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A Handful of Silver / Castle Minerva (1954/1955)

Novel (222 pages, 81,419 words)

US first edition
US first edition
First British edition
UK first edition
Book Club edition
Book Club
Uniform edition 1973
Uniform edition 1973
1980 paperback
1980 paperback


The Book

The British edition but not the American one has the dedication "To my wife".

This is only the second of Canning's books to use first-person narration, the first since since Atlantic Company in 1940.

David Fraser, a schoolmaster on a climbing holiday in north Wales, meets Colonel Francis Drexel, his old war-time commander. Drexel recruits him for a vacation assignment, to go to south-west France to take charge of an Arab princeling being held in safe custody for a few weeks until he comes of age to sign an oil treaty which his wicked uncle opposes.

Once installed in Banyuls-sur-mer, Fraser encounters a sinister group of circus artistes including the beguiling Sophie, whom he falls for. Within a few days the princeling vanishes, and Fraser is blamed. What follows is a helter-skelter race through the Pyrenees, with some literal cliff-hanging episodes, until the details of the plot are disclosed.

Publishing history

This was Canning's eighth post-war book for Hodder and Stoughton, published in 1955 at 10/6 with a print run of 11,500 copies. The US edition by William Sloane Associates actually came out in 1954 under the title A Handful of Silver, making it the true first edition. The Companion Book Club combined edition of 1957, pairing it with The Hidden Face and selling for 5/-, must have sold well; second-hand copies of this edition are plentiful. There was a Hodder paperback in 1962 with a print run of 25,000, and a Heinemann uniform edition in 1971 at 18/-, reissued in 1973 after decimalisation at £2.30 (there's inflation for you!). There was another paperback edition in 1980 by Sundial Publications, for sale in Marks and Spencer stores. This was marred by some very poor proofreading.

The Film

It was filmed in 1964 under the title Masquerade, with Jack Hawkins and Cliff Robertson, directed by Basil Dearden, the first feature-length colour film to be made from Canning's work. A review of the movie by David Vineyard has been posted on the Mystery*File blog site.