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The Big Clock

3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  1,474 Ratings  ·  144 Reviews
George Stroud is a hard-drinking, tough-talking, none-too-scrupulous writer for a New York media conglomerate that bears a striking resemblance to Time, Inc. in the heyday of Henry Luce. One day, before heading home to his wife in the suburbs, Stroud has a drink with Pauline, the beautiful girlfriend of his boss, Earl Janoth. Things happen. The next day Stroud escorts Paul ...more
Mass Market Paperback, 144 pages
Published 1949 by Bantam Books (first published 1946)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Glenn Russell
Apr 24, 2014 Glenn Russell rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition


Oh, yes, how the clock still goes on humming. Kenneth Fearing heard its mechanical, deadly heartbeat, saw its two giant claws scrapping around and around the numerals – twelve on top, six on bottom, nine on the right and three on the left, back in the 1940s when he wrote his novel, The Big Clock – a tale about the work-a-day world filled with people willing to conform, no matter what the price: high blood pressure, cerebral hemorrhages, ulcers eating out the lining of their stomach, moral decay
...more
Steve
Oct 20, 2012 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Noir classic that deserves its reputation. This is the kind of book the Coen brothers would love to film, but probably won't, since a fine movie -- perfectly cast w/ Milland, Laughton, Elsa Lancaster -- has already been made. (The story/movie must be Holy Ground for them.) But the Big Clock has the kind of blackness that the Coen brothers excel at it (The Man Who Wasn't There, Blood Simple). One of the nice things about this book is that no one is nice. It's a win-win as to who eventually goes d ...more
Rebecca McNutt
A powerful noir novel with all the makings of a classic, The Big Clock is a disturbing yet captivating story of murder, mayhem and the man caught up in it all.
Richard Vialet
Due to it's awesome concept, I had great expectations for this short novel. The plot is tailor-made for a great noir. After George Shroud, a crime magazine editor, has a night-long fling with the bosses girlfriend, she ends up with her skull bashed in. His boss is determined to find the man she was with that night and gives the assignment to the very man he's searching for, George himself. Now George must try to steer the investigation away from himself and towards the person he truly believes k ...more
Josh
Sep 27, 2014 Josh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015, nyrb
"I told myself it was just a tool, a vast machine, and the machine was blind. But I had not fully realized its crushing weight and power. That was insane. The machine cannot be challenged. It both creates and blots out, doing each with glacial impersonality. It measures people in the same life-span of mosquitoes and morals, the advance of time. And when the hour strikes, on the big clock, that is indeed the hour, the day, the correct time. When it says a man is right, he is right, and when it fi ...more
J.
Very solid noir, nice takedown of The Corporation Man and his monumental tower of Babel, circa postwar New York City. This was made into a film, but even sight unseen it was entertaining to imagine throughout the reading. The movie version as I imagine it would be one of those cheap studio-bound one-offs, in hard-edged black and white, from RKO Pictures. Where the character actors who play the cabbies, waitresses and bartenders end up walking away with the best moments. In this kind of noir, 'ci ...more
Adam
Apr 26, 2012 Adam rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery
It took me about 40 or 50 pages to warm up to Kenneth Fearing's suspense classic The Big Clock, which is a fair amount of time considering the edition I read was less than 150 pages.

It's written in a breezy, faux-sophisticated style that really rubbed me the wrong way, but once the main conceit of the novel kicks in, it's a hard book to put down. In brief, a man named George Stroud, who works for an enormous publishing syndicate, cheats on his wife for the umpteenth time ... but this time it's w
...more
Franky
Kenneth Fearing’s The Big Clock is an atypical noir that puts us square inside of the big corporation, in this case Janeth Enterprises, run by the big man, Earl Janeth. George Stroud, an editor of Crimeways, is a mechanism to this daily grind, often referred to as the “big clock.”

Trouble finds George after his night out with Pauline, one of the girls who works at Janeth Enterprises. When Pauline winds up dead, things really get complicated for George, especially since Pauline was Earl’s girlfri
...more
Maureen
Nov 07, 2008 Maureen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010, noir
i have admired the john farrow film adaptation of this book for a long time, and i have to say it probably clouded my enjoyment of the novel though i love the conceit of george stroud's dilemma his story, above all. the big clock is an extended metaphor throughout the novel, of business and society controlling and overwhelming independent spirit which is reduced to a reality in the film: there actually *is* a big clock, and instead of ruminating on the big clock as it hustles people along, atten ...more
Christopher (Donut
I actually got a copy for Kindle from Gutenberg.ca. So sue me!

It is also available in Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s & 40s

The movie, with Ray Milland and Charles Laughton, departs from the book, and yet I consider both successful works. The "big clock," a metaphor in the book, is made literal in the movie. The theme of homosexuality is, of course, played down in the movie, but not absent.

