Patrick Hamilton is one of those writers who teetered on the brink of greatness, but never quite made it. He is, however, in the top echelon of literature’s nearly men, hence the intermittent revivals of interest in his work. And there is a modern type of edge to his best books that has helped to cement his reputation.
Hangover Square, published in 1941, is my choice this week as a Forgotten Book that deserves to be remembered. It is the story of George Harvey Bone, a burly but quiet man who is undone by his passion for the worthless Netta. An alcoholic who suffers from a touch of schizophrenia, he torments himself so much that the reader almost forgives him both his stupidity (Netta clearly wasn’t worth it, as his smarter friends instantly recognise) and his homicidal tendencies.
My copy of this book is the current Penguin reprint, which includes an introduction by J.B. Priestley. Now, I am keen on intros, which can add a great deal of value to a classic title. And Priestley, who knew Hamilton personally, makes several interesting points. But his piece is flawed, above all because he discloses what happens at the end of the book .This isn’t a conventional whodunit, far from it, but Priestley shouldn’t have been so crass
I think it’s interesting that this book prefigures the interest of modern readers in the psychology of the criminal. Bone is portrayed in some depth, though his ‘dead moods’ did not strike me as entirely convincing. Yet the novel is well worth reading, at a time when the psychology of crime is a big topic. Patrick Hamilton was a pioneer of the crime genre, much more so than his capable but less gifted brother Bruce. It’s no surprise that he remain a crime writer of choice for a good number of critics. This book is, by some standards, a failure. But it is a rather brilliant failure.