THE McGUFFIN by John Bowen


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Homage to Hitchcock, of course--as a gloomy movie critic gets involved in a real-life mini-thriller, entering ""the world of the McGuffin."" (Hitchcock used the term to describe the valuable/priceless item that triggers the action in any suspense film.) Paul Hatcher, 45, film reviewer for London's Radical magazine, author of Self-Mutilating Angel (a study of Pasolini), is living a dull, largely solitary, rather sour life--until, like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, he is mesmerized by the goings-on in a neighboring apartment: an elderly woman, previously all alone, has now been joined by a vaguely threatening houseguest. . . who appears to be a transvestite! Gripped by curiosity, narrator Paul soon learns that the visitor is indeed the old woman's grandson Gavin, in hiding from some unspecified villains. Almost immediately both grandmother and drag-queen grandson are dead, an apparent case of murder and quasi-suicide. But Paul suspects a grander sort of foul play, including police coverup--especially once he finds the McGuffin: a small role of film negative, hidden inside the collar of Gavin's dog Bonzo (whom Paul has adopted), with photographic evidence of homosexual rape/torture/murder involving UK/US bigwigs. So it's not surprising that assorted ruthless agents are already shadowing Paul: his ex-wife Anne, a TV personality who helps out with the photographic developments, is nabbed, interrogated, killed; Paul himself, implausibly naive, is lured to a porno film-festival in Liechtenstein, where kidnappings and femme-fatalities ensue. And, after explanations by a creepy government agent, there's a neat final twist. . . and a very grim fadeout. Bowen, playwright and serious/comic novelist (After the Rain, last year's Squeak), never quite decides here whether he's after a dark little variation on Hitchcock themes or a wry, in-jokey amusement for Hitchcock buffs. Still, if less than fully satisfying, the resulting mixture is oddly engaging most of the way through: compact (under 160 pp.), never too precious, and periodically enriched by sharp asides about London's film/television world.

Pub Date: May 17th, 1985
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly--dist. by Little, Brown