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Fly Away Paul (1936)

Novel (324 pages, 101,265 words)

First edition
First edition
US first 1936
US first edition

Second edition 1938
Uniform edition 1974
Uniform edition 1974

Print

E-book

Book

Paul Morison, an American engineer with an English mother and a hankering to see her birthplace, Wisbech, stows away on an ocean liner bound for Southampton for a bet. He is discovered but, before being turned over to the police, is befriended by Peter Gabriel, a famous crooner, whom he turns out to resemble closely. The singer wants Paul to take his place for one week of celebrity appearances in the care of his secretary Mr Simpkins, ostensibly so that Gabriel can take a private holiday. (This is before the era of television, of course.)

After a few days Paul goes out on his own and runs into Margaret Sinclair who is Peter Gabriel's fiancée. Rather implausibly she does not see through the impersonation.

Now the newspapers publish revelations about Peter Gabriel being a swindler. Paul wants to get away and resume his normal identity. He leaves a note for Simpkins, and catches a bus to Leicester. Margaret intercepts the note and follows him by car. On the bus Paul meets an eccentric millionaire called Richard Partingale. The bus passengers have seen the morning paper and suspect Paul of being the absconding crooner. He threatens the driver by pretending to have a revolver, and when this doesn't work runs away. He is picked up by Margaret in her car, but gives her the slip. In Leicester he meets a man called Edward Wimpole who recognises him and pursues him for the reward money. Paul goes to the theatre and escapes from the police by stealing an oriental costume from one of the performers. He takes Margaret's car, but runs out of petrol. He flags down a passing motor-cyclist, Bert Clements, who goes swimming with him and saves him from the pursuing Mr Wimpole, though not from the embarrassment of being caught by Margaret with no clothes on.

There are several more plot twists before a far-fetched climax on a Scottish island.

Publishing history

This was Victor Canning's third book for Hodder and Stoughton, published in 1936 at 7/6 with a print run of 7750 copies. It was reprinted in 1938 in a cheap edition at 3/6 with a print run of 5000 copies. It was included in the Heinemann Uniform Edition in 1974, but is now hard to find in hardback. There is now a paperback edition from the print-on-demand service Lulu.com..

The dedication is "To my wife". (Canning and Phyllis McEwen were married in 1935. They separated in 1968 and were divorced in 1973.)

This is one of Canning's pastoral-picaresque fantasies. The review in The Times of 16 May 1936 said "Mr. Canning’s light novels are in a manner quite his own, a crowded panoramic manner with a host of odd characters distributed over the English countryside, which is the author’s real love." Similarly the Daily Mail of 7 May 1936 said: " ... but it is for its joyous evocation of the English countryside that this novel deserves to be read."

NB: It would have been hard for Victor Canning to foresee that another Peter Gabriel would be born fourteen years later who would become a famous pop singer.