This was published by Heinemann in 1980 and the US edition by Morrow appeared in 1981. There was a replica edition by Book Club Associates in 1980, and a Pan paperback in 1982.
The dedication is "for Eileen M. Cond, semper fidelis." She was, apparently, a well-known socialite who was in the habit of approaching authors for signed copies. She is especially associated in this way with Ian Fleming.
John Corbin is an expert gardener who, on the strength of a book he has written, has been engaged to write the history of the gardens of Illaton Manor in Devon, property of a bishop. He is also an immoral scoundrel who has not only seduced an industrialist's wife, but also blackmailed her. The wronged husband engages a private detective to pursue him. Corbin remains out of sight until he spots a fresh extortion opportunity at his new employment. (The private detective, James Helder, also features in another of Canning's novels, The Satan Sampler (1979), though in that book we are never told his first name.)
Many reviewers commented negatively on the leisurely pace and thinness of plot of this book, but commended the insights into gardening lore and the subtle characterisation. Canning himself had been a keen gardener and the manor house in Kent, Marle Place, where he lived from 1950 to 1969 had ornamental gardens which he probably drew on for his account of Illaton Manor. The setting of the book is close to the River Tamar on the Devon/Cornwall border, and there are several references to Calstock, the village where Canning had spent several years of his childhood and had set one of his pre-war novels, The Viaduct and parts of his more recent novel The Finger of Saturn.
A positive review by John Lutz has been mounted on the Mystery File blog site.
|Index of characters, |
locations and themes
|I shall be on the Number One platform of Exeter St. David’s station at two o’clock on Sunday, September 11th and shall remain in the vicinity of the bookstall. I shall expect you to send someone to meet me there. I would prefer a man. I shall be wearing a grey flannel suit with a chalk stripe, no hat, a white shirt and a blue tie with a thin yellow stripe. Your man will approach me and say, “Excuse me, but you’re Mr. Rose, aren’t you? I think this is yours.” He will then hand me the enclosed piece of paper on which I have drawn—not too badly I think—a rose. To confirm this you will insert another message in the Daily Telegraph which should read—“B. See you at Isca. Usual day and time. C.” At this meeting I will hand over in a sealed envelope copies of the documents I hold—and a note of my terms. (Page 154)|