Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The Rainbird Pattern: Victor Canning


The Rainbird Pattern (1972) by Victor Canning is the 2nd book in a loose series called the Birdcage books. They all revolve around a covert security group in the UK, a branch of the Ministry of Defense. There is very little oversight of the Department's work and the agents are generally amoral, although they believe that their mission is important to the welfare of the country. The first book I read featuring this covert department was Firebird. The plot was complex and kept me guessing, but most of the characters were unlikeable.

In The Rainbird Pattern, there are two distinct plotlines. One deals with a kidnapping plot; the reader follows the agents of the Department as they investigate two previous kidnappings. The second plot involves an elderly woman's search for her sister's child, put up for adoption decades earlier. Although skeptical about spiritualists, she hires a medium to get in touch with her dead sister. Madame Blanche believes in her gift and her contact in the spiritual world, but also makes use of the detecting abilities of her boyfriend, George. The question, of course, is how will these two plots intersect?

This is a short book, under 200 pages, but the build up to the point where the two plots come together is handled well. The author provides just enough background for the participants; the ending is surprising and dark. The development of the characters is well done but, as in Firecrest, I could not really root for any of the characters. Some of them are either evil or amoral or both, but even those with basically good intentions are primarily self-serving.

This is reportedly Victor Canning's most well regarded book, and that does not surprise me. It won a Silver Dagger Award from the CWA. Firebird was thought-provoking with very good characterization, but The Rainbird Pattern is on a higher level, and moves faster, especially towards the end.

The book was adapted as a film, Family Plot, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, script by Ernest Lehman. The film treatment is very different from the book. The basic elements of the plot remain, but the story is turned into a comedy. The setting is also moved from the UK to Southern California. Initially I found the setting disappointing but in a way it made it easier for me to switch to a different mode. Although none of the actors were spectacular in this film, many of them are actors I enjoy watching: Bruce Dern, William Devane, Karen Black. I liked Barbara Harris as Blanche, the medium; I was not familiar with her before seeing this film. Family Plot is clearly not among Hitchcock's best films, but I enjoyed it.

Other resources:



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Publisher:   Ostara, 2010 (orig. pub. 1972)
Length:       193 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Series:       Birdcage books #2
Setting:      UK
Genre:       Thriller
Source:      I purchased this book.


14 comments:

  1. I have only ever seen the film (which, to be picky, is set in Northern California, isn't it?), which is fun but quite light by Hitchcock's standards! Must read more Canning, it's been decades - thanks Tracy :)

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    1. To be honest, Sergio, I just assumed Southern Calif because some of the scenes looked like places I had been to ... yellow and brownish rather than the lush green of Northern Calif. So I looked it up (now). And the scenes on the twisty mountain roads were shot on Angeles Crest Highway, winding through the mountains of the Angeles National Forest, north of Los Angeles. Also some of the buildings and the cemetery were in LA or near Pasadena. But you are right, the really nice settings are in San Francisco. One source said Hitchcock deliberately did not name the location.

      Victor Canning is new to me. I read my first book by him in Dec. 2014. I did not realize it had been so long.

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  2. Nice review, Tracy – glad you're enjoying Canning! I really must get back to this series soon; I've only got as far as Mask of Memory.

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    1. Thanks, Nick. I am enjoying Canning. In September I will check for some of his books at a book sale I go to, and if no luck there, will start searching the internet for more of them.

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  3. Thanks, Tracy, for reminding me of Canning's work. I really must read more of it, and I have to spotlight one of his books at some point. I appreciate the reminder!

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    1. Besides the Birdcage books, I want to read the Rex Carver series also, Margot. Yes, it would be great if you did a spotlight on something by Canning.

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  4. My dad had some Cannings in his little paperback bookcase, but I'm afraid Spillane and Perry Mason stole my interest. Don't think I've ever read a Canning, and now I'm not so sure I want to. I get bummed out easily by downbeat characters.

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    1. Canning wrote a lot of books, Mathew, some series and some standalone, from the 1930's into the 80's. I imagine that there is variety in what he wrote, but I have only tried these stories. I have always assumed I would have problems reading Spillane, but the Perry Mason books are just my type, too.

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  5. I've never read any books by this author either, Tracy. You learn something new every day. But it seems to me that I've heard that name somewhere...Maybe I'll try one.

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    1. I think he was a name I was familiar with also, Yvette, but did not know much about. Now I am glad I did learn more about him.

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  6. I have the first three in the tubs, but haven't got around to giving Canning a whirl yet. There's a lot of great books and authors that that scenario applies to, maybe 2018....

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    1. I know what you mean, Col, I still haven't read anything by Elmore Leonard yet, and I have been meaning to for years. And I have many other authors that just sit there on the shelves or in the boxes.

      Canning is far from cozy or light, but he may be more my kind of author than yours. Closer to espionage, although you do like some spy fiction.

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  7. I loved this book, but that may be because I loved the character of Madame Blanche. I can see she didn't appeal to you so much! But this is a book I will definitely re-read, and the best of the Cannings I have read so far. Thanks for the shoutout!

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    1. What I love about Rainbird Pattern is how Canning tells the story and the wonderful plot. None of the characters appeal to me, although Blanche and George are the best by far, but that does not affect my enjoyment of the book. I find it very re-readable, I could re-read it right now and enjoy it.

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