Graham Greene – A Gun for Sale
First published in 1936
Published by Penguin Books in 1979
The main character in this book, Raven, had a very bad childhood. He saw his mother commit suicide when he was still a young boy and he grew up in an orphanage. There he was treated badly because of his hare-lip. Because he had known no love, he grew up to be a heartless man with a very low self-esteem, and his profession is murderer.
One day he is ordered to murder a politician for 200 pounds. Things go as planned, except that he doesn’t leave the murder weapon behind, as his boss, Mr. Cholmondeley, told him to do. He receives his money, but as soon as he’s bought something for it, he’s being hunted by the police for paying with false money. Raven knows his boss must have given him the false money because he wanted to get rid of him, so he decides to go after the boss and make him pay for his betrayal. He goes to an illegal plastic surgeon to have his lip altered, so the police won’t be able to recognise him so easily. But when the doctor is about to put him under anaesthetics, his nurse calls the police and Raven gets away just in time.
By accident he runs into Anne. She is Mather’s girlfriend, the police officer who is in charge of his case. He kidnaps her and plans to kill her because he’s afraid she’ll tell the police where he is, but she manages to get away before that. Raven doesn’t know that she’s on his side and has no plans to inform the police.
A few days later Anne meets Raven’s boss without knowing it’s him, and he takes her out for dinner. After dinner they go to Cholmondeley’s room in a bed and breakfast and they both find out who the other one really is. Cholmondeley is afraid she’ll tell the police it’s him who gave Raven the money, so he decides to suffocate her with a pillow and hides her in the fireplace in his room.
Because there are no signs in the papers that Anne told the police where to find Raven, he starts realising she believed him. He wants to find her and follows a woman, who was walking around with Anne’s handbag, to her house. There he threathens the woman and her old husband and after a long search, he finds Anne in the fireplace in one of the bedrooms. Cholmondeley hadn’t done his job properly, because she starts breathing again.
Together they flee to a shed, not knowing the police has tracked them down and has plans to attack them at sunrise.
The following day, Raven manages to get away because of the fog when the police start shooting, but Anne gets caught. In her statement at the police station she tells the truth, but the police doesn’t believe that the false money isn’t Raven’s.
Meanwhile Raven follows Cholmondeley to his office. There he kills him and his employer, who had made the plans to put Raven in jail by giving him false money, after a row. But the police has also followed him to the office, and after Raven has killed Cholmondeley and his employer, they shoot him in the back.
After an investigation they finally find out what really happened and Anne and Mather decide to get married.
Raven is the main character. Both his mother and his brother committed suicide, his father had disappeared and Raven was convinced he was bound to die an unnatural death as well. This had made him very impassive about death: he didn’t mind killing or dying any more.
He was also sure that he would never ever get together with a girl, or as he would say: ‘be made weak by a skirt’. But Anne doesn’t mind his hare-lip and seems to understand his situation. He starts trusting her bit by bit and tells her all the bad things he has done in his life. Because of this, he starts losing his insensibility. But he also realises that only his employer had profited from the death of the politician, and that makes him more determined to make Cholmondeley pay for the trouble he has caused him.
Anne was a dancer in a theatre. She and the police officer, Mather, wanted to get married, but after she disappears and is seen with Raven, Mather is not so sure anymore he wants her to be his wife. He isn’t happy when he finds her unharmed, because he feels betrayed by her. Only when he finds out she got involved in it by coincidence and when he finds out she has made a true statement at the end of the book, he wants to marry her after all.
Anne is a very brave woman, because she risks her life for Raven by staying with him. The police would have killed her too if they were forced to, because they thought she was in it together with Raven.
In the beginning she doesn’t know Raven got the money for killing the policitian. But when he starts telling her about his childhood and all the things he has done, he also tells her it was him who committed the policital murder. She’s disgusted by it, but somehow she feels responsible for him and stays with him.
She’s also a bit naive, because when she finds out that Cholmondeley is Raven’s employer, she starts asking him questions that make Cholmondeley realise she knows more about him than he wishes to. She almost gets murdered, but fortunately Raven finds her in time.
About the book
The title of the book is A Gun for Sale. I think Greene chose this title because the gun is the only thing of any value that Raven carries with him. The 200 pounds in his pocket are worthless.
The theme is being hunted for the wrong reasons. The police isn’t looking for Raven because of the murder, but is after him for the false money. Because of that, they also find out that he might have something to do with the murder, but that’s not the main reason for hunting him.
The story is told in a chronological order, but it’s not told from just one point of view. Another person tells the story from his or her perspective every chapter. Raven has the most chapters, but Anne, Mather, Cholmondeley, Cholmondeley’s boss and the woman from the bed and breakfast also get to tell their side of the story.
The story takes place in the time it was written in, about 1936 in Nottingham, a townin central England. The people in the book talk about the past war (World War I) and the war that’s about to begin (World War II). Raven manages to get into the office because he has stolen a gas mask from a student who was practising with it, so this indicates that everybody was waiting for the war to begin. Also, the chief inspector is complaining that he didn’t get promoted in the past war, but he’s excited about the coming war, because he’s sure he will get promoted then.
There is a high density of events in this book. Greene hasn’t wasted any pages on introducing the characters, but has trusted on the ability of the reader to figure that out himself. It only takes him five pages to get three people killed and get Raven betrayed by the plastic surgeon. At first I was a bit taken by surprise by this style, but eventually I started to appreciate it.
If I hadn’t known the book was written in 1936, I would have thought it was a modern book. Only the way Anne and Mather think about marriage reflects that it doesn´t take place in modern society. It seems like they both feel they are supposed to marry each other, but they don´t really seem to love each other.
Because of the speed, the story was very entertaining to read. I also liked the fact that different characters tell the story. This gives you a more objective view on what´s happening and helps you understand the story line, because Greene doesn´t explain much.
The only thing I didn´t like is one chapter. In this chapter you see the story from the point of view of Mr Cholmondeley’s boss. But because Greene doesn´t introduce the characters, I was wondering half the chapter from whose point of view I was reading. Also, most of the things said in that chapter, had no relevance for the story. But apart from that, it was a nice book.