalopolitan growth.” It was a “Plutonian world in which living forms
became frozen in metal.” Mumford offered us an entire schema, “A Brief Outline
of Hell,” from the birth of cities through their decline as Parasitopolis and
Pathopolis until their final state as “Nekropolis, city of the dead.” …and
there were few dissenters until Jane Jacobs came along. “I like dense cities best
and care about them most,” she said.
That October/November serendipity closed
in 2007 when the Rockefeller Foundation created the Jane
Jacobs Medal and paid me good money for the photograph you see here.
I Am A Manichee
Thursday, March 27, 2014
In 1973 when I was
living in Mexico
I saw Jesus Christ Superstar, Norman Jewison’s film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical. Two
things stood out for me.
One had to do with the
song, Everything’s All Right. It might just be one of the first musical numbers
in popular music to use the somewhat difficult, almost remote 5/4 time
signature. Think of Paul Desmond’s composition, Take Five which appeared in the
Dave Brubeck Quartet album Time Out in 1959.
Two was even more
complex even though to my mind it a made lots of sense. It was that without
Judas there would have been no betrayal, no crucifixion. This would meant that
the concept of God sacrificing his Son, would cleanse mankind of original sin
would not have happened.
I must admit here that
once I read Heraclitus in 1963 I developed a belief that in Latin sounds really
neat – coincidentia oppositorum. Heraclitus believed that all things were characterized by pairs of contrary properties. Hot included cold. Fast included
slow and so on. Think of putting your toes into boiling hot water in the tub
and thinking at first that the water is ice cold! As these contrary properties
strive with each other they move towards unity and harmony. In a way Heraclitus
was paving the way for my German friend whom I read in an Argentine Navy brig
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s dialectics - the idea, its opposite, their
Luckily for me I live
in the 21st century and no church, no Torquemada will burn me at the
stake for having Manichaeistic beliefs. Manichaeism
taught a dualistic cosmology that was a struggle between a good, spiritual
world of light, and an evil, material world of darkness - God versus the devil
- the good angels versus the bad ones – Apple versus Microsoft and so on.
Call me a Manichee.
Californian Judy Brown, back in my youth around 1964 (when I discovered
Heraclitus) did not believe in selflessness. In fact she (I never asked her if
she had read anything by Ayn Rand) insisted that Christ had gone to the cross
for the pleasure of giving his life away. Forget the pain. He (He) was not
selfless but selfish. Brown would not budge from her philosophy and I could not
find any argument in my limited brain to counter her.
Besides my limited
brain I have been always plagued by an incipient nerdishness (somehow my
Rosemary never noticed it, God bless her!). The first few times that a young girl
looked at me (for more than a few seconds) I would look to see behind me to
figure out what had awoken her interest. In the few times that I have been
propositioned (the fingers of one hand will suffice) a somewhat tipsy woman who
went by the handle of Emma Peel (very English, but not that English one) looked at
me and said, “Let’s penetrate.” As you can imagine I didn’t. I was shocked. For too many years I wasn't aware that two of my ills had a name. I did not find out until 1976 that I was dyslexic and now I hear a lot of people talking about low self esteem. Who knew?
My friend Judy Brown
would have said, “It wasn’t guilt that you were a married man that made you
decline (in shock) but because you knew that Vancouver was much too small a town and in
your circles you would have been caught. Brown, in her firm belief in selfishness,
discounted the existence of guilt.
For me (remember I am
a Manichee) jealousy is the other side of the coin of love, right on the other
side of wrong. At all times I must make some sort of clear choice or apply situation
ethics with a dash of Hegelian synthesis.
I hold to these
1. You don’t mention
the word abortion or allude to it if you want to be a politician.
2. You don’t argue with
anybody for or against the existence of God.
3. You say nothing of
gun control when you visit Texas
or sip Pearl Beer with an inhabitant of that state. Natch, it also applies to
the idea of socialized medicine, Canadian style.
4. Like dozing dogs
you avoid all confrontation with ex-Georgia Straight dance critics.
5. This one is the
most important as it applies to several close members of my family. Avoid
bringing the idea of guilt even if you believe in it, as I do.
I believe that guilt
is very much like our perception that heat burns. Because we have extreme
abilities to sense heat in our fingers we can remove them quickly from a fire,
the stove or the oven. One of the most remarkable novels I have ever read,
Ingenious Pain, by Andrew Miller, tells the story of a boy who grows to be a
young man who is unable to feel physical pain. Pain helps us avoid more of the
same. It is part of our body’s self-preservation kit.
