I've mentioned Bruce Hamilton once or twice in passing in previous blog posts, sometimes in relation to his much more celebrated brother Patrick. I see, though, that I've never devoted a full post to this under-estimated writer, even though I find his work very interesting. So today I'm rectifying this omission by discussing Rex v. Rhodes, which he published in 1937.
The sub-title of this book is "The Brighton Murder Trial", and it is presented as being edited by Hamilton. The idea is to ape the style of the Famous Trials series that was very popular in the first half of the 20th century in Britain. The series had introductions which were often highly informative, and Hamilton's intro makes it clear that he is setting the book a few years in the future. He envisages a situation where, increasingly, there is conflict between the forces of the left and the extreme right, and although he makes it clear that ultimately the Communists will prevail, the events of the story take place at a time when they are under sustained attack, not just from fascist groups, but also from the establishment.
The man on trial, Rhodes, is a Communist, and he is accused of killing a leader of the Brighton branch of a right-wing group. The main evidence against him - which seems damning - comes from two young, and possibly thuggish, men who worked for the victim. Hamilton makes it reasonably clear early on what has actually happened. The key question is whether Rhodes will survive the trial process.
In some ways, this book is - at least to my knowledge - unique. A sort of futuristic fantasy, presented as a sober courtroom drama, with an intense political message. It's a book with some flaws, but I found it fascinating. Hamilton, in later years, realised that he'd misunderstood the nature of Communism, and the naivete of some of his opinions and forecasts is breathtaking. But he was certainly not alone in the mid-30s in holding the views he did, and even though I don't usually care for didactic fiction, this book holds great interest as a historical curiosity.