Review: A Gun for Sale (1936) by Graham Greene


Esta entrada es bilingüe, para ver la versión en castellano desplazarse hacia abajo

Vintage Digital, 2010. Kindle edition (385 KB) with a new introduction by Robert Macfarlane, 2005. First published in Great Britain by William Heinemann 1936. eISBN: 978-1-407086-73-6. ASIN: B0044KLQ0K. Pages 194. 

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The action is set in 1936 Europe. A contract killer, known as Raven, receives the task of murdering the Minister of War of Yugoslavia. Raven is a sociopath with a psychological problem because of a cleft lip. The Minister is believed to be a pacifist; his assassination has the purpose of triggering a spiral of violence that should lead up to a declaration of war. The Minister was supposed to be alone, but his secretary has been delayed and she was still there when Raven arrives. He can be recognised easily due to his birth defect and has no choice but to kill her as well to leave no witnesses. He was told he should get rid of the gun, but Raven keeps it.

Back in London, Raven receives the agreed amount, in small denomination banknotes, directly from the hands of an intermediary who calls himself Mr. Cholmondeley (pronounced Chumley), but he soon discovers that the notes are marked and the police is after him for a crime he has not committed. To avoid being easily recognised, Raven goes to a certain Dr. Yogel to correct his cleft lip but he must leave in a hurry when he discovers that the nurse is calling the police.

‘These people were of his own kind, they didn’t belong inside the legal borders, for the second time in one day he had been betrayed by the lawless.’

….

There were too many things he didn’t understand: this war they were talking of, why he had been double-crossed. He wanted to find Cholmondeley. Cholmondeley was of no account, he was acting under orders, but if he found  Cholmondeley he could squeeze out of him … He was harassed, hunted, lonely, he bore with him a sense of great injustice and a curious pride.’

Somehow, Raven manhttps://i1.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/61BvFrMNaJL._SL1045_.jpgages to wait for Cholmondeley in a place where he finally shows up and he follows him until he catches a train bound to Nottwich (a fictional town modelled on Nottingham). In the same train Raven encounters Anne Crowder, who happens to be the fiancée of detective-sergeant Mather, the man in command of his capture. Raven kidnaps Anne, but he will end up trusting her upon realising she is willing to help him.

The opening paragraph is really great, and  I can’t help the quote here:

‘Murder didn’t mean much to Raven.  It was just a new job. You had to be careful. You had to use your brains. It was not a question of hatred. He had only seen the minister once: he had been pointed out to Raven as he walked down the new housing estate between the little lit Christmas trees–an old rather grubby man without any friends, who was said to love humanity.’  

I’m very glad to have read this novel by Graham Greene, perhaps it’s one of his less known books, and the first one he called ‘An Entertainment’. Although this distinction between his novels is no longer significant. Certainly the plot is the weakest point of this book due to an excess of coincidences that undermines its credibility. But I have very much enjoyed the portrait of the characters and the sense of place and time where the action unfolds. The novel was first published by Doubleday Doran in the U.S. in June 1936 as This Gun For Hire; and by William Heinemann in the U.K. in July 1936 as A Gun For Sale. This novel is probably best known by its adaptation to the big screen under the American title This Gun for Hire, a 1942 film noir directed by Frank Tuttle and starring Veronica Lake, Robert Preston, Laird Cregar, and Alan Lad. The script, written by Albert Maltz and W.R. Burnett, has several significant changes. The story moves to the United States during the II WW. Raven doesn’t have a cleft lip, but a badly healed left wrist for ill-treatment during his boyhood. The foreign Minister of War is now a blackmailer and the rich industrialist that pulls the strings is willing to sell his poison gas formula to the Japanese. I had the chance to see the film during the last weekend and I certainly recommend it.  

My rating: B (I really liked it)

Also check out the very good, though much different, film version with Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake

Reviewed by Dan Stumpf: GRAHAM GREENE – This Gun for Hire.

Graham Greene, 86, Dies; Novelist of the Soul

Is Graham Greene the father of film noir?

Vintage Classics (UK)

Penguin Books (US)

 

Una pistola en venta de Graham Greene

La acción se desarrolla en 1936 en Europa. Un asesino a sueldo, conocido como Raven, recibe la tarea de asesinar al ministro de la Guerra de Yugoslavia. Raven es un sociópata con un problema psicológico debido a un labio leporino. El Ministro se cree que es un pacifista; su asesinato tiene el propósito de desencadenar una espiral de violencia que debe conducir a una declaración de guerra. El Ministro se suponía que debía estar solo, pero su secretaria se ha retrasado y todavía estaba allí cuando llega Raven. Él puede ser reconocido con facilidad debido a su defecto congénito y no tiene más remedio que matarla también a ella para no dejar testigos. Se le dijo que debía deshacerse de la pistola, pero Raven se la guarda.

