Saturday, August 27, 2016

Alone and hunted

At some point in 7th or 8th grade I joined the Doubleday One Dollar Book Club. The books were re-prints, i.e. "book club editions," with hard-bound but inexpensive bindings (the club seems to still exist but has abandoned the "one dollar" part). The offerings in which I was interested were the mysteries and thrillers. One that I purchased and still have is Geoffrey Household's Watcher in the Shadows. I loved it and have read it several times since. I've also read everything else I could find by that author but this is the only one I kept. From "The Rap Sheet: The Book You Have to Read: Watcher in the Shadows:
.... In 1960, Geoffrey Edward West Household, then aged 59, produced his greatest thriller since Rogue Male, a novel now almost as forgotten as that one is remembered.

Watcher in the Shadows is a triumphant return to themes that he virtually made his trademark: a man pursued by a ruthless enemy who can call on no superpowers or armed back-up but has to rely on his wits and field-craft. Once again, and quite brilliantly so, it is beautiful rural England—Buckinghamshire and the majestic Cotswold Hills—which form the scenic backdrop, and the killing ground.

I wonder how many reviewers would breathe a sigh of relief these days if presented with a novel which, in fewer than 200 pages, packs so many punches. I know I would.

Household doesn’t keep the reader waiting either; he never did. Very quickly he establishes the setting—a May morning in a quiet London suburb in 1955—where middle-aged bachelor zoologist Charles Dennim is calmly working away, writing up his notes about the behavior of red squirrels (having already covered roe deer and badgers), when the postman attempts to deliver a thick envelope through the letter box.

This postman doesn’t get a chance to ring twice, for the envelope explodes, blowing him in half and announcing the opening of hostilities between Dennim and an opponent who remains unseen and unidentified for four-fifths of the book.

But of course Dennim isn’t just a mild-mannered zoologist; he is actually the Graf von Dennim, a displaced Austrian aristocrat, member of the anti-Nazi resistance, and a willing recruit to British intelligence during the war. So he knows how to handle himself, but for reasons of pride or a twisted sense of noblesse oblige he decides to trap his would-be assassin himself without harming any more innocent bystanders. .... [more]
It would make a great film.