Monday, December 22, 2014

Books of 1971: Firecrest by Victor Canning

Firecrest by Victor Canning is both a hunt for missing documents and a psychological study of a man who is very hardened to killing people (just in his line of work, as he sees it) but is seeking revenge for the murder of his lover. The story is primarily told from his point of view, and the reader learns of his childhood influences and how he became a member of the Department.
The Department was an offshoot of the Ministry of Defence. Its existence had never been officially acknowledged. Its functions – proliferating under the pressure of national security – were as old as organised society. Its work was discreet and indecent. Security and economy demanded that certain people and certain situations had to be handled, organised, dispatched or suppressed without the public being disturbed or distressed by any awareness of the mostly unmentionable stratagems that, in the interests of the national welfare, the Department was given an ambiguous mandate to employ. Murder, blackmail, fraud, theft and betrayal were the commonplaces of the Department.
A scientist, Dilling, has developed a project that could be very useful to the government. He is negotiating with the Department to sell this information when he dies of a heart attack. Not trusting the people he is negotiating with, he has hidden the documents and told no one where they are. Grimster has been assigned the task of persuading the girlfriend of the scientist, Lily, to reveal where the papers have been hidden. She has no knowledge of the transactions or the hiding place, but those seeking the information are sure that she has clues to the location. Grimster and Lily are the characters we get to know the best, and the reader is never sure how they will fare until the end.

The story is very complex and has very few if any characters that I found likeable. That did not deter my enjoyment. My only (very tiny) quibble was that sometimes I wanted the action to progress more quickly and there might have been too much laboring over motivations. It is not an overly long book, at 252 pages. There are twists and revelations throughout the book. Because of the subject matter, it is a dark book but does not leave one with a feeling of hopelessness.

This is my first experience reading Victor Canning. I noticed some books of his in reprint editions at Arcturus Publishing and Ostara Press. Then I found a great series of articles by Nick Jones at Existential Ennui, which pointed me to resource at The Victor Canning pages by John Higgins.

Firecrest is the first book in a series called the Birdcage books, described in this post at Existential Ennui and at The Victor Canning Pages (here).

 -----------------------------

Publisher:   Award Books, 1974 (orig. pub. 1971)
Length:       252 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       Birdcage books #1
Setting:      UK
Genre:        Espionage fiction
Source:      Purchased at Planned Parenthood book sale, 2014.


16 comments:

  1. Hi Tracy, I am so glad you liked it. I have read only a few novels by Canning but they have all been interesting. This was the first one I read and the ending has stayed with me till date.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did like this a lot, Neer. From beginning to end. I am interested in more in this series. I have one the related series and one in the Rex Carver series.

      Delete
  2. Tracy, this appears to be a different kind of an espionage tale, one that I might look up in the new year. I'm already committed to reading a lot of writers new to me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am pretty sure you would enjoy this book and the series it is a part of. It sounds right up your alley. I will be trying more of his work.

      Delete
  3. This one sounds really interesting, Tracy. I know what you mean too about being engaged in a book even if the characters aren't particularly likeable. Glad you enjoyed this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me too, Margot. I was really looking forward to trying something by this author, and I luckily found this book at the book sale, not knowing it was the first in this set of books.

      Delete
  4. Never heard of this writer so thank you for reviewing it. I like my share of psychological thrillers/espionage stories. Unlikable characters aren't deal breakers for me. Sounds interesting Tracy. Doubt I'll pick it up tho. Too much on my plate as it is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Although I had heard of the author, Keishon, I had not tried any of his books. I am glad I finally did. I sympathize with too much on your plate. I still have lots of "new to me" authors on my shelves that I haven't gotten to. I should skip buying books for a year.

      Delete
  5. I had completely forgotten Victor Canning although his books were very popular in the1970s when I worked in public libraries. I never did read any - but I'll look out for his books now. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know why I know this author's name, Katrina. Maybe because he writes espionage fiction, although certainly not all of his books are of that type. But, like Len Deighton, it took a long while to get around to his books.

      Delete
  6. I agree with Katrina - his books were all over the place in the 1970s - I think he was the kind of writer that friends' Dads had on their bookshelves!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Both Glen and I have heard of this author but not read anything by him. Maybe his books did not get published here much when he was writing. He wrote a children's (young adult?) series and series set in the days of King Arthur. Amazing.

      Delete
  7. Ordered this and the next two in the series after reading a bit about it - thanks for the helpful link.....you cracked my resolve. I had been fairly restrained during December up until now!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. OH, Good, I hope you enjoy them, Col. I plan to order the 2nd one soon, and have the 3rd one already, I think.

      Delete
    2. I'd better crack on with reading the rest of the series, or you'll overtake me!

      Delete
    3. I would love to overtake you, Nick, but I am slow and I don't think you have anything to worry about.

      Delete