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Canning's narrative style
and choice of narrator

Canning's narrative style is straightforward. He never uses the historic present as an aid to suspense, and events are told in their proper order, without flashbacks or other distortions of time.

Many novelists, particularly writers of suspense fiction, take up an early preference either for a first-person narrative, often featuring a recurrent hero, or for third-person narrative with multiple points of view, allowing the writer to narrate parallel events and adopt a god-like view. An intermediate position would be a third-person narrative with a close focus on one central character who is present in every scene, the technique largely used by Ian Fleming for his James Bond stories for instance.

Canning used all three styles. He started with the single-viewpoint third-person narrative, the pattern of his first three books, but he soon experimented with mutiple viewpoints in the books written under the pen-name Alan Gould. His middle period (1940-1970) contained almost all his first-person narratives. His favoured style in later life was the multiple viewpoint narrative, but he also wrote a great many books with the close focus on one character. In one or two cases there was an compromise position. In The crimson chalice, for instance, the action takes up one of two viewpoints, that of the woman Tia or the man Baradoc, but not straying further. His three early Mr. Finchley books, the four books about the private eye Rex Carver, the three about 'Smiler' (Samuel Miles) and the three about King Arthur were his only use of recurrent central characters; the remaining 45 books all had different heroes. One reason for this is that the conventional morality of the fifties suspense story was that the hero and heroine had to fall in love and marry, which meant they were 'used up' for plot purposes. This argument did not apply to the later Birdcage series, but in many of those books the central characters die; it is the villains who are recurrent, not the heroes.

In about one fifth of his work (12 novels out of 58) he uses a first-person narrator, always male. Usually this is the central character. In one case only, Atlantic Company, it is an observer who is a participant but not the protagonist. The name of the narrator is shown for each such book below. I have also shown the name of the main character who is tracked in the single-focus third-person narratives.

First-person Third-person
single viewpoint
Third-person
multiple viewpoints
Atlantic Company (as Alan Gould)
1940 (Arthur Buchan)
Mr. Finchley discovers his England
1934 (Mr. Finchley)
Two men fought (as Alan Gould)
1936
Castle Minerva
1955 (David Fraser)
Polycarp's progress
1935 (Polycarp Jarvis)
Matthew Silverman
1937
His bones are coral
1955 (Howard Smith)
Fly away Paul
1936 (Paul Morison)
Mercy Lane (as Alan Gould)
1937
The hidden face
1956 (Peter Barlow)
Mr. Finchley goes to Paris
1938 (Mr. Finchley)
Sanctuary from the dragon (as Alan Gould)
1938
The Manasco road
1957 (Nick Thorne)
Every creature of God is good (as Alan Gould)
1939 (Andrew Godwin)
The wooden angel (as Julian Forest)
1938
A delivery of Furies
1961 (Keith Marchant)
Mr. Finchley takes the road
1940 (Mr. Finchley)
Fountain Inn
1939
The whip hand
1965 (Rex Carver)
Green battlefield
1943 (Patrick Orleigh)
The viaduct (as Alan Gould)
1939
Doubled in diamonds
1966 (Rex Carver)
The chasm
1947 (Edward Burgess)
A forest of eyes
1950
The python project
1967 (Rex Carver)
Panthers' moon
1948 (Roger Quain)
Venetian bird
1951
The melting man
1968 (Rex Carver)
The golden salamander
1949 (David Redfern)
The dragon tree
1958
The great affair
1970 (Charles Nelo Sangster)
House of the seven flies
1952 (Edward Furse)
The burning eye
1960
The finger of Saturn
1973 (Robert Rolt)
Man from the Turkish Slave
1954 (Peter Landers)
Black flamingo
1962
The Scorpio letters
1964 (George Constantine)
The Limbo line
1963
Queen's pawn
1969 (Andrew Raikes)
The Rainbird pattern
1972
Firecrest
1971 (John Grimster from Ch. 2 on)
The mask of memory
1974
The runaways
1972 (Samuel Miles)
The Kingsford mark
1975
Flight of the grey goose
1973 (Samuel Miles)
The Doomsday carrier
1976
The painted tent
1974 (Samuel Miles)
The circle of the gods
1977
The crimson chalice
1976 (Tia and Baradoc)
The immortal wound
1978
Table number seven
1987 (Lily Franklin)
Birdcage
1978
The Satan sampler
1979
Fall from grace
1980
The boy on Platform One
1981
Vanishing point
1982
Raven's wind
1983
Birds of a feather
1985

 

John Higgins, Shaftesbury, May 2016