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The Manasco Road (1957)

Novel (256 pages, 82,000 words)

First edition
First edition
Book Club	edition
Foyles Book Club
Uniform edition
Uniform edition
US paperback
US paperback

Print

E-book

The Book

The book combines a David-and-Goliath story with a sensitive description of a marriage under strain. The setting is Majorca where Nick Thorne and his partner Domingo Peroni run a trading company. Peroni has just bid on a salvage contract to recover the cargo of a wrecked freighter. The profit would be substantial, but the beach where the cargo must be landed is accessible only through the estate of Casares Manasco, and he curtly refuses permission to cross his land. It is up to Nick to find out how to circumvent him, and meanwhile to deal with his own marital crisis.

Publishing History

This was published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1957 at 12/6 with a print run of 11,000. There was a book club edition in 1958 and a paperback edition in October 1964 at 3/6 with a print run of 20,000. The US edition by W. Sloane Associates appeared in 1957, and there was a paperback under the title The forbidden road in 1959. It was serialised in the magazine Argosy in Jan/Feb/Mar 1957 but in an abridged version. The book was included in the Heinemann uniform edition of the 1970s. Happily there is a new edition from Bello, the "modern classics" imprint of Pan Macmillan.

A review in The Oxford Mail said: "... an expert piece by an expert. Mr Canning's thrillers are always polished pieces and this is no exception. The suspense exists at two levels: will the hero fulfil his Spanish salvage contract and will his marriage survive the discovery of his wife's chance infidelity? Each level feeds the other. His wounded pride drives him into a duel with a powerful racketeer, the violent course of which is unfolded with great skill."

Canning set part of one other book in the Balearic Islands, The Python Project, the last quarter of which takes place in Ibiza. As far as I know Canning only visited the islands as a tourist, though he obviously made careful observations of the scenery and wildlife.

 

Some views of Majorca (September 2012)

On the far side of the Plaza de Espaņa he made [the taxi] stop. He got out and went into a flower shop. An old woman with twisted, puffy hands sold him twelve roses; apricot coloured, like the ones his father used to grow at the villa. The old woman took an age arranging the flowers and his impatience showed. Handing them to him, she said, “If it were me, seņor, and forty years back, you could have come without the flowers and been welcome. A man has only one gift a woman needs.” (p. 8) For offices they had two rooms on a third floor overlooking the Paseo Generalissimo Franco. Walking down the hill from the Cathedral he had a glimpse of the harbour. The Trans-Mediterranean boat from Barcelona was just coming in. The early morning wind made a dry, brittle sound in the top-hamper of the palms. The sky was hard and clear like a blue diamond and the sun was warm on his back. (p. 17) Inland, above the low cliff of the beach he saw the morning breeze run shivering through the tall eucalyptus trees around the Villa Ermano. He had a good view of it from here. A pink wall with a tiled pent to it ran around the seaward side. Terraces with vines, a patch of azaleas, and a flaring red run of tall geraniums and through them a glimpse of the house and a forecourt…. Against the bare backcloth of the mountains the place looked as though it had been dropped there by accident. (p. 62) A man’s voice, uneducated, a little blown said, “He can’t have gone up there, seņorita.”
Juana answered, “[The dog] wouldn’t make a mistake.”
Thorne leaned out a little. The torch was still on and he could see them all, foreshortened, dwarflike. Juana had the black Alsatian on a leash, a gun under her arm. Guido stood by her and lit a cigarette and the match flare reddened the thin grass and earth for a second. The other man leaned forward and took a light. He was thickset and momentarily a patch of baldness showed in the torchlight. The torch went out. They were all breathing heavily.
“Anyone who goes up there in the dark is asking for a broken neck,” said Guido.
“Of course he’s up there. It’s not such a difficult climb. I’m going after him.”
“You’re mad.” “Seņorita, it is dangerous …”
She made an angry little sound. “You men, you’re always worrying about breaking your necks. He’s probably sitting up there now somewhere, listening to us and laughing. I don’t like to be laughed at. I should have let [the dog] off the leash.”
... Leaning over Thorne saw the torch flick on. The girl handed the leash to the other man, slipped her shotgun across her shoulders and went to the rock face. “We’ll come and collect your body in the morning,” said Guido. (p. 57)