Back in the 1990s I started reading a lot of crime fiction and suspense. Inside a collection edited by Alfred Hitchcock I came across this short novel, “Rogue Male” by Geoffrey Household, that Hitchcock described in the introduction as the best suspense story ever written. That intrigued me, after all, who knows suspense better than Alfred Hitchcock? If he said it said it, must be so. Hitchcock was right. I read crime and suspense for another ten years and never found anything that came close to producing the claustrophobic fear of this book.
The book starts with the unnamed protagonist caught in a compromising position, he is looking at an unnamed European leader through the scope of a high powered rifle. I was sure I knew who but, after the second or third read and a few history classes, I have more than one possible target in mind. His captors believe he is an assassin and decide to dispose of him. Our protagonist manages to escape but finds himself chased by a determined team of assassins. The majority of the book is his frantic scramble to escape the team hunting him. The writing carries you along, from one chilling encounter to the next. I hate reviews that use cliches like that, but yes, I remember a cold chill running down my back again and again as the protagonist evades the men hunting him. Soon we are living like hunted animals in the English country side. I do mean “we”, the writing is so clear and compelling that you can feel the dirt rolling down the back of your shirt just as the protagonist does.
There is misdirection in the form of an unreliable narrator that caused me to doubt I knew the target. Soon I doubted everything the protagonist / narrator said. I won’t try to claim that the book is high literature but it does deserve a close reading. Unlike most 75 year old novels you won’t have trouble finding a copy of this one if you want one. It is still in print, available new from Amazon and there are many prior printings available in the used book market.