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.