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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Montréal Lit: Russel Teed’s Novel Noir

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Spacing Montreal is pleased to host a bi-weekly column exploring Montreal’s literary landscape, written by Gregory McCormick, Director of English Programming for the Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival.

In David Montrose’s crime noir novels set in 1940s Montreal (reissued by Véhicule Press, one of Montreal’s most innovative and interesting presses), private dick Russell Teed is on the hunt for a killer, and he intersects many aspects of Montreal society in his quest. Like most noir novels written at this time, the sexism in The Crime on Cote des Neiges (1951) is so apparent it makes one alternately laugh out loud and cringe, like an old uncle at a birthday party who says things which make all the young people want to run away screaming and laughing with embarrassment:

…for ten bucks I’ll give you her address. Come on over to the office.

We went, and he gave it to me, and it was worth a ten.

It was a good address, a few blocks away and a whole world apart from the Caliban [a night club on Dorchester Street]. It was across St. Catherine and above Sherbrooke, on the mountain side, which made the magical difference. It was an old brick house on Peel, made over into apartments. The mail box labelled Carol Weller was No. 5, and the apartment labelled No. 5 took up about half of the second floor.

The girl…came to the door when I rang. Carol Weller. She was wearing a baby-blue negligée, clinging but not transparent. She might have had something on underneath it and she might not, depending on whether she was naturally endowed or went to a good corset-smith.

Indeed, Teed constantly seems to encounter naked or nearly naked women and his only interactions with females are tinged with an aching, repressed sexuality.

The houses on Peel above Sherbrooke, on the “mountain side” are long gone, of course (much of this “Golden Mile,” as it once was known, has been radically overhauled), replaced with high-rise apartment blocks and hotels, but I imagine that they must not have looked too dissimilar from the buildings on the opposite side of the street.

Though the book is dated, it’s a fascinating portrait of the city (même si les francophones sont absents, sauf exception: Inspector Framboise) and how much Montreal has changed. Also a stark reminder that even the concrete we walk upon is anything but permanent.


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