A riveting and exciting thriller that’s of its time, yet timeless.
Facing a long train journey, I opted to buy a paperback of this classic British thriller. In my mind I had it pegged as a chase story in the vein of Eric Ambler, John Buchan etc. But intriguingly, it wasn’t.
Rogue Male was Geoffrey Household’s second published novel and it became an instant bestseller. It was first serialised in the summer of 1939 and then published in book form a few months later. In the introduction to this edition I discovered that shortly afterwards it was issued in a Services and Forces special edition as “buck-up” reading for British troops in the early months of World War II.
The story grabs you from page one. Written in the first person, the deadpan narrator recounts how he survived being dropped over a cliff by men who had been torturing him horribly over a period of days. The torture isn’t described. Only the results. And then only because his injuries hamper his escape and he must adapt to overcome them. His adversaries weren’t expecting him to survive the fall and the search for him is underway.
All this is because he has failed to assassinate the dictator of a European country. We don’t know which country, or which dictator, but the chase is on.
Somehow he eludes them and makes his way to the coast where he finds a British motor ship on which to stow away (with the assistance of their First Officer). Back in England he knows full well that his enemies won’t cease their search, so he decides to go to ground in Dorset. Literally.
From this point it’s a story of concealment and guile. And if that sounds dull, believe me it isn’t. The writing is terse and sharp. The descriptions of landscape and living rough are haunting. And although nothing much happens I couldn’t put the book down, because you know (as does the narrator) that his enemies are getting closer.
The pace quickens again when they reappear. Although the writing remains matter-of-fact and dispassionate the tension is high. It’s during this part of the book that you are fed morsels of the narrator’s back story and his motivation for the assassination attempt. But nothing is explained in detail.
The climax of the story, when it comes, is extraordinary and hugely satisfying.
I loved this book. The introduction to this edition (by Robert Macfarlane) explains that Geoffrey Household’s subsequent books were always judged against Rogue Male — but why wouldn’t they be? It’s a book of its time and yet it’s timeless. I was expecting to enjoy reading it but not as much as I did. And I’ll probably read it again before too long because I’m sure I’ve missed details in my rush to find out how things turned out.
If you enjoy thrillers and aren’t averse to classic crime, do read this. I give it 5-Stars.
Review by: Cornish Eskimo