Monday, 17 May 1999

Victor Canning: The Mask of Memory (1974)

Edition: Heinemann
Review number: 251

One of Canning's better novels, The Mask of Memory is about a man who leads a double life. Bernard Tucker has two completely separate existences. In Devon, he has a wife with money of her own, still good-looking but neglected by him; she basically lives alone with him as an occasional visitor. Eventually she meets another man, and reaches the point when she is ready to leave her husband. She tells him when he next visits; he isn't happy about it (more because of the background of the other man than because he wants to stay with her himself), but later that same day he is discovered dead, having apparently slipped and fallen while on a walk.

This is where the two strands of Bernard's life begin to come together. His job is, in fact, with the security services; at the time when he married Margaret, the men in his service were not supposed to have families. This was the original reason that he separated his life into two compartments. When he died, he was in the middle of a mission, and had gone to his Devon home to work on some papers crucial to its success. Thus, when he does not return to London, his department is somewhat concerned, particularly given the fairly remote possibilities that he may have defected to or been eliminated by the opposition.

The plot is not especially dramatic for a thriller, and Canning is thrown back on his abilities to flesh out his characters. He does this fairly successfully for Margaret and Bernard, and they are what brings interest to this novel.

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