Monday, March 2, 2015

Brighton Rock: Review

Brighton Rock by Graham Greene is a follow-up to Green's novel A Gun for Sale, in which Pinkie Brown arranges for the murder of local mob boss Kite. In Brighton Rock, Pinkie has taken over the gang. He's a little young for the job and faces opposition from Colleoni, a more experienced, wealthy mob boss who is moving in to Brighton.

The story opens with Charles "Fred" Hale who has come to Brighton on assignment from his newspaper. His job as "Kolley Kibber" is to visit various towns, leaving cards worth prizes along his route, and to be prepared for someone to recognize him and "challenge" him to collect a larger cash prize. But Hale has had some dealings with Pinkie's rival--something that Pinkie has taken great exception to. It isn't long before Hale suspects that Pinkie has marked him for murder as well and Hale searches for likely lady friend to use as cover while in Brighton. 

He approaches Ida Arnold, a friendly middle-aged woman who is willing to spend time with him. But she insists on "freshening up" in a ladies room and when she comes out, he's gone. Ida has a very uncomplicated view of life and isn't too disturbed about his leaving her....until she sees his picture in the newspaper. He died that very day, apparently of natural causes. And when Ida thinks over the conversations she had with "Fred" and reads the article on the inquest she finds that she has several questions about what really happened. A little bit of investigation on her part makes her very suspicious indeed and she goes to the police with her suspicions.

They don't take her seriously and Ida sets out to play detective and find out what really happened to "Fred" that day in Brighton. She is determined to find the person responsible for Fred's death--no matter what it takes and no matter how many questions she has to ask. Ida is fearless and represents blind justice in a very real way.

I certainly get why this is classic...and why it appears on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list. It is a terrific snapshot of the pop culture of the day and the wicked underbelly of Brighton and the racetrack nearby. But an enjoyable book it is not. It is bleak and there are few appealing characters. Even Ida, whom we feel that we must root for, is a bit frightening in her single-minded quest. Yes, we do want to see Hale's killer brought to justice, but the advancement of justice is such an unrelenting process. By the end of the book, I felt ground down by the weight of Ida's quest and burdened with Pinkie's guilt and horrible treatment of everyone he comes in contact with--from his gang members to to Rose, the girl who loves him. ★★

This fulfills the "Place in the Title" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.

All Challenges Fulfilled: 100 Plus Challenge, How Many Books, Vintage Mystery Challenge, Mount TBR, My Kind of Mystery, Cloak & Dagger, 1001 Books Before You Die, Dare You, Genre Decades Challenge, Back to the Classics, A-Z Mystery Author Challenge


Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

It's a great book I think Bev, but I completely understand the ambivalence about the characters - As you say, even Ida is a bit scary in a way! It is fascinating how Greene began it as one of his genre 'entertainments' but as it got darker and darker he decided it would be one of his more mainstream novels. Whether you buy into the distinction or not, I think we can see why!

fredamans said...

Is this Graham Greene the actor as well?
I was not sure why I had heard of the book but then saw it is on the 1001 books to read before you die list. I have that list bookmarked and have been going though it casually. I may give this one a try.
Great review!

Bev Hankins said...

Freda: don't know about the actor. I do know that this Graham Greene also wrote Travels with My Aunt--which was funny and I liked a heck of a lot more.

Karen K. said...

I think Graham Greene the actor is a native American, so, not the same person (though also great). The only book I've read by this Greene is Travels with My Aunt, which I loved. I'm intrigued by Stamboul Train (also known as Orient Express), mostly because of the name -- Murder on the Orient Express is one of my favorite books. Of course I am a complete sucker for books involving train travel. I do hope to read more Greene someday.

Thanks for linking your review to the Back to the Classics Challenge!

J F Norris said...

TRAVELS WITH MY AUNT is a very atypical of the kind of books Greene wrote. I can't think of one book as lighthearted as that one. And if you think this is bleak then you should try reading THE END OF THE AFFAIR (1951) Very veiled novel based on Green's own adulterous love affair while married to his Catholic wife for whom he converted. Hypocrite. Anyway the story is devastating.

Bev Hankins said...

Don't know that I'm up for devastating, John. I find the older I get the less I like the bleaker things in fiction...there's enough out there in the real world.