Wednesday, 15 November 2000

Victor Canning: The Whip Hand (1965)

Edition: Heinemann, 1965
Review number: 685

This thriller, though not terribly original, must rank as one of the best written of all Victor Canning's novels. Certainly, it is easily the best of those I have read. It is a well written, well characterised first person narrative; only the hackneyed nature of the plot lets it down.

The narrator is a sarcastic and cynical private investigator. Such narrators are hardly original - in this case, I suspect that the original is probably Len Deighton's Harry Palmer - but Rex Carver is better written than many of them. He is approached to find a girl named Katerina, and then to follow her across Europe; naturally, there are little things which suggest to Carver that something important is going on, and he is being given not only less than the whole picture but not quite enough information to act effectively. In addition to this, Katerina is an extraordinarily beautiful blond, and he more or less looses his head about her.

The Whip Hand's biggest problem is the nature of the mystery that Carver is really being asked to investigate; it hardly motivates the concern of the security forces of various countries which attempt to control, hinder, or suborn Carver along the way. This makes the ending a disappointment, but for most of the novel the high standard of the writing carries the reader on.

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