Guilt does to my head
what pain does to my body. When I feel guilt, I know I have done something
wrong, or not done something to make things right. A couple of my near and
loved ones often tell me, “Don’t throw a guilt trip at me.”
I wish I could be more
ingenious in helping them to see the consequences of not being a Manichee!
Happy to be sad
Joel Adria, 23, Floor Director - Helen Lawrence
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Addendum to Helen Lawrence - A One Take Film & Larry Campbell's Ghost
Helen Lawrence was such an interesting
experience that I had to go back. This time, yesterday Tuesday, I brought my retired CBC cameraman friend
(busy shooting Hockey Night in Canada
and several sitcoms, Mike Varga and my 16-year-old granddaughter Rebecca. I
knew that the former would be intrigued by the elaborate technical side of the
production and the latter might recognize the existence of heretofore unknown possible
professions as career choices. And I am sure that Vancouver offers many institutions to teach
this new theatrical method.
This second time around it had to be my
Rebecca who whispered in my ear, “The actors are filming themselves.” The first
time around I thought separate camera people were involved!
Thanks to the intervention of Front-of –the-House
Manager Peter Chapek and dramaturg Rachel Ditor we had the unusual pleasure of
talking to Stage Manager Jan Hodgson and Floor Director Joel Adria. Anybody who knows anything about theatre knows that the second most important person in a theatrical production after the director is the Stage Manager. Usually they are women and they are virtual dictators back stage. We talked to Joel Adria because Jan Hodgson had given her green light!
Mike Varga almost knew just about
everything we had seen but he had some doubts. Between Hodgson and Adria, they
managed to answer all of Varga’s rapid questions.
Now have a look at the portrait of Joel Adria.
He is 23-years-old (I hoped my Rebecca noticed that someone so young had such
an important job in a wide-open profession most of us are ignorant of). Joel
Adria graduated from the University of
Alberta at Edmonton. He calls himself a theatrical video
technician. I noticed a comfortable self-assurance in a young man that is bound
to go far (this was a comment by Mike Varga who can spot talent when he sees
it. Consider that I first met Varga at the CBC in 1977 when he was shooting
drama and variety special). I was able to understand little between with what transpired between Varga and Adria. But I did get that Adria faced a large monitor back stage and without him the production could sink. All that power and only 23!
Interesting, too that the modern actor (and actress) now, in order to get work, must manage to act, be slim, play a musical instrument (Jennifer Lines has played an accordion on stage), sing, dance (with that separate entity that I call tap dancing). Helen Lawrence now adds a new layer of necessary skill. Actors must know know how to skillfully handle a modern video camera.
It is my hope that more young people like
my granddaughter will be exposed to Helen Lawrence. The decision makers of
this production should tap Adria to give talks as Helen Lawrence travels across
Canada and from there to Europe. I found Adria charming and inspiring.
|Mayor Gerry Grattan McGeer|
This is the background as I see it to
tonight’s terrific opening performance of the Arts Club Theatre Production of
Helen Lawrence – Vancouver Confidential. It was conceived by Stan Douglas with
story by Chris Haddock and Stan Douglas & written by Chris Haddock. It runs to April 13.
1. Bill Millerd in the program notes
In the spring of 2012 director Kim Collier (Tear the Curtain!/Electric
Theatre Company) talked to Rachel Ditor and myself about the project and we
became intrigued, not only by the new technology that Stan Douglas was working
on, but also the involvement of Chris Haddock.
2. Playback (a form of it) Raymond Chandler’s second-to-last novel (followed by the unfinished Poodle Springs) had been written in 1944
before, Little Sister,
1949, and The Long Goodbye,
I found this out in the introduction by Philippe Garnier to Playback - A Graphic Novel by Ted
Benoit and Francois Ayroles. The latter is the illustrator and the former the
man who adapted the original film treatment by Chandler who had tinkered with it until
1947 when he tried to sell it, unsuccessfully, to Universal Pictures.
What is interesting about this original screenplay was that it was set in Vancouver. Chandler wanted to
explore the ramifications of Canadian liquor laws, its justice system and wanted to
play with the idea of crossing borders with necessary documents. When Chandler was unable to sell his screenplay he moved the
action to La Jolla, California, and renamed it Esmeralda. The original
version of Playback begins with a beautiful blonde on a train to Vancouver.
