Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 28, 2017

A Gun for Sale (1936), by Graham Greene

a-gun-for-saleGraham Green, who is one of my favourite authors, wrote two kinds of books: he explored themes of Catholicism in literary novels such as Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter, and The End of the Affair; and using his experience as an agent in MI6, he brought his readers the world of international politics and political intrigues in novels that he called ‘entertainments’, such as The Confidential Agent, The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana, and The Human Factor.   A Gun for Sale (1936) is one of his early noir novels, and while IMO it’s not as satisfying to read as some of his later ones, it’s still quite entertaining to read.

The plot revolves around a man called Raven, embittered by life because he has an ugly hare-lip, and as a consequence, he’s indifferent to the lives of others.  As a hitman, he takes on a job which has political implications reminiscent of the assassination of the archduke of Ferdinand of Austria.  At the time of publication Greene’s readers would have recognised this as an allusion to the catalyst for WW1, and with the rise of Hitler and war clouds gathering in Europe, they would have recognised the implications of the plot.

But things go wrong for Raven.  It’s not just that events conspire so that he feels forced to kill a witness he wasn’t expecting, it’s that he is paid in forged banknotes.  He sets off on a quest to get his revenge on his contact Cholmondeley but because Raven is so recognisable, he is soon pursued by the police, and becomes both hunter and quarry.  The police hunt displaces war talk from the front pages of the press and so the people he meets all betray him one way or another…  until he meets a chorus girl called Anne Crowder, who just happens to be the girlfriend of Mather, the detective leading the hunt.

While the plot becomes more and more intricate, the issues of loyalty and betrayal become more important.  Mather is devastated to learn that Anne seems to be helping Raven, while Anne herself feels the moral quandary when she learns more about Raven’s crimes.

I gather from a Google search that there are Spark notes for this book, which means it is a study text.  So this will be a short review, except to say that I don’t think a contemporary author would use physical disability to connote ugliness in the way that Greene does, and I don’t like the anti-Semitism in the characterisation of Sir Marcus.

Author: Graham Greene
Title: A Gun for Sale
Publisher: William Heinemann Uniform Edition, 1947, first published 1936
Source: Personal library, an old library copy rescued from a cull at my local library.

Availability: On the day I looked, there was a second-hand copy at Fishpond A Gun for Sale: An Entertainment or try Brotherhood Books.


  1. SEMI-SNAP! The review I hope to post tomorrow if I get time to finish it, will be of Graham Greene’s Travels with my aunt. (Of course, I could be doing it now, but eyes and brain a bit tired after a busy day!)

    I did read that Greene started by dividing his books into those two categories (Entertainments and Literary Works) but by the end of his career decided that they were all “novels”. I must say I haven’t read a lot of Greene – maybe two or three, but of course have seen film versions of a few.


    • Ah, Travels with My Aunt, I loved that one, it will be lovely to read your review:)
      Yes, I think that’s true about his books, because his style changed as his writing matured.
      I love the B&W British films of his books, wish I had some on DVD.


      • Yes, understand that, except I’m now turning my sights onto downsizing our DVD collection, not adding to it. You might think that with all this talk of decluttering I live in a spare environment but the house is packed to the gills and morbidly I worry about leaving others with an overwhelming task should something happen to us!


        • I know it’s oldfashioned compared to streaming, but this is why I like Quickflix, I just go to their website and find the films I’m interested in and add them to my Q and eventually they turn up in my letter box, I watch them, and then send them back again. It hasn’t had any impact on the DVD collection but at least I’m not adding to it. BTW is there an acronym for a TBR when it refers to DVDs not books? TBW??


          • I reckon TBR works. Yes, that’s a good idea. I have a couple of friends here who do that, but as with libraries I don’t go near borrowing things because I can’t handle the time pressure. One day, perhaps, I will feel I can. But streaming, using an as-needs approach not so many per months, is the way I plan to go… One day!

            BTW have you seen Moonlight? A very moving, intelligent film.


            • Moonlight not yet, but we saw Hidden Figures last weekend.
              *happy dance* The French film Festival isn’t far away, I am looking forward to that.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Hidden figures is good- I thoroughly enjoyed it – but it is a bit more rah-rah American for all the truth of the story about the black women’s struggle. It glosses a bit, whereas Moonlight is complex and gritty.


                • I’ll get round to seeing it before long….

                  Liked by 1 person

                • Meanwhile, my Greene post is on its way – hopefully tonight. (My parents are in the process of putting their house on the market and buying into a retirement village so it’s all systems go here)


  2. I’ve read quite a bit of Greene but not this one. I own it though, that’s the good news


    • Yes, I was surprised to find I had one I hadn’t read. I went through a Graham Greene binge when I first discovered him and I thought I’d read everything.


  3. For some reason, I enjoy writers wrestling with their Catholicism – Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Thos Keneally. I think I’ve read some Greene – The Quiet American and Our Man in Havana, but a long time ago. -Yes, there they are in my rows and rows of old, orange Penguins.


    • I like writers wrestling with any kind of religion… I’ve read some interesting ones that wrestle with Islam too.


  4. […] (and re-read sometimes as audiobooks): The Third Man (1935, see my review), A Gun for Sale (1936, see my review); Brighton Rock (1938); The Confidential Agent (1939, see my review); The Power and the Glory […]


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