Long Weekend on the Road (International Edition) part 2
Last time I told you about the first day of our four-day bookscouting excursion to Victoria, B.C. Here’s the next installment.
Saturday morning Julie wanted to check out Antique Row, so we set out for Fort Street.
Again we were pleasantly surprised by what we found. “Antique Row” isn’t much of an antique row any more, we discovered; just a couple of shops with glassware and clocks and such, which isn’t really our thing. We’re more ‘dusty junk shop’ people when it comes to going spelunking for antiques. However, the truth was that Antique Row, at least when you get off the bus at Douglas and Fort Street, is much more an antiquarian bookseller’s row.
Although the first place we stopped, the magnificent Russell Books, is way too all-encompassing to be called just an antiquarian place. It was huge. We could have spent all day — and we did spend quite a while there.
Julie paused to go through the discount books out on the sidewalk while I went on in. The sight that greets you as you enter is a little overwhelming — Russell’s is HUGE, much larger than it would appear from the street.
What stopped me dead in my tracks was the incredible wall of rarities behind the front desk on your right, as you enter.
The juveniles, in particular — there were not one but two early editions of The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis that were in great shape and very reasonably priced, considering… but buying either one still would have blown the whole day’s shopping budget. I must be strong, I told myself, though I did ask the young lady behind the counter to pull it down for me so I could look at it for a minute. And sigh.
They also had comics. I noted one corner near the juveniles packed with stacks and stacks of Archie digests.
I didn’t actually find a lot for myself on the main floor… just a couple of interesting oddities. The first was The Mystery of Ghost Canyon, which is the first of the Bret King westerns, a Stratemeyer juvenile series fizzle that I rather like.
And the other one was The Lone Ranger’s Code of the West, which had been mis-filed in the juveniles. This turned out to be a privately-published piece where a motivational speaker-type fellow applies the lessons of the Lone Ranger’s adventures to operating ethically in business and life. Each chapter is built around an adventure of the Ranger and Tonto, and then at the end the Ranger explains the lesson to be learned from it. The adventures themselves were fun, though, and the whole thing is done with the kind of wit and humor you find in good fan fiction (which is, really, what this book was.) For three dollars (Canadian) I considered it a fair enough deal.
But the real riches were to be found upstairs.
I was sort of ambling along toward the mysteries, when I saw a sign listing Western/Adventure. This looked promising.
Then I let out an audible gasp of delight. (I know this is true because it made my wife laugh.) Most bookstores I know don’t even have these in a separate section any more, but here it was in all its glory — a whole wall of pulp adventure trash paperbacks.
Not just Mack Bolan — lots of used bookstores have a shelf piled with Executioner novels, usually priced at a buck each or so. No, this was everything. The Butcher, Night Stalkers, SOBs, Nick Carter…. it was like being dropped in a time machine. The last time I’d seen a selection of trashy adventure paperbacks this extensive was back in 1978 at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon. Back then, before they remodeled, there was a dusty room in the back (more of an open closet, really) piled floor-to-ceiling with stuff just like this.
This looked like that room… only there was more of it. And there were series here that I’d never even heard of.
I could have wiped out most of the wall without half-trying if I’d bought one of everything that looked cool, but I tried to make myself remember the Shelf of Shame back home and keep my acquisitive lusts in check.
In the end I contented myself with three picks.
The first was Departure Deferred, one of the incredibly-difficult-to-find spinoff novels from the old Secret Agent, with Patrick McGoohan.
This was the second of six, the U.S. paperback edition, absolutely pristine except for the previous owner’s name scrawled in ball-point pen on the flyleaf. It was the first time I’d ever run across a Secret Agent book other than the third in the series, Peter Leslie’s Hell For Tomorrow.
