One of the books on my list to read this year was Rogue Male, a book I spied in the Picadilly branch of Waterstones when we were in London in December.
Rogue Male is the story of an aristocratic ("a member of class X") man who is caught by unnamed foreign secret police while he is trying to shoot somebody who’s fairly clearly Hitler. He’s tortured and they then attempt to fake his death, after which he escapes and makes his way back to England.
Still pursued, he ends up literally burrowing into the ground somewhere in Dorset, and then has to outwit his pursuers. So it’s a bit like if Kafka and Robert Ludlum had collaborated on a Jason Bourne story set in the 1930s. And then somebody who could actually write had been paid to redo Ludlum’s contribution.
The first half, as he makes his way from Germany to London and on to Dorset I liked a lot. There’s a chase on the platform of the (now defunct) Aldwych Underground station, there’s stowing away, spycraft, a visit to Lincoln’s Inn (where I used to play tennis and drink coffee, not evade German assassins) and the use of a tandem bicycle for escape purposes. What more can you want?
When it comes to the scenes when our unnamed protagonist is in his burrow, the book necessarily slows and the logistics of a man hiding underground for days on end becomes… challenging to read. It finishes strongly (revealing a deeper reason for the original assassination attempt, which is initially presented as just a lark for an idle chap, which is, when you think about it, quite dreadful, as if happy go lucky toffs can just bound around Europe shooting people). I devoured it in less than 2 days, but then I did have my interminable Amtrak journey to Portland to deprive me of any distractions.
There’s also some choice quotations which apply even now:
"When you find an agitator who hasn’t suffered poverty, it’s sound to ask whether he has ever been in my position and what he has done that our police don’t know and a foreign police do" – almost a prediction from 80 years back of the whole Trump/Russia allegations.
There’s a crack at the Swiss by the villain:
"A people, […] of quite extraordinary stupidity and immorality. A very rare combination which only a long experience of democratic government could have produced."
And two thoughts, one on disturbing al fresco sex and the other on the consequence of being a practical joker:
"At normal times I have only sympathy for so firm an attachment to the preliminaries of procreation, but the groups by the wayside were not recognizable as human until I had practically stepped on them."
"I hope they didn’t believe his denials until he was thoroughly punished. The sort of man whom one instantly accuses of any practical joke that has been played deserves whatever is coming to him."
In short, a good, short book. Now, back to reading about Space Marines.