Introduction Biography Addresses Portraits
Books Short stories Stage plays Film and TV Radio and audio
Quotations Fishing Poetry Food Settings Dedications Narrative style Canning in the OED Reading lists Articles on Canning
Centenary News Links Availability Copies for sale

The Doomsday Carrier (1976)

Novel (212 pages, 73,900 words)

1976 first edition
First edition
1978 paperback edition
Pan paperback
German translation
Companion cover
Birdcage Companion

Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

The Book

Jean Blackwell, engaged to George Freemantle, drops into his flat and sees him in flagrante with another woman. Deeply upset, she returns to her work at Fadledean, a biological warfare research station. She takes over supervision of Charlie, a chimpanzee, but falls down in a faint, so letting Charlie escape. Unfortunately Charlie has just been inoculated with a plague bacillus and, unless recaptured, will become highly infectious in about 21 days.

We follow the hunt for Charlie from three points of view: Firstly Charlie himself, and various people he comes across on his journey, a boy fishing, an old man swimming, a commercial traveller, a gamekeeper, railway gangers. Secondly from the view of Captain Stevens, the helicopter pilot who has drawn Day Fourteen in the mess sweepstake and is in no hurry to recapture the chimp. Third from the view of Jean Blackwell and John Rimster, an official sent down from London to take charge of the hunt. Rimster actually works for Grandison and the 'Birdcage' or 'dirty tricks' branch of the foreign office, but is about to be fired because of an alcohol problem.

There are echoes of Canning's pre-war pastoral picaresque books in Charlie's travels and encounters, especially of Mr Finchley discovers his England of 1934. There is also an indignant political message in the final paragraph

But since one swallow does not make a summer, the successful plague-carrying test on Charlie had to be confirmed and reconfirmed to make it safe for men and women to be used as carriers, so another chimpanzee took his place. Everyone was happy, particularly the apes in dark suits who might one day for political or military reasons decide to use the silent weapon of plague to avoid the open and honest brutality of the sword.

The book has one particularly memorable line (at the start of the last chapter) which tells us something about Canning's approach to his work:
Tragedy and comedy sometimes share the same bed. Both are restless sleepers.

Publishing History

Published by Heinemann in 1976 at 3.50. The US edition was by Morrow in the same year. There was a serialisation in Woman's Own in October 1976. There was a Pan paperback in 1978.