The best Noir crime books-10

Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household, 1939
Rogue male

I cannot blame them. After all, one doesn’t need a telescopic sight to shoot bear and boar; so when they came on me watching the terrace at a range of five hundred and fifty yards, it was natural enough that they should jump to conclusions.

After just failing to assassinate a European dictator (it’s Hitler, basically, but that’s never stated) our narrator is interrogated then left for dead. He escapes and runs, and hides, and then just keeps on running and hiding, and running, and hiding… You’d think that when he’d got himself back to England the tension would lessen – surely he’s safe here – but no! He kills a German agent, which put the police after him, then other evil German agents follow the police, including the sinister Major Quive-Smith, big game hunter extraordinaire.

The second half of the book, when our hero is hiding in a hole in the ground in a wood near Lyme Regis, is brilliant, and really quite bizarre. The trappings of civilisation begin to fall away and he becomes a kind of Robinson Crusoe, marooned in genteel rural England.

Chase books are normally written in the third person, so you see the hunter and the hunted, or if, like this one, they’re in first person, at least the narrator has a co-conspirator to talk to. But this book is just one guy on the run, on his own, for a couple of hundred pages. The singular focus of the story and the relish with which the narrator’s increasingly desperate situation is described makes the book feel much more modern than similar pre-war tales of derring do.

And there are some great touches – for instance, at first he claims his attempt to kill Hitler was just sport, and he would never have fired, but much later he admits that it was a serious attempt to avenge a lover who was captured by the Nazis, and – a brilliant reveal – that the wood he’s hiding in is where they used to snog.

Brilliant, intense and a bit wierd, and much more interesting, for me, than the (ostensibly similar) John Buchan. Buchan is more famous probably because his stuff translated much easier to film. Though Rogue Male, was, apparently, a big influence on David Morrell’s ‘First Blood’ – filmed, of course, as Rambo.

 

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