Victor Canning (1911-1986)
by John Higgins
Firecrest may have a relatively straightforward thriller plot, but this is the base for a subtle and complicated set of personal relationships. Most important is that between Lily and Dilling. Although Dilling is dead by page 5, hischaracter and his relationship with Lily gradually come into focus throughout the book and serves to explain how and why he has hidden the papers. A second key relationship is the one between Lily and John Grimster. On his side it is almost entirely loveless. He is eaten up with his desire for revenge. He will happily sleep with Lily as part of his effort to relax her and prepare to hypnotise her, but there is no love in it. He is also keen to arrange that she receives the cash value of Dilling’s papers, but this is as much part of his revenge against the Department as from any fondness for the girl. On her side she develops the same kind of innocent trust in him that she had in Dillling; clearly she needs a dominant male figure. She has fantasies about how, when she has located the papers and been paid the money, they will live happily ever after. We know how little Grimster cares for her and canexperience the irony.
Harrison have a kind of easy intimacy. They are enemies and each might kill the other, but they understand each other from their shared boyhood. Their earlier competition has been dominated by Harrison; he was the more successful at school and in their holiday pursuits. They are still in competition, but now Grimster is ahead. At the final confrontation Grimster has enough affection left in him to warn Harrison about the danger he is in, and one can appreciate the irony that Harrison only sees the warning as a trick and so dies.
The Rainbird Pattern
The relationship of Richard and Sarah is developed subtly and unsentimentally, but we are always aware of the way they are being observed at a distance by Birdcage agents, now playing games of internal politics. Lord Bellmaster is no longer part of Birdcage and has ambitions to become British ambassador to the USA, but the department wants to continue to exploit him and does not want his past exposed. To prevent this a junior member of the Birdcage team, Kerslake, is briefed by the boss Quint for his first assassination. Once again we are reminded of the essential evil of the Birdcage organisation:
What kind of people could they be, Farley had asked. Well, his kind. Quint’s kind. Just people—doing a dirty job which the world as it was made necessary. Birdcage gave you a sophisticated initial lecture on the validity of its ethics when you entered … so bloody convincing too. A crusade against evil—until you took the field and found you were using the Devil’s own weapons with not a tithe of his honesty of purpose.
University. He and his wife are now retired and live in Shaftesbury in Dorset.