Almost as good as walking into a thrift store and stumbling upon a previously unknown (to you) typewriter, is walking into a thrift store and stumbling upon a previously unknown (to you) writer. Which is what happened to me when I found this gem on the bookshelves of a Salvation Army thrift store …
A third edition of Patrick Hamilton’s 1951 novel “The West Pier”
What first attracted me was the front cover and the blurb on the back cover (as a good cover should) and then, as I scanned the first few pages, Hamilton’s narrative voice.
Anthony Patrick Hamilton (17 March 1904 – 23 September 1962) was an English playwright and novelist. His father was an alcoholic and a historical novelist; his mother, a sometime singer. After his mother withdrew him from Westminster School at the age of fifteen, Hamilton worked in the theatre and then took up writing, publishing his first novel when he was nineteen and rapidly making a name for himself as an up-and-coming author.
In 1927 Hamilton fell unhappily in love with a prostitute—an experience which was to inspire one of his masterpieces, the trilogy Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky. In 1932, he was badly injured and permanently disfigured after being hit by a car. His finest work is generally considered to be Hangover Square, a Depression-era psychological thriller about intoxication, infatuation, and murder.
Hamilton was also a very successful playwright, and several of his plays which were made into movies, most notably Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 adaptation of Rope, starring Jimmy Stewart …
Rope may have been inspired by a real life murder case. On May 21, 1924, nineteen-year-old Nathan Leopold and eighteen-year-old Richard Loeb, students at the University of Chicago, kidnapped a friend, Bobbie Franks, killed him, then attempted to extract a ransom from Frank’s parents.
A Musical: “Thrill Me: The Leopold & Loeb Story”
Leopold and Loeb believed they had committed the perfect crime, but Leopold dropped his designer spectacles at the scene of the crime and the police quickly traced them. The investigators also found the typewriter on which the ransom note had been typed.
Gaslight tells the story of the Manninghams who live on Angel Street in 19th Century London. As the curtain rises, all appears the essence of Victorian tranquility. It is soon apparent however, that Mr. Manningham, a suavely handsome man, is slowly driving his gentle, devoted wife Bella, to the brink of insanity with an insinuating kindness which masks more sinsister motives.
While he is out, Mrs. Manningham has an unexpected caller: amiable, paternal Inspector Rough from Scotland Yard.
Rough is convinced that Manningham is a homicidal maniac wanted for a murder committed fifteen years earlier in this very house. Gradually the inspector restores Bella’s confidence in herself and as the evidence against Manningham unfolds, the author has built and sustained some of the most brilliant, suspenseful sequences in modern theatre.
George Cukor’s 1944 adaptation of Gaslight (known in America as Angel Street) starred Ingrid Bergman (who won an Oscar for her role), Joseph Cotten, and Angela Lansbury in her on-screen debut.
I enjoyed reading The West Pier, and was interested to learn that this book is the first instalment in The Gorse Trilogy: – The West Pier (1951), Mr Stimson and Mr Gorse (1953) and Unknown Assailant (1955) – So it’s back to the thrifts to seek out more books by this most neglected of English novelists. Who knows what treasures I might find:
- Secondhand copies of the Penguin 20th Century Classics edition of Hamilton’s Slaves of Solitude still sell on Amazon for upwards of £100, even though it was only published in 1999.
- A first edition with a dust jacket of Hamilton’s 1935 trilogy Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky published by Constable in London is estimated to be worth around £1,850.
- A copy of of the same book inscribed by Hamilton to fellow author JB Priestley – who wrote an introduction in the book – recently sold for £4,750
A Corona portable typewriter displayed in the window of Waterstones bookshop, Brighton 2012, to promote a talk by Nigel Jones, the author of a 1991 biography Through a Glass Darkly : The Life of Patrick Hamilton.