Tanner's Tiger Page 32

I put the idea on the back burner, and then I must have unplugged the stove, because it was a couple more years before Tanner was ready to be born. By then a Stuart restoration was just one of his disparate passions. He was to be a champion of lost causes and irredentist movements, and I was to write eight books about him.

Lost causes?

Don’t count on it.

One thing that’s become evident to me, in the course of chronicling the adventures of Evan Michael Tanner, is that no cause is ever truly lost. They may not be steaming, but that doesn’t mean they’re not sitting patiently on a back burner, simmering away.

For instance…

In his first appearance, in The Thief Who Couldn’t Sleep, Tanner is sheltered in Ireland by his fellow members of the Irish Republican Army, an organization which at the time surely appeared to amount to nothing more than a batch of spirited if delusional folk given to ballad-singing and unable to accept the reality of a partition agreement that had been in force for over forty years. Yes, they’d made some noise over the decades, and chucked a few bombs, but the Troubles were surely a thing of the past, were they not?

Well, no, they weren’t. Within five years of that book’s publication, I had the curious experience of riding through the Bogside in Derry while it was under IRA occupation. Streets were barricaded, and we passed a flat-bed lorry captained by a gaunt fellow wearing a mask; small boys were bringing him empty milk bottles, and he was filling them with petrol. If reclamation of the Six Counties was a lost cause, surely no one had told any of the people we saw that day.

And so on.

Tanner, you’ll recall, belonged to the Latvian Army in Exile, as well as groups advocating independence for the various components of Yugoslavia. Fat chance, I thought at the time – and now the Baltic States are independent, and Yugoslavia has divided itself into six countries. (Or more, if you count Srbska and Kosovo and… oh, never mind.)

And so on.

What could be less a hot-button issue than the Armenian genocide of 1915? Tanner, a member of the League for the Restoration of Cilician Armenia, might not see it that way. And neither did the editor in Istanbul who had the temerity to deny the official denial of that holocaust. Nor did the fellow who assassinated him, just days ago as I write these lines.

I could go on in this vein. Causes, lost and found, burn hot one day and cold the next. When I first wrote about Tanner, the idea that they’d ever resume fighting the Thirty Years War in the north of Ireland seemed pretty farfetched. A few years later, the prospect of peace in those counties seemed every bit as remote. And now things have settled down again. For the time being, anyway, though that may change again between the writing of these lines and your reading of them.

Lost causes? I’ll tell you, causes don’t get lost. They may get misplaced, but sooner or later somebody finds them all over again.

Which brings us to Canada.

Huh? How does it bring us to Canada?

Irony, as you may have noticed, is frequently in the picture in the Tanner books, and Canada seemed to offer it in abundance as a venue for our sleepless hero. It had a vast and utterly porous border with the United States, and all you had to do to cross from one country to another was answer the uniformed dude who asked you where you were born. (Boo-faw-lo, said a young friend of mine, in response to a functionary on the Peace Bridge. My friend thought he was being funny. The man thought otherwise, and threatened to haul him out of the car, just to teach him a lesson, but in the end he let us go through, just as they always let everybody go through. Nothing to it.)

Canada boasted a Lost Cause, too, in the advocates of liberation for the francophone province of Quebec. Every once in a while some Quebecois hothead would put a bomb in a mailbox, and a batch of postcards home would get blown to hell, but that was about the extent of it. It was, of course, the sort of cause Tanner would find inspiring, but it wouldn’t keep him up nights.

(But he’d be up anyway, wouldn’t he? Never mind.)

Irony? Tanner, who leaps international borders the way Superman hops over tall buildings, could find himself refused entry to Canada, so that he’d be the first person who had to sneak in since Wolfe beat Montcalm. (On September 13, 1759, and neither man survived the day – but you knew that, right?) Oh, the possibilities for irony were everywhere, but in the end I set the book in Canada for the same reason that Tanner went there.

I wanted to go to Expo.

He took Minna, but I went by myself – to have a look at it, and to break a longstanding rule and actually know something about the setting of a Tanner book. I spent a week or so in Montreal, and visited the Cuban Pavilion, and I can tell you it’s just as described. It was quite remarkable. I don’t think they had trapdoors, and I don’t for a moment believe they were shanghaiing black people, but I can’t absolutely rule it out. I probably ought to explain about the tiger.

A couple of weeks after I turned in the book, I got a call from my agent. “They want a change,” he told me. “They want Arlette to be wearing a tigerskin coat.”

“Oh,” I said. “Uh, why?”

“So they can call the book Tanner’s Tiger.”

“They can call it that anyway,” I said. They could call anything whatever they wanted, as they’d demonstrated, to my chagrin, with previous books.

“But without the coat,” he said, “it wouldn’t make any sense.”

“It would make as much sense,” I pointed out, “as it would for her to be wearing a tigerskin coat.” But my heart wasn’t in it, and I made the change, modifying it slightly – instead of a coat, I gave her a tigerskin beret, and a tigerskin throw for her bed. It’s not a bad title, although I can’t say it makes much sense.

You need a passport to cross the Peace Bridge these days, or some lesser form of government-issued photo ID. The world had changed, and that border with it. The Free Quebec movement never got much more violent than the occasional bomb in the occasional post box, though it did achieve some of its goals through peaceful means, and never did find it necessary to blow up the Queen of England.

But here’s the thing. You really never do know what the future holds.

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