|Publisher||Chatto & Windus|
The protagonist, an unnamed British sportsman, sets out in the spring of 1938 to see if he can get an unnamed European dictator in the sights of his rifle. Supposedly interested only in the stalk for its own sake, he convinces himself that he does not intend to pull the trigger. Caught while taking aim by the dictator's secret service guards, he is tortured, thrown over a cliff and left for dead.
He comes to, is aided by a civilian and manages to make his way to a port, where he stows away on a British ship bound for London. Once there, he discovers that agents of the unnamed country know he has survived and are after him. He evades one by pushing him onto the live rail in the London Underground, after which the police launch a manhunt for the murderer.
Unable to go to the British authorities, who cannot condone assassination of a head of state and pursued both by agents of that state and by the police, he decides literally to go underground in Dorset. Reports that he has been sighted alert Quive-Smith, leader of the agents, who locates the hide and blocks the exit, leaving only a breathing hole. He wants his quarry alive.
The protagonist ponders on his predicament and confesses to himself that he would in fact have pulled the trigger, as revenge for the execution of his fiancée by the totalitarian régime. Constructing a makeshift catapult or miniature Roman ballista (a kind of cross-bow), he induces Quive-Smith to look into the breathing hole and shoots him dead. Taking Quive-Smith's papers, money and car, he drives to Liverpool and boards a ship for Tangier. From there, he plans his second stalk, determined this time that he will not miss his target.
Interviewed by the Radio Times for the first screening of the BBC film version of the novel, Household acknowledged that he always intended the protagonist's target to be Hitler, "Although the idea for Rogue Male germinated from my intense dislike of Hitler, I did not actually name him in the book as things were a bit tricky at the time and I thought I would leave it open so that the target could be either Hitler or Stalin. You could take your pick".
Household published a sequel, Rogue Justice, in 1982. In the sequel, the protagonist, going undercover in Nazi Germany, looks for a second chance to hunt the European dictator. Allied with escaping Jews and resistance groups, he fights his way across occupied Europe, with the Gestapo hot on his heels.
The book influenced David Morrell's first novel, the 1972 "hunted man" action thriller First Blood, which spawned the Rambo film series. Morrell has acknowledged the debt in several interviews, including: "When I started First Blood, back in 1968, I was deeply influenced by Geoffrey Household's Rogue Male."
In 2005 Robert Macfarlane and Roger Deakin set out to find the possible location of the 'holloway' where the protagonist makes his stand in Dorset. Deakin writes of it in his posthumously published diaries Notes from Walnut Farm, and Macfarlane in his introduction to a reissue of Rogue Male and his own book Holloway.