James Helder

Created by Victor Canning

Although long known for his spy novels, Victor Canning has managed to crank out a few memorable private eyes, such as Rex Carver and Edward Mercer.

JAMES HELDER is another, although “memorable” may not be quite the word he—or Canning himself–uses to describe himself. He’s a pivotal character in both novels in which he appears, but he’s hardly the star of either.

In his first appearance, The Satan Sampler (1979), we’re never even told his first name. In that one, he’s hired to get the goods on a possibly up-to-nogood charitable foundation, but runs afoul of British intelligence. 

In Fall from Grace (1980), where he assumes a more prominent role, he confesses to being “a sort of gray shape living a gray, humdrum life like so many people. So, to escape from all that, I mix in other and more unorthodox people’s lives to add a little crude color to my own.”

Lew Archer? We may have found your soulmate…

But I digress…

The “more unorthodox” person Helder’s after in Fall from Grace is John Corbin, a scoundrel of the first degree, right out of the Patricia Highsmith psychological playbook, a womanizer and blackmailer who worms his way into a cushy job writing a book about history of the famous gardens of Cornwall’s Illaton Manor, belonging to a wealthy bisop. It’s a sweet set-up for Corbin: it comes with a cabin, extensive research facilities, and a comely co-worker to seduce.

It’s her husband who hires Helder to set things right.


Victor Canning wrote over 60 books in his lifetime, mostly espionage and adventure novels, but also children’s stories, several historical novels set in Roman and Arthurian Britain, short story collections, a travel book and several radio plays. He soared high in the sixties and seventies, and was one of the best selling authors of his era.


  • “(A Fall from Grace) is a meticulously written, revealing glimpse into the mind of a man who is the serpent in his own Garden of Eden.”
    — John Lutz, 1001 Midnights


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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