Saturday 19 June 2021

Forgotten Book - The Gigantic Shadow aka The Pipe-Dream

Julian Symons'  The Gigantic Shadow, originally published in 1958, is an example of a crime novel which began with a single idea. As he explained many years later (in Jack Walsdorf's excellent bibliography of his work), his imagination was seized by a particular vision: that of a ruthless TV inquisitor having the tables turned on him by an interviewee, in a dramatic way that ruins the life he has known.

It's a good idea, and in the book, Bill Hunter is a feared TV 'special investigator', who is conducting a no-holds-barred interview, live, with Nicholas Mekles, a feared gangster and playboy. When Hunter asks one question too many, Mekles - who has done his homework rather better than Hunter - retailiates by revealing on air that Hunter is living a lie. His real name is O'Brien, and he has served time in prison for murder.

This revelation destroys Hunter's career and his relationship with Anna. He has to start all over again. In so doing, he begins a relationship with rich and glamorous Anthea Moorhouse. Encouraged by her, Hunter finds himself drawn into a criminal conspiracy that is destined to have fatal consequences. The story is, as Symons accepted, more of a thriller rather than a detective novel. With hindsight, he regretted having launched into the book without a clearly worked out storyline to follow the dramatic opening.

Symons was a harsh judge of his own work, but I'm afraid that in this instance he was right to regard the book as a misfire. I read it thirty years ago, but I'd completely forgotten the story. This says something about my memory, but it really is a pretty forgettable mystery. The trouble is that I simply didn't believe in Bill Hunter, either as an ex-IRA man or a TV presenter, and I didn't believe in his rather clueless exploits, either. As ever with Symons, it's a very readable story, but it's definitely one of his weakest efforts. 



Michael Lydon said...

In his book "Bloody Murder", Symons says that he is absorbed by the idea of violence behind respectable faces, and that the crime novel is the ideal vehicle for presenting this idea. He concludes that this ideal is not always fulfilled in his books. Perhaps this is one he had in mind when he wrote that.

Martin Edwards said...

Good point, Michael, thank you.

Ted said...

I read this one in January of 2010 and have absolutely no memory of it either! Yet I vividly remember both The Man Whose Dreams Came True and The Players and the Game which I read in April of the same year.

Martin Edwards said...

Interesting, Ted. You are a man after my own heart, since I too much admire those two books and I too found the storylines much more memorable.