BIRDCAGE

 
Full Name: Birdcage
Nationality: British
Organization: Birdcage
Occupation Agency

Creator: Victor Canning
Time Span: 1971 - 1985
ABOUT THE SERIES

       The Birdcage is a small department in the British Intelligence community.
       It is not officially called the Birdcage. Officially it really does not have a proper name. It just is. When we first hear of it, it is rather in the shadows, sometimes referred to as the Department. It initially comes across a somewhat stern and cold but it obviously needs to be because it is working on behalf of the British Government and no particular person so it can not really have a heart. It only as time goes by and the people working for the Department, which they might occasionally refer to as the Birdcage, become a little bit less shrouded in the shadows that we begin to see there is something decidedly mean about it.
       The Birdcage is not really a bad organization in that it does not go out of its way to break the laws of the nation, except of course when it is expedient to blackmail or corrupt or main or even kill to get the job done. Even then it likely would talk about the "greater good" and "best interests" and so on. But in the case of some of the people whose lives are messed with if not actually snuffed out, it would be beyond most people to agree with the actions.
       The stories told in the series run a huge gamut of plots and characters. Most do not have recurring people in them, even if the people from one book might survive the goings-on. There are a few people from the Department that might show up in an adventure but not the next. People like Quint who is the one to call if accidents need happening. Or Kerslake who always seems to have a lot more knowledge of what is going on than he should and that is scary. Or Warboys who does not seem to be the top dog but perhaps really is.
       These occasional people are good for putting some faces to the people behind the scenes but other cases there will be no sign of them - just the increasingly more sinister aspect of an agency with very little real oversight and the ability to make its own decisions about what is right and wrong.

BOOKS

Number of Books:8
First Appearance:1971
Last Appearance:1985

1 Firecrest Firecrest
Written by Victor Canning
Copyright: 1971

Henry was a scientist who had a need for money and a discovery the British government was interested in. Then he died and, not trusting many people, had hidden the papers containing the information. The person most likely to know where the papers are is his girl friend but she remembers nothing. The Department sends an agent to get the data using any means necessary.

2 The Rainbird Pattern The Rainbird Pattern
Written by Victor Canning
Copyright: 1972

Two different plots are destined to meet. The first is a kidnapper calling himself the Trader who has snatched a member of Parliament and ransoms him for a good but not unreasonable number of diamonds. The Department correctly believe that the Trader is just warming up and needs to be stopped. At the same time, a psychic/con woman named Blanche wants to find a missing heir that an elderly wealthy woman wants found.

3 The Mask of Memory The Mask of Memory
Written by Victor Canning
Copyright: 1974

Bernard is the number two man at the Department and he has been tasked with hunting down some papers who, if rumors are true, could seriously damage the trade unions in the upcoming election. At the same time as he searches, he must deal with the wife he has kept secret for some time and the affair she is having with a third-rate artist who is looking for a meal ticket.

4 The Doomsday Carrier The Doomsday Carrier
Written by Victor Canning
Copyright: 1978

The British Ministry of Defense has been working on a new strain of the plague. One of their test subjects is Charlie, a chimpanzee. When Charlie breaks free and gets out into the countryside, it becomes vital for the Department to get him back before the disease is spread.

5 Birdcage Birdcage
Written by Victor Canning
Copyright: 1978

Sarah is a British nun living in a Portugeuse convent. When she mistakenly believes she is pregnant, she attempts suicide but is rescued by a taciturn fellow named Richard. Staying with him to recover, the two slowly grow closer. As that is transpiring, agents from the Department are sent to keep an eye on Sarah because she is the illegitimate daughter of a high ranking politician with a lot of worse skeletons in his closet.

6 The Satan Sampler The Satan Sampler
Written by Victor Canning
Copyright: 1979

Richard is a successful businessman and millionaire who, upon the death of his brother, decides to return to the family estate and restore it. The brother, however, had needed money and had leased the mansion to a mysterious organization. Richard decides to find a way to force them out. As that is transpiring, agents from the Department have been told to monitor his activities and they decide to hire a gorgeous woman to get close to Richard. Things move interestingly after that.

7 Vanishing Point Vanishing Point
Written by Victor Canning
Copyright: 1982

During the early days of WW2, a bomber crash-landed on a villa in France rented by an Englishman and his family. The man had been away and the wife out shopping. The nanny with the young son had escaped by chance. Having recently lost her own son, the woman took the little boy and raised him as her own. Now 40 years later, she tells the grown man the truth and he goes in search of his birth parents. He will learn that some truths are best kept hidden.

8 Birds of a Feather Birds of a Feather
Written by Victor Canning
Copyright: 1985

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MOVIES

Number of Movies:1
First Appearance:1975
Last Appearance:1975

1 Family Plot Family Plot
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: Ernest Lehman
Actors: Karen Black as Fran, Bruce Dern as George Lumley, William Devane as Arthur Adamson, Barbara Harris as Blanche Tyler
Released: 1975

Very loosely based on The Rainbird Pattern, this movie deals with a con artist/psychic and her cab driver boyfriend looking for a missing heir while two serial kidnappers go about their business. This Hitchcock thriller was far more of a comedy than the book.

MY COMMENTS

       I have such incredibly mixed feelings about the Birdcage series. First, it is such an uncohesive collection of stories. Except for the books where people like Quint and Kerslake show up, there are a couple that I would personally never have included in the list. I do so because the author did and critics over the years have also so who I am to argue. But I tell you, comparing the first books like Firecrest and The Rainbird Pattern (more on that one in a sec) and the latter novels like Vanishing Point, I really challenge anyone to truthfully say they felt there was a connection. Again, though, who am I?
       Next is the writing. It is superb. The people are brought to such terrific life that you know them, you've worked with them or partied with them or, in a few cases, swore you'd punch them in the nose if they ever so much as ... you get the point. The artistry that Canning shows in developing and presenting these people is awesome. It is just a darn shame you invariably know you want nothing to do with that so-and-so to the point you can't stand it OR you know that person is just too good a soul to not get run over by a different so-and-so.
       Last is the dour feeling each book leaves me. There ain't NO happy endings. I remember being taught in school the difference between Greek tragedies and comedies was whether the main character died, not whether things end well because they seldom did. That is the way with the Birdcage.
       I did not finish any of the books with a smile and a nod. More likely a grimace and a head shake. I marvel at the prose. The books, though, were just not for me.

GRADE

My Grade: B

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