3. I met Chris Haddock, if briefly behind
the scenes of Larry Campbell's victory night at the Vancouver Public Library
atrium in November 2002. I had taken the photographs for Campbell’s
campaign and I was aware how Campbell’s
career as City Coroner had been the inspiration for Haddock’s Da Vinci’s
Inquest. I think Haddock and I might have nodded at each other, we both knew
|Larry Campbell & Jim Green, Nov 2002|
4. When I saw the opening performance of
the joint Arts Club Theatre/Electric Theatre Company production of Tear the
Curtain on September 15, 2010 I was amazed by an original blend of theatre with
film that reminded me of a Czech theatre production called Magic Lantern that I
saw during the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. The production combined live theatre
with back projection.
5. Helen Lawrence is an almost seamless
(more on why below) improvement of what has preceded it.
In a seamless production you would be at the movies seeing
a film and not knowing that the actors in back alleys, hotel rooms and bars were
not there but on a lit stage and filmed while combining their images to the background
Luckily for us Helen Lawrence is done so that
you see the silhouettes of the camera persons behind the huge scrim in front on
which is projected that combination of actors and backgrounds. The actors are in
“living” colour but the finished product is in effective black and white with lots
of noir lighting touches.
The actors all look the part, in particular
Nicholas Lea (as Percy Walker, he of the hatpin), and Lisa Ryder as the Chandler blonde. Everybody
else is just about perfect.
But there was one person mentioned but not seen.
The Vancouver mayor,
shortly after the war, 1947 in Helen Lawrence, would have been Gerald (Gerry) Grattan McGeer. His picture is shown above. The likes of him would have
never allowed for a corrupt-on-the-take police chief like Gerard Plunkett’s Chief James Muldoon or
a nasty drunkard Sergeant Leonard Perkins played to tipsy perfection by Tom
McBeath. I just wish our Honourable Senator would have perhaps used spring break to appear in tonight's play. Campbell would have fitted in perfectly.
|Major Larry Campbell - November 2002|
I am a sucker for anything experimental and
I tip my hat to the Arts Club Theatre Company for taking a chance. I have
always considered Robert Montgomery’s 1947 camera-point-of-view film noir Lady
in the Lake a masterpiece.
Some might say why go to the Stanley to see a movie? I
would answer, “Go to the Stanley
to see a one take movie and you see it being filmed. Now that’s a movie you
will not see anywhere else.”
Pascal's Wager, Prayer & Buster Crabbe
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word
was with God, and the Word was God.
|Filomena de Irureta Goyena, the Bronx, 1920|
I remember that it was perhaps 1950. My
best friend Mario Hertzberg and I were walking on Cramer a street in Coghlan,
not far from our houses on Melián
in Buenos Aires.
We were 9 and we were on the lookout for used condoms, usually to be found at
that edge where the walls of houses met up with the sidewalks. We knew that
they were the result of furtive events in the evenings between the
live-in-maids of the neighbourhood and their beaus. I would not have known that
these condoms were a bi-product of what I would learn in the early 80s in Vancouver from Brit
singer Peter Noon was called a knee trembler.
As we walked we were
stopped by a fat Capuchin monk. He asked us if we went to Mass. I told him that I did but that since
my friend was Jewish he did not. The monk said to us, “That does not matter as
you both believe in the same God.” I told the monk that on Saturday afternoons
Mario and I would go next to where the monks were building a new church to
watch church-sponsored (the funds went towards the new church) Tarzan movies (very old ones). The monk smiled, he blessed us and went
It was at about that
time that on Good Fridays, at precisely 1:30 in the afternoon I knew I would
have to be home. I would join my mother and grandmother in prayer. My
grandmother would read the Seven Last Words from the Cross. I remember that on
that day I could not switch on the radio.
By 1955 both my
grandmother and mother seemed to have grown cynical about prayer. They would
offer money to San Antonio of Padua (patron saint of lost things) money if a
lost earring would be found. They clearly mentioned that not payment would be
forthcoming if the earring were not found.
By the time my mother
was 59 (a few months before she died in bed in our house in Mexico City in the presence of my Rosemary
and me) she confessed to me during a moment of deep depression that she was a
young woman still who had sexual longing that had not been satisfied for years.
