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The Ballerina and the Pigs

Short story, 4995 words

Pyotr Danilov, a young assistant commissar, is sent to Somerset from an iron-curtain country, presumably Czechoslovakia, Hungary or Yugoslavia since it has a border with Austria, in order to buy pigs to improve the national breeding stock. He learns that the plane on which he will take back the pigs will also carry a ballet dancer who defected to the West but has now been kidnapped, hidden in a crate, and is being sent back for trial.

The plane encounters bad weather and has engine trouble, and so crash lands in a mountainous border region. The villagers are starving and are grateful for the arrival of something to eat. Will Pyotr save the pigs and do his duty, or will he be tempted to escape across the border into Austria with the beautiful ballerina?

Canning had already written a very good thriller, A Forest of Eyes (1950), describing life in Yugoslavia under Tito, and would go on to write another book, The Limbo Line (1963) about the kidnapping of a ballet dancer for return to the Soviet Union. The present story is much more light-hearted than either of those, treating the bumbling bureaucrats of the regime in a comic-opera style. I am reminded of Peter Ustinov's Romanoff and Juliet, which was first staged as a play in 1956, becoming a film in 1961.

John Bull, 12 May, 1956. Illustrations by Zelinski.
Included in the now discontinued collection Comedies and whimsies, edited by John Higgins,, 2007.
Included in the collection The Aberdyll Onion and other mysteries, Farrago Books, 2020.