First published in 1946, "The Big Clock" tells the story of newspaper man George Stroud. Stroud, an amoral charmer, works for the large media conglomerate Janoth Enterprises, headed by Earl Janoth a man whose face is 'permanently fixed in a faint smile he had forgotten about long ago'. These two men become involved in a murder and in a brilliant plot device Stroud is ordered to head an investigation to find the last man seen alive with the victim - himself.
The plot alone makes "The Big Clock" a great noir novel and by using multiple narrators Fearing allows us to follow the investigation from the point of view of the villain and the 'hero' - as well as several other characters. What makes this novel something more though is the resolutely strange writing which makes everything feel slightly off kilter. If you are prepared to go along for the ride this is an enjoyable and gripping read which vividly evokes and often satirizes its corporate setting.
George Stroud works in an advertising agency cum publishing house in post-War New York. In todays terms we would call him and his colleagues investigative journalists or even paparazzi. George is also quite a sleazeball. He is a womaniser, adulterer, self-obsessed to the point his boss describes him as having 'colossal vanity'. His excuse for a weekend cheating on his wife is, 'I had one of those moods'.
By a cute story twist from Mr Fearing he is set up to investigate a murder where he knows he will 'discover' that he is the patsy. At first sight I struggled to believe such a story could be credible but all credit to the author that this trick is successful.
Although the trick works, I cannot say the same for Mr Fearing's style. A multi-narrator tool is used but to little effect as I struggled to tell the difference between the voices; what was the point of this method? 'The Big Clock' is used as a clunking metaphor for the march of time. This is a shortish read that can be done in one sitting, yet even so the first 40-50 pages could do with a kick up the backside.
He did convey a seedy feel to George and his world. I was taken aback by the 1940's description of his bisexual girl friend as 'a part-time Liz'! Also was Mr Fearing short of proper names; George is married to Georgette and they have a daughter Georgia.
Worth reading for the curiosity of the storyline but fairly low down on the crime thriller food-chain.
on 6 April 2011
Chandler described The Big Clock as a 'tour-de-force' and said it made his own work 'look like thirty cents'. If you like Chandler/Hammet/Cain then you should listen to Raymond and give The Big Clock a chance. It is the strangest noir thriller I have read with a powerful theme of the man investigating himself. Kenneth Fearing's disdain for big business and his interests in art and politics (as well as alcohol, adultery and murder) give the book several layers of unusual edge.
A classic from the Forties. Well worth a read.
on 22 May 2012
The early chapters are a bit confusing, because of the style. Each chapter is from the point of view of that person. Having more than one person is as old as the first mystery writers e.g. Wilkie Collins, but is really unusual. The point someone made about identifying with each character was not important to me. Knowing how they approached the same events was useful. None of the characters are really heroes or villains. It is difficult to be wholly on the side the main character who is clearly without an ethical base and extremely arrogant and self centred.
The plot is not the best I have read, but is clever in the sense of making the reader think. Well worth the read and very different from the typical crime novel where action is more important than thinking through what is really happening.
Good enough to be the basis of two films (I prefer the Ray Milland one to the Kevin Costner).
Read this if you want a book that doesn't have clues and crime scene analysis, but gets you thinking about what people want and how they get it.