Patrick Hamilton is remembered today, if at all, for the short pre-war novel Hangover Square, and the stage thrillers Rope and Gaslight. They are good of their kind, but they lack the feel of involuntary masterpieces which still attends their up till now vanished predecessor – the trilogy of novels brought together in 1935 as Twenty Thousand Streets under the Sky. The novels of this trilogy are like first love, whose obsessional joys and miseries are indeed their chief subject. After that, Patrick Hamilton had discovered his milieu and his métier, and he cultivated them professionally with a canny eye to commercial possibilities. Following the war years, and his successes on stage and screen, he returned to something like the early formula in his novel The Slaves of Solitude, with its heroine the lonely spinster Miss Roach. This was the new Barbara Pym country, and he did not quite make it his own. The same applies to an unfinished trilogy, set in Brighton, about a psychopath and potential murderer, Ralph Gorse. Haunting and memorable as its early part is, with the sense of something really nasty still to come, it remains on the level of accomplishment rather than inspired achievement. A long terminal illness forced the author to abandon it. He died in 1962.
LRB 1 October 1987 | PDF Download