"This Gun for Hire," (1936) is an early-career British crime drama/thriller by much honored twentieth century English author/screen writer Graham Greene (The Third Man, The end of the affair). The book is set in England, a country then unhappily anticipating the start of World War II. The protagonist/anti-hero of GUN is Christian Raven, an extremely unfortunate young man who was born to poor parents who didn’t much care for him, who both proceeded to die in his youth – his mother committing suicide at the kitchen table, leaving her body for her son to find. So he is sent to an orphanage, where, of course, he isn’t treated well, either. In addition, he was born with a harelip that has been poorly mended, and he is ugly. He is, willy-nilly, a loner, who doesn’t care for or trust other people, particularly women, whom he calls “skirts,” and with whom he has little experience. He does, however, find it easy enough to use a gun and kill people, and has done so. As the book opens, he is on the European continent, killing an old man who is minister of defense of some unnamed small country. Raven is executing this hit at the bidding of a man who calls himself Mr. Cholmondelay (pronounced Chumley), who will later betray the young man by giving him marked bills in payment for the job. Raven does some investigation, and follows his betrayer to a midland town Greene called Nottwich, where the young killer discovers the man who hired him is actually named Davis and works for the town’s largest employer, Midland Steel. And the corporation, at the direction of Sir Marcus, its owner, has ordered this assassination in hopes of starting World War II, similarly to the way World War I was started. Along the way, Raven will meet a pretty actress, Anne Crowder, whom he tries to trust, as she helps him somewhat. But she is actually naively trying to prevent the outbreak of WWII; and she is engaged to Jimmy Mathers, superintendent at Scotland Yard. Graham Greene (1904-1991) was one of the most illustrious British writers of the 20th century. He enjoyed a very long life, most of the century, and a very long, prolific writing career, during which he gave us The Power and the Glory (Penguin Classics), and Our Man in Havana (Penguin Classics) among others. These four books mentioned, as many others of Greene's prolific works, were made into notable films. The author’s books were very well-written, highly literate; greatly honored; much praised by the critics, and enjoyed a wide readership, frequently being best sellers. The writer was also one of the better-known Catholic converts of his time; many of his thrillers, as this one, deal with Catholic themes of guilt and redemption. He created vivid characters with internal lives; they faced struggles and doubt. Sometimes his characters despaired, or suffered world- weary cynicism - they were always self-aware. But Greene always created a tight thriller, in a lean, realistic style that boasted almost cinematic visuals. If you've never read him before, you really might like his work, but I wouldn’t recommend starting here. It’s one of the grimmest of his books, also hard to find today. Might as well start with something more entertaining, like OUR MAN, or TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT.
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