This 1946 novel is one of those pieces of crime fiction that you can call literature, encompassing as it does something of a meditation on mortality, which the protagonist calls The Big Clock. It has what I think of as a literary mid-twentieth century feel to it, (think The New Yorker fiction).
In this noir crime novel, we meet George Stroud, a writer, managing editor for one of the entities of a large New York media conglomerate. He meets the girlfriend of his boss at a party, and as things happen, they get together. They go away for a weekend, return to the city in time for dinner and a stop at a bar, and a stroll down a street of antique shops where he buys a small painting from a now obscure painter, one whose work he is collecting.
He drops her off at her apartment building but does not go in. As he stands there, he sees his boss arrive and go into the building.
The next day, the woman is found murdered, and we know the boss did it, because the perspective of the narration goes from character, and one of them is the boss telling us of his act.
The boss goes from the woman’s apartment to the home of his number one guy, one who is willing to do what needs to be done, and this guy sets up a search for the unknown man who was with her, because he would be the most likely candidate for the killing. The second in command sets George and his staff, who work for Crimeways, an investigative magazine, to pull out all the stops and find this unknown man. George does what he can to slow down this process as he thinks of what he can do to get out of this, because he knows his life isn’t worth diddly as the top brass work to keep the boss’ name clear, to keep the magazines from going under.
Very cleverly plotted, tight and concise. And I am not telling you anything more. Read it yourself, because it is short, and you can get it free on Project Gutenberg.
You can get very artsy if you wish about the symbolism in the book, because Fearing was very concerned with the dissolution of American life, with it becoming a mechanized society devoid of belief, faith, and love. George Stroud represents Everyman, the antihero, the Big Clock represent the inexorable march of time and its tyranny over everything, the media company he worked for represents the soulless money machine, the Pac Man of its day gobbling everything in its wake. It won’t surprise you to know that Fearing was a very respected poet in his day.
The book has been adapted for the cinema three times. The first and most faithful was the film of the same title, then came a little-known adaptation Police Python 357, a 1976 French film starring Yves Montand, Stefania Sandrelli and Simone Signoret , and finally one loosely adapted into the Kevin Costner spy movie No Way Out.