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Black Flamingo (1962)

Novel (192 pages, 61,550 words)

First edition 1962
First edition 1962
Pan paperback
Pan paperback
Later Pan paperback
Later Pan paperback
Uniform edition
Uniform edition
Chivers 2001
Chivers 2001

The Book

The setting is East and Central Africa. An adventurer comes across a crashed aircraft and takes over the identity of the dying pilot, but finds his new identity leads him into danger, since the plane had been carrying diamonds intended to finance a tribal uprising. Canning rightly sees Central Africa as ripe territory for conflict and chaos. What he does not foresee is that those involved may not conduct the conflict in a gentlemanly way. Refugees, rapes and massacres are not part of Canning's scene.

This is one of the shortest of Canning's books apart from the novella His Bones are Coral and the very late Birds of a Feather. The plot has echoes of Buchan's Prester John and Rider Haggard's Allan Quartermain books. There is no evidence that Canning ever visited Central Africa, but he had obviously done extensive research on witch-doctoring practices and on the geography of the region. This mitigates some of the racial stereotyping that is inevitable when an outsider tries to describe tribal and colonial conflicts.

Publishing History

This was the last of Canning's books to be published by Hodder and Stoughton, issued in 1962 at 15/- with an initial print run of 9,000. The diminishing size of the first edition print runs (14,000, 11,000, now 9,000) may have been a factor in Canning's move from Hodder to Heinemann, though the official history of Hodder and Stoughton ruefully regrets his going and implies that he was being greedy and disloyal. A note on the Heinemann files suggests that Canning felt out of touch with the senior management at Hodder and had been cajoled into the Heinemann fold by the personal attention of Charles Pick, a senior figure at Heinemann.

The American edition by W.Sloane Associates appeared in 1963. An abridged version appeared as a supplement to the Toronto Star Weekly on 29 December 1962. It was included in an Odhams Man's Book compilation in 1963 with From the City, from the Plough by Alexander Baron and Prison Feud by James Preston. It was reissued in the Heinemann Uniform edition in the 1970s. In 2001 there was a hardback reprint in the Black Dagger Crime series of the Bath-based publisher Chivers Press, best known for large print and audio books, although this was printed in a standard font.

The very striking cover design for the first edition is by the magnificent Val Biro, designer of 3,000 book covers.