One of the finest films ever made, at least in my opinion, is Kind Hearts and Coronets, that witty and ingenious Ealing movie starring Alec Guiness and Denis Price. But how many people have read the book upon which the film is based? Or even know that it was called Israel Rank, and that its author was Roy Horniman?
This novel is my pick for Patti Abbott's series of Forgotten Books. It was first published in 1907. It’s darker in tone than the movie and different in various other ways, but this ‘autobiography of a criminal’ strikes me as conspicuously modern in several respects, perhaps above all in its relentless irony. There has been some debate as to whether it has anti-Semitic elements; one or two people seem to have thought so, but most commentators today tend to regard this as a complete mis-reading of the way Horniman seeks to parody the anti-Semitism of Edwardian England.
Israel Rank has long been legendary for its scarcity. I searched in vain for it for years, until finally coming across a reprint that was published just before the movie came out. Copies have always commanded high prices – until now. Faber Finds, an excellent print-on-demand service, have made it available at a very affordable cost. They deserve congratulation
And what of Roy Horniman? He wrote a number of other novels, and I recently picked up a copy of The Viper, but have yet to read it. Splendidly, he was also responsible for a book called How To Make the Railways Pay for the War. The sub-title was A Transport Problem Solved. Ah, if only…..