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Three by Graham Greene

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					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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posted:7/30/2011
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