Harlequin’s Secret Shame

Sometimes They Liked It Rough…


Although Harlequin is now known as the publishers of about a zillion pulpy category romance titles, this Canadian publishing dynasty was founded way back in 1949 in Winnipeg, Manitoba by Advocate Printers and Doug Weld of Bryant Press, Richard Bonnycastle (who handled production) and Jack Palmer, Canadian distributor of The Saturday Evening Post (who was in charge of marketing). They started by publishing everything and anything they could get their hands on: mystery, western, science fiction, sports, adventure, cookbooks, nonfiction and even “literature,” as well as, of course, romance.

Sure, they published relatively genteel mysteries by such expected authors as Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, but they also showed a decided bent for the harder stuff, regularly publishing in their early days works by such crime authors as Wade Miller, Robert Leslie Bellem, Day Keene, Robert O. Saber, Harry Whittington, Ronald Cooke, James Hadley Chase, Frank Kane, David Montrose, Cleve Adams, Joe Barry and David Goodis.

In fact, through the years they continued to publish crime fiction up through the nineties, under a variety of imprints, including Raven House, Worldwide Mystery and Intrigue, by such authors as Dell Shannon, Maxine O’Callaghan, James Axler, Michael CollinsDon Pendleton and William Campbell Gault. I even had the pleasure of meeting one of their more recent writers, Joyce Sullivan, a former private eye herself, back in 2000 or so at the Westmount Library.

In 2009, to celebrate the company’s 60th anniversary (and no doubt inspired by Hard Case Crime‘s staggering success), Harlequin reissued six of their early crime thrillers, complete with their early, cheesy, pulpy covers.

The plan was to release the books “as is.” Unfortunately, not only were the covers retouched, but they also felt compelled to tinker with the text. As one Harlequin editor put it:

… once we immersed ourselves in the text, our eyes grew wide. Our jaws dropped. Social behavior–such as hitting a woman–that would be considered totally unacceptable now was quite common sixty years ago. Scenes of near rape would not sit well with a contemporary audience, we were quite convinced. We therefore decided to make small adjustments to the text, only in cases where we felt scenes or phrases would be offensive to a 2009 readership. Also, grammar and spelling standards have changed quite a bit in sixty years.


In 2014, Harlequin was purchased by News Corp. and is now a division of HarperCollins. But its headquarters are still in Toronto. Serves them right…

Better news is that they haven’t given up on crime. In 2014, they launched the Harlequin Intrigue Noir line. There were seven titles, but the series soon petered out. But they keep trying, and the occasional romance featuring a private eye of some sort or another still occasionally raises its head. More encouragingly, in 2021 Harlequin Intrigue launched an entire series by K.D. Richards built around the various operatives of the NYC-based West Investigations. “Uplifting endings” are promised.

So don’t count these folks out yet…


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

Leave a Reply