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