Wednesday, June 18, 2008

From the Shelves of the Paco Library

Arthur Train (brief bio here) was a New York lawyer and assistant district attorney whose legal career spanned the turn of the last century. He wrote several non-fiction works pertaining to crime and the law, but it is his fiction that caught my eye, perhaps ten years ago, when I picked up a book entitled By Advice of Counsel for fifty cents off the sales rack at the main branch of the Richmond Public Library. I was completely unfamiliar with the author and had picked up the volume on a purely speculative basis (I’ve encountered quite a number of interesting writers that way).

It was in this manner that I was introduced to Mr. Ephraim Tutt, Esq., the supreme achievement of Train’s inventive imagination. A yankee lawyer, from the great state of Maine, Mr. Tutt settles in New York where he employs his solid common sense, a passionate commitment to fair play, and his vast knowledge of the law (with a particular expertise in those areas of malleability known as “loopholes”) to successfully defend a long string of clients who have been sorely put upon by various bullies, misers, con artists, avaricious stepmothers, and overly-ambitious district attorneys. When we meet him, he is a man of advanced age who is easily identifiable by his lanky frame, his old-fashioned stove-pipe hat, his “congress shoes”, and a preference for toxic stogies. The stories are not only gems of humor, but mini-seminars in law and courtroom procedure.

The Tutt stories were originally published in magazines, and eventually collected into a series of books. Train wrote a “biography” of Mr. Tutt, also, and was greatly amused (and occasionally inconvenienced) when it turned out that many readers actually considered Mr. Tutt to be a real person: the fictional character was barraged with letters seeking legal advice, and was even asked to tea by elderly women hoping to retain him to handle their estates (or possibly to sound him out on the subject of matrimony).

Very few of these stories are now in print, although I saw a couple of reissues on Amazon. By dint of diligently plowing through the inventory of various used-book shops, I have acquired half a dozen or so of the short-story collections – an enterprise I heartily recommend to anyone who values well-plotted comic tales populated with highly original characters.

Correction: Mr. Tutt is from Vermont, not Maine.


The Wizard of WOZ said...

"Anyone who values well-plotted comic tales populated with highly original characters"

Thats most of your readership I'd suggest Mr Paco

Paco said...

Thankee, Woz. By the way, new short story coming up in a day or two (not "new", actually, since it's been floating around in a couple of competitions for quite a while, but new here).

Steve Skubinna said...

The best bio of a fictitious character I have ever read was "The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower" by C. Northcote Parkinson (he of the Law). I found it while I was in junior high and it convinced me Hornblower was a historical person.

Anonymous said...

I took your recommendation last week on Conan Doyle and while I was at it finally ordered "Quartered Safe Out Here". I have read a couple of the Flashman books and Steel Bonnets but QSOH is proving more engrossing than I expected, meanwhile the Frenchman sits on the TBR pile. Thanks for the tip.

Now let's see, do I have enough of the readies to visit Alibris this week?


Paco said...

Quartered Safe Out Here is a great military memoir. I hope to highlight, perhaps next week, another book of military autobiography which includes some of the funniest anecdotes I've ever come across

Steve Skubinna said...

Anon, if you haven't you should get the McAuslan books, three of them. They're semi-fictionalized tales of Fraser's commissioned service with the 92nd (Gordon Highlanders).

They make a nice counterpoint to QSOH, as he mentions in the forward to the latter (in my edition anyway) his perspective was different as a junior officer than it was as an enlisted rifleman.

A Common Reader published all three together as McAuslan Entire, but the individual titles are The General Danced at Dawn, McAuslan in the Rough, and The Sheik and the Dustbin.

Paco said...

Retread: Steve's right: the McAusland series is hilarious. I had to be careful about reading the stories in public places because there were times when I quite literally couldn't control my laughter. The three-volume original set has a very moving afterword by the author.

Anonymous said...

I can see that hanging around here is going to cost me money, and require more bookshelves!


cac said...

Fraser in both his directly autobiographical role and his alter ego Dand MacNeil are indeed hard to beat.

My recommendations, for what they are worth, are John Masters' three volumes of military autobiography - Bugles and a Tiger, The Road Past Mandalay and Pilgrim Son which collectively take him from very junior subaltern in the pre War Indian Army, to Brigadier in the Chindits at the age of 26 and finally to change of career as an American citizen and prolific novelist living in Santa Fe. Out of print now I believe but I do not believe soldiering has ever been better described.

Paco said...

Cac: Shhh! Bugles and a Tiger happens to be next week's featured book!

Anonymous said...

Let me start with a brief off-topic: as a long-time lurker on Tim Blair's old site, I am very pleased to see the new branch office of Paco Enterprises open.

Back on topic. One of my old favorites is a book my grandparents got during WWII. It is the story of Corporal Thomas St. George written by him in instalments mailed to one of the San Francisco papers (I think the Chronicle, but it may have been the Examiner). The book is written in a lighthearted manner, with an eye for the amusing side of life in the Army, and takes him from Camp Roberts (near Paso Robles, CA) to Australia.

Your Australian readers should be warned, he was a friendly observer on the whole, but he clearly felt the USA was better. In part, I think, because home always looks good. Still, he didn't say anything about Australia that was any worse than what he said about the (US) Army.

If you can find a copy of _C/O Postmaster_, I recomend doing so.

Mike Dubost

TimT said...

Another Train! I'm also happy to share at least the name of Joseph Train, a one-time assistant of Sir Walter Scott. (He's mentioned in the authors introduction to 'Old Mortality').

At a guess, I'd say the Trains of the UK, the US, and Australia are all distantly related. Though it's nice to see our name crop up in the historical records from time to time.

Wimpy canadian said...

Used books stores are the curse of my life. I'll keep an eye out for Mr. Train and Mr. Tutt.

Minicapt said...

"The Bandy Papers".


RebeccaH said...

Generally, these books are what used to be known in my young girlhood as "men's literature". As I always preferred the adventurous to the pink and frilly, I'll probably have to start looking for the titles.


I'm with Wimpy Canadian. Bookstores are my addiction, and I periodically fall off the wagon. And now they've introduced into my very home!

Anonymous said...

For those cheapskates among you who don't want to search dusty old bookshops, (or part with your well earned cash), you can find some pf Arthur Train's work here

Kevin B

Boy on a bike said...

Quartered Safe Out Here is a marvelous book - I recommend it to anyone that happens to see if when browsing Amazon or a bookstore.

Some of the language is a bit hard to decipher though - and I am talking about how he renders how his fellow Englishmen speak. For a while, I started to imagine he was with a Ghurka regiment.