It's just occurred to me though - where is the book set? There were no wild beavers in the UK when the book was written (they went extinct here a few hundred years ago, but have started being reintroduced in just the last few years). So, I am guessing maybe Canada? But I'm not sure if their reservists were ever called Territorials - though they might have been, with them being in the British Commonwealth. I suspect we are thinking about all this a lot more than Lionel did when he was writing it. BTW, I walked past him once on a street in Cardiff a few years ago - true story (I recognised him because he used to appear on TV over here quite a lot).
That's a good question. I just flipped through the early portions of the book again, and it never does say where it's set. At least not so far, not that I've noticed, anyway. And although the conversations the characters have seem very British to my American sensibilities (Leroy refers to his trashcan as a dustbin, for example, and Constable Richards is prone to exclaiming "Stone the crows!"), this doesn't mean much; it's possible Fanthorpe was trying to write Canadians and ended up making them sound British.
However, a few things strike me as pinning the story down as taking place in the UK, besides the presence of Territorials:
1. Among Leroy's luxurious cars are some Chevrolets of unspecified make. Although his Rolls is his prize, the fact he considers Chevies exotic to own suggests they're not common where he lives. 2. The police officers are routinely described as constables. North America does have some, depending on the police department, but I doubt very much Fanthorpe knew this. 3. The O'Jordons are described as being Irish and having lived in the town for a few generations, but are never regarded as immigrants, which they'd have to be if they were living in Canada. 4. When the possibility of the media getting ahold of the story comes up, the nosy reporters are referred to as "the hounds of Fleet Street."
All signs besides the beavers point to this taking place in England, specifically somewhere near London. I'm not sure why Fanthorpe is being so coy about it.
It seems I jumped the gun in answering, as the very next chapter positively places the story in East Anglia. Sinclair takes the cast of the footprint to zoologist Professor Septimus Harbottle, your typical absentminded professor type. Described as "Dickensian" in his appearance and mannerisms, Professor Harbottle is considered not merely a zoologist, but "the zoologist," consulted by the top minds in the country, whose opinion is generally considered the final word. I wonder what he'll say about Sinclair's theories regarding the beavers' telekinetic abilities? Anyway, he shows Harbottle the cast, and the scientist initially pegs it as belonging to a Trogontherium, a species of giant prehistoric beaver, which actually sounds more plausible than half of what Sinclair was shoveling earlier.
Interestingly, the topic of beavers being extinct in the UK does come up. Mutants or not, Harbottle expresses some skepticism about the origins of the beavers, mentioning precisely what you said, that wild beavers are extinct in England. This is where we finally learn for certain the story is set there, as Harbottle says "a river in East Anglia," and the Home Secretary also comes up as one of the people Sinclair tells Harbottle he can contact to double check his credentials, after the scientist wonders aloud whether his visitor is hoaxing him.
Harbottle's theory is that someone has been breeding the killer rodents in a lab somewhere and that they broke out, but Sinclair fills him in on the shenanigans of Jasper Leroy Inc. and his own theories that the things were created accidentally by carelessly-dumped radioactive waste.
I'll leave it there for now. I just wanted to get back to you with confirmation that it is set in England and that the issue of wild beavers being relatively unknown there is actually discussed, showing Fanthorpe actually gave something resembling a crap. Though I'm a little annoyed that so far we've had only two scenes that involve characters besides our two protagonists - the scene of the police exploring the riverbank and the first scene at the vicar's house - and that only one of them involved a giant killer beaver attack, however briefly. Although the story churns along at a pretty breakneck pace, Fanthorpe sure is taking his time getting to the killer critter action. Come on, Lionel! Less chit-chat about Home Secretaries and Monopolies Commissions and more staggering onslaughts by radioactive giants!
The insanity continues! Sinclair finishes up with Harbottle, who advises him to see yet another scientist, a guy named Professor James Brogan. This is getting a little repetitive. Before going to see Brogan, Sinclair fetches Barney Colrayn and the two along with a Scotsman named (I think?) MacTavish go down to the river where the O'Jordon boy went missing in the hopes of finding the beavers' lair. Our special investigator hero has got it in his head that the kid might still be alive and stashed in the beavers' lodge (!). That's assuming that the radiation polluting the water hasn't killed the poor kid.
