The Gorse Trilogy (“The West Pier”, “Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse”, “Unknown Assailant”)

Christopher Tayler writes:

A year older than Hamilton, and like him a product of private schools in Hove and London, Gorse is a con man who, ‘had he not been what he was, might have been a highly successful novelist’. As if avenging the sufferings of earlier Hamilton protagonists, he specialises in fleecing credulous women with the aid of alcohol and a superficially dashing manner. Esther Downes, his victim in The West Pier, works in a Brighton sweetshop. Mrs Plumleigh-Bruce, in Mr Stimpson and Mr Gorse, is a colonel’s widow with a bogus Anglo-Indian demeanour living in what she calls ‘a pied-à-terre’ in Reading. Unknown Assailant finds Gorse targeting a West London barmaid, Ivy Barton, and her father, a ‘most reactionary’ working-class Tory. Gorse shows a certain satirical flair when equipping himself with grand relatives, winning over Mrs Plumleigh-Bruce, for example, by hinting at the colonial massacres perpetrated by ‘General Gorse of Assandrava’. But his methods are unvarying – talking up a forthcoming windfall, securing and repaying small loans and so on – and his cash takings are not impressive: £500 lifted from Mrs Plumleigh-Bruce is his largest known haul, and after that, Hamilton says, his career started going downhill.

(LRB 29 January 2009)

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