The Big Clock Spiral-Bound | July 18, 2006
Kenneth Fearing, Nicholas Christopher (Introduction by)
The Big Clock
A classic of American noir, part murder mystery and part black comedy, set in dark corners of corporate New York City.
George Stroud is a hard-drinking, tough-talking, none-too-scrupulous writer for a New York media conglomerate that bears a striking resemblance to Time, Inc. in the heyday of Henry Luce. One day, before heading home to his wife in the suburbs, Stroud has a drink with Pauline, the beautiful girlfriend of his boss, Earl Janoth. Things happen. The next day Stroud escorts Pauline home, leaving her off at the corner just as Janoth returns from a trip. The day after that, Pauline is found murdered in her apartment.
Janoth knows there was one witness to his entry into Pauline’s apartment on the night of the murder; he knows that man must have been the man Pauline was with before he got back; but he doesn’t know who he was. Janoth badly wants to get his hands on that man, and he picks one of his most trusted employees to track him down: George Stroud, who else?
How does a man escape from himself? No book has ever dramatized that question to more perfect effect than The Big Clock, a masterpiece of American noir.
"That rare noir masterwork that somehow both keeps you in suspense and unmoors you with its underlying fatalism.” —NPR
"A ruthless vision of corporate conformity and middle-class discontent." —Newsday
"The Big Clock, Kenneth Fearing's brilliant study in noir, is 60 years old and looks better all the time. There is no such thing as progress in literature, and as much as we pursue the latest thing, novelty is no advantage in a novel. The Big Clock provides the proof. . . . Fearing's intricate portrait of murder and the corporate mentality couldn't feel more current . . . Fearing's taut, relaxed fiction is even better, deservedly a classic in its depiction of the corporate man at his most basic and disloyal." —The Globe and Mail
"Mr. Fearing's short and continuously entertaining novel may be classified as a whodunit in reverse—plus a certain social comment that may be taken painlessly, along with the whirligig action. . . . The texture of his plot is stretched tight as a drum—and he maintains the tautness artfully until the final page . . . . If you enjoy top-drawer detective fiction . . . we can recommend this one with no reservations whatsoever." —The New York Times
"I have not developed the habit of reading thrillers, but I have read enough of them to know that from now on Mr. Fearing is my man." —The New Yorker
"Not since Elliot Paul began to play fast and loose with the austere conventions of the murder-mystery story in Hugger-Mugger in the Louvre have we encountered a writer who treated those principles so cavalierly as does Kenneth Fearing in The Big Clock. In the end he makes the punishment fit the crime, all right, but before that his main concern has been to make the whole show a source of scandalous merriment. . . . At a venture one might say that The Big Clock is somewhat closer to the style of the surrealists than to that of Conan Doyle, but it should be added that the whole is overlaid with the familiar lacquer of the hard-boiled school. . . . The best part of the book . . . is the man-hunt, which is conducted by the man who is being hunted, with all the resources of Janoth Enterprises behind him and all the aplomb in the world." —The New York Times
"Mr. Fearing, poet and novelist, must now also be labeled a master of the tour de force. He has taken one of those tricky situations which always appeal to the short story writer and the mystery novelist and made it into an almost believable metropolitan melodrama. Even Agatha Christie with her penchant for difficult plot structure could have done no better with the material at hand—and I do not intend that as faint praise. . . . You probably won't find a better thriller this year." —The Washington Post
"It will be some time before chill-hungry clients meet again so rare a compound of irony, satire, and icy-fingered narrative." —Weekly Book Review
"Not only does the brittle style support the characters' attitudes but also the psychological chase scene, in which George strives to elude his pursuers, is suspenseful until the end . . . a master at psychological suspense." —Dictionary of Literary Biography
KENNETH FEARING (1902–1961) was born in Oak Park, Illinois. Voted wittiest boy and class pessimist in high school, he moved to New York City after graduating from the University of Wisconsin. He published several well received volumes of poetry in addition to his novels, including Angel Arms, Dead Reckoning, and Stranger at Coney Island and other poems. The Big Clock was included in The Library of America's Crime Novels: American Noir of the 30s and 40s. The novel has been adapted into two films, The Big Clock (1948) and No Way Out (1987).
NICHOLAS CHRISTOPHER is the author of five novels: The Soloist, Veronica, A Trip to the Stars, Franklin Flyer, andThe Bestiary; several books of poetry, including Crossing the Equator: New & Selected Poems, 1972-2004; and a nonfiction book, Somewhere in the Night: Film Noir & the American City. He is a Professor in the School of the Arts at Columbia University.