The Reading Room

The Books of Victor Canning

A look at the life and books of Victor Canning…

Victor Canning (1911-1986) was a prolific author of some sixty books and one hundred short stories in a career spanning over fifty years.  His first novel; Mr Finchley Discovers His England was first published in 1934 but it would be from the 1050s through to the 70s when he was at the height of his writing, producing mostly good quality thrillers .

Canning enlisted in the British Army in 1940, joining his friend and fellow writer, Eric Ambler in training with the Royal Artillery.  In 1943 he was sent to North Africa  joining the Allied invasion of Sicily amongst other campaigns being waged in Italy. Whilst he spoke little of anything about his army career-he was an intensely private man, his writing must surely have been influenced by his army exploits and the style in which he wrote about the secret services in particular. Using his experience in Italy he wrote The Chasm in 1947 about a Nazi collaborator on the run in Northern Italy. The sixties was a boom period for authors writing about spies on the back of Ian Fleming’s success in both books and films and Canning touched upon the subject via his Rex Carver  detective novels. The Python Project first published in 1967 was the third in the Rex Carver series and my favourite Canning novel.  The book takes us through familiar Canning territory in France, Italy and the shores of North Africa along with wonderful period descriptions of 1960s England complete with the ubiquitous Mini Cooper, plenty of whisky and girls with cornflower-blue eyes.

Canning’s stock soon rose and his books were quickly reprinted for paperback and Book Club editions across the globe including many turned into movies. The  Companion Book Club editions are particularly appealing with their glorious sixties covers by Mike CharltonVirginia Smith and Roger Payne.  (click on the images for an expanded view) Canning is an author worth looking out for, his books sell relatively cheaply and most are good reads, his later books eschewed the tradition for positive outcomes and show a maturity some of his earlier works lacked. He also wrote remarkably good and well-received children’s books, particularly The Runaways published in 1972. The Rex Carver novels are my personal favourites and include: The Whip Hand, Doubled in Diamonds, The Python Project and  The Melting Man,  all written between 1965 and 1968.

4 replies »

  1. Glad to see this. I must reread The Python Project. I had forgotten about the Mini Cooper. Well done revitalising these books.

    John Higgins.


  2. Thank you I must get some of his books .So far I’ve only heard some of his stuff( Mr Finchley) on radio 4
    . I’m knocked out with his writing . It has a flavour of French New Wave and leaves behind the English Constipation of the last hundred years . We desperately need new English writers without bad habits .To use not to show off. Thank you


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