She told me that the constant ringing in her ears of her Ménière's, the equally
constant vertigo and her almost total deafness were making her wish for life
doubtful. It was then when she told me in a few words and in one sentence, “I
believe in God but I don’t believe in prayer.” She then added that she believed
in a God that was remote and uncaring. I saw in my mother a woman in despair.
She soon died. On her tombstone I instructed that Sursum Corda be inscribed.
Often my mother would tell me, “Alex, sursum corda, lift up your heart.”
It was then that I adapted something Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. had taught us at St. Ed's around 1957. He had told us it was our mission in life to find out what talent God had bestowed on us and to use it well. I modified it to, "Here, Alex, you have it. Now it's up to you and I will no longer intervene to help you." I made my mother's God slightly more on board.
The connection between
prayer and the definition of a perfect order of words that form a thought, a
sentence, is obvious in Spanish. A sentence is an oración and to pray the verb
is orar. An oracíon is also a prayer. I remember how so many sections of the Latin
Mass begin with “Oremus,” let us pray.
Four years ago my
Rosemary was diagnosed with a cancerous lump on her chest. We were devastated
and worried. I told my mentor Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. in Austin and he told me that he and his
congregation of brothers would pray for her. Having been at the chapel inside
St Joseph Hall, the residence of the retired brothers at St. Edward’s
University I can attest here that during the daily Mass, they take turns, a
brother stands up and mentions the names of brothers long dead and when they
died (that day in the past) and they pray for him. Then they have special
mentions and I am sure my Rosemary is one of them.
Now here I will accept
Pascal’s wager with the idea that everything helps. Rosemary’s cancer was
stated to be in remission and she is well today.
In 2011, Rosemary,
Rebecca, Lauren and I drove in our Malibu to
south Texas. We
stopped on the way back in Austin
and stayed a few days. Rebecca soon became obsessed with being close to wi-fi
connections and took advantage of the computer room inside St Joseph Hall. When
we arrived I spotted Father Rick Wilkinson, C.S.C. and somehow the thought came
to my head. I approached him and asked him, “Can you bless my granddaughters?” Rebecca
would not be bothered and she ran into St. Joseph Hall and the computer. Father
Rick placed his hand on Lauren’s head, one finger over her right eye and
blessed her with beautiful words.
Shortly after that
Lauren who was having academic troubles started getting good grades and
congratulatory report cards. To my dismay my fine Rebecca has plunged into
idleness and a few stultifying addictions.
|Rebecca Stewart & Brother Edwin Reggio C.S.C. |
But there is hope. Brother Edwin last year contracted a rare disease of his immune system and
rapidly began to lose his mind and memory. To make it all worse he knew. A week
before he was sent to a home in South
Bend, Indiana I asked
him, “Do you remember Rebecca?” He immediately became the lucid and intelligent
Brother Edwin I so loved. He said with an extremely serious face and with a
gesticulation of his right hand, “Of course I do. Don’t tell her to do
anything. Leave her alone. She will come back.”
I now live in the hope
that Brother Edwin may have been right and I wonder if I should not take Pascal’s
wager for another round around the block.
J. Robert Janes, Jerome Charyn & A Messerschmitt Knife
Monday, March 24, 2014
A Northside Knife
Boys, who are the devil
Un cuchillo en el norte
Will look for it with stealth
And try with a fingertip
To see if its edge is nicked.
How many times it entered
The flesh of a Christian
And now it's put away alone,
Waiting for a hand.
Jorge Luís Borges
Translated by Christopher Mulrooney
- Jorge Luís Borges
chicos, que son el diablo,
buscarán con sigilo
probarán en la yema
Si no se
ha mellado el filo.
veces hará entrado
carne de un cristiano
está arrumbado y solo,
espera de una mano,
From my early childhood I observed my
parents read. My mother, in particular was snob when it came to reading she would have never read my father's Leslie Charteris. She
taught me about the good writers she liked. From her I learned to read Daphne
du Maurier, Eric Ambler, Lawrence Durrell, Dickens, Graham Greene and in the
early 60s, Ian Fleming's James Bond.
It went the other way a couple of times
that I can remember. I recommended an author which in the end she liked very
much. She read as many of the Riverworld series by Philip José Farmer as I could get for her. In the mid-50s
I had given her (at the time I was a member of the Doubleday Book Club)
Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart which introduced her to gothic romance
novels. I read it too, and I kind of liked it.
