Published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1961 at 15/- with a print run of 11,000. The US first edition by W Sloane Associates came out in the same year. The book was re-issued in the Heinemann Uniform Edition in 1969 and reprinted in 1971. It was also included in the 1986 Ravette omnibus edition together with The Python Project and The Melting Man. The very striking cover design for the first edition is by the magnificent Val Biro, designer of 3,000 book covers.
It is told in the first person (unusually for Canning) by Keith Marchant, ex RAF pilot engaged in shady flying around the Caribbean and trying to retain the affections of his girlfriend Drea who wants him to settle down. He takes on one last mission for a small-time rebel leader, is cheated, and has to try to recover his fee and his self-respect.A feature of the writing of this book is that the narrator keeps incorporating lines from Shakespeare into his thoughts. These include:
Portia's speeech to Bassanio from The Merchant of Venice, "An unlesson’d girl, unschool’d, unpractis’d; happy in this, she is not yet so old but she may learn," to express Marchant's doubts that Katrina really knows her brother well enough to be sure that he will keep his promises.
After the Mara II has been taken over Marchant comments to himself that the captain was a sensible man who had made the reservation that "the whirligig of time brings in his revenges", Feste's comment to Malvolio at the end of Twelfth Night.
When Marchant and Parkes meet ashore after the hi-jacking, Marchant realises that Parkes does "desire we may be better strangers", using the words of Orlando to Jaques in As You Like It.
When discussing how the planes will be used in the revolution, Marchant says to Monk: "We go to gain a little patch of ground, That hath in it no profit but the name", the words of the Norwegian Captain to Hamlet in Act IV of the play.
At the anniversary parade when Angelo is shot, Marchant draws on Henry V, "Now thrive the armourers, and honour’s thought reigns solely in the breast of every man … He which hath no stomach to this fight, let him depart."
After the assassination of Angelo, Marchant says of him "not for the fashion of these times where none will sweat but for promotion", quoting Orlando's words to Adam in As You Like It, Act II.
When Marchant meets Katrina outside General Lemaza's villa, he comments "Time had a wallet at his back all right Wherein he puts alms for oblivion. Well, these few moments had to go in and be forgot as soon as done." slightly re-writing what Ulysses says to Achilles in Troilus and Cressida, Act II Scene III.
The source of all these quotations is not supplied; the reader is expected to know Shakespeare. This is the only book in which Canning indulges in this kind of literary play, though in The Satan Sampler the characters throw quotations at each other.
Chivers large print
|Index of characters, locations and themes|