Frank L. Packard

Frank Lucius Packard, novelist, short story writer, engineer (born at Montréal, Que., 2 Feb 1877; died at Lachine, Que., 17 Feb 1942). Educated at McGill University and the Institut Montefiore at the Université de Liège, Packard was employed for much of his adult life as a civil engineer with the Canadian Pacific Railway. In 1906, Munsey's published his short story "Corporal Bob," marking the first of what would be over 150 appearances in popular American magazines.

Packard's earliest short fiction consists of railway adventures, 15 of which were gathered in his first book, On the Iron at Big Cloud (1911). Although he continued to draw inspiration from railways, notably in the novels The Wire Devils (1918) and The Night Operator (1919), the better part of Packard's work revolves around the urban criminal underworld. In The Miracle Man (1914), his first significant commercial success, a gang of small-time New York crooks look to take advantage of a blind faith-healer in rural Maine only to be themselves healed both spiritually and physically. The theme of redemption runs through many of Packard's novels, including Greater Love Hath No Man (1913) and The Sin that Was His (1917). The latter concerns an unprincipled gambler who, masquerading as a priest in order to escape arrest, finds himself transformed by his efforts to act as a good, honest man.

Packard enjoyed his greatest commercial success with The Adventures of Jimmie Dale (1917), the first of 5 books to feature a society playboy who uses his skills as a detective, safe-cracker and cat burglar to secretly fight crime as the masked Gray Seal. These elements, combined with The Sanctuary, Dale's secret lair, have led to speculation about the influence the Gray Seal may have had in the creation of Batman, the Shadow and the Green Hornet.

The Gray Seal books are typical of Frank L. Packard's work in that they feature intricate, if somewhat improbable, plots. His greatest strength is found in the ability to create realistic atmosphere, a talent aided by research that saw Packard visiting prisons and accompanying police during raids.

While Packard's novels tend to be set in places to which he had travelled, only rarely did he use Canada as a setting. He was a prolific writer, publishing more than 30 books during his lifetime, some of which he rewrote for the British market. Eleven of Packard's short stories and novels have been adapted for the screen, most notably The Miracle Man (1919), a "lost film" that is often credited with having launched the career of prominent actor Lon Chaney.

Frank L. Packard's papers are held by Library and Archives Canada.