Category: Graham Greene

book review – The Ministry of Fear – Graham Greene

“‘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.

Thoughts at the half way point of Ministry of Fear

Arthur Rowe is a simple man who wanted to kill a bit of time at a church fete but by winning the guess-the-weight-cake he triggered a series of events that meant it was him not just time that was being killed.

Greene introduces the reader to a blitzed out London and a dreary world of rented rooms and the sad world of those unable to fight, left behind in the war torn capital.

As the story starts to unfold things go from strange to horrific for Rowe as he is accused of murder and ends up having to disappear underground to escape the law. One light shines in the darkness but with an Austrian background and links to the cake perhaps Anna Hilfe isn’t the friend Arthur Rowe is hoping she might well become.

A review soon…

book review – The Tenth Man – Graham Greene

If you want an example of what graham Greene is all about and you are not prepared to invest the time and effort to engage with one of his longer books then this slim story will serve the purpose of introducing you to the great man.

What is on display in a relatively short and tight story about a man who has signed away his fortune to save his life and then the facing of the consequences is the characterisation and tone of voice that is there in Greene’s literature.

The tale seems relatively simple with the action kicking off in a prisoner of war camp in occupied France. Lots are drawn with the tenth man facing the shooting squad. A rich lawyer Chavel draws the lot but offers to give all of his money and his large house in the country to anyone who will take his place. This cowardly act is actually taken up by a poor man Janvier who wishes to at least die rich.

After the war Chavel heads back to his house and lives as a handy man under the same roof as Janvier’s sister and mother. They are both waiting for Chavel and are terrorised about it. When an opportunist finally comes calling it throws everything into confusion and the hate that the sister actually thought she felt turn more to forgiveness.

Chavel faces the choice to reveal his true identity or take the opportunity of having someone else take the part of the shadow that has fallen across his and the lives of the mother and sister.

As a reader you might feel you know where the book is going, so many times it feels as if you can predict the next plot development. But what makes it interesting going through the story is the ability of Greene not just to surprise but deliver such believable characters that you are prepared to go through scenes to see the reaction.

He operates with a tight cast, a shadow over hanging the whole piece as the principal character wonders if his secret will be discovered and then an ending which you could not have predicted but is well worth waiting for.

What he really writes about so acutely are human beings and their motivations and emotions. He nails it in a very short space of writing and manages to drop a backdrop that sets a mood. He can do it in the jungles of Africa, a blitzed London and again here in post-war rural France.

The Tenth Man – post II

It seems like a long time ago since the first half of this book was read but you pick it up and delve straight back into the tight relationship between the former prisoner of war and the sister of the man he traded death with at the loss of his fortune.

Just as you think you know where the story is going, into some sort of love story that is cast right open with his confession of true identity, Greene brings in a third character and takes it in a slightly different direction.

His writing is so economical that you are given the chance to concentrate mainly on one person. Even then a lot of it is brush strokes with you as a reader filling in the gaps. Sometimes just a simple sentence is left with you racing ahead to work out the consequences.

A review will follow soon…

The Tenth Man – post I

Graham Greene has such an easy style that although you know there might be some plot developments that make uncomfortable reading you will get round them in the luxury of a smooth fashion. He is in total control and taking you by the hand into his well described world.

Here the book starts slightly differently with a 33 page introduction by Greene explaining that he was working for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and had to write some film scripts. The Tenth Man was one of the works he produced. He talks about Our Man in Havana and the way he pulls things together from relatively small ideas.

Here the tenth man is a lonely lawyer Louis Chavel who draws a lot to be killed but ends up swapping his fortune for his life. But he then returns to his former home, now lived in by the mother and sister of the man who died in his place, and starts to live under the same roof taking a role as a handyman.

You guess that Chavel would fall in love with the sister of the man he sent to his death and you sense that she will discover. That might make the plot seem simplistic but the craft in the writing makes you stick with it because you never quite know where it will go.

More soon…

book review – The Human Factor


There is a something about Graham Greene that can best be described as a voice. Every book of his I have so far come across has the same rhythm and gives off a sense of having been written with confidence.

This book starts with you under the impression that it might well be a humorous reaction to the world of Ian Fleming and glamorous spies as it focuses on a couple of men working in an African sub-section of the Foreign Office.

But the humour evaporates as a leak is discovered in the department and the finger of suspicion points not at the older man Castle but at his younger frustrated and bored colleague Davis.

The jokes about glamour and Bond are a clever counterpoint to the bungling class based decisions that are taken to eradicate Davis and then play further games to smoke out the real leak.

But this is against a background of the cold war defections that gained headlines and embarrassed the establishment. Castle is playing for high stakes and fails to understand that principles are not honoured in this war of information. In the end he loses all that really matters to him, his wife and adopted son, and without his protection the world they live in looks bleak in the extreme.

As the wheels of government, class and espionage turn in between the cogs are the normal men and women who are victims. Some like Castle believe that there are higher principles at play here but in reality it is a rather pathetic game of trying to trump the opposition.

Defectors are pawns in a game they don’t really understand and operating in a system that despite relying so much on people has no understanding or place for the human factor.

book review – The Human Factor


There is a something about Graham Greene that can best be described as a voice. Every book of his I have so far come across has the same rhythm and gives off a sense of having been written with confidence.

This book starts with you under the impression that it might well be a humorous reaction to the world of Ian Fleming and glamorous spies as it focuses on a couple of men working in an African sub-section of the Foreign Office.

But the humour evaporates as a leak is discovered in the department and the finger of suspicion points not at the older man Castle but at his younger frustrated and bored colleague Davis.

The jokes about glamour and Bond are a clever counterpoint to the bungling class based decisions that are taken to eradicate Davis and then play further games to smoke out the real leak.

But this is against a background of the cold war defections that gained headlines and embarrassed the establishment. Castle is playing for high stakes and fails to understand that principles are not honoured in this war of information. In the end he loses all that really matters to him, his wife and adopted son, and without his protection the world they live in looks bleak in the extreme.

As the wheels of government, class and espionage turn in between the cogs are the normal men and women who are victims. Some like Castle believe that there are higher principles at play here but in reality it is a rather pathetic game of trying to trump the opposition.

Defectors are pawns in a game they don’t really understand and operating in a system that despite relying so much on people has no understanding or place for the human factor.