A Gun for Sale: An Entertainment, by Graham Greene

msand3's review

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4.5 stars. I don’t know how Greene manages to do it. He gives us another dark, violent, highly entertaining crime tale that also provides the reader with much to ponder: can one have empathy for a murderer even while abhorring his actions? Is there a difference between killing for passion and murdering for hire? (And, by extension, a soldier blindly following orders by refusing to think about the personal act of killing or the political implications of the action?) What are the societal restraints (social, economic, familial, and even physical) that entrap certain people in their lives to the point where it impacts their psychological state and leads to criminal behavior? What exactly are the psychological underpinnings of criminality? Can psychoanalysis really be a salve, or at the very least a possible point of entry to begin healing, or is this just metaphorically bailing out the Titanic with a bucket? How are white collar criminals shielded by their class status and wealth, and in what way are the police and the entire justice system blinded to the inequality of the system and their place within it (at best) or complicit and bought off by the upper classes (at worst)?

In the end, this is a novel of failure. Anne’s failure, Mather’s failure, and society’s failure: they all fail Raven because they go about their business as if these questions don’t exist, or as if men like Raven are only minor hiccups in an otherwise lawful existence. Their failure is a reflection of our own.

hayesstw's review

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Spy novels seemed to flourish in the Cold War, especially in the 1960s and 1970s. Perhaps they were revived by the James Bond romances of [a:Ian Fleming|2565|Ian Fleming|] and given more impetus by the more serious and realistic novels of [a:John le Carre], but they had been around for quite a while before that, and this is one set in the period of tension leading up to the Second World War. It's only about a third of the length of many of the Cold War spy thrillers, but that, if anything makes it more readable and more sharply focused. In looking for a postwar novel in the same genre I suppose the one that comes closest is [b:The day of the Jackal|540020|The Day of the Jackal|Frederick Forsyth||1792180] by [a:Frederick Forsyth|36714|Frederick Forsyth|].

It's not just a spy story, it's a crime novel as well, and perhaps even more so. In that respect the contrast with postwar crime novels is quite marked. I'd just finished reading [b:Blood on the Tongue|503232|Blood on the Tongue (Ben Cooper & Diane Fry, #3)|Stephen Booth||826980], which is set in much the same area of England, and what stands out is the difference in police procedures. In the prewar novel, the police circulate numbers of stolen banknotes to shops and railway booking offices in a town the size of London with remarkable efficiency for pre-Internet days. and everyone throughout the country is aware of the description of a wanted man. This makes it very easy to trace the suspect. In post war crime novels, the police have suspects, but can't find them, and when they do find out that they are not the perpetrators. They discover the real perpetrators by chance as often as not.

I suspect that the recent ones are more accurate, and the pre-war ones give an exaggerated idea of police efficiency and resources. Back then they never seemed to discuss the budget available for their investigations, though [a:Graham Greene|2533|Graham Greene|] does have some digs at differences in medical treatment for people of different classes.

astrangerhere's review

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I've just recently gotten a complete set of Graham Greene's novels, and this is the first one i plowed into. It was a pleasing read, and I plan to read more.