Alistair Matheson is a career civil servant at the Ministry of Defence. Recently transferred from the Scottish Office he is independently wealthy and as such enjoys all the trappings that come with professional status and personal means: a luxury apartment in Chelsea, his own attendant valet and an Aston-Martin for weekend jaunts to the country. A Presbyterian Scot by upbringing and austere and humourless by inclination he leads a blithe privileged life. Until one fateful day in Oxford Street he encounters a man who could pass for his exact double.
From this moment onwards Matheson develops an obsession with this doppleganger who begins to turn up with alarming regularity. In the end it succeeds in luring Matheson down a spiral of paranoia into a world of seances and butchered rat gnawed corpses with a pronounced supernatural overture.
Jack Gerson will always be far better known as a prolific television scriptwriter rather than a novelist having created such fondly remembered serials as The Omega Factor and The Assassination Run. But he still managed to leave behind a respectable tally of twelve books; four of them based on his tv work. I read four of them on the bounce last year and enjoyed them all immensely. His main interests appeared to divide between straight thrillers of the Hitchcockian variety, with innocent patsys becoming embroiled in criminal plots as with THE MAN ON THE CRATER'S EDGE and THE WHITEHALL SANCTION, and stories with occult themes such as the exceptional THE EVIL THEREOF which I would heartily recommend to anyone with a taste for witchcraft murders.
THE FETCH was the last novel Gerson published before deteriorating health ended his career and I have to say in all candour that it is very far from being his best. Its grievous drawback is the character of Matheson who is such a dour unimaginative and colourless individual that its difficult to summon up much sympathy for his plight. I also found his circumstances frankly unbelievable: do civil servants really still employ personal valets who model themselves on Jeeves and are members of the Fulham gun club? The world of ministries and gentlemans clubs is also so far out of most people's experience that they provide little scope for empathy.
But as hard as it was to fully immerse myself in the story I am glad I persevered with it as it does eventually exert a compulsive grip as Matheson's ordered gilded life finally spins out of all control. And along the way there are a number of enjoyable literary references to savour, especially to James Hogg's THE PRIVATE MEMOIRS AND CONFESSIONS OF A JUSTIFIED SINNER which is an openly admitted source for the story, but also THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES and an acid comment on Dennis Wheatley too: "terrible prose writer but a good story teller".
But the enduring image I take from the book rests with the idea that - in the words of Peter Cook - "the Horned One himself" could be living in a dilapidated mansion in Catford. As someone who knows the place well its a conceit I find all too easy to swallow.
That's a great review, Richard! I enjoyed reading Gerson's novelization of The Omega Factor last year. It included the resolution of a major story point that simply dropped out of sight in the TV series.
That is the next Gerson book on my list to read Steve. I believe it starts off as an adaptation of the tv series and then goes off at a tangent and ploughs its own original furrow. I watched an episode on YouTube recently and was pretty taken with it. Impressive performance from the under-rated James Hazeldine.
You would really like Gerson's THE EVIL THEREOF as its premise is based upon the ritual murder of Charles Walton.
You can definitely read the Omega novel without having seen the series. When I read the book, I presumed that the story represented Gerson's original outline for the plot of the serial. It may have been that he presumed it would run as a 3 or 4 episode shorter series, and when the full run was ordered, he had to drop a lot of what he had initially planned. That was necessary so that the other writers involved could spin the story in various ways, which the original plan would not have really allowed. So he wound up using it in the book, which the BBC published themselves. Not only is a major plot development adumbrated in episode one of the series only resolved in the book; a character who makes a brief appearance in that initial episode returns in the final chapters which lends to element of foreshadowing to his initial appearance.
The way the TV serial evolved definitely brought in some themes that have become wildly popular in this new Millennium, such as notions of the "deep state" and its aspirations towards total surveillance of the psyche of all citizens.
I think you had mentioned that Witchcraft book of his and I meant to have a look... will keep that in mind!