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A Gun for Sale

Graham Greene’s novel A Gun for Sale (1936) (published as This Gun for Hire in the U.S.) falls under the category of “entertainments,” as Greene called them, or commercial fiction, and is quite different in terms of style and character depth compared to his literary works, including The Heart of the Matter (1948) and The Quiet American (1955), two of my favorites. As a potboiler, we can read A Gun for Sale simply for fun—and fun it is.

A sociopathic killer called Raven, with an unsightly harelip, murders the Minister of War and is paid for the job with stolen cash. He spends a bit of it, but the cops know the numbers on the notes and go after Raven for theft. Raven, now on the run, is also hunting whoever double-crossed him. On a train out of town, chorus girl Anne Crowder (whose fiancée is one of the detectives after Raven) runs into the cold-blooded killer and he uses her ticket to get off the train and evade the police. An understanding is reached between Raven and Crowder, she’s not only trying to save herself, she’s also sympathetic, and for her own reasons wants to get the man who double-crossed Raven, so she lends him a hand.

There are too many twists and turns to make full summary of here; the book is a roller-coaster ride from its first page to the last. And the narrator is as hardhearted as Raven (first chapter starts with: “Murder didn’t mean much to Raven,” and then on page two: “He wanted to spare her, not because he minded a killing but because his employers would prefer him not to...”) Again, it’s a fun read, with a thrilling but often chaotic plot, from which elements were later used in the films This Gun for Hire (1942) and Short Cut to Hell (1957) and likely a few others as well.


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