De vuelta en Londres, Raven recibe la cantidad acordada, en billetes pequeños, directamente de las manos de un intermediario que se hace llamar Sr. Cholmondeley (pronunciado Chumley), pero pronto descubre que los billetes están marcados y la policía está tras él por un crimen que no ha cometido. Para evitar ser reconocido fácilmente, Raven va a un tal Dr. Yogel para corregir el labio leporino, pero tiene que salir a toda prisa cuando descubre que la enfermera está llamando a la policía.

“Estas personas pertenecían a su propia clase, no estaban dentro de las fronteras de la ley, por segunda vez en un mismo día había sido traicionado por los que están fuera de ella.”
….

“Había demasiadas cosas que no entendía: esta guerra de la que estaban hablando, por qué había sido traicionado. Quería encontrar a Cholmondeley. Cholmondeley no debia ser tenido en cuenta, él actuaba bajo órdenes, pero si encontraba a Cholmondeley le podría obligar a hablar …  … Acosado, perseguido, solo, llevaba consigo una sensación de gran injusticia y cierto orgullo.” (Mi traducción libre)

De alguna manera, Raven se las arregla para esperar a que Cholmondeley en un lugar donde finalmente aparece y le sigue hasta que coge un tren con destino a Nottwich (una ciudad ficticia inspirada en Nottingham). En el mismo tren Raven se encuentra con Anne Crowder, que resulta ser la novia del detective sargento Mather, el hombre al mando de su captura. Cuervo secuestra a Anne, pero va a terminar confiando en ella al darse cuenta de que ella está dispuesta a ayudarlo.

El párrafo inicial es sensacional y no puedo evitar su cita aquí:

El asesinato no significaba gran cosa para Raven. Era sólo una nueva tarea. Tienes que tener cuidado. Tienes que usar tu cerebro. No es una cuestión de odio. Sólo había visto al ministro una vez: se lo habian señalado mientras pasaba por una nueva urbanización entre árboles de Navidad con poca iluminación. Un anciano bastante sucio, sin amigos, de quien se decía que amaba a la humanidad.” (Mi traducción libre)

Estoy muy contento de haber leído esta novela de Graham Greene: Tal vez es uno de sus libros menos conocidos, y el primero que llamó ‘un entretenimiento’. Aunque esta distinción entre sus novelas ya no es significativa. Ciertamente, la trama es el punto más débil de este libro, debido a un exceso de coincidencias que socava su credibilidad. Pero me ha gustado mucho el retrato de los personajes y el sentido de lugar y tiempo en que se desarrolla la acción. La novela fue publicada por primera vez por Doubleday Doran en los EE.UU. en junio de 1936 como This Gun for Hire; y por William Heinemann en el Reino Unido en julio de 1936 como A Gun for Sale. Esta novela es probablemente más conocida por su adaptación a la gran pantalla bajo el título en español de Contratado para matar, un film noir de 1942 dirigido por Frank Tuttle y protagonizado por Verónica Lake, Robert Preston, Laird Cregar, y Alan Lad. El guión, escrito por Albert Maltz y WR Burnett, tiene varios cambios significativos. La historia se desarrolla en los Estados Unidos durante la II Guerra Mundial. Raven no tiene un labio leporino, sino una muñeca izquierda mal curada por malos tratos durante su infancia. El ministro de la guerra es ahora un chantajista y el rico industrial que mueve los hilos está dispuesto a vender su fórmula de gas venenoso a los japoneses. Tuve la oportunidad de ver la película durante el último fin de semana y sin duda la recomiendo.

Mi calificación: B (Me gustó)

Ver la reseña de Una pistola en venta en Novela negra y cine negro (Francisco Ortiz)

4 thoughts on “Review: A Gun for Sale (1936) by Graham Greene

  1. Jolly good review! You may be right about the overuse of coincidences, but Greene’s writing still, I think, manages to carry the whole thing off splendidly. I’m not sure that it’s “perhaps . . . one of his less known books” although it may be that it’s the (excellent) movie that’s kept the novel alive.

    • Thank you John. Probably, for me, it’s his less known book. Anyway, it’s not often included among his books, at least in some Internet entries. Agree it’s an excellent picture.

  2. It’s been years since I read this (I went through a Graham Greene phase as a teenager) but I remember liking it very much. One to reread, I think.

  3. Pingback: Monthly Summary (November 2014) | The Game's Afoot

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