What struck me about the book was this statement of George Stroud on the importance of his job,
...more
Alan Chen
Mar 02, 2017 Alan Chen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-own
This is an interesting take on noir. What happens when you are charged to head an investigation to find yourself. Takes places in NY, 40s, glamorous world of publishing. George Stroud is an executive at the conglomerate of many different papers and magazines: Vanoth publishing. After a company party he skips out on his wife and starts an affair with his boss's mistress. When his boss accidentally kills his mistress in a fit of passion, the only person that could be tied to him happens to be Stro ...more
Matthew
What, exactly, is a mystery novel? From a distance the genre seems like an obvious one: it's about Sam Spade tracking down a murderer, or Phillip Marlowe lurking in the foggy shadows with a pistol in hand.

Examined more closely though, most of the obvious elements that seem to define a mystery fall away. There are mysteries that don't involve murders (a number of Sherlock Holmes stories come to mind), that don't feature detectives as protagonists (like most of Jim Thompson's novels), and that don
...more
Jim
Oct 06, 2013 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mysteries
Sometimes, it is possible for an excellent novel to be overshadowed by an excellent film based on it. Kenneth Fearing's The Big Clock is probably better known as the original source for John Farrow's film of the same name, with Ray Milland and Charles Laughton. In many ways, the film was slightly better, though it could not hope to replicate the novel's multiple narrators: The film is entirely from the character of George Stroud, played by the underrated Milland. Also, the metaphorical title ass ...more
Steven
Sep 11, 2014 Steven rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels, crime-noir
I was a bit surprised at how slow this novel started: there’s nothing in the first thirty pages to indicate the page turning tension that is to follow. And even the next thrity pages are still setup. But the slow start does serve the strategic purpose of establishing George Stroud’s “normal world” before events threaten to undue it all. The final hundred pages, however, are page turning suspense as the noose around George’s neck gets tighter and tighter. Great stuff.

The multiple first person nar
...more
Eden Sharp
Mar 23, 2015 Eden Sharp rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime
The big clock of the title is our seemingly inevitable fate; time marching on relentlessly towards our end, and this also sums up the predicament the protagonist feels in this story of a man investigating himself for a murder he didn’t commit.

The lovely Pauline Delos has been murdered by her boyfriend, a magazine publisher, and this becomes obvious to one of his employees, standing in the shadows, having been almost caught in flagrante delicto mid-affair. The big boss, aware of another man’s pre
...more
Matthew
Jul 18, 2011 Matthew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When I read fiction, the last aspect I care about is plot, but I've been reading crime novels and mysteries to help me better teach plot to my students interested in writing genre and popular fiction. I tore through the book in less than 24-hours. I read very slowly and in spurts, so I suspect many would read the novel in one sitting. Although Fearing has some dynamic poems, he restrains himself from linguistic indulgences in his fiction. I would have tired of the story-line, despite its straigh ...more
CQM
Oct 24, 2016 CQM rated it liked it
Shelves: thriller, mystery
What happened here I don't know. Maybe author Kenneth Fearing's pen was running out of ink or his publisher was banging on the door demanding a manuscript, either way he wrapped this one up dead sudden!
The tension was building to almost unbearable levels, the net was closing in on our "hero" and then... nothing. The end.
I saw the first film version starring Charles Laughton and Ray Milland many years ago and remember enjoying it but I don't remember much about it other than the basic premise, a
...more
Sam Reaves
A curious novel (from 1946) made into at least one curious movie, The Big Clock is regarded as a noir classic. Its premise is clever and original: A journalist is put in charge of an investigation to locate and identify a reluctant witness to a murder, who happens to be himself. The reason he was in the wrong place at the wrong time is that he was cheating on his wife with his boss's mistress, an unenviable twofer. Going to the cops will destroy his marriage; completing his task will finger him ...more
Caitlin Hill
I didn't dislike this book the way most of my fellow classmates seemed to. I think I have an easier time reading books and appreciating them for what they are, rather than what I want them to be. The ending was a bit rushed, but I think that was on purpose. The book was written to make a point about attempting to maintain your individuality and keep your head above water in the face of an emergingly powerful force - corporate america - and its takeover of the media. What I think it did, rather s ...more
lisa_emily
Nov 17, 2011 lisa_emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nyrb, mystery-noir
Have you ever started a book and wondered, how can this possibly end. The Big Clock ticks and the noose gets tighter, and the reader wonders, how will it end? I it read a number of months ago, but I still can recall the feeling of its grip. Truly great post WWII noir, although it only captures that aspect of America in subtle details. Odd nights passed in strange bars, drinks with shady women. Bad decisions based on desire. Main characters whom you want to win despite that he embodies so many mo ...more
Ben
Mar 20, 2008 Ben rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Noir City Sentinel
A Publication of the Film Noir Foundation
Vol. 5, No.1
Winter 2010

