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The Kingsford Mark (1975)

Novel (216 pages, 80,050 words)

First edition
First edition
US first
US first edition
Pan paperback
Pan paperback
US pperback
US paperback
German translation
German translation

print

e-book

The Book

Seventeen-year-old Carlo Graber, whose alcoholic English mother and Swiss banker father have recently died, comes with his aunt Grace Lindsay to stay in a wing of Darlock House in Devon. They have rented it from John Kingsford, a country squire who has just lost his seat in Parliament and his wife in a traffic accident. Kingsford fills his time by transcribing the diaries of his great-grandfather, "Parson John", dating from the 1870s.

We learn that Carlo's mother had visited Darlock House eighteen years ago, and has told Carlo that he is John Kingsford's son. Carlo is told of a ritual called the Kingsford Run, a 20-mile cross country course, that all male Kingsfords are expected to undertake. Carlo starts to train, hoping to beat or equal John Kingsford's time of 2 hours and 38 minutes. When he achieves this, he will disclose himself to his "father". Meanwhile a romance is developing between him and a local farmer's daughter known as "Birdie".

John Kingsford finds an entry in the diary which leads him to a secret drawer in a piece of furniture. He opens it to discover love-letters written to his wife, revealing that for the last five years he has been cuckolded by Sir Charles Read, the Foreign Secretary, and that any political success he has had was a pay back for his wife's sexual favours. Kingsford decides to take revenge. Unknown to him, Carlo, whose hobby is picking locks and reading private letters, has worked out what is going on, and may decide to join in.

Publishing History

This was published by Heinemann in 1975 at 3.50. The US edition by William Morrow & Co. appeared in 1976. There was a BCA replica edition in 1976 and a Pan paperback in 1977. Happily there is a new edition from Bello, the "modern classics" imprint of Pan Macmillan.

This is not a Birdcage book, but the authority figures, Wardle and Grainger, have a great deal in common with the Birdcage secret department which features in most of the other thrillers Canning wrote in the 1970s and '80s.

St. Thomas's Church, Exeter

A passage in the diary caught his eye and he read it. To South Molton station with the carriage to meet Jessica’s father who is to stay with us for a few days before he goes on to Exeter. A pompous, but good-natured man who travelled much in his younger days and is full of good stories about those times—in which he features prominently. He told me that the great gale last week blew down three of the pinnacles of St. Thomas’s Church at Exeter. As we came down Darlock drive I showed him the three beeches which the same gale had uprooted. (page 110)
[The storm in question ocurred in 1872.]