Friday, September 19, 2008

42. The Canadian Bomber Contract by Philip Atlee

The Canadian Bomber Contract pictureI found this little gem at Nerman's in Winnipeg. It was in the Action section (the existence of which gives me hope for the world) among a bunch of other Philip Atlee books featuring Joe Gall. I was only aware of them because Lantzvillager had asked me to find a specific one (The Green Wound Contract, which I later did find, but in the Vintage section and under the title The Green Wound). All the covers looked interesting, but I picked this one because of the Canadian content. Hell, the inner blurb reads "Joe had seen plenty of violent cities, but in Montreal, sudden death, maimings, stabbings and bombings seemed to be part of the scenery." so you know I had to get it.

Most of the book takes place in Montreal, Quebec City and the Niagara Falls, with a brief trip to Toronto. Atlee seems to be one of those adventure writers who writes because he went somewhere. He spends a lot of time describing specific details, either geographical or cultural, that you get the strong sense he actually witnessed. Though I was only 2 in 1971, and his perspective was very much the anglo outsider, he seems to have captured Montreal very well. The following passage confirmed this to me:

"While I was walking through the dawn streets of Toronto toward police headquarters, I reflected that the town might be the financial headquarters of Canada, but that in comparison to Montreal it was an ugly and dowdy place, lacking both charm and beautiful girls..."

Some things never change.

It's a fun, quick read because of the location and the crazy sexism (he basically tells women what to do and they do it, for the most part). But the plot seems like an afterthought, plopped on like a shovelful of wet cement. And the final reveal was so stupidly obvious and preposterous that I had guessed it about halfway through but couldn't actually believe he would try and go through with it. Despite that, it's not a terrible read. The protagonist is a tough guy and deals out summary justice for the CIA, but he's actually kind of liberal, sympathizing with the draft dodgers (the ones who apply themselves to society but are just against war) and deserters and arguing with his boss about these issues. The badguys and the druggie hippie barefoot rebel crowd among whom they insinuate themselves are quite entertainingly portrayed. The writing can be flip, which sometimes is distracting and other times puts forth darkly humourous little gems like this:

"I had been married shortly once, but it went bad when I discovered my wife in the sack with a neighbor, whom I beat to death immediately with a small portable radio. That's not as hard as it sounds; those little plastic jobs have some good handholds on them."

Excellent use of the semi-colon there.

This is something like #19 in the series, so I suspect that Atlee was mailing them in a bit, delivering just enough location, sex and patriotic violence for his audience. I read that early in his career while convalescing in an Oregon hospital bed, after a Korean war wound, he was approached by the CIA. They offered him money if he would put certain biases in his books, which he refused to do. I'd never heard of that practice. It bears looking into.

I'll read another Joe Gall, but probably look towards the earlier books.


Buzby said...

Awesome review! I look forward to picking this up.

Unknown said...

I think the Green Wound Contract was the first in the series or at least an early one. Take a gander at this review of The Fer de Lance Contract - it parallels many of the things you had to say:

Anonymous said...

My late father read this entire series as it was being published back in the sixties and early seventies. as a teenager, i read behind him and found the jall gall series to be memorable and representative of all the best and worst of the hard-boiled, numbered action series. I still have the books stored in the attic.