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Mercy Lane (1937)

Novel (315 pages, 84,485 words)

Mercy lane
New edition

The Book

It is a combination of simple love story and a study in the mechanisms of gossip, set in the fictional town of Anderden in Kent in the year 1931, the beginning of the Ramsay Macdonald National Government and a time of economic hardship. A stranger arrives and gives his name as William Foray. He is writing a book on architecture and intends to settle in the vicinity. He takes lodgings with the family of Ernest Shepard, clerk at Salter's timberyard. He gets acquainted with Margaret Salter, the daughter of the owner of the timberyard, and they explore local architectural attractions.

We are always being made aware that Foray is holding back a secret. He is recognised by Hugh Lancefield, a local wastrel. Lancefield tries to borrow money from him, and is later found dead in suspicious circumstances. Foray has to deal with the suspicion and hostility of the local community, and his budding romance with Margaret is threatened, even after he is exonerated.

Publishing History

This book was the second of the six that Canning wrote as "Alan Gould". It was published by Collins in 1937. The first edition is extremely hard to find, but a new edition has just been published.

Canning was living in Benenden in Kent when he wrote the book. The town of Anderden is probably based on Faversham, a market town of roughly the right size and location, though Canning has changed some details to fit the story.



Photographs of Faversham taken in May 2009. Canning has altered some features of the town for his "Anderden" but retained many others.

Faversham Station Faversham Market Hall
"At five o’clock in the evening of October 25th, 1931, the London express pulled into Anderden Station. It was seven minutes late." (Page 1) "At the far end stood the Town Hall, its tall pillars shrouded in twilight." (Page 4)
"... the Reverend George Talbot of Saint Mary’s Church was a man of very settled convictions, an upholder of the established order of society, and very conscious of his position as the vicar of the most important church in the town." (Page 29) "Thinking of the bathing place made him anxious to be down by the river." (Page 24)
(The river at Faversham is only a tidal creek, and bathing would not be safe or much of a pleasure.)