Library Director’s Notebook
Graham Greene was a very talented and prolific twentieth century writer, perhaps best known for his novels The End of the Affair and the Third Man, both of which were made into successful films. Many of his books explore the struggle of modern man or woman to make moral choices in a complex and often corrupt world. He also liked to write thrillers, which he called “entertainments” to distinguish them from what he considered his more serious novels.
Greene’s thriller The Ministry of Fear certainly is entertaining. Greene pulls out all the stops in this story of Arthur Rowe, a middle aged, disillusioned man with a sordid past who stumbles into a real mystery when he wins a cake in a raffle at a seedy charity fair. From the moment he claims his cake made with “real eggs” (real eggs were a true delicacy during the London Blitz!), Rowe becomes a marked man. He is followed, threatened, attacked, betrayed, imprisoned, and nearly blown up. Through it all he tries to figure out what mysterious message is connected with the cake. Does it all point to a devious plot to threaten the Allied cause and his beloved England?
Because Greene is such a first class writer, he can’t write a story that doesn’t have some deeper subtext about good and evil, or create a hero who doesn’t engage and interest us. We cannot help but care about what happens to Arthur Rowe. Greene keeps us guessing until the very end about whom Rowe should trust.
When we remember that The Ministry of Fear was written during the war when no one knew which side would ultimately triumph, this novel of espionage and moral choices packs an even more potent punch. Espionage writers come and go, but you will have to look hard to find a writer more engaging, effective, and,yes, entertaining than Graham Greene.