From my mother then I
learned to be careful in my choice of reading matter. And so, I stuck to the
well-known but sometimes the slightly offbeat. Offbeat in the sense that by the late 80s
few of my peers knew who Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett was. It was while
looking for new Chandler
and P.D. James books that I found two authors I would never have ever
At Duthies I was
looking for Chandler
and found Jerome Charyn. Under James I found the odd-named (it seemed at the time!)
My life has not been
straightforward and predictable or boring since, thanks to these two novelistic
I can safely say that
I have a friendship with both. In the early 90s went to New York City to interview and photograph
Charyn who taught me the wonders of vanilla ice cream with fresh raspberries
and aged balsamic vinegar. I was too polite to challenge him to a game of
Of Janes, who lives in
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario our friendship has been via email
As far as I know both
authors do not know each other or have they read each other’s novels even
though Charyn’s Isaac Sidel (a NY Police Commissioner with political ambition)
and his Sidney Holden (a bumper by trade) novels and Janes’s St-Cyr and Kohler
mysteries are both available with Mysterious Press.
|"bumper" Sidney Holden Illustration Bascove|
I have just read
Janes’s 14th St-Cyr
& Kohler novel Tapestry. These are set in German-occupied Paris. In a time of all kinds of unspeakable
war crimes, Chief Inspector Jean Louis St-Cyr of the Sureté and Detektiv
Aufsichsbeamter Herman Kohler formerly a detective in Munich but now with the Gestapo solve normal
crime as partners. Since St-Cyr is part of the defeated and Kohler is one of
the Occupiers, Jane likes to use this word lots, the latter drives the Citroën traction
avant and only gives his partner his ancient Lebel revolver when it is
In his introduction to
all his books Janes puts it this way:
Tapestry is a work of
fiction. Though I have used actual places and times, I have treated these as I
see fit, changing some as appropriate. Occasionally the name of a real person
is used for historical authenticity, but all are deceased and I have made of
them what the story demands. I do not condone what happened during these times.
Indeed, I abhor it. But during the Occupation of France everyday crimes of
murder and arson continued to be committed, and I merely ask, by whom and how
were they solved?
Of these 14 novels I
must advise that you attempt to read them in order:
What is astounding
about them (I have yet to read Carnival) is that the first, Mayhem
begins in December, 1942, the Occupation (the only time Janes does not tell us the
exact date and day of the week) and Tapestry begins Paris, Thursday 11 February 1943 at 11.47
I assume that Mayhem
may have been sometime mid December of 1942. This means that 14 crimes are
solved in a span of about 10 weeks. I checked with Janes (you never know) and
Well, I did what I
thought I should at the time, and yes, all of those first 15 titles take place
one after another in what is really quite a short period of time.
I do not know of any
other novelist who has put his protagonists in such a hurried situation.
Another Janes standard is that in the last few pages of each novel the
detectives are assigned to a next case and somehow the title of the novel is
How can two detectives
work so quickly? In the British TV series Wallander (I have seen two) Kenneth
Branagh (I am convinced of this since it cannot all be makeup) looks eternally
spent, with bloodshot eyes, and in one he is almost involved in a crash when
he falls asleep while driving. I am sure they tell Branagh not to sleep for a
few days for effect.
Janes’s Kohler is
smarter than Wallander. He pops Benzedrine which in the 40s Germans called
Messerschmitt Benzedrine. It seems Luftwaffe flyers in the Russian campaign
had little relief and had to fly day and night.
novels (they are and they are full of details on what it was like to live, day
to day under the yoke of the brutal Germans) are not easy to read. The plots
are complex and the writing reminds me of a blend of Faulkner and Saramago.
‘At about five thirty
in the afternoon.’
‘Ah, bon. At last
we’re getting somewhere. Now tell me, did they come here often?’
That ‘Ah bon. At last
we’re getting somewhere is not uttered but thought. Often a suspect when
questioned will think, ‘Will he believe me if I only tell him part of the
truth? He was tall and fat.’
Often I have to
re-read to make sure I understand whose saying what. It was Mario Vargas Llosa
years ago who told me during in interview when I visited him in Lima, “I write like that
because I want my reader to be part of the creative process.”
Once you have read one
St-Cyr/Kohler you will warm up to their warm friendship and to their
particularities. Kohler faints at the sight of blood while St-Cyr has a habit
of talking and questioning the dead bodies, “How did you come to be here like
this?”I do know that Janes himself often talks to St-Cyr and Kohler in his backyard garden shed.
