The Runaways (1972) by Victor Canning

A new edition of The Runaways was recently published and it caught my attention on Amazon. It is one of the books that was read to my class in primary school when I was 10 years old. It’s also one of the only books I remember being read to us. It made a big impression on me at the time. I bought a copy on Kindle thinking it would make a nice and easy read. I was also curious to see what I would think of it now, after all these years. I know it’s often not a good idea to revisit a childhood classic but I gave it a try.

Publisher’s Synopsis

On a night of wild storms, two lonely creatures escape from captivity. One of the creatures is a boy, Smiler, wrongly convicted of stealing, the other a cheetah, Yarra, leaving the Longleat Wild Life Park to have her cubs in privacy.

Both are in danger from the outside world and each other, but somehow their lives become inextricably bound up as they fight for survival on the edge of Salisbury Plain.

My Thoughts

The Runaways tells the story of 15-year-old Samuel Miles, or “Smiler” to his friends, and an escaped female cheetah, Yarra. Smiler is on the run from the police after escaping from his reform school. At the same time, Yarra has escaped from Longleat Wildlife Park. Their lives cross paths as they both make their way across the English countryside towards Salisbury Plain. (300-square-mile Salisbury Plain is famous for Stonehenge, as well as its military training area with the abandoned “ghost village” of Imber.)

Panorama from Battlesbury Hill, with medieval strip lynchets on the edge of Salisbury Plain, in Wiltshire, UK

I want to give you a couple of examples of Canning’s lovely prose. Here are the opening lines of the book:

‘It had been raining all night, and all the morning; raining hard all over Dorset, Wiltshire and Hampshire. It was a cold February rain, filling the ditches, swelling the rivers, and stripping the few dead leaves that still clung to the trees. It made quagmires of the cow treads at the field gates, spouted over blocked gutters, and flooded the low-lying roads so that passing cars sent up bow waves of spray and soaked unlucky passers-by.’

And here is Canning writing about Yarra:

‘She went up the river and stopped to drink where a small carrier stream came into the main stream over a low waterfall. In the woods higher up the river she marked the movement of a cock pheasant foraging among the dead leaves. She covered twenty yards of ground before the bird saw her. It took off too late and was brought down in a burst of feathers by one sweep of her taloned right forepaw. She ate.’

The Runaways is a touching story of survival and friendship. It’s obviously a bit dated now, but I’m happy to say that I had a wonderful time revisiting this book. It’s a simple story, a book aimed at children, but I am sure anyone would enjoy it; especially if you like nature writing. Author Victor Canning writes beautifully about the wildlife and scenery of early 1970s England. He also writes some memorable characters–probably one of the reasons I remember the book after so many years. I was rooting for both Smiler and Yarra during the story, a sign of good writing by the author in that he made me care about them both. Recommended!

There are two more books Victor Canning wrote featuring the character Smiler. I bought the next book Flight of the Grey Goose and will be reading it soon.

Thanks so much for reading!

-Wakizashi, *enjoying some beautiful October sunshine.*


9 thoughts on “The Runaways (1972) by Victor Canning

    • He isn’t a famous author anymore but was apparently popular in his day. It’s funny what sticks with you from early school days, isn’t it? I don’t really care for the YA label either. I’d call it a story for all the family. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Glad to hear you enjoyed revisiting something you loved as a child. I’ve been slowly collecting as many of the old books that I can remember from my youth, hoping to reread them at some point and do as you did, see how they hold up for the adult in me. Granted, I don’t remember all that many from that age, but there are some that’ve stuck with me. The two most notable are probably A Cricket in Times Square and Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.

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    • I wasn’t much of a reader when I was child, apart from comic books. This book has stayed with me because it was the perfect kind of story for a 10-year-old boy. It’s a bit strange that I don’t remember any of the other stories that were read to us by our classroom teacher(s). So, it was a lovely surprise to revisit it and actually enjoy it all these years later. I don’t know the two books you mention. It will be interesting to see how they hold up for you. 😀


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  3. I’ve read all Victor Canning’s books – am a big fan – but never heard of this one so I’ll check it out. I’ve reviewed a couple of his books that were turned into films like The Scorpio Letters with Alex Cord and Castle Minerva which was turned into Masquerade in 1965 with Cliff Robertson. Congrats on reaching 100 followers.

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