The Big Clock

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The Big Clock is a 1946 novel by Kenneth Fearing. Published by Harcourt Brace, the thriller was his fourth novel, following three for Random House (The Hospital, Dagger of the Mind, Clark Gifford's Body) and five collections of his poetry. In 2002, it was reissued by Orion Publishing Group in their Crime Masterworks series, and in 2006 by New York Review Books Classics.

Characters and story[edit]

George Stroud works for a New York magazine publisher not unlike Time-Life. Stroud begins an intermittent affair with Pauline, the girlfriend of his boss, Earl Janoth. One night, Stroud leaves Pauline at the corner near her apartment, just as Janoth returns from a trip. The next day, Pauline is found murdered in her apartment. Janoth knows someone saw him enter Pauline’s apartment on the night of the murder, but he doesn't know who that was. To find out, Janoth tells his staff to track the witness, and Stroud is put in charge of the investigation.

Fearing based the novel on the October 1943 murder of New York brewery heiress Patricia Burton Bernheimer Lonergan[1] and Sam Fuller's 1944 thriller The Dark Page.[2] A combination of these two suggested a plot thread to Fearing, and he began writing The Big Clock during August 1944, continuing to work on the manuscript for over a year. He married artist Nan Lurie in 1945, and much of the novel was written in her loft on East 10th Street in New York City. The manuscript was completed by October 1945, and it was published by Harcourt Brace a year later.[3]

In his introduction to Kenneth Fearing: Complete Poems (1994), Robert M. Ryley described the events of publication and the aftermath:

Published in the fall of 1946, The Big Clock made Fearing temporarily rich. Altogether he took in about $60,000 (roughly $360,000 in 1992 dollars): about $10,000 in royalties and from the sale of republication rights (including a condensation in The American Magazine), and $50,000 from the sale of film rights to Paramount. In 1947, Nan won $2,000 in an art competition, a sum they dismissed as negligible but that only two years earlier would have seemed a fortune. But Fearing's successes always contained the germ of disaster. Overestimating his business acumen, he had negotiated his own contract with Paramount, permanently and irrevocably signing away his film rights, and relinquishing his television rights till 1952, by which time, he discovered to his rage and frustration, Paramount was showing late-night reruns and had thus cornered the market. A more immediate problem was alcohol. He told his friend Alice Neel (the model for Louise Patterson, the eccentric painter in The Big Clock) that since he could now afford to start drinking in the morning, he was having trouble getting any work done. On one occasion he almost died from a combination of scotch and phenobarbital, and in 1952 he was so shaken by his doctor's warnings about the condition of his liver that he went on the wagon. For Nan, who for years had been trying to get him to stop drinking, this should have been a cause for rejoicing, but she discovered that without alcohol he was no longer "playful" and "romantic" and that she was no longer interested in the marriage.[2]

Film adaptations[edit]

Fearing's novel was adapted into three feature films, two American, one French; the Americans wereThe Big Clock (1948) and No Way Out (1987). The 1948 version is faithful to the novel, with the 1987 remake updating the events to the American political world in Washington D.C. during the Cold War. The French version was "Police Python 357", (link a 1976 film, in wich the main characters were policemen in Marseille.


In October 1973 The Big Clock was also dramatized on radio as Desperate Witness, an episode of Mutual's The Zero Hour, hosted by Rod Serling.


  1. ^ "Defense Rests in Murder Trial of Wayne Lonergan," The Evening Independent, March 1944.
  2. ^ a b Ryley, Robert M. Kenneth Fearing: Complete Poems. National Poetry Foundation, 1994. ISBN 978-0-943373-25-6
  3. ^ Books of the Times: 'Tall, Ice-Blonde and Splendid' A Wonderful Third Avenue Bar By CHARLES POORE. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 21 Sep 1946: 10.

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