Friday 30 March 2018

Forgotten Book - The West Pier

Patrick Hamilton was a fascinating writer. I've read no fewer than three biographies of him, those by his brother Bruce, Nigel Jones, and Sean French (all are good, by the way), and I find his life story intriguing, though I have to say he was welcome to it; a classic case of money not being everything, really. He suffered disability and disfigurement as a result of a road accident that wasn't his fault, but even by then he was a heavy drinker, and his health deteriorated steadily until he died in his late fifties.

It's as a playwright that he's best remembered. Rope and Gaslight were both highly successful, and both were filmed. But he felt that his novels were more important, and even if  many would disagree, I find them highly readable. The West Pier, set in Brighton, is a case in point. It was also the first of a trilogy that he wrote about the same character, Ernest Ralph Gorse.

The first thing to say about Gorse is that he's a deeply unpleasant individual. Hamilton makes that clear right away - in fact, the author's voice intrudes constantly, an odd feature that some would find irritating and others old-fashioned. Personally, I didn't mind, although I was surprised that such an experienced novelist resorted to such a device.

Gorse bears some comparison to Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley, because he possesses a certain charm, and he lacks a conscience. But this isn't a murder story. It is, instead, the story of a minor crime, the work of an embryonic confidence trickster, and his deceitful treatment of a decent girl and two schoolfriends. And despite the lack of "high stakes", it's compelling because Hamilton creates a frighteningly credible picture of someone who indulges in petty acts of cruelty and revenge - and has a knack of getting away with it.


Anonymous said...

Oh dear, just when I thought I was managing to reduce my "to read" pile ... I was sufficiently intrigued by your post, Martin, to go and buy the Gorse trilogy as an e-book for my Kindle. The final selling point for me was the comment on Amazon that Gorse was supposed to be based on the murderer Neville Heath, hanged in 1946; sounds like it will be a bit different to the typical modern police procedural or "psychological" thriller! Best wishes, Martyn

Martin Edwards said...

Very different, Martyn! Hope you find it of interest.