I've mentioned my enthusiasm for thrillers often enough in these blog posts, but the only time I've covered Victor Canning was nearly ten years ago, when I blogged about The Minerva Club, a Crippen & Landru collection of short stories edited by John Higgins. Some time later, I began an email correspondence with John, who is a great advocate for Canning and runs an excellent and informative set of web pages about Canning.
I first became aware of Canning as a teenager, thanks to my father, through whom I also came across writers such as Alistair MacLean and Desmond Bagley. Canning wasn't quite in their league, but he was a very successful novelist, and my dad liked the books about Rex Carver, a private detective. They didn't, however, make a strong impression on me. Conversely, I much enjoyed Hitchcock's Family Plot, based on Canning's The Rainbird Pattern, which won the CWA Silver Dagger (an award which no longer exists) and was nominated for an Edgar.
Inspired by John's advocacy, I've decided to take a closer look at Canning. His career as a published novelist lasted about half a century, which is quite something, and it's clear that he was quite a versatile writer. The Golden Salamander, for instance, was made into a successful film, and he wrote an Arthurian trilogy as well as books for children.
He also wrote a series of spy novels, and John has kindly supplied me with a copy of Birdcage, published in 1978, and an entry in Canning's series of "Birdcage" books. It has a striking opening, as a young nun attempts to commit suicide by drowning. She survives, and is befriended by a man called Richard Farley, who discovers that she mistakenly thought she was pregnant, and becomes increasingly attracted to her. But her family connections are complicated, and Farley finds that his life is at risk as we are introduced to a formidable villain.
I don't want to say too much about the plot, but what struck me forcibly was the quality of the writing. Canning was no mere blood and thunder merchant. As a young man, he became friendly with a fellow serviceman, Eric Ambler, and there were aspects of this book that reminded me of Ambler. He wasn't quite as good a writer as Ambler, but not many thriller writers of the 20th century were. I'm definitely interested in reading more Canning, and I really must track down The Rainbird Pattern...