Friday, 14 November 2008

Forgotten Book - The Big Clock

My contribution this week to Patti Abbott's series Friday's Forgotten Books is one of my all-time favourite American crime novels, Kenneth Fearing’s The Big Clock.

Fearing's name is less well known than those of some of the authors featured in this series of mystery classics, but his stunning thriller is undoubtedly one to be remembered on merit. Fearing was a notable poet in America’s Depression era, but with this novel, first published in 1946, he struck gold. The remarkable plot has been copied by other writers and has formed the basis of two oustanding films. The first starred Ray Milland and Charles Laughton, while the excellent remake ‘No Way Out’ starring Kevin Costner offered a fresh twist on an already complex story.

The writing of the novel is clipped and tense, the characterisation economical yet witty, and the pace frenetic. George Stroud is a charming, yet amoral executive working for a magazine empire run by Earl Janoth. Stroud embarks on a dangerous affair with Janoth’s mistress and when Janoth kills the woman, Stroud is the only witness who can pin him to the crime. The catch is that Janoth does not know that the man he saw in a shadowy street was Stroud – and he gives Stroud the job of tracking down the witness. Stroud knows that, if he is identified, he will be killed, and he has to use all his ruthless ingenuity to keep one step ahead of his desperate boss. This short novel is an unmissable triumph of style and plot. Not surprisingly, Fearing was unable in his subsequent books to match it.

5 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

This looks terrific. And I want the movie, too. A big Ray Milland fan.

Scott Parker said...

I thoroughly enjoyed "No Way Out" and never realized its inspiration was this novel. I am definitely going to have to find The Big Clock. I still find it fascinating that golden age authors can write such compelling stories in fewer words than the average author nowadays. I'm reading Double Indemnity (for next week's FFB) and Cain says more with less than I ever could. Thanks for the tip on this novel.

Nan said...

Oh, thank you! This is definitely a book I want to read, and will look for it, as well as try and rent the movies. Thanks again.

Barrie said...

Sounds really interesting. And I haven't seen either version of No Way Out.

Martin Edwards said...

You have a real treat in store!