LITERARY LOCATION: 919 Robson Street, formerly the main outlet for Duthie Books

At this location in 1957, next to the Vancouver Public Library at Robson and Burrard, Bill Duthie founded Duthie Books, a bookstore that doubled as a literary Mecca until the family business collapsed in 2010. One of the countless authors directly encouraged by Bill Duthie was Jay Clarke, a lawyer who crafted successful thrillers under the pen name of Michael Slade. Bill Duthie personally arranged to have Clarke's first manuscript published in a limited edition of one copy, as a surprise, and Duthie's legendary communist cohort Binky Marks, who managed the Paperback Cellar downstairs, was similarly supportive. Clarke proceeded to write more than a dozen novels after his first and best-known title, Headhunter, appeared in 1984, co-written with John Banks and Richard Covell. "Duthie's at Robson and Hornby was our Shakespeare and Company," said Clarke in 2016, "and not a week goes by that I don't mourn its passing. Even now."


Jay Clarke has fond memories of Bill Duthie's cohort who managed the Paperback Cellar (prior to David Kerfoot), the colourful communist Binky Marks.

"So as a kid I come down the staircase to the Paperback Cellar, and wow! ... what's this? Seven hundred pages of history's 300 most baffling killers and how police used the latest forensic techniques to hunt them! What more could I ask? The motherlode was here.

"Uh-oh, look at the price. $1.99. Too rich for my blood. I put it down and walked to Duthie's Mystery Section, but the lure was too great. Three times I went back and thumbed through the treasure displayed on the shelf by the floor ... until a dark shadow fell over me. I looked up and there he was, shock of hair and rumpled clothes with gravy stain on his tie. Binky Marks.

"'That book's right up your alley, isn't it, son?' he said.

"'Sure is, Mr. Marks.'

"'A bookseller gets to know his customers, Mr. Five-O-Five (he gave me the name because the Granville Street theatre let out at five on Saturday, and it took me five minutes to get to the store), and the moment I saw that book I knew it had your name on it. The problem is you don't have enough money. Every Saturday you pull out your change, and you've got 35 cents for a paperback, and 15 cents for the bus home. Right?'

'"Yes, Mr. Marks.'

'"You know about me, don't you?'

'"Yes, you're a Communist!'

'"Yes, I'm a Communist. I don't believe in Capitalism. It grinds people down. So (Binky lowered his voice), if you tell anyone about this, I'll deny it, understand?'

'"Yes, Mr. Marks.'

'"Okay, kid, (whispered in conspiracy). Let me tell you about credit.'

The deal was I could take the book for 35 cents. If I came in next Saturday, and there was a mystery that I HAD to have, I could skip a week. But if not, I would add that week's money to a jar he placed on the counter. The day I dropped the final payment in the glass, not a word was said, but when I returned after checking the Penguin Classics section to see if Caesar's The Conquest of Gaul had come in, the jar was gone.

Binky Marks! One of a kind.


In 2010, Jay Clarke wrote to Bill Duthie's daughters, Cathy and Celia:

"It's with a heavy heart that I hear the news that Duthie Books is closing shop. I was there in 1957 when the doors opened, and spent every Saturday for years standing under those Paperback Cellar glass squares in the sidewalk above, choosing the perfect mystery to buy for my 35 cents. Every Saturday, after the movies, I haunted Duthie Books. The legendary local booksellers Bill Duthie and Binky Marks were my literary gods. The week I finished Volume One, I waited till Bill was free, then I slapped 13 TOMBES down on the counter and said, "Mr. Duthie, I've written a book." He called Binky Marks up from the Paperback Cellar to see my work, and they asked if I'd leave it with them for a week to read.

"The following Saturday, I returned, heart in my throat, to get my first review. In the interim, they'd taken my pages to a bookbinder and had them put into hardcover with the title and my name in gilt on the spine. I was stunned. Bill handed it to me and said, 'It's in a limited edition of one copy, but here's your first published book. Promise me that one day your novels will be for sale in my store.'"

