And let me say, for a man who considered himself to be a literary writer, he sure knew how to write for the masses. THE THIRD MAN is fast-paced and quite enjoyable.
The plot concerns English pulp writer Rollo Martins who, under the pen-name Buck Dexter, writes western novels, eakeing out a meager living doing so. Martins doesn't consider himself a novelist, or even a writer, simply an "entertainer". This, I suppose, is a bit of Greene's English self-deprecation since he wrote similar material, including THE THIRD MAN itself. Martins, called to post-war Vienna (the year is never specifically called out, but based on the book's 1949 publication and hints in the work itself, I'd guess the time is February, 1948) by his childhood friend, Harry Lime, only to arrive and find Lime has died--in a supposed accident--only a couple of days earlier. Worse, the narrator, a policeman whose conversations with Martins form the basis of the narrative, tells Martins that Lime was a criminal racketeer about to be arrested. Martins can't stand to hear the name of his friend sullied and vows to clear his name.
As I said, the work is fast-paced and enjoyable, but there's also--despite the setting--a timeless quality to it. The story is relatively basic, but the characters and their motivations are classic and nearly universal. The work reminded me very much of one of James Patterson's BookShots: a piece of fiction aimed at the widest possible audience that, admittedly, doesn't have much literary value but is entertaining.
Supposedly, Greene was already in talks to write the screenplay that would become THE THIRD MAN before he wrote the book, and this book was a sort of "try out" to work out plot-points and so forth, but if that's the case, I'm not sure it matters. I know some people would feel that detracts from the book's merits, but I disagree. The film is one thing, the book another and I, for one, enjoyed THE THIRD MAN quite a bit. Enough, in fact, that I'll have to look up more of Graham Greene's "entertainments".