Donning scuba gear, Sinclair dives down into the river, which turns out to be pretty deep, and very brackish and difficult to see. He uses a Geiger counter to guide him to the underwater entrance to the beaver lodge. Surfacing inside it, he sure enough finds little Ricky O'Jordon alive and well, albeit unconscious, the remains of some foodstuffs stolen from Reverend Brown's house during the attack there scattered around him. Somehow Sinclair gets the kid out through the underwater tunnel and manages to not encounter any beavers along the way.
Once back on shore with Colrayn and MacTavish, they revive Ricky who explains the beavers didn't hurt him, merely kept him prisoner, feeding him tea and snacks stolen from the Browns' house. Then he passes out after remembering he's gotten a pretty heavy dose of radiation. The three men strip the boy naked and burn the contaminated clothes, and then bundle the boy off to the doctor. After burning his clothes and getting a good scrub-down himself, Sinclair rushes off to see Professor Brogan. Jimmy Brogan turns out to be a very large, athletic man for a scientist, and listens patiently to his visitor's story. He's a little skeptical than most characters in this story and would've thrown Sinclair out if he hadn't said he'd been sent by Septimus Harbottle.
What will Jimmy Brogan add to the story? We'll have to wait and see! In the meantime, quite a development! I never thought we'd see little Ricky O'Jordon again! Apparently, the giant radioactive beavers are capturing humans to study them now!
A quick visit to Professor Brogan's place reveals him to be the polar opposite of Harbottle. A giant of a man with enormous hands who looks more like a professional athlete than a scientist. I'm a little unclear at the moment about what his area of expertise is and why Harbottle thought he in particular could help Sinclair, but after a rather meandering conversation, the topic turns to Ricky O'Jordon. Brogan is convinced there was a reason that the beavers were keeping the kid alive and feeding him, and so, after stopping to pick up Barney Colrayn, who I sometimes forget is even in this story despite ostensibly being the protagonist, it's off to the hospital!
Ricky is known as the "Miracle Boy," and somehow or another the doctors have managed to completely purge the radiation from his body (!). Somebody send these guys to Chernobyl and Fukushima! Whatever they did for Ricky is a frickin' miracle of science! But the magic radiation-away treatments of medical science in Fanthorpe's universe aren't even the weirdest part of our heroes' visit to the hospital. Yes, Rodent Mutation keeps getting crazier and crazier. It turns out that exposure to the radiation pouring off of his captors has turned Ricky into a nine year old super genius! He talks like an adult and knows a lot of big words and really unnerves his simple Irish laborer parents. And somehow his increased intelligence, a result of the radiation poisoning he endured, has remained despite the doctors removing the thing that caused it. Whatever. Logic isn't Rodent Mutation's specialty.
But perhaps this development can help our heroes. After all, a super genius, even if he is a kid, might be able to help our heroes figure out how to defeat those pesky beavers...
We finally get the first proper attack scene in the novel, and the beavers' first victims are what Fanthorpe refers to as a trio of "river gypsies" - that is, the owner of an old barge traveling downriver (a "bargee," Fanthorpe calls him), his wife and a hired hand. The barge captain is the pipe-chomping Billy, and Lucy is his wife. The deckhand's name alternates between being John and Tom. At first I thought there were two crew members, one named John and the other named Tom, but, no, there's just the one and Fanthorpe apparently forgot what the guy's name was halfway through the chapter.
Anyway, Billy and John a.k.a. Tom have a lengthy discussion about the state of education in England and the definitions of certain words (as I discussed when summarizing March of the Robots, our pal the Reverend likes to fill his novels out with long stretches of characters discussing nothing in particular at great length), when, upon approaching a lock, they get attacked by one of the beavers, which rears up out of the water ahead of them comes up on the prow, pushing it underwater, kinda like the shark does to the Orca in Jaws. Despite having lived and worked most of their lives on the water, none of the people aboard the barge know how to swim (!), and so Billy, Lucy and John-or-is-it-Tom all drown when their boat sinks.
Not satisfied with these deaths, the beaver heads ashore and starts smashing up the lock-keeper's cottage and attacking him and his family, using its tail to smash in the roof of the house. Only a young woman, who is probably the lock-keeper's daughter though Fanthorpe refuses to specify, manages to escape with her life and seek help from the neighbors. They don't believe her wild story at first, until they see the killer beaver for themselves (complete with more comparisons to giant ambulatory haystacks - could the good Reverend think of no other way to describe huge beavers?), and the chapter ends with one of them phoning the police: "Help! Police! Police! We're being attacked! We're being attacked by a giant beaver!"