Friday, September 30, 2016

The pace never slackens

I posted recently about one of my favorite thrillers, Geoffrey Household's Watcher in the Shadows. Another of his, written earlier and twice filmed, is Rogue Male (1939) reviewed here:
The opening lines are highly intriguing and offer a glimpse of the nonchalant protagonist, who is rarely out of danger for the following 180 pages. The book begins: “I cannot blame them. After all, one doesn’t need a telescopic sight to shoot boar and bear; so that when they came on me watching the terrace at a range of 550 yards, it was natural enough that they should jump to conclusions. And they behaved, I think, with discretion.”

This stiff upper lip was typical of fictional British heroes of this era, though Rogue Male has endured thanks to its stylish prose and the psychological insight the author brings to a man who’s hunted like an animal. ....

The unnamed narrator is an aristocratic sportsman on a shooting holiday in Poland, who decides to tackle a bigger challenge than wildlife. With that rifle and telescopic sight, he describes how he stalks and lines up a European dictator in his sights at a heavily guarded country estate.

What’s his motive? It’s not clear that he actually intends to assassinate this despot. It seems the rogue male simply wants a bit of sport by proving that he could do it. “It is obvious that the type of man who is a really fine shot and experienced in the approaching and killing of big-game would shrink from political or any other kind of murder,” the narrator tells us. ....

His despotic prey is, like the narrator, never named, and the absence of identities makes for a lean and uncluttered narrative, as well as an ingenious ending. From the geography and the viciousness of the secret police, it’s clear that the dictator is modeled on Hitler – and Household was apparently no supporter of appeasement. ....

Having captured the apparent assassin, the secret police torture him but find no evidence of his being a British agent (because he’s not). To maintain diplomatic relations with Britain – the story is firmly set in the pre-war period – the rogue male has to be dispatched in such a way that his injuries are not suspicious. So this book begins with a cliffhanger – literally. He’s left clinging to a rock face, with the intention that his inevitable death be reported a few days later as a hunting accident.

Somehow, he survives....

.... The novel’s pace never slackens as he makes his way home, yet it becomes clear the foreign agents’ reach extends to England. He finally goes to ground in Dorset, an area that Household knew well. .... [more]
The book: Rogue Male (Kindle is $9.99.)

The films are each available on DVD: Man Hunt (1941) (also on YouTube), and Rogue Male (1977) with Peter O'Toole.

 Benedict Cumberbatch has committed to star in, and produce, a new film of the story.