Milward Kennedy is a writer I've featured several times in this series of Friday's Forgotten Books, and there is much about his work that I like. He had fresh interesting ideas, a lively style, and a good understanding of people. And yet, he was something of a 'nearly man' who never quite made it as a consistent top-level performer. My choice today,. Escape to Quebec, illustrates both his strengths and his limitations.
This book is one of his later titles, first published in 1948, and one of the very few Kennedy titles which made it into a paperback edition. By this time,he had abandoned classic detection, and was trying his hand a at a different kind of story, really representing a return to his co-written debut, The Bleston Mystery, which is a light thriller. He drew on his experience of diplomacy and international relations - he was a senior figure in the International Labour Organisation - and also his knowledge of Canada, where he spent a good deal of time, in putting this novel together.
After a short prologue, we are presented with a first person narrative. Unusually, the narrator is a prisoner of war, and apparently a German Count, who has just escaped, together with a colleague, from where he was being held in Canada. The pair have been sprung in order to take part in an assassination plot. In some ways, therefore, this book resembles and anticipates the classic Frederick Forsyth best-seller, The Day of the Jackal. Forsyth's originality was much admired in its day, but you could say that Kennedy got there first (though I hasten to add that the books are very different from each other.)
There are a number of interesting and gripping scenes, and the story is very readable - I devoured it quickly, and with some pleasure. On the whole, however, I felt that there were good reasons why Kennedy failed to match the success that Forsyth later achieved. Overall, the level of excitement (given that we know that the leaders of the Western powers survived) is simply not high enough, and the romantic interest that is introduced is tepid in the extreme. Kennedy wins high marks for originality of concept, but not quite as many for execution. The story of his writing career, I'm afraid. Nevertheless, I continue to admire his desire to keep trying something new, of which this book is certainly an example.