"I promised. And they were.

"It's no overstatement to say that Bill and Binky created Michael Slade.

"The only time I was ever threatened with contempt of court was when a provincial court judge refused to adjourn a trial so I could attend Bill's funeral. I told the judge that I was leaving anyway, and he could do what he wished, but that he should think long and hard about the fact that I expected mourners from the Court of Appeal would be there. He relented.

"Fifty years have passed since Bill and Binky encouraged that young writer (do you think that goes on today in the big box stores? Ha!)";


Having acted as an attorney in more than 100 murder cases, Jay Clarke of Vancouver has co-written a series of gruesome 'psycho-thrillers' under the pseudonym Michael Slade, commencing with Headhunter in 1984. He has had four co-writers, mostly notably his daughter.

In his noteworthy debut horror novel, Headhunter, a killer is loose on the streets of Vancouver and the victims are everywhere: floating in the Fraser River, buried in a shallow grave, nailed to an Indian totem pole on the university campus. All are women, all are headless. Brightlight Pictures optioned the screen rights in 2006.

In most of the earlier Slade novels members of the Special X Unit often hunt for serial killers. Clarke has traced his origins as a writer to his fascination with EC Comics in the mid-1950s. "From then on, I was fascinated by the criminal mind," he says. "First I drew comics, and than I wrote a book, 13 Tombs, when I was thirteen. I typed it out in signatures and stitched them together like the guts of a book. From age ten I had haunted Duthie Books, so I showed my work to Bill Duthie and left it with him to read. Imagine how wowed I was when he gave it back to me a week later, bound in hardcover, with the title and my name in gilt on the spine. 'Now you're published in a limited edition of one,' he said. 'One day, I want to see your books sold in my store.'"

Born in Lethbridge in 1947, Jay Clarke specializes as a lawyer in cases for the criminally insane. Most of his recent novels are co-written with his daughter Rebecca Clarke, who studied literature and history at UBC. Their collaboration for Bed of Nails (2003) marks a return to the landscape of Slade's second novel, Ghoul, selected by the Horror Writers Association as one of the 40 top horror novels of all time and named one of the best novels by the A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers (Simon & Schuster, 1997) along with Silence of the Lambs and Psycho. In Bed of Nails (Penguin, 2004), a local crazy called The Ripper--who believes he's Jack the Ripper--plots revenge on inspector Zinc Chandler. A car chase with guns blazing in Vancouver and a World Horror Convention in Seattle lead the Mountie to a cannibal island climax in the South Pacific, where Survivor is the game, and Chandler is an unwilling contestant.

Clarke is willing to consider his fascination with horror could be somewhat linked with the disappearance of his father, a Trans-Canada Airlines pilot, whose flight from Vancouver to Calgary in 1956 crashed into a mountain near Chilliwack during a storm, killing all 62 people aboard. The plane went missing on December 9, 1956 and wasn't found until May. "What you do is you plumb your life," he told the Georgia Straight's Steve Newton in 2003, "and you come up with whatever the scariest things are. Now, I don't know, maybe your parents lost you in the woods. Maybe Uncle Charlie took you out and sexually assaulted you behind the woodpile. Maybe you drowned and had a near-death experience. It will be different for every single person., but there'll be something in your life which you have to carry with you and you'll carry with you til the grave."

