Thursday 19 July 2012

A Rough Shoot by Geoffrey Household

Vintage Penguin Number 2273
First published 1951 (for Century of Books challenge)
Penguin Published 1965

When I found this Penguin book I loved it right away because I think the cover (by Charles Raymond)  is gorgeous. It is not often that one sees a Penguin book cover that has so much colour in it. Reds, yellows combined with the white title and the author's name in black is quite striking. It also depicts the story very well with a burning car and a fugitive man.

I also found this little paper cut-out in it. I always enjoy finding things in second hand books. The cut-out is navy blue and quite intricate. I wonder where it came from and what the story is behind it.

As I will never know the story behind the cut-out I certainly know the story now of A Rough Shoot.

The book opens with:

"It all began on an autumn evening so silent and peaceful that no one who had the luck to be out-of-doors, with copse and downland stretching away from him till the folds of England vanished into a mist of grey and green, could have a thought of human violence. We had had two weeks of storm, and then came this Tuesday, October 18th, which belonged to late summer.  All the life of grass and hedgerow was too busy satisfying hunger to be on guard.  I didn't fire a shot the whole afternoon - not for lack of opportunity but because I wanted to see what game I had on the shoot and what were its movements if undisturbed."

Told from the first person point of view throughout I was not ready for the roller coaster ride through the following days that the narrator took me through.
One moment he is calmly walking the land, looking at wildlife, hoping to pick off a couple of rabbits for the evening table, the next he is running for his life.

As dark approaches he notices two men who look as if they do not belong in the hedges in front of him. They do not see him. One stands quite bored, gun in hand, while the second is leaning over and into a hedge with his 'trousered backside' in the air. Our narrator is unable to see what he is doing.

When a large bird flies up into the tree above the first man and that man raises his gun and calmly shoots it out of the tree our narrator is quite incensed at such a senseless killing.  In return he decides the men must go and as he is quite a distance behind them he decides to fire some buckshot into the man with the raised backside knowing he is at a sufficient distance to not be hurt seriously.
He shoots, the first man runs off down the slope towards the road at the loud sound of the shotgun and the man who was shot dives forward into the hedge in a slumped position, not moving.

Our gunman is bewildered at the odd position his victim falls into and the fact he is not moving. He carefully approaches the man only to find that when shot, he fell forward onto a spiked item and has died instantly.

From here you know it can only get worse.  The story then takes off as the man who does not want to be convicted of manslaughter finds a way to dispose of the body, at least temporarily until he can gather his wits.
When he secretly goes back the next day to set things right on a more permanent basis there are other people involved.
Travellin Penguin ends up with much
more espionage than rabbits in this story.

This story is very convoluted as he meets the soon to be criminals, all politically related to a movement in Poland involving espionage and spies, a local village landlord, a hastily built airfield, a dead man in a burning car and the shooter's wife hiding two criminal fugitives in the attic of the house as calmly as if they'd been invited for afternoon tea. That is when she is not removing the children in the house to a local ice cream parlour to get them out of the way.

The men become good mates through one of the funniest get away scenes involving leaving the attic catching trains in the dead of night via other trains running in the dead of night in order to get to London to a vacant apartment where the "mystery" package will ultimately be delivered.

There are scenes of riding trains upside down hanging out the window from the roof,  stopping at country pubs, involuntary meetings with locals who threaten to blow the whole getaway open, perseverative police constables who are more like bloodhounds than men and managing all of this as though it was a walk in the park on a Sunday afternoon.

Everyone appears to have good will towards everyone, between their arguments, then you know they will be caught except at the last minute another situation arises, always to their favour that lends itself to yet another amazing escape. They have quite a few conversations about the political situation that developed after WW II, some of it quite hilarious.

"Good God, man, are you going to put your miserable private affairs before service to your country?"

"I never in my life heard such a lousy argument. I was still by no means convinced that I was serving my country, and even less that his wild scheme would benefit anyone but the four men waiting in the boundary hedge. Yet he left me with no possible reply. I didn't wonder the Poles made him a general. He could only  be that or a trooper. All other ranks are supposed to think with their brains."

This book is only 125 pages long yet the amount of activity would suit that of a book twice as long.  It is an excellent read for a train or plane as long as you sit next to someone who doesn't mind you laughing out loud.

I found it to be a purely recreational,  quite enjoyable read, succinctly written culminating in an exciting, satisfying ending.  If people get a chance to read it I would recommend it. It was certainly a fun romp through the English countryside into which I disappeared with some very interesting characters.

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