Three By Graham Green (The Ministry Of Fear, The Confidential Agent & This Gun For Hire) by Graham Greene (Hardcover - 1964), may well be the easiest way to find these three set-in-England, all now hard to find, novels. They can best all be described as British crime drama/thrillers, written early in his career by much honored twentieth century English author/screen writer Graham Greene (The Third Man, The end of the affair. But this compendium is neither cheap nor easy to find itself. "The Ministry of Fear," (1943) is set in wartime England. Arthur Rowe is released back into the country after serving two years in a mental asylum for the mercy killing of his terminally ill wife. Despite the attention given him by psychiatric professionals, he is still rather immature and self-centered. Somehow, at a local garden fete, he stumbles across a murderous Nazi spy ring, by correctly guessing the weight of a cake - made with real eggs, we are repeatedly told. As Rowe appears to be substantially friendless, he doesn't know where to turn; but stakes his survival on that well-known British ability to muddle through. First he consults Mr. Rennet at "Orthotex: Long Established Private Inquiry Bureau" that generally does divorce work. Then, in his shambling way, Rowe finds himself at the offices of Comforts of the Free Mothers, where he meets a brother/sister pair of Austrian refugees, Anna and Willie Hilfe. And at Mrs. Bellairs' fortune telling séance, where he meets a Dr. Forester, and a man going by the names of Cost/ Travers or Ford; and foul deeds are afoot. Mr. Rennet, of Orthotex, the employee Rennet assigns to Rowe's case, Mr. Jones, and most everyone else Rowe meets, as he tries to sort things out, will most likely regret having met Rowe. "The Confidential Agent," (1939), is also set in England, a country then close to the start of World War II, whether it was aware of it or not: the so- called ―Phony War‖ would break out in September, 1939. Denard, the otherwise unnamed protagonist of CONFIDENTIAL AGENT is a Spanish academic who has done some distinguished work in his field. But he is now acting as the confidential agent of the liberal Spanish government, then embroiled in struggle against right-wing rebels led by the fascist Francisco Franco: a smaller but no less intense war, on the eve of World War II. That war, on the Iberian Peninsula, has come to be known as the Spanish Civil War. It deeply appealed to left-wingers all around the globe, who went there to man whole brigades – the American one was known as the Abraham Lincoln—in the early armed struggle against fascism. However, the confidential agent has been sent to the United Kingdom, then still at peace, to try to buy desperately-needed coal for the citizens of his home country, and its armies. He will bring his war with him, as the fascists send agents to try to prevent his successful purchase. And, probably, needless to say, the fascists will play dirty. Also, perhaps needless to say, this being an early Greene work, the confidential agent, widowed when the fascists mistakenly executed his wife, will meet a girl, Rose Cullen, daughter of one of the most powerful mine owners in the land. The protagonist/anti-hero of THIS GUN FOR HIRE (1936) 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. I found it a bit odd; in the 1936 GUN the English are actively anticipating the outbreak of World War II, rather soon to come. Yet in the 1939 CONFIDENTIAL AGENT the residents of the country seem to think that the war can’t touch them. And, of course, by the 1943 MINISTRY OF FEAR, they are in it up to their necks. 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. Many, if not most, of Greene's prolific works, were also 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, who also worked as a screenwriter, 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, these three novels individually and collectively, are so hard to find today. Might as well start with some of his later work, when he really hit his stride, something more entertaining, like THE COMEDIANS, or TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT.
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