Blondes Are My Trouble by Douglas Sanderson

aka Martin Brett

published 1950

She sat down on the only other chair in the place. She crossed her legs. And all at once I realized that in the streets it was springtime. Her shoes had four-inch heels. Her stockings looked as if they’d been painted on. She was wearing a coat made of expensive lightweight tweed and her hat was small and feathered. Beneath it was the brilliant gold hair. She was luscious. She knew it.

[Another meeting, later] She went over to the sideboard and she was very chic. The dress was pale green. It gave her a complete and spurious air of virginity. So she wanted to wait a while. Fine. I tried to make ordinary conversation.

“Nice frock,” I said. “Distinctive. Same dressmaker as yesterday?”

“Of course.” She put a glass of straw-colored Alsatian wine in my hand and sat down, keeping a distance between us. “I design all my clothes. I told you yesterday about the dress shop.”

commentary: My friend John Norris of Pretty Sinister Books wrote the introduction for the republication of this book, and it includes this:
The reader would do well to pay close attention to Garfin any time he starts talking about clothes. One particular observation he makes early in the book could lead the reader to discover a surprising connection--one of the biggest shocks in the twisty and incredibly violent finale.
-which pretty much meant it was obligatory for me to read it, I think you’ll all agree.

John’s recommendations never disappoint. This one was a most unusual book: on one level a very standard PI crime novel, with exciting women, a troubled protagonist who is irresistible to the women, characters appearing and disappearing, and – as John says – a lot of violence.

But there are unusual features: the setting is Canada, there is a subtext about immigrants and refugees during and after the Second World War, and the underlying plot concerns the trafficking of women for prostitution.

The clothes are important, though I did NOT see the clever clue John mentions above. The new client for Mike Garfin, in the excerpt above, tries to say she can’t afford his rates.
“Trudi,” I said, “you’re a smart looking girl. Your coat’s a model and probably cost around three-hundred-and-fifty. Give me two minutes more, I’ll price your hat.”

The city is Montreal, and the French spoken there is important, not least in this chilling and memorable scene:
She had someone in there with her. I stood at the door listening and a guy said to her in English, “That’s a very pretty dress you’re wearing today.” He didn’t sound really interested. I waited for her to answer. Another voice said in French: “That’s a very pretty dress you’re wearing today.” …Nothing but silence. I turned the handle slowly and opened the door. The record said in English: “The scarf suits you, too. You should always wear it with that dress.”
Garfin is very typical of the private eyes of the age, and very entertaining:  ‘A typical three hours in the life of a private detective, and as dull as English love.’

But the book is also about the prostitution racket, and the appalling treatment of women who had come to Canada after undergoing terrible privations in 1940s Europe, and find life is not going to be all right:
“It’s so damned hard for these people during the first weeks. They’ve all come with such high hopes.” She paused, frowned. “I’ll tell you something shocking. The inhabitants of the concentration camps used to call the gas-chambers ‘Canada’ because they led to Heaven. This room, I’m afraid, isn’t Heaven.”
Depressingly, for all the late-40s/early-50s trappings of the book, much of the horrible schemes within could be descriptions of sex-trafficking in the UK from Eastern Europe right now.

Douglas Sanderson took it very seriously and was trying to draw attention to the horrors, while offering an entertaining and violent thriller. Some of the other attitudes in the book are very much of their time, as I like to say, but overall it is a good book: memorable and thought-provoking.

The top picture is from McCalls magazine, at George Eastman House. It is, so far as I am concerned, the only illo I ever need for scenes over a 20-year period in which a beautiful young woman comes to a private detective’s office to hire him. I first used it for (obviously) The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.

The second picture makes a good second choice though. It and the third picture are from Kristine’s photostream.


  1. This sounds like it has some real depths to it, Moira. It takes talent to tell a dark story like that without getting overly bleak. And I like the way he uses clothes to give character information; I always appreciate authors who can use that nuance. I'm not one for a lot of violence, but it sounds as though the violence in this one fits with the story?

    1. Yes, I think you are right Margot - it is slightly over the top, but it certainly fits the story. And I was, as I said, very impressed by the authors clear views on some relevant subjects.

  2. I had not heard of Douglas Sanderson. Looking him up online he had an adventurous life. I am trying to decide if I should look up his Montreal books. I do not think I have read a Canadian mystery written in the early 1950's. I did read a contemporary book, Open Season by Peter Kirby, which involves trafficking of women in modern Montreal. As you note it is a never ending problem.

    1. Sadly, yes it is.
      It is very much set in Montreal, he describes various aspects of the city in some depth - the different areas, and why it didn't take him as long as you would expect to find someone! Anyone who knew the city would find it fascinating, I think.

  3. Replies
    1. I actually think you would love this one Col: it's a tough PI novel with a heart, and with an interesting setting...

  4. One of the best private eye novels - Canadian or otherwise- of this era. The first book featuring Garfin, HOT FREEZE, is even better. Heartbreaking in fact.

    Anecdote time: I was supposed to write the intro to the other Sanderson mystery (Hot Freeze) book, but the publisher mistakenly said Brian Busby (their crime fiction series editor for a while) was going to do it instead. They posted this on their website months before the book was released and Brian, always avoiding confrontation and embarrassing gaffes, decided not to point out their error. To make up for their mistake he offered me the chance to write the intro to this book which was to be published the following year. I agreed. But then of course I had to scramble to find a copy. Not so easy as you might think! It was pretty scarce and cost me more than I should’ve had to pay for a reading copy which is what I ended up with. I actually got paid for this intro! I still have a photocopy of the check I was so elated.

    Anyway, thanks for highlighting Sanderson, a terrific writer by any standard, and this unique mystery novel. Hope thAt your review leads to more people buying this excellently produced reprint. The whole series in Ricochet Books is worthwhile.

    1. That's a hilarious story John, you were a good sport to go along with it.

      Have you mentioned it recently? I was surprised to see your review was a while back: that definitely led me to read it, but something must have pushed your take on it into my view in the past few months.

      Anyway, great book: I'm glad you led me to it, however it happened.

  5. I bought this book three months ago, but it is still waiting to be read. I also have Hot Freeze, and will read it first, although I think I was confused about which came first. And John's story of how he wrote the intro to this book instead of Hot Freeze is very interesting.

    1. I am intrigued by Hot Freeze now, though I wish it wasn't 'heart-breaking'...
      This was a really unusual, different book, with its combination of tough guy action and a principled, high moral tone. The author must have been a very interesting man.


Post a Comment