I’d never read Rogue Male before. I’d heard of it, often in glowing or nostalgic terms, and this new reissue by Orion seemed as good a reason as any to pick it up and give it a spin. Presented as a series of letters sent from the protagonist to his solicitor, Rogue Male is a personal and exciting novel about solitude, ingenuity in the face of defeat, and survival.
An anonymous British sportsman is arrested in a similarly unnamed European country, assumed to be Germany, after attempting to assassinate the dictator in charge. Despite protesting his innocence, he is chucked off a cliff and left to die – only surviving thanks to a well-place bog beneath him. He manages to escape the country, but discovers that he is still a wanted man and so heads underground in England to escape his pursuers.
Our anonymous hunter is a likeable sort of fellow; plummy and talkative even in the direst of circumstances. His matter-of-fact internal discussions about morals and his next move are constantly engaging and often wryly amusing, which helps lighten the mood on what could be a very gruelling story. He’s put through the wringer, and as it goes on, he feels both his body and mind deteriorate. Unlike other novels about people on the run, such as The Bourne Identity, much of the action takes place internally, as the hunter spends much of his time hunkered down in the wilderness. He is very precise – giving measurements and blow-by-blow accounts of everything he does, which lends the whole thing the ring of authenticity.
The plot drags you through the pages at a swift pace, moving from country to country, eventually ending up in a home-made den in Devon; all propelled by our hero’s logical and chess-master like plans. On quite a few occasions he manages to come up with some truly innovative solutions to the various predicaments he finds himself in, and you are constantly left guessing. Considering it is seventy-five years old, it still feels fresh and relevant. A classic indeed, and you can see how it went on to influence so many modern authors in so many ways.