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CanLit Noir: Ricochet Books

"A raw novel of sex and drugs in the years just before rock 'n' roll, Hot Freeze moves from the highest Westmount mansion to the lowest Montreal gambling joint and nightclubs. "

Richochet Books is CanLit like you've never seen it before. An imprint of Montreal's Vehicule Press and edited by Brian Busby, the series brings hard-boiled noir detective novels of the 1940s and 1950s back into print. The latest title is Hot Freeze, by Douglas Sanderson, which is forthcoming this fall. 

We asked Simon Dardick, Co-Publisher of Vehicule Press, to tell us more about Ricochet and its origins, and just how they come up with the series' incredibly distinctive cover art.  


"A novel about Montreal during the not-so-halcyon era of a couple of decades ago when gangs and girls made rum-running and slot machines big business."

49th Shelf: How did the Ricochet Books series come to be (and get their name)?

Simon Dardick: Collecting Canadian noir mysteries from the 1940s and '50s has been a passion of mine for over 20 years. Aside from being attracted to the genre I liked the way cities were portrayed (Montreal and Toronto so far)—the city becomes a character in the novel. We always wanted to bring these forgotten books back into print despite their political incorrectness. It was only when Brian Busby came on board as the series editor that we realized each book required an introduction to provide some history and context. We wanted a name for the series that reflected the genre and worked in English and French. My nephew came up with name Ricochet. 

"There were two blondes and a brunette. One of them had killed John Sark..."

49th Shelf: The books are distinctive in their cover art. Are these replicas of the original covers?

SD: Yes, all distinctive replicas except one. And now that we have a good scan of the original cover for The Body on Mount Royal, it too will have the original cover. Since most of the book covers are in bad shape when we track down a book—sometimes we can only find one copy or no copies online—then our designer spends a lot of time restoring them. We’re excited about bringing out a poster this fall that will display all the covers in their noir glory. 

"Down in the depths of the city, washed by the murky waters of the dock-yards lies Skidrow, a dark den of intrigue and mystery..." 

49th Shelf: Noir mysteries aren’t what readers tend to think of when they think of CanLit. Is there anything particular CanLitty about them (apart from Hugh Garner)? What do they tell us about Canadian literature that we might not already know?

SD: These were books that many writers wrote under pseudonyms. They appeared on racks in pharmacies and similar places, then disappeared after a couple of months. Since they were not considered serious literature they were never reviewed. The novels may not tell us a lot about CanLit but they certainly depict prevailing social conditions and the underbelly of city life. Stark at times, nevertheless entertaining.

49th Shelf: What were the stories of books’ original publication? Are they from a diverse range of publishers?

" In the fast-paced city, dreams quickly turn to nightmares as the young ‘farmette’ finds herself surrounded by drug-dealers, newspapermen, nightclub owners, chorus girls and a fatherly boxer who is well past his prime."

SD: All the books in the series were published from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s. They were published by Popular Library, Collins, Harlequin (before they published romance) and small outfits that didn’t stay around long.

49th Shelf: In what ways are these novels still vital today, and why should they be available for readers?

SD: Almost mirroring the resurgence of cocktail culture there is a growing interest in noir books from the period when cocktails were in their heyday. To us, noir books are social history documents that encompassed the city’s vital club and music scenes (when people left home to have fun), and urban crime (from rum-running and gambling to abortion). And the depiction of the urban poor and the rich. You also get to meet engaging gumshoes and private dicks like Russell Teed and Mike Garfin.

May 26, 2015
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