Michael Slade's eleventh gruesome thriller Swastika (Penguin $24) is a fast-paced, RCMP procedural that was directly inspired by the W.W. II archives of Jay Clarke's father, Jack "Johnny Clarke,"; an artist who volunteered for the RAF in September of 1940. He flew 47 combat missions against the Third Reich, mainly in a Halifax with Bomber Command, and participated in the Battle of El Alamein. Jay Clarke connects his father's war record (which he says he found behind a false wall in his mother's linen closet in 2003) to events in this far-reaching thriller in which a delusionary Aryan killer named Swastika arrives on the West Coast and heads to Barkerville in search of Hitler's gold. "What is it about the Cariboo that appeals to the Germanic mind?"; Slade writes. "Are the mountains evocative of the Bavarian Alps? Are the thickets reminiscent of how the Black Forest used to feel? Is it the sense of Lebenstraum in its wide-open spaces, the yearning for elbow room that drove the Nazis to invade Russia? Whatever it is, German accents are everywhere in the Cariboo today, and that made the Aryan just one among many.";

Swastika is an unusual Michael Slade story because it alleges a Pentagon cover-up of SS Major Wernher von Braun's links to the horrific deaths of 20,000 prisoner-of-war slaves who died while the Nazis built V-2 rockets for Hitler. In promotional materials, Jay Clarke is quoted: "Von Braun's war record was 'inconvenient' for the Pentagon's post-war missile plans. So, to subvert the Nazi restrictions in Project Paperclip, he was slapped with more whitewash than Tom Sawyer and his dupes put on that fence. By the time I was a kid in the mid-1950s, you could sit on the floor wearing your Davy Crockett coonskin cap and see von Braun on Disney's TV show. His design for the rocket ship in Tomorrowland was based on his V-2. By the time he died an American 'hero' in 1977, he'd been given a medal by President Ford... During the Red Scare years after the war, von Braun became essential to America winning the arms race. So the Pentagon brought its own iron curtain down between Nordhausen--the overflow camp--and the Dora Mittelbau V-2 factory tunnels, less than five miles to the north. Dora was written out of history, and the cover-up persists today."

Spanning 2,000 years, Crucified is a Vatican conspiracy novel that links Roman Catholicism to a high-ranking Third Reich member named Judas who betrayed Hitler, as the original Judas betrayed Christ. The story unravels from the contemporary discovery in Germany of an Allied bomber plane called the Ace of Clubs. As the grand-daughter of the downed pilot, Liz Hannah enlists the help of a bestselling author and historian, Wyatt Rook, to explain how the bomber was so severely off-course when it disappeared. Their investigations soon attract attention from the Vatican, enabling Slade to make historical detours into the Crusades and Satanism, with flourishes of torture and murder en route.

To coincide with the 2010 Winter Games, Michael Slade fashioned a five-ring circus of mayhem and murder for everyone stuck on the Sea to Sky Highway. In his corpse-filled thriller, Red Snow (Penguin $24), mercenaries isolate Whistler Mountain, putting the Olympics in jeopardy, as Slade pits his psycho-villain Mephisto against the RCMP's Special X squad, enabling publicists to gleefully declare, Let The Games Begin.


Red Snow (Penguin Canada, 2009). 978-0-14-316779-2
Crucified (Penguin Canada, 2008). 978-0-143167-78-5
Kamikaze (Penguin Canada, 2006), by Jay Clarke, Rebecca Clarke. 0-14-305328-0
Swastika (Viking Canada, 2005), by Jay Clarke, Rebecca Clarke. 0-14-305325-6.
Bed of Nails (Viking Canada, 2003), by Jay Clarke, Rebecca Clarke. 0-14-301383-1.
Death's Door (Viking Canada, 2002), by Jay Clarke, Rebecca Clarke
Hangman (2001), by Jay Clarke, Rebecca Clarke (daughter)
Burnt Bones (Viking, 1999), by Jay Clarke
Ripper (Penguin/Signet, 1996)
Cutthroat (Penguin/Signet, Oct. 1992), by Jay Clarke, John Banks
Ghoul (NAL Signet, 1989), by Jay Clarke, John Banks, Lee Clarke (Jay Clarke's wife)
Primal Scream (Viking, 1998)
Evil Eye (Viking, 1996)
Headhunter (Morrow, 1984) - Jay Clarke, John Banks, Richard Covell

[BCBW 2016] "Fiction" "War"