Often chased, frequently bought

A Gun for Sale

The shadowy heads of the military-industrial complex stage a murder to provoke war but, unable to resist the irony (and hoping it will solve the problem) they pay the hired killer in counterfeit notes. They underestimated Raven, though: the bitter, deadly outcast with a harelip and pockets full of worthless money is not one to forget a slight. When his path crosses that of a well-meaning chorus girl, Raven sees a way out of his situation and into the offices of the powerful. But whose side is she on? If she's really Raven's friend, then who else's is she too?

In the hands of Jack Higgins or another equally pedestrian potboiler-monger, A Gun For Sale would quickly descend into the morass of clichés that constitute every similar spy thriller. Worse, Higgins' tendency would be to dramatize the evil inherent in so many characters in this novel. But Greene has a light touch, and though the story is itself rather slight it can nonetheless float free of the weights that others might place on it.

Always searching for a point in Greene's writing---even a volume this slim must have more content than meets the eye---one can quickly find his usual ethical nudging, gentler here than in his later magna opera out of necessity of form as much as anything else. It's astonishing that, even in what seems at first glance to be hack work, Greene can still embed such a strongly, quietly Catholic message. Evil is dirty and miserable, and violence has no glamour in Greeneland, where everything exists in shades of dismal grey---except the fundamentals of morality, which are starkly black and white---and where losing faith can lead to damnation as quickly as putting a bullet in a man.