Kenneth Fearing
The Poet of Noir
by Ben Terrall


The writer Kenneth Fearing is best known to fans of film noir and crime fiction for his novel The Big Clock. The 1948 film version, scripted by Jonathan Latimer and directed by John Farrow, is a classic of paranoid, walls-closing-in storytelling which Paul Shrader included in a list of pictures exemplifying what he called the second phase of the classic film noir cycle,
...more
Peter Landau
THE BIG CLOCK by Kenneth Fearing is a good noir, with an experimental structure and an original plot of a guy having to hunt himself, sort of like that movie D.O.A., but with a less morbid punchline. It’s told in the first person by half-a-dozen characters, but mostly the protagonist, the sucker who fucked his boss’ girlfriend, who shows up dead the next morning. Raymond Chandler loves the book, which has been adapted into two movies. The setting is a magazine conglomerate not far removed from T ...more
Alex
Aug 18, 2015 Alex rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime
If you're going to write a piece of pulp Noir you should have the decency not to have an ordinary name like Kenneth. Dashiel Hammet, Mickey Spillane, Raymond Chandler, Damon Runyan ... they all have down and dirty, rugged, whiskey-swilling, cigarette chewing kinda names. Kenneth Fearing sounds like a perfectly ordinary guy who just couldn't cut it in a bar brawl or take care of his dame. Perhaps that's why this novel ultimately didn't cut it?

Or perhaps it's because he completely bungled the god
...more
Jason McKinney
Meh.

I had high hopes because I had seen the film version in college and enjoyed it. The novel was a lot less fun. The multiple viewpoints are brilliant (especially for the period of noir storytelling in which this was written), but unfortunately, that's the best thing I can say about it.

I wasn't really compelled by any of the characters and the philosophy and symbolism seemed at cross purposes with the mystery itself (which is, I must say, a doozy of a premise!). The existential musings here ju
...more
Perry Whitford
Mar 17, 2014 Perry Whitford rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
George Stroud is the executive editor for a widely distributed magazine called 'Crimewaves', which acted as a 'weather bureau for the national health'. Married to Georgette, with a six year old daughter Georgia, George was on the up, living very much in step with the Big Clock.

Then he met 'ice-blond' Pauline Delos. She was like 'the white flash of a thrown switch when a new circuit is formed'. She was also the bosses girl.

I wasn't aware that The Big Clock was such a recognized noir classic when
...more
Rhonda
May 05, 2010 Rhonda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-fiction
I read this book because I heard that it was the basis of the movie No Way Out which I adored, even with all its logical problems. It wasn't a popular book and so I had to order it, but at least it was still in print, perhaps receiving a resurgence in interest. It is certainly a delightful depiction of a very different era.

However, this book stands on its own as a gritty kind of dark venture into the underworld, thankfully coming out the other side in better shape. I was somewhat surprised to fi
...more
Adam
Jan 07, 2014 Adam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1900-1969, prose
Short, solid little crime thriller with Something to Say. Fearing was supposedly a worthy poet but the prose style here is only occasionally very interesting, mostly staying in the category of hardboiled stuff that's worth reading for the content more than the style. Some really interesting ideas, often not brought to life ideally. Themes of the corporate machine's dominance and an air of fatalism reign with little if any relief. No Raymond Chandler romanticism here.

As with several fine-but-not
...more
Patrick
Jul 28, 2014 Patrick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime-fiction
What a fun and interesting read! This noirish crime novel is set in New York City. George Stroud is a journalist working for a conglomerate that publishes a variety of magazines. His department is Crimeways Magazine. George has a past and it's never clear what he did to end up at a "reporter". He's married and is very good at his job. He is also a womanizer who has an affair with a mysterious woman (classically described in the opening paragraphs) who is also linked to the head of the publishing ...more
Sun
Dec 12, 2008 Sun rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A unique presentation gives an old story a new twist. Told in first-person from the view of main character George Stroud with additional chapters by peripheral players, the thriller (unusually) does not start until half way through. The first half is full of allusions to the big clock of time and to impending danger associated with Pauline Delos, i.e. the femme fatale.

Stroud, an editor, has an affair with Delos, who is actually the girlfriend of publishing magnate Earl Janoth or rather, Stroud'
...more
Troy
Aug 24, 2014 Troy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me awhile to get into this. I've been in a reading malaise this summer, and I nearly put the book down while reading the first quarter. It's straight Mad Man territory, full of delusional drunk sexist assholes who aren't nearly as self-aware as they think they are. The main protagonist is a philandering salaryman with an outsized sense of self-worth.

But then there's a death. And an investigation. And our asshole salaryman protagonist is now heading up a sham investigation whose prime pur
...more
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NYRB Classics: The Big Clock, by Kenneth Fearing 1 7 Oct 18, 2013 03:24PM  
Pulp Fiction: The Big Clock (1948) 17 25 May 05, 2012 10:11PM  
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“She was blond as hell, wearing a lot of black.” 8 likes
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