Graham 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.