The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing

Journalist George Stroud is assigned to find a missing man.  The missing man is a suspect in the murder of a powerful magazine publisher’s mistress.  The missing man was the last person to see her alive.  He’s also the only man who knows that the powerful magazine publisher is the real killer.  He’s also the journalist George Stroud.

How can the journalist escape from himself? How can he keep his identity secret from his boss while finding enough hard evidence to put his boss behind bars?

There is much to enjoy in Kenneth Fearing’s novel The Big Clock.  As a detective story, the book provides a  plot line that I’m surprised to say I’ve not seen done before or since.  The ‘detective’ who is also the ‘suspect’ under intense pressure to find himself while also certain that he must conceal himself in order to stay alive.

George Stroud, the journalist/detective, is a suitably damaged hero, suitable for a dark piece of 1940’s American noir fiction.  He had more than enough of the requisite acerbic wit.  He sees his position in the publishing corporation he works for, probably meant to be a stand in for Time Inc., as being that of a cog in the works of a big clock than will go on turning the handles of time no matter what anyone does.  Stroud lives in a kind of corporate hell.

Stroud’s marriage offers some respite, but even that is not enough to keep him from pursuing his boss’s mistress.  The first fifty or so pages of the novel follow their affair, leading the reader to suspect the novel will be a tale of doomed love, much the same way Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho does, but the story turns to one of murder just as the 1960 movie did.

I’ve written before that one of the issues I have with historical fiction is that rather than read a modern perspective imposed on the past, I’d rather read work from the period written by the people living in that period–let the past speak from its own perspective.  The Big Clock does this very well.  I think one could easily compare George Stroud’s work-a-day world to that of Mad Men, the television series set in an early 1960’s advertising agency.  Both stories deal with similar issues.  (I can only speak of the first six or so episodes of Mad Men here, since that’s all I managed to watch)  While Mad Men is free to be much more frank about issues than even a piece of pulp fiction like The Big Clock was in 1946, authors in the 1940’s didn’t shy away from much.

You’ll find everything in the work of the period that you’ll find in historical fiction, maybe with not quite the same level of cursing, but it’s all there.

Meanwhile, there’s a murderer to bring to justice.


This week I have been re-running reviews of noirish novels from my old blog Ready When You Are, C.B.  It’s been fun.  Lots of enjoyable books, so far.  Lost of books I forgot about until rereading the reviews.  I’ve been migrating all of my old reviews over to this newer blog since I started James Reads Books.  It’s taken several years.  I have been at this blogging thing for a long time now.  

4 thoughts on “The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing

  1. I have enjoyed reading the reviews of these noirish crime books. I see a lot of them for sale in the charity shops and tip shops. I might pick up a couple and read myself. They are very much like the green Penguin crime series. Hope you still have a few more.

  2. That is indeed an unusual plot device. I usually have issues with novels featuring journalists – unless the author is a journalist/has been one themselves the representation is often so wrong. I hated Salmon Fishing in the Yemen not just because it was a crap idea but the author got the whole media story element so so wrong….

    1. Of course, this is journalism back in the day, so it’s probably very different now. I’m not a journalist, so I can’t tell you if it all is true to life, but it rang very true to me.

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