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Oasis Nine

Novella (28,370 words)

first uniform US first >
First edition 1958 US first edition 1959 Uniform edition 1972 Comic Strip version 1957

Serialised in Everybody’s, 3, 10 and 17 March 1956. It also appeared in comic strip form as Oasis of Mystery in Super Detective Library No 109, 1957.

Published as one part of the collection Young man on a bicycle, Hodder and Stoughton, 1958. Published in the USA as the title story of Oasis Nine; four short novels, New York, W. Sloane Association, 1959. The other novellas in the collection were Young Man on a Bicycle, The Goldini Bath, and Adriatic Crossing.

Johnnie Miller is a cargo pilot ferrying small planes around the deserts of North Africa. On landing at Bizerta in Tunisia he meets his erstwhile lover, Nicolle Navarra, who has thrown him over to marry a Frenchman four years before but is now widowed. She begs him to take her to the (fictitious) town of Bir Djemel where her brother Maurice, a friend of Johnnie's, lives. Reluctantly he agrees. They crash land in a sandstorm at an intermediate town, Fort Salah. Johnnie must wait for spares.

While waiting he agrees to work for Madame Oberlin, boss of a phosphate mine at Bir Djemel. They all drive there. The next day Maurice returns from a trip in the desert and before he can talk to anyone is stabbed to death by an Arab with a scar, who escapes. The local commandant, Captain Vimery, makes a perfunctory investigation, and begins flirting with Nicolle. Johnnie sets about seducing Maurice's Arab girlfriend, Sora, partly to annoy Nicolle, partly to find out what Maurice had been doing. Sora gives him a tin that she had received from Maurice. Johnnie analyses the contents in the laboratory of the local French doctor, and discovers it is cobalt ore. If he can find out where it came from, he can become very rich. But there are a few more hazards to negotiate before the happy ending.

This is one of the longest and most elaborate of Cannings's novellas. As in the others, a simple Boy Scout code of ethics has to be followed. Just when the furious Johnnie is about to take aim at the Arab driver of a bulldozer, ready to kill him since the Arab would have killed him in turn, he takes a bullet in the shoulder, so he finishes the story innocent of killing.

Part of Victor Canning's war service in 1943/44 was spent in North Africa.