For me the common thread in Charyn and Janes’s novels is the lasting
friendship of their protagonists. This theme has cured me from ever wanting to
read another American serial killer novel.
Robert Louis Stevenson who read Dumas’s the Vicomte de Bragallone at
least five times, of his second reading, wrote:
“I would sit down with the Vicomte for a
long, silent, solitary lamp-light evening by the fire. And yet I know not why I
call it silent, when it was enlivened with such clatter of horse-shoes, and
such a rattle of musketry, and such a stir of talk; or why I call these
evenings silent in which I gained so many friends. I would rise from my book
and pull the blind aside, and see the snow and the glittering hollies checker a
Scotch garden, and the winter moonlight brighten the white hills. Thence I
would turn again to the crowded and sunny field of life in which is was so easy
to forget myself, my cares and my surroundings: a place as busy as a city,
bright as a theatre, thronged with memorable faces, and sounding with
delightful speech. I carried the thread of that epic into my slumbers, I woke
with it unbroken, I rejoiced to lunge into the book again at breakfast, it was
with a pang that I must lay it down and turn to my own labours; for no part of
the world has ever seemed to me so charming as these pages, and not even my
friends are quite as real, perhaps quite so dear, as d’Artagnan.”
Janes does insert humour in his novels but
in strange ways. Consider Kohler, in Tapestry, forcing a Parisian socialite to
witness in a morgue the body of a woman, whose death she may have been
responsible. It seems that the woman has previously been dining at that most
famous establishment (during the Occupation only frequented by people with lots
of money, German officers and collaborators) the Tour d’Argent. This is what
She coughed, she cried, she threw up the
pommes d’amour flambées à l’Amaretto,
the salade féndives de Belgique canard à la presse, caviar russe malossol et
bisque de homand à l’armagnac et huitres à la Florentine, the Romenée-Conti
also, or Nuits-Saint Georges and the champagne, mustn’t forget that, thought
This is especially
funny for me. Both my father and I were famous for only throwing up what had
made us sick. Janes has the woman throw up last to first which would be the
Without wanting to reveal too much more,
Tapestry is special for me because of this:
‘A knife – but what kind of knife, damn it?
That was no cutthroat.’
The right breast had been cleanly and
deeply sliced open by one slash that extended down through the nipple. The
shoulder had been opened and then the forearm as she had managed to pull free
and had tried to fend him off only to have that arm grabbed again by the other
assailant, the one who had come up behind her. The knife had been pulled away
after she’d been cut open. Blood shot from its blade, lots of blood that had
only at last, dribbled from it.
Had the bastard known how to butcher? Had
he been a butcher?
And later there is this:
The knife that would be used was still
lying on the table before her and…‘An’ old friend,’[he] had said he had brought
A gaucho’s knife with a long and shallow groove on either side and almost the
whole length of the blade to hold and drain away the blood –her blood – once the
throat had been slashed. He would simply pick it up, grab her by the hair, yank
her head back and cut her throat as he’d done to others, she was certain of
this. A knife whose blade was twenty centimeters long at least, two in width at
the top and razor sharp, with a flattened, S-shaped guard, the handle
beautifully embossed with what looked to be hammered, coppery-silver designs of
crisscrossed triangles, curves, ridges and countless patterns…Whenever possible
they [gauchos] would use no other weapon that the facón each carried at the
waist in its sheath, behind the back.’
Perhaps the knife weighed two hundred
grams. Certainly it must be light for such a length. ‘The gavilán,’ he had said
of it in Argentinian Spanish. ‘The balance has to be absolutely perfect. This
one’s short by a good ten centimeters because I wanted it that way.’
Some years ago J. Robert Janes asked me to
scan my facón, to measure it, to weigh it and to balance it at my finger, the balance
point is right below the guard on the handle.
The facón was given to me as a gift by my
Argentine sailor companions when we finished our service in 1966. How was I to
know then that the gift would be a vicious murder weapon some day?
This week I went to pick up some frozen pizza dough at Calabria Meat Market on Victoria Drive. Calabria Bakery moved to Port Moody so they deal with the Irish owners of the meat market. I spoke to the owner, Mr. Moynihan who is burly ex-rugby player and trained butcher. He explained that the purpose of the indentations of my knife (which really is a small bayonet) is to make it easy to remove it after plunging it or cutting meat. He told me that he had two old German butcher knives. He said they are called Messerschmitt knives.