“‘Your old fashioned murderer killed from fear, from hate – or even from love, Mr Rowe, very seldom for substantial profit. None of these reasons is quite -respectable. But to murder for position – that’s different, because when you’ve gained the position nobody has a right to criticize the means. Nobody will refuse to meet you if the position’s high enough. Think of how many of your statesman have shaken hands with Hitler.'”
Set against the terror of a blitzed out London one man has to solve a mystery that not only threatens his own life and sanity but potentially the safety of Britain in it’s battle against the Nazi’s.
Arthur Rowe starts off by buying a cake in a raffle by being tipped off by the fortune teller to its exact weight. He isn’t the man meant to get the cake and soon afterwards a whirlwind journey begins that first sees someone attempt to poison him then to have Rowe framed for the murder of a man at a seance.
A bomb dropping and wiping out his memory saves him from being killed but the sense that he will solve the mystery surfaces again and in a story that reminds you of 39 Steps and in moments of some of the Bond’s the book moves to a gripping conclusion.
To say anymore would give too much away and spoil the enjoyment for others but what is safe to say is that Greene is having fun here. The plot weaves and runs with the reader, as well as Rowe, never knowing who can be trusted and which side is good or evil. The fact Rowe is himself is a murderer is a brilliant twist that establishes that confusion about which side to back.
Despite his past the reader sides with Rowe and wants him to succeed. To a degree he does but finding out who you really are can be a terrible price to pay.
One of the other highlights of the book along with the plot is London itself. Greene describes a bombed and fearful London in a way few other writers have and manages to place a reader into a world where a sound overhead could mean death or a near miss.
Taking you down into the strange world of those who sleep on the underground Greene uses London brilliantly to evoke the sense of shifting ground and danger that is also being played out between Rowe and those determined to find out what he knows and kill him.