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5.0 out of 5 stars
5.0 out of 5 stars

VINE VOICEon 24 March 2005
Graham Greene rather modestly referred to this as the greatest novel ever written about Brighton. Heady praise indeed, considering he wrote "Brighton Rock"! I wouldn't like to argue who should be the victor between him and Patrick Hamilton, all I can say is that this is a very fine read indeed. It is the first of the Gorse Trilogy, about professional conman, and all-round thoroughly unscrupulous piece of work, Ernest Ralph Gorse. It starts off with a brief look at Gorse's schooldays, and shows how some of his dodgy tricks were manifesting even then. We then move forward a few years to Brighton in the 1920s. Gorse and two old schoolchums, Ryan and Bell, take to hanging out on the West Pier in Brighton, in the hope of picking up girls. They meet the pretty Esther Downes. Ryan is completely smitten, but Gorse seems to see her simply as somebody to hone his lethal charms on. When he finds out that Esther has a small nest-egg tucked away at home, he's given an even bigger incentive to get to know her! He starts taking her for cocktails at the Metropole Hotel, and amazing her with a flashy new car. Poor old good-natured Ryan doesn't stand a chance, particularly when Gorse starts up an evil poison pen letter campaign against him.
The inevitable happens. Gorse manages, with tremendous cunning, to fleece Esther of every penny she's got, and then leaves her stranded at a hotel near Shoreham. He absconds to London with his ill-gotten gains. Esther may have been annoyingly dim-witted and naive about Gorse's true motives all through the book, but you genuinely feel sorry for her when she fianlly realises he's made off with everything she's got in the world. There is nothing of the loveable rogue about Gorse. He has no redeeming features at all. Hamilton wanted to make him almost Satanic, and it works. At the same time he stresses that Gorse fleeces people not by any supernatural genius, but by simply studying his victims and getting a sound intuition about what they want to hear. Gorse is a totally repellent but fascinating character, and this novel oozes Atmosphere, and is also very funny in parts (the problems of dating for the first time never seem to change, and Bell's pretensions to being an intellectual are hilarious!). Hamilton may well have been past the peak of his powers by the time he wrote the Gorse Trilogy (good though they are, they don't come close to "Hangover Square" for sheer emotional punch), but these hard-to-find stories are well worth hunting down.
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