“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 question of hatred.”
I wanted to read this book as soon as I knew I would be studying Brighton Rock by Graham Greene as one of my set texts in English, as this book is a sort-of prequel to it. I am also a big fan of Greene’s writing style and so was very excited for this. It definitely lived up to my expectations, almost by the first line alone! (See quote above).
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The novel follows the anti-hero Raven, an assassin, as he attempts to seek revenge. After finishing a ‘job’ with grave repercussions, Raven is paid with stolen money and within hours the police are hunting him down, thus begins his journey to find out who is responsible and make them suffer. Like the other books I have read by Greene, you are immediately plunged into action. This is really appreciated as it created the character of Raven from the off; he’s an assassin, he never sits still, and he knows what he is doing. Raven is such an interesting character, he’s probably on par with Pinkie from Brighton Rock in my opinion. He’s unmissable with a hare-lip that was badly sown up at birth and this ‘ugliness’ is so symbolic of his own actions and the world he is living in. I sympathised for his wanting of a meaningful relationship despite his appearance and line of work. Everything is going wrong for him and even though he’s a blatant murderer you cannot help but root for him. There is an awkward enjoyment in willing a murderer to chase down their prey, kill them, and then get the girl! Of course he has some more off-putting characteristics but I found that the balance between his humanity and his profession, and the way they reflected off of each other as some internal battle, was one of the most fascinating things about this book. I also found that this was highlighted by the character of Anne; a young woman engaged to the Scotland Yard detective tracking Raven down who gets caught up in the world of Raven. She develops so well and really comes into herself as the book goes on. Her relationship with Raven is so compelling and it’s interesting how you as the reader react to some of Anne’s responses to some of Raven’s actions; I found myself angry that Anne became angry with Raven for committing a crime when really that should be the correct response, right?
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Greene’s style is so riveting; everything has a purpose and so you hang on every word. Because of this it is incredibly vivid. I found I could picture every detail in each classically Noir scene, I’m definitely not surprised it was brought from page to screen as ‘This Gun For Hire’ directed by Frank Tuttle. He creates characters and settings with depth, you could see the grime of the London streets and feel the cramped trains. His dialogue is also done so well although it could sometimes seem a little over-exaggerated, a little to cinematic. But you can forgive that when you consider how tense the novel is and how brilliantly this is created. Despite the slightly older language you are made to turn those pages. Greene explores the themes of morality, trust, and desire in a subtle yet powerful way.
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I’d highly recommend this book to those who are a fan of thrillers, especially those interested in Noir. If you enjoy books which tackles serious themes with a darker tone then this is right up your street! And of course, I’d suggest reading it just to experience Greene’s writing style as I would say he is one of the greatest crime fiction writes.