There’s a classic type of resourceful, unassuming hero that they just don’t make any more (think Richard Hannay), and the narrator of Geoffrey Household’s novel Rogue Male, a ‘bored and wealthy Englishman’, is far too well bred ever to give his ‘widely known’ name away. The first fifty pages of this sharp little thriller – which I have a particular personal reason for enjoying, as will become apparent – form a self-contained adventure set in the summer of 1938, in which the aforementioned Englishman, after a fortnight’s sport in Poland, finds himself at a loose end in the Bavarian Alps and in possession of a Bond Street rifle complete with telescopic sight.
Just for amusement he decides to stalk the biggest game of all in the form of the country’s upstart leader at his mountain retreat. No names, no pack drill, as they said in the Army when I was a lad, but the anonymous dictator in the hero’s sights is obviously the same one to whom Henry Williamson, in what must have been the worst career move in twentieth-century literary life, had recently dedicated one of his novels – ‘The Great Man beyond the Rhine’.
Caught, tortured, thrown over a cliff and left for dead, our hero escapes and secretly – or so he thinks – makes his way back to England, only to find himself being skilfully and relentlessly trailed in London. To add to his problems, he also finds himself on the run from the police, having dealt over-zealously with a would-be assassin in Aldwych station. So he decides to make for Dorset as an unlikely part of the world in which to be hunted down, and to hide out near the quaint old-fashioned town of Beaminster. Now begins the main body of the story, a game of cat-and-mouse between the public-school superman literally gone to earth in a hole in the Dorset hills and the intellectual Nazi assassin bent on his destruction.
Our man’s ingenuity, pluck and initiative in acquiring everything he’s going to nee
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