Fraser, W.A. Bulldog Carney. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1919, pp. 306.
For some reason I thought that this was going to be a 40 or 50’s noir type novel. I guess I was thinking Bulldog Carney = Bulldog Drummond. Published in 1919, Bulldog Carney appeared a year before the first Bulldog Drummond novel. As it turns out the Bulldog Carney stories have a western setting, i.e. cowboys.
Carney falls into the lovable rogue category. Carney makes his living as a smuggler. At one point he is smuggling a whole box car full of whisky into Alberta. (Who knew that that province was dry once?) More generally Carney is an opium smuggler. It was a different time and opium didn’t have quite the same reputation it does now. In 1907 it became illegal to sell opiates in the US without a prescription. It wasn’t until 1909 that it became illegal to import opium to the US. Around the same time the non-medical use of opium was criminalized in Canada. This is a long digression. While Carney is know as an opium smuggler in the book, he is not actually engaged in those operations. Rather he spends his time foiling the law and helping out those in distress.
The book is presented as a continuous novel but each chapter breaks out as a separate story. The seven “chapters” are connected by shared locals and reoccurring characters. At least some of the stories had previously been published in the pulps. “The Gold Wolf” and “Seven Blue Doves” stand out as the best. In “The Gold Wolf” someone is robbing and killing minors and prospectors as they come out of the hills after a season of looking for gold. Carney arrives on the scene just as the town is preparing to lynch Harry Holt, the town’s layabout and brother to Jeanette, the saloon keeper’s wife. Through a bit of forensic work Carney demonstrates that the evidence against Harry is no good. Carney then proceeds to track down the true killer and recover the stolen gold.
In “Seven Blue Doves” a card game goes awry. Seth, Jeanette’s husband, is killed and robbed. Carney proceeds to search for the killer, a man carrying a marked deck of cards missing an ace.
An interesting aspect of the novel is that the Mounties don’t get their man. Carney always seems to be a step ahead of various Sergeants of the Mounted Police. On one occasion the Mounties actually catch Carney and throw him into jail, only to find that the crimes he is wanted for are out of their jurisdiction. At the same time, they provide him with the perfect alibi, for when the local train is robbed he was safely locked up in their jail.
Bulldog Carney was a pleasant read. The western, generally outdoor setting made a nice change from the usual urban, indoor crime venue.