Introduction Biography Addresses Portraits
Books Short stories Stage plays Film and TV Radio and audio
Quotations Fishing Poetry Food Settings Dedications Narrative style Canning in the OED Reading lists Articles on Canning
Centenary News Links Availability

Fall from grace (1980)

Novel (215 pages, 81,425 words)

First UK edition 1980
First edition
US first
US First edition
Pan paperback 1982
Pan paperback

The Book

John Corbin is an expert gardener who, on the strength of a book he has written, has been engaged to write the history of the gardens of Illaton Manor in Devon, property of a bishop. He is also an immoral scoundrel who has not only seduced an industrialist's wife, but also blackmailed her. The wronged husband engages a private detective to pursue him. Corbin remains out of sight until he spots a fresh extortion opportunity at his new employment.

(The private detective, James Helder, also features in another of Canning's novels, The Satan Sampler (1979), though in that book we are never told his first name.)

The dedication is "for Eileen M. Cond, semper fidelis." She was, apparently, a well-known socialite who was in the habit of approaching authors for signed copies. She is especially associated in this way with Ian Fleming. Clearly she had been requesting signatures from Victor Canning for over forty years, as evidenced by this letter from 1939.

Publishing History

This was published by Heinemann in 1980 and the US edition by Morrow appeared in 1981. There was a replica edition by Book Club Associates in 1980, and a Pan paperback in 1982. An Italian translation appeared in 1986 in the Giallo (yellow) paperback series published by Mondadori under the title Il giardino del diavolo.

Many reviewers commented negatively on the leisurely pace and thinness of plot of this book, but commended the insights into gardening lore and the subtle characterisation. Canning himself had been a keen gardener and the manor house in Kent, Marle Place, where he lived from 1950 to 1969 had ornamental gardens which he probably drew on for his account of Illaton Manor. The setting of the book is close to the River Tamar on the Devon/Cornwall border, and there are several references to Calstock, the village where Canning had spent several years of his childhood and had set one of his pre-war novels, The Viaduct and parts of his more recent novel The Finger of Saturn.

A positive review by John Lutz has been mounted on the Mystery File blog site.