Friday, February 23, 2024

10. Perilous Passage by Arthur Mayse

This is another entry in the great series or reprints of lost Canadian "genre" books by Brian Busby working with Ricochet books.  I assumed this was going to be another Montreal-based book but was pleasantly surprised to learn it was a west coast thriller, taking place in the waters outside Northwest Washington State in the 50s.  Thanks to the nice forward by the author's daughter, Susan Mayse, I learned that Arthur Mayse was a long-time journalist and writer in the B.C.  He had quite a cool, old school, hard knocks B.C. life back before it it's suburban respectability facelift.

The story starts out like a classic hard-boiled thriller of the period.  Clinton Farrell wakes up on a boat in bad shape with a young girl holding a rifle leaning over him.  His recent memory is gone but he knows he is a drifter on the after having escaped juvie, done some boxing for money and eventually got a job working on a troller.  The girl, Devvy, turns out to be the surviving daughter of a failed farmer who found his boat drifting when she was out fishing.  She has taken over her father's farm, with the help of a mysterious old character who has a more prestigious past but has taken to the bottle.  

As usual, in these kinds of books, the plot is actually fairly simple but hidden away from the reader due to the memory loss among and distrust among potential allies.  The pleasure is in the peeling away of the layers to figure out what is going which is only mildly interesting here.  However, the characters themselves, the location and action is all pretty exciting, so the simple plot is excusable.  The bad guy first takes the form of Joe Peddar, childhood friend of Devvy, sometime boyfriend by default, from the bad family who himself has turned quite bad.  There are some great fights between him and Clint, described in almost technical detail yet exciting and really tough.

It's an interesting read, as the tone is an odd mix of, dare I say it, American and Canadian.  On the former side, it is quite hard-boiled.  The bad guys are nasty and the punches feel like they hurt.  On the other hand, there is an undercover RCMP agent who is almost like a superhero and the whole thing wraps up on a very optimistic note.  Here is a great quote that thrust the tone from grim to almost melodramatic, in a way that I quite enjoyed:

Patty straightened his hunched shoulders. The change in him was almost frightening. Behind the hired man's ragged clothes, behind the dry and easy humor, you could see the grim manhunter whom neither fear nor pity could swerve.

Here is the original pocket book which would be a sweet find!


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