A murder investigation in which the investigator already believes he knows who the murderer is – and yet realizes he himself is being framed for the crime. He has to keep the investigation going long enough to reveal the murderer before the murderer realizes he was recognized. That is the taut, electrifying premise of Ken Fearing’s noir NYRB Classic The Big Clock.
George Stroud, editor of Crimeways magazine, is not a nice person. Despite the fact he has a sweet wife and an adorable kid (both nicknamed “George”), he begins a casual affair with his boss’ girlfriend, Pauline. After dropping her off from a clandestine weekend, he spies his boss following her up the stairs to her apartment. Two days later the cleaning lady finds she’s been murdered. George’s boss, publishing mogul Earl Janoth, tasks George with tracking down the killer – but all clues lead back to Pauline’s lover, who just happens to be George. The rest of the book is a study in tension, as George follows the steps that will inevitably lead to revealing himself as Pauline’s lover, thereby destroying his home life, his job, and quite possibly his life, if Janoth is the real killer.
I looked out the windows myself. There was a lot of territory out there. A nation within a nation. If I picked the right kind of a staff, twisted the investigation where I could, jammed it where I had to, pushed it hard where it was safe, it might be a very, very, very long time before they found George Stroud. p. 90
This short novel, told through multiple narrators who sound like witnesses giving testimony, really packs a punch. It’s fun to watch George, the sleazy philanderer who thought he covered his tracks so well, come to realize how easy his actions were to trace. Part of the giveaway comes in George’s peculiar taste in art, which was fine. But I really didn’t get why Fearing included the perspective of the artist in the novel. I thought it confused a very tight plot.
It’s easy to see why this is a noir classic, however, and a perfect choice for both the R.I.P. VIII Challenge and the Classics Club. That makes four for this season’s R.I.P. Challenge, but I’m still hoping to review one more before the week is out! Thanks so much to Carl V. for hosting! This is the first of the NYRB Classics on my Classics Club List I have gotten to, and I am happy I have so many of these once out-of-print titles on my TBR pile. They add an element of mental detective work to my reading, wondering why they went out of fashion in the first place.
FTC Statement: I did not receive a copy of this book for review. I borrowed it from the library. That brings my Classic Club average cost per book down to $3.07!