Friday, 26 February 1999

Victor Canning: The Doomsday Carrier (1976)

Edition: Hamlyn
Review number: 219

The Doomsday Carrier is a late seventies thriller about an unpleasant subject, one which has perhaps even more resonance now than it did twenty years ago. It is about animal experimentation and biological warfare. Charlie is a chimpanzee at a British research station who has just been injected with a modified plague bacillus, one which makes him a highly infections carrier after a three week incubation period. But then he escapes into the English countryside; he must be caught before he becomes infectious and millions die.

Canning is clearly anti both animal experimentation and biological weapons , and cynical about the purposes which governments publicly ascribe to such establishments as the fictional Fadledean. For someone writing before the eighties' rumours that AIDS was the result of a similar biological warfare experiment gone wrong, his writing is pretty prophetic. In particular, his description of the government attitude behind their successive announcements about Charlie, as he remains at large with the deadline rapidly approaching, is very convincing.

The Doomsday Carrier keeps itself well within the limits of the single-issue thriller, not going in for much in the way of characterisation (except for the gentle personality of Charlie) or plot development. By limiting his ambitions, Canning has created the novel of a craftsman rather than an artist - very competently achieved, but not particularly stunning or original.

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