Every child is different. That is what we say, right? When in reality, it goes something like this: every child is different, but some are more different than others (paying homage to a classic there). No one says the latter portion aloud and, of course, as a child I fell squarely in the ‘more different’ category. That’s not to say I wasn’t a lively, intelligent child. I could tell you all 50 states and their capitals by age five (intelligent), went surfing in a hurricane at age six (lively), and could sing all the words to REM’s It’s the End of the World as We Know It (superhero). However, I’ve always had an odd sense of humor. Not all children think silly faces are funny and, frankly, Charlie Chaplin can be very frightening. It was odd enough that, when I went through the adoption process at age seven, the state of New Hampshire deemed me fit for evaluation – as a precaution. A precaution to what, I’m not sure. Despite my precocious, deadpan charm, I can’t say I won them over, but I did discredit the idea of sociopathic tendencies. As it turns out, I’m normal, if a bit ‘more different’. So you’ll forgive me when I say that The Trouble With Harry is Hitchcock’s masterpiece. You can imagine my delight when I discovered that The Trouble With Harry is based on a novella of the same name by Jack Trevor Story. Thankfully, the source material is as good as the film it was made into.
The trouble with Harry is that Harry is dead. Mysteriously and irrevocably. This delights and dismays those who encounter his body. For Captain Wiles, the situation is most dismaying. A confirmed bachelor, he inherited the title of captain simply because it was there for the taking in Sparrowswick – or, more accurately, it was bestowed upon him by his landlord when he moved into his bungalow. He is indiscriminately shooting at anything that moves in the heath. He is sure to hit something. And he does, but what?
Abie, a local four year old, is pretending to hunt in the heath. Everything is fine, until he hears an actual gunshot. Though the gunfire deters him, he doesn’t flee. While crawling through the bushes, he hears a man and woman fighting. Abie jumps out, only to find…nothing. As he continues, he finds the dead body and only then runs for home.
As the captain searches for his kill, he stumbles upon the dead man. He’s a bit worried that he might have shot him. His mother had always predicted he’d be hanged, but upon his retirement he thought he was safe. As he looks around, it occurs to him:
“All this jungle,” he said, “and one little body…”
So begins the plight…
The humor in this novella is rich, but it’s not for everyone. Would you be put off by a town seemingly possessed by mass psychosis? Could you make a tea date over a murder victim (while wondering if the potential participant is a virgin)? If yes to the first and no to the second question, this novella is not for you.
Everyone else, read on. Despite being about a dead man, The Trouble With Harry is charming. Although it is a mystery of sorts, there’s no sense of urgency or guilt. Instead, it’s a surreal, black comedy of errors.
“Will he get better?”
The young woman stood up. In the sunlight, she looked beautiful. In any light she would have looked beautiful. The captain felt glad he had killed Harry if it brought such joy and happiness and beauty to this young woman. The captain’s heart danced with joy just looking at her. A wonderful, happy young thing in the sunshine of a wonderful, happy day. A wonderful, happy boy and a wonderful, happy world. The captain felt wonderfully happy lying on his podgy belly with his brown face resting on his hands and his innocent baby eyes resting on the beautiful young woman.
“I don’t think he will get better,” said the young mother joyously. She took her son’s hand. “Come on, Abie, let’s run home and eat cakes!”.
The Trouble With Harry was a perfect choice for Hitchcock to adapt, he is a master of mining humor from the macabre. The novel is wonderfully morbid and endearingly playful. That is a fine line to walk and John Trevor Story does so with style. The cast of characters is quirky, the plot divine, and a genuine, happy detachment pervades the whole story. Is it normal? No. Is it relatable? No. Is it a delightful break from reality? Yes. Are there hedgehogs? Most definitely.
I wholeheartedly recommend The Trouble With Harry. If you can manage to find a copy, peruse at your leisure and revel in the levity. And do remember, my odd sense of humor is well documented. 5/5.