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Fly Away Paul (1936)

Novel (324 pages, 101,265 words)

First edition
First edition
US first 1936
US first edition

Second edition 1938
Uniform edition 1974
Uniform edition 1974
Flyaway Paul

The book

Paul Morison, an American engineer with an English mother and a hankering to see her birthplace, Wisbech, decides to stow away for a prank on an ocean liner bound for Southampton. He is discovered but, before being turned over to the police, is befriended by Peter Angel, a famous crooner, whom he turns out to resemble closely. The singer wants Paul to take his place for one week of celebrity appearances in the care of his secretary Mr. Simpkins, ostensibly so that Angel can take a private holiday. (This is before the era of television, of course.)

After a few days Paul goes out on his own and runs into Margaret Sinclair who is Peter Angel's fiancée. Rather implausibly she does not see through the impersonation.

Now the newspapers publish revelations about Peter Angel being a swindler. Paul wants to get away and resume his normal identity. He leaves a note for Simpkins, and catches a bus to Leicester. Margaret intercepts the note and follows him by car. On the bus Paul meets an eccentric millionaire called Richard Partingale. The bus passengers have seen the morning paper and suspect Paul of being the absconding crooner. He threatens the driver by pretending to have a revolver, and when this doesn't work runs away. He is picked up by Margaret in her car, but gives her the slip. In Leicester he meets a man called Edward Wimpole who recognises him and pursues him for the reward money. Paul goes to the theatre and escapes from the police by stealing an oriental costume from one of the performers. He takes Margaret's car, but runs out of petrol. He flags down a passing motor-cyclist, Bert Clements, who goes swimming with him and saves him from the pursuing Mr. Wimpole, though not from the embarrassment of being caught by Margaret with no clothes on.

There are several more plot twists before the book reaches a rather unlikely climax on an island in the Solway Firth.
(There are no islands in the Solway Firth.)

Publishing history

This was Victor Canning's third book for Hodder and Stoughton, published in 1936 at 7/6 with a print run of 7750 copies. It was reprinted in 1938 in a cheap edition at 3/6 with a print run of 5000 copies. It was included in the Heinemann Uniform Edition in 1974, but is now hard to find in hardback.

The excellent new edition from Farrago differs from Canning's original in changing the name of the singer from Peter Gabriel to Peter Angel. It would have been hard for Victor Canning to foresee in 1935 that another Peter Gabriel would be born fourteen years later who would become a famous pop singer, but the publishers thought the coincidence of names would be a distraction for the modern reader.

The dedication is "To my wife". (Canning and Phyllis McEwen were married in 1935. They separated in 1968 and were divorced in 1973.)

The review in The Times of 16 May 1936 said "Mr. Canning’s light novels are in a manner quite his own, a crowded panoramic manner with a host of odd characters distributed over the English countryside, which is the author’s real love." Similarly the Daily Mail of 7 May 1936 said: " ... but it is for its joyous evocation of the English countryside that this novel deserves to be read."