The urban hunt

In 1935 C.S. Forester, who was about to be become a well-known author with the launch of his Hornblower series, was in Hollywood working on a film-script. He was homesick, and started to write a crime novel centred around London suburbia. The result was The pursued. He sent the typescript to his publisher, but then Hornblower was published to great acclaim. Another Hornblower novel was in the pipeline, and Forester decided that The pursued was probably best left unpublished, as it might influence the buyership of Hornblower.

I suspect he was correct in this. Pursued is a very different kettle of fish, and would, I think, have been shocking, at the time, to the souls who loved Hornblower. The pursued and several other crime novels were left on the shelf at the publishers, and forgotten; until it came to auction in 2003, and was snapped up by members of the C.S. Forester appreciation society, and subsequently published.

Although I believe that Forester probably judged the mores of his period correctly, it's such a shame that The pursued was strangled at birth, otherwise I think we might have been adding Forester's name to the canon of great English crime novelists of the period. As The pursued is a stunning read, and ranks right up the top with other psychological novels - among them those of Patricia Highsmith.

Marjorie, a suburban housewife, returns home after an evening with friends, to find that her sister has committed suicide. Marjorie's mother becomes suspicious that it's murder, and quickly discovers that Marjorie's brutal husband is almost certainly to blame. She starts to plot her revenge....

This is a stunning psychological thriller. Dark and gripping. It's also an astonishingly blunt portrayal of the period, especially with regard to the role of women in the 1930s, and perceptions of them. For many readers of the period I suspect that it would have been too honest, but this is probably why to a modern reader it remains both of its period and astoundingly contemporary.

As crime thrillers go they don't get much better than this. The pursued, a great slice of London noir, crime writing at its best.

Many thanks to BFP and the noble society of aardvaarks, who first alerted me to C.S. Forester's forays into crime fiction.


sandra said…
I agree with your analysis of the importance of this novel SHOULD have been. It has a marvellously claustrophobic feel to it which adds to the mounting menace.
Book-hound said…
You're right. It's a truly menacing work. Good as Hornblower may have been, I do regret that Forester didn't spend more time indulging in crime.

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