A