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Mystery Monday – The Big Clock

The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing


Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


This inverted mystery was made into two movies, The Big Clock in 1946 and No Way Out in 1987. It was a best-seller when it was released in 1946 and has morphed into a cult classic since the late Forties, so the New York Review of Books published it in 2006 as one of its well-regarded re-issues.

I don’t want to risk spoiling this unique noir mystery with a plot description. Suffice to say, this “whodunit in reverse” provides plenty of surprising plot twists. What really sets this novel apart is the mild satire of corporate conformity. In the late Forties and early Fifties many social critics, malcontents, and beatniks were expressing their distaste for the Organization Man. Fearing gets in his whacks, as a character describes the ideal writer for Futureways, a take-off on a Time-Life type of weekly magazine:

First place, you’ve got to believe you’re shaping something. Destiny, for example. And then you’d better not do anything to attract attention to yourself. It’s fatal to come up with a new idea, for instance, and it’s fatal not to have any at all, see what I mean? And above all, it’s dangerous to turn in a piece of finished copy. Everything has to be serious, and pending. Understand?

Another interesting theme is existentialism, another intellectual fad after WWII. The narrator of most of the chapters is George Stroud. Like a character in a Simenon novel set in the Fifties, he leads a routine tepid existence, not stunted but not contented either. Rejecting the illusion that life gives a “big prize,” he thinks, “The big clock ran everywhere, overlooked no one, omitted no one, forgot nothing, remembered nothing, knew nothing. Was nothing. “ Wanting to beat the big clock, he takes the usual Simenon way out by having an affair. When his adventuress-mistress is murdered, George finds himself facing that darn old hostile universe.

This is an excellent novel that I’d recommend to any reader into vintage mysteries.

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2 Responses to “Mystery Monday – The Big Clock”

  1. Lou B. justloux , says:

    ahhhhh….books. ahhhhhh, a FREE book offer. OK.
    Wonderful that books are so often gifted.
    Hope of even more books springs eternal….
    All and all, books are wonderful.

    Lou B/justloux
    (aka greatgrannyLou in soNV)

  2. Priscilla C. (MSCOZY) says:

    Saw the movie and it was quite well done. I am a noir aficionado and the storyline was tense and captivating. Perhaps I may now read the book. Thank you for reviewing it.

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