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Reviews of The Mask of Memory

The ruthlessness with human values that marks Intelligence work at its purest has been the subject of some of our most distinguished spy fiction. And often enough has a hapless pair of lovers become entangled in the sterile meshes of implacable men hidden away in Whitehall, Washington or Moscow. But not before, I think, has Intelligence been used as a looming symbol for all that is against Nature, and I am sure that nowhere hitherto has anyone so strongly contrasted that rigid structure with the rioting world of the senses as Canning does here. For against a tale of an agent carrying out a tricky semi-political assignment, with a sharp undertug of office politics, he has set to considerable effect a love story of deep meaning and more than a little erotic power.
  The stories touch in the person of Commander Tucker, the high-ranking Intelligence man whose task we follow with its cool assessments and its share of ill-luck, and whose wife, estranged by his commitment to his secret life-work, plunges at last tumultuously into passion amid the dunes of the Devon coast with a curious earth-sprung demi-god in modern dress. Not a little of Canning’s success lies with this figure in whom he combines a persona that might have come out of myth itself with a possible young man living in our everyday world.
  The two stories touch and lightly enmesh, but more importantly they powerfully react one against the other. The world of Intelligence, with its implacable claims and its eventual stiffening and distortion even of such a heart-nurtured quality as loyalty, is set clean contrary to the world of Nature, threaded through with wild birds (marvellously evoked), instantly responsive to external events, even clearly seen to be not just powerful but dangerous. And in this clash lies a warning for us, a warning long implicit in much of Canning’s writing but never before, I think, so clearly and successfully stated. Forget not that we humans are ever tied to the unsleeping universe of instinct.
(The Times, London—reproduced from a USA book jacket, undated)

Victor Canning is a very good thriller writer—he manages to build up tension and menace almost without the reader realising it.
  In this story Margaret is the bored and lonely wife of a top member of the Admiralty, Bernard Tucker. He is working in Intelligence but she doesn't know it, nor do his Admiralty friends even know he's married, so separately does he lead his two lives.
  Margaret is being watched by a private detective because Bernard wants to divorce her, and while on one of her lonely walks on the beach, she meets up with a tough, good-looking man called Maxie Dougall, who persistently woos and finally wins her. While all this is going on, Bernard is engaged in top secret business, and something happens to rock everybody's lives ...
OUR VERDICT: Compulsive reading from an excellent author.
(Living London, 27 November 1976)

Brings an unusual touch to the espionage arena. The twist given to the death of a top spy is neatly original. (Belfast Telegraph, 26 November 1976)

Second on the value-for-money list is Victor Canning's The Mask of Memory (Heinemann. 2.90). With brilliant characterisation this veteran thriller writer depicts the earthy love affair of the lonely wife of a Government Security Chief who is involved with the struggle between the trade unions and the State. This is far more than a thriller and should more than satisfy Mr. Canning's substantial readership. (Birmingham Post, 28 November 1974)

Private and official life of cold security mandarin is dismantled during mission to unmask unacceptable face of trade unionism; skirts edge of pretentiousness and romantic passages are over lush yet it remains mesmerically readable. (Guardian, 31 October 1974)

Very superior spy story on two levels. Margaret, unsatisfactorily married to Bernard, top security executive, starts D.H.Lawrentian love-affair with Highlander painter/bird-watcher who tumbles her all over the beach. Bernard, about to spring Zinoviev letter scare is found strangled [sic] and the TUC dossier missing. Laconic and equivocal security men swarm down to Devonshire for a downbeat solution. (Observer, 3 November 1974)