If you happen to own a big city publishing firm and have a little problem, like the fact that you’ve murdered your girlfriend, and you want to pin the crime on a man you saw outside her home right before the dirty deed, why not put your best investigative reporter to the task of finding that man? Sounds like a good idea, unless that same investigative reporter just happens to be the same man you saw outside your girlfriend’s place.
George Stroud merely became involved with the wrong woman, his boss’s girlfriend.
In Kenneth Fearing’s Noir novel “The Big Clock” Stroud tries to keep personal life and the office separate; he has to, because the facts about his evening with the boss’s girlfriend threaten more than just job security. If he is pinned as the man seen leaving the scene of the crime, he’s likely to be pinned as the murderer as well. That is, if the boss gets his way.
His life in danger, Stroud’s survival is measured in the minute-by-minute movements of the huge central clock of the office building where he's hiding. Any modern man sells the minutes of his life in exchange for a salary, but Stroud’s boss exercises another type of control, the threat the minutes of his life will come to an end. The big clock in this book’s title not only represents the clock on his employer’s building, but it’s the time clock we all punch in on when we are born and punch out on when we die.
Time has been a common theme in literature. Shakespeare's play “Macbeth” contains many references to time (Macbeth's famous "Tomorrow" speech is only one example), and “Othello” manipulates the passing of time to dramatize a comprehensive view of the moor. Fearing uses time as a dramatic device too.
In Fearing’s novel, the passing of time and the threat it could run out creates tension and keeps the plot moving forward. If Raymond Chandler’s “The Big Sleep” contemplates the sleep which falls upon us all at the end of our lives, Fearing’s “The Big Clock” reminds us of the instrument which ticks away the minutes leading up to that sleep.