We fear the unaffiliated terrorist, the lone wolf who looks like us, lives in our neighborhoods and waits for an opportunity to kill us. It was simpler in the old days, and simplest of all in “Rogue Male,” the story of a man who decides to kill the biggest target in the world. Jesse Kornbluth reviews.
I cannot blame them. After all, one doesn’t need a telescopic sight to shoot boar and bear; so that when they came on me watching the terrace at a range of 550 yards, it was natural enough that they should jump to conclusions. And they behaved, I think, with discretion. I am not an obvious anarchist or fanatic, and I don’t look as if I took any interest in politics. I carried a British passport, and if I had been caught walking up to the House instead of watching it I should have been asked to lunch. It was a difficult problem for angry men to solve in an afternoon.
Who was the narrator — we never learn his name — stalking? An impossible target: “the great man.” He’s never identified, but it’s the 1930s and the country is near Poland — it can only be Adolf Hitler. And while there are so many reasons to want Hitler dead, the narrator’s stated reason is incomprehensible: for sport. As he phrases it, this assassination would be “a superbly exciting enterprise.”
You may imagine the interest that “Rogue Male” generated in Britain in 1939. Geoffrey Household’s short novel — just 175 pages — became an instant classic. Two years later, as “Man Hunt,” it became a Fritz Lang film starring Walter Pidgeon and George Sanders.
Three quarters of a century later, “Rogue Male” is still a book you’ll have trouble putting down. It starts fast, stops abruptly; after the would-be assassin is captured, he’s thrown off a cliff and is left for dead. Indeed, he should die — he’s badly busted up and bleeding out. But now he’s an animal, with an animal’s instincts: “You stop thinking what to do, and just do it.” [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
When his body isn’t found, he becomes a hunted animal. He must make his way back to England without detection, not an easy task. Once in England, he’s still just a step ahead of his pursuers — to elude them, he must abandon the rest of what we think of as our humanity and get down in mud and muck. At one point, he will build himself an underground bunker: 8’ by 4’ by 3’ wide. He’s literally buried alive.
His flight seems thoughtless, random. It isn’t. There’s something he’s blocked — the reason he wanted to kill the great man — and, with every mile, he’s moving toward it. Once he arrives there, once he reconnects with his heart and his history, there are no odds he can’t beat.
Who was Geoffrey Household? Born 1900. Graduated 1922 from Oxford with a degree in English. Worked in Romania, France and Spain as a banker. Wrote radio scripts in New York. Wanted to write fiction. Finished “Rogue Male” in a few months. His book became a morale booster for British troops. And, in World War II, he led a unit in Greece in 1941 and impersonated a German spy — because nothing is better preparation for distinguished service in British Intelligence than the writing of a brilliant thriller.
This article originally appeared on Head Butler.
Photo credit:Vincent Brassinne/flickr