Sunday, 12 April 2009

The Trouble With Harry - Jack Trevor Story

You will probably know this as a Hitchcock film. Relocated from Hertfordshire to Vermont, the film otherwise remains reasonably true to the plot and to the spirit of the book. I much prefer the book, not least because it seems to me to be quintessentially English.

Harry is a corpse. Lying in the woods above a small community he is dragged about, robbed of his shoes, fallen over, buried, dug up, reburied, dug up again and generally worried over by the local residents, several of whom are convinced they killed him. As the story progresses over a twenty-four hour period, people who have been neighbours for years begin talking to one another. Some even fall in love.

This is Story’s first published novel. It is assured, full of hints about what was to come (under his own name and as a writer of westerns, Sexton Blake mysteries, and television and film), and darkly funny. Yet Story achieves something here that few other writers have managed, for whilst this is a macabre tale, it never becomes dark. There is a summer’s evening glow about it, an innocence that a lesser writer could not have managed without, perhaps, resorting to a false sentimentality.

It is also clear that Story has hit the mark in other respects. From the outset he was able to create characters who were true individuals, whose lives verged on caricature without ever tipping over into absurdity; real people in fact, once you get to know them properly. As such (and all his novels have this, no matter how dark and dystopian they become) the absurd situations in which his characters find themselves also take on a kind of mad reality.

Short, sweet, superbly crafted, and with understated humour that arises naturally from the characters and their situations, it is clear from this first outing that Story was a writer of real talent. It remains a shame to this day that he has never been more widely appreciated.