Geoffrey Household: Rogue Male

Rogue MaleRogue Male
Geoffrey Household
First published in the UK 1939, Chatto and Windus
This edition Orion Books, 2002
ISBN: 978075285139X
182 pages

I saw my eyes fouled with earth, my hair and beard dripping with blood-red earth, my skin grey and puffed as that of a crushed earthworm. It was the mask of a beast in its den, terrified, waiting.

Rogue Male opens with an armed man stalking the unnamed dictator of an unnamed country bordering on Poland – and this book appeared in 1939, so take your best guess. Our hero gets as far as sighting his rifle on the waistcoat buttons of the dictator (who is in his garden practising gestures on his gardener), when he is captured.

Our hero is also unnamed, so I’ll be calling him RM from now on.

The dictator’s men torture RM and leave him for dead, but they botch the job and he manages to get away. His story – and he’s sticking to it – is that his intention was to prove that he could shoot, rather than to actually shoot, the dictator.

They didn’t believe me, though they were beginning to understand that a bored and wealthy Englishman who had hunted all commoner game might well find a perverse pleasure in hunting the biggest game on earth.

Like all the best thrillers, Rogue Male strips its protagonist down to their bare essentials and forces them to live on their wits, surviving with no help and no resources. After his escape RM hides in a tree, crawls along a stream, steals trousers, begs food, and eventually stows away on a boat to England.

His troubles are far from over, as enemy agents track him down in London. He is afraid that they will use his assassination attempt as an excuse to pick a fight with the UK so he cannot go to the authorities. Realising he can’t leave the country without capture, he bolts to the countryside and then contrives to disappear by digging himself a hidey-hole in the bank of a country lane.

This part of the story has a Robinson Crusoe air, as RM fits out his hole with various mod cons and recruits a cat, Asmodeus. However, there’s a crucial difference. I barely remember Robinson Crusoe, but I think I liked him. This RM guy – can’t stand him.

He is somewhat overwhelmed by his own amazingness, but on top of that he’s got this angry arrogance thing going on, like he owns the world and thinks it’s short-changing him. And RM is obsessed with class. This isn’t as simplistic as lower/middle/upper. He’s invented his own system with a kind of porous meritocratic oligarchy at the top – ‘class X’. He’s in it. A lot of people aren’t.

A hideous word – hiker. It has nothing to do with the gentle souls of my youth who wandered in tweeds and stout shoes from pub to pub. But, by God, it fits those bawling English-women whose tight shorts and loose voices are turning every beauty spot in Europe into a Skegness holiday camp.

Anyway, the Robinson Crusoe existence doesn’t last long. The enemy gets closer and closer – probably attracted by the aura of amazingness – and life in the hole rapidly becomes very unpleasant.

Space I have none. The inner chamber is a tumbled morass of wet earth which I am compelled to use as a latrine. I am confined to my original excavation, the size of three large dog-kennels, where I lie on or inside my sleeping-bag. I cannot extend it. The noise of working would be audible in the lane.

At this point, Asmodeus proves very useful…

Good points about Rogue Male:

  • It’s simple and straightforward.
  • I may not like RM, but his opponents are surely worse and he never stops fighting.

Bad points about Rogue Male:

  • The rogue male. To be honest, I’d put him down a hole myself.

I am entering Rogue Male in the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge, in the Malicious Male category.

Final destination: Sold through Greenmetropolis

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Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
This entry was posted in 2013 Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge, Classic mystery book review, Thriller, Witness Statements and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Geoffrey Household: Rogue Male

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Rich – I have to say that title got my attention right away. I have to say this isn’t my kind of protagonist, but as you say, it sounds like a solid, clear story. It is hard to create an absorbing story with a protagonist one’s not supposed to like, but I think you’ve done a fine review here, and it sounds like this one certainly belongs in the Malicious Male category!


    • westwoodrich says:

      That’s true 🙂

      I actually couldn’t tell if we’re supposed to like him or not. He’s certainly got a different take on his own superiority to, say, Richard Hannay (I’ve been reading a lot of Buchan recently). There’s no layer of modesty – even false modesty would help, I think.


  2. Judy Buck-Glenn, Philadelphia, PA, USA says:

    The review was amusing, and since I find I now have no particular desire to spend a book’s-worth of time in the company of RM, I do appreciate being warned off, and still yet left intrigued, had it only attracted me.


    • westwoodrich says:

      Thanks Judy. By the way there have been two films – Fritz Lang did one called Man Hunt with Walter Pidgeon, and Peter O’Toole starred in a rogue Male in the 70s. I imagine O’Toole captured the arrogance.


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