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Young Man on a Bicycle

Novella (18,790 words)

first uniform US first Farrago
First edition 1958 US first edition 1959 Uniform edition 1972 Farrago edition 2020
Audiobook version read by John Higgins

First published in Cosmopolitan, October 1955. Reprinted as "Love and larceny on the Riviera", Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine #251, October, 1964.
Published as one part of the collection Young man on a bicycle, Hodder and Stoughton, 1958. Published in the USA as part of Oasis Nine; four short novels, New York, W. Sloane Association, 1959. The other novellas in the collection were The Goldini Bath, Oasis Nine, and Adriatic Crossing.

The new Farrago edition contains just the two best stories, Young Man on a Bicycle and The Goldini Bath.

Paul Ashcroft, thief and philanthropist, son of an English businessman and a French mother, arrives in a resort in the south of France. Seeing a villa to let, he disguises himself as M. Durobat, a middle-aged Frenchman, to inspect it, and then has telegrams sent saying that the Count Auxier's villa is being lent to his young English friend Paul Ashcroft. He now raises cash by pawning the Count's ornaments and small paintings, and sets about becoming acquainted with rich ladies at the Casino.

He falls in love with Elise Benoit, who also tricks money out of tourists by selling them fake antiques, and pays court to her. Meanwhile he steals jewellery from the rich ladies, and each time tells them that the theft was carried out by "Gringo the Greek", whom he happens to know and who might be persuaded to return the jewellery for a percentage. The money he accumulates is handed out by "M. Durobat" to an assortment of good causes in the town.

Elise sees through his disguises and confronts him. She agrees to marry him but insists that he give up his dishonest ways. Just then, however, it turns out that there is a real Gringo the Greek who has found that he is being blamed for a number of robberies he has not committed. He insists that he and Paul should kidnap the wealthy philanthropist M. Durobat for ransom. There are several more plot twists and changes of identity before the lovers can escape to happiness.

This is very much in the idiom of Canning's Minerva Club stories, a tale of "nice" criminals who do little harm and somehow manage to make a living from stealing and selling jewellery. The plotting is ingenious if unrealistic, and the story won Canning extravagant praise from the critic Anthony Boucher, who called it "as wholly delightful a crime story as I have read since—I am tempted to say since the youth of Simon Templar, if not that of Arsène Lupin ... His intricate misadventures on the Riviera had me happily chortling aloud." It was filmed in the General Electric Theatre series in America in 1959 with Fred Astaire in the title role (though, since Astaire was sixty at the time, the word "young" was dropped from the title).

Canning created another "Robin Hood" figure in his novel The Great Affair, in which the hero Charles Nelo commits various crimes in order to raise money for a Paris orphanage.