The other two I got just because they looked like fun and because I have a soft spot for short-run obscure adventure series. Spy Hunt by Norman Daniels was on the strength of the author’s name — Daniels was one of those hardworking journeyman paperback-original authors, slugging it out back in the late fifties and early sixties with guys like Richard S. Prather and John D. MacDonald and Carter Brown, you know, that whole Gold Medal crowd. Daniels’ resume included spy stories, westerns, TV spin-off books and even a bunch of gothic romances under the pen name “Dorothy Daniels.” I knew the name from media tie-in stuff for shows like The Avengers, and also a couple of series of his own creation, The Baron and The Man From APE. (APE, the American Policy Executive, pre-dated UNCLE by a year or so.) In fact, I’d thought Spy Hunt WAS an APE book but it’s a one-off original. Still a good time though.
And The Force #1: Deadly Snow promised to be the sort of pulp adventure I can never resist. Let the back cover copy speak for itself:
As for why there’s a black panther on the front cover? It’s because… wait for it… the evil Thai drug lord throws people he’s getting rid of into his pit of savage black panthers. And hell yes, the Force ends up in the panther pit and has to fight their way out. Duh.
As lacking in lit’ry quality as this book was, it was almost my favorite purchase from the entire trip. (There was one that eclipsed it, which we’ll get to later.) My one regret from the weekend was that I didn’t go back and snag the other two entries in The Force series that were on that shelf before we left Victoria.
That was the lot for us that day from Russell Books, but I did want to mention one thing. I don’t often talk about bookstore staff because I hardly ever speak to them other than at the register as I’m leaving; I generally prefer to be left alone while I’m browsing. But I couldn’t help but be impressed by the crew at Russell. They are all extraordinarily pleasant and helpful as well as being knowledgeable, and they have that rare gift of being attentive and available without being suffocatingly annoying. Furthermore, the young ladies working in both the upstairs and downstairs areas (Russell’s has managed, somehow, to find a remarkable number of stunningly lovely young girls who are also competent book people to staff their store) were wonderfully accommodating about letting me take pictures for this article.
When we took our books to the cash register, the cashier (yet another gorgeous young lady) who rung us up asked us what we were doing that day and when I told her we were planning on doing an informal bookscouting crawl through downtown, she told us not to miss Russell’s sister store on View Street…. “Just round the block in the basement,” she added. “They have a much larger juvenile section, and comics too.”
I assured her we’d probably get there before the end of our trip, and then we hit the street again.
This was a much smaller place than Russell, and though they didn’t have a whole lot of the genre stuff I like, they did have a few nice pieces. And even a few comics trade collections.
What caught my eye were a few older juvenile books stacked in a glass case by the science-fiction shelf. The case wasn’t locked and I soon turned up a couple of hardcovers that looked enticing.
The Sea Hawk by Rafael Sabatini and Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. Each was priced very reasonably at fifteen dollars. Getting them both seemed extravagant, though, and I found myself on the horns of the same just-pick-ONE! dilemma that I’d seen the two little girls going through with the Archie Comics Digests at Russell a few minutes ago.
I finally settled on Kidnapped, because it was in much better shape, I’d never read it, and the illustrations were just breathtaking. This was a 1925 edition from Britain, and the illustrator was one Frank Godwin. I’d never heard of Mr. Godwin but his work sold me the book — and I don’t usually buy books for the art.
I looked him up when we got home and it turns out he’s a comics guy.
Frank Godwin did the newspaper strips Connie and Rusty Riley, both of which had long, healthy runs from the 1930s to the late fifties, but have never been reprinted.
Godwin was apparently incredibly prolific — in addition to the newspaper strips, he did a lot of advertising work, as well as illustrations not just for Kidnapped but also King Arthur, Robin Hood, and half-a-dozen other adventure classics. He even found some time to work on Wonder Woman for DC in the late 1940s.
So I think I made the right choice; I didn’t know it at the time, but it turns out that Kidnapped was a nice little score and even comics-related. I started reading it that night at the hotel (after I’d finished The Force!) and it turns out that this Stevenson guy can write a pretty good stick, too. A satisfactory purchase all around.
And once again I’ve rambled more than I meant to, so I guess we’re breaking this into three parts. Lots more comics and bookscouting adventures in the wrapup, next week. See you then.