Saturday, 5 July 2014

I spent my Fourth of July reading Retaliation. You?

The first chapter makes the heart sink, doesn’t it? Not 500 words in and we’re already dealing with nine characters (and I’m not even counting the Black Brigade or the five guys sitting around Enzio Palangio’s kitchen table). Which to follow? You just know that, like Ama in Triad, some will prove to be nothing more than distractions. Sure,  “plans were being laid and plots prepared”, but half will be entirely inconsequential.

You’re right, Chris, THIS is Rohmer. It’s all here. We’re barely into chapter two before the major-general feels the need to tell us that GATT stands for General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. It’s perhaps because he’s a military man that he thinks you haven’t heard of the SAS… and weren’t paying attention the first, second and third times he told you about them.

Really, what reader of political thrillers hasn’t heard of the SAS? Maybe I’m mistaken for thinking of this as a political thriller. Maybe this is a business thriller, with excited talk of exchanging photocopies over “executive salads – shrimp, roast beef and onion chips served on a bed of lettuce with John Arena’s special dressing.”

The Black Brigade parachute jump and promise of something bad involving Palangio (a character mentioned on page 7, then not for 110 pages and counting) are there to provide some sort of action. Without them, it's just Gino being picked up at the airport.

Yep, this is a business thriller. How else to explain the inclusion of Winston’s Restaurant (“the best in Toronto… top watering hole in all Canada"). It was run by real life “affable owner and manager, John Arena”, whose “remarkable entrepreneurial energy and drive” is credited with maintaining Winston’s reputation.

You know there’s nothing that interests Rohmer more than entrepreneurs and energy.

And how 'bout that plug for the King Edward Hotel? “They’ve done a great job in remodelling the place… Beautifully done.”

Not to suggest that Rohmer has no imagination. I think he could picture lawsuits had he not used Canadian International Bank of Commerce in place of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Toronto Depository Bank in place of Toronto-Dominion Bank, etc. etc.

I’m hoping that Margaret Thrasher appears at some point. Secretary of State for External Affairs Mark MacGuigan Mark MacGregor isn't shaping up to be as much of a treat.

Does Rohmer’s fun with names explains why the Centre Block is referred to as the “Center Block”. Doubt it. He should know that the Peace Tower’s clock is not a copy of Big Ben, Its hands, the largest of which is about two metres in length, cannot “be seen for miles”.

Am I being a bastard again? I spent the First of July rereading Brian Moore’s Lies of Silence. That's my excuse. Everything else seems so small.

Two questions:
Is Gino Ianni the only person born and raised in Detriot to have never crossed the Detroit River? 
How is it that a man who was once “Vice-President of Corporate Affairs at General Motors with special responsibility for the ‘free trade’ auto-pact between the United States and Canada” has never once visited Canada?


  1. I finished Retaliation an hour ago. Stan?

    I wondered why the Canadian banks' names were changed, but not the U.S. banks. At Real Time, ever since the bailouts, Maher has called Citibank "Shittybank" and Bank of America "Skank of America." Still gets a laugh, for some reason.

    Reminded me of the immortal wordplay of one Stanley Whyte, who once called REO Speedwagon "REO Shitwagon."

    I went to an amazing bookstore in downtown L.A. called The Last Bookstore. Tens of thousands of books for $1. And thousands more, also reasonably priced. Bought a Richard Condon I'd never encountered a physical copy of before ($1) And a summer 1967 copy of Films in Review that pans You Only Live Twice and includes a selection of letters about the movies at Expo 67. ($1) And a lot of film books Emma needs for a class she's taking at USC. ($1 to $10.) You should see this place. Check out their website.
    Ah, and I sat and read -- but didn't buy -- a copy for Intrepid's Last Case, with an introduction my Major-general Richard Rohmer. I guess I could have bought it, but it was $1. I'm not made of money.

  2. Fast, Fast, Fast Relief by Pierre Berton. I couldn't do it. Even for $1. I've been so good about getting rid of books for the last couple of years. And I was so bad today.

  3. I didn't mean to suggest that I've finished Retaliation, just that I spent the day reading it. And by "the day" I mean a couple of hours, pencil in hand, underlining bits that I found worthy of underlining. It's a lengthy process.

    I know The Last Bookstore - not because I've been there but by reputation. Attic Books, London's finest, had a $1 sale last month. Can't tell how much I bought but at $79 it was a lot. Finds included a first of Frank Norris' Vandover and the Brute and Tony Aspler's The Streets of Askelon, inspired by Brendan Behan's disastrous 1961 visit to Canada.

    There were no Rohmers - not a one.

  4. I'm at page 140 now - should be able to wrap it up in a day or two.

    Gino Ianni is the least-convincing character we've met in the 9 books so far. When he meets with not-Roger-Smith of GM, we hear about how he rose to Vice-president of the company and is being groomed for the presidency when he gets through with Washington. And when he's told of the Big 3's plan, he doesn't see it coming and has really nothing to say other than "I agree with you 100%".

    A corporate yes-man, the only interesting characteristic about him is that he is Italian.

    He's so dull, not-Roger-Smith (okay, okay - "Robert Smyth") keeps looking out the window to check the flags on incoming ships during a supposedly important meeting.

    I went to a used bookstore in NDG Friday - whaddya know, no Rohmers in sight. When I finally stumble onto one, it's going to be ULTIMATUM.

  5. The amazing thing about the Last Bookstore is that they're making an effort to sort the $1 books. A really solid effort. (They're getting a little cute with some, and arranging them in walls by color, but even there you get the impression that they're making an editorial decision: To be relegated to a color wall, you gotta be more-or-less Nora Roberts.) I was there for three hours and if there were any Rohmers, I would have found them. Brian, I assume most of them never had American editions? Even in hardcover?

    I'm with you, Stan, on Gino Ianni. A cypher, even for Rohmer. Why are all the bad guys Italian in this book? (SPOILER ALERT: I'll leave it at that.) What was happening in Rohmer's neighborhood in Toronto in 1981? Did some move in?

    While we're at it, in nearly 300 pages of Retaliation, two women speak. And they're both repulsive, because they wear glasses. (There's an ex-wife offstage in Calgary. I'm not sure she has a first name. Even the waiters are men.)

    Reminded me of a couple of lines in Patton's Gap, where we Rohmer lists all the coolest things about Monty including his lack of interest in women.

    I get the impression that this is one of the hallmarks of the techno thriller genre. It's not sexism. Women don't even exist.

    I look forward to both of your reactions to how the highly trained Black Brigade celebrate their greatest adventure yet.

  6. Something has been bugging me about that approving quote in Patton's Gap, about how Monty was a swell guy because he never wasted time with women. I just looked it up in the Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography. He was a widower.