Jay Stringer is a crime writer from the West Midlands, now hiding away in Glasgow. His first novel OLD GOLD will be released from Thomas & Mercer in July, and he blogs every Thursday at DoSomeDamage.com
Hangover Square is one of the finest noir novels that you won’t find in the crime section of a bookstore. Written and released at a time when the industry wasn’t obsessing over pointless distinctions like ‘Literary’ and ‘Genre,’ the novel simply gets on with being both, and telling a compelling tale.
The story revolves around George Harvey Bone, a troubled alcoholic loner and probable schizophrenic in 1939 London. The opening paragraph of the book hooks you straight into his mental state, describing the changeover in his head from light to dark. In his light moods, he loves Netta, a woman who schemes against him and uses him for his money and contacts. In his dark moods he plots of killing her for the way she treats him.
The structure of the book follows that of a suspense novel quite closely, but it’s in pulling you into the mind of the criminal that it rose above any structural limitations. We see Bone, Netta, and his social circle for the users and deadbeats that they are, but never lose empathy for George himself, even in his darkest acts.
And there are some pretty dark acts. The story doesn’t shy away from the consequences of his murderous moods, and this isn’t the kind of book that comes with a happy ending.
Hamilton was, for a time, one of the most famous writers in Britain. After that, he was known more as a celebrated drunk, keeping his skill at arms length and keeping the world away through the buffer of gin. But as his star faded, so we also lost sight of a writer with a fine eye for detail, and a great ear for the stupid things people say. For all his literary flourish and fine handle of prose, he tapped into something much darker. He was a writer for the losers, the doomed, the downtrodden and the aimless. Put simply; he was a noir writer.
Though some of the words are now outdated, the book is as fresh and relevant now as it was then. It belongs alongside Thompson and Goodis in any collection (unless your collection is arranged alphabetically.)
– Jay Stringer
The Criminal Classics series was prompted by a post which originally appeared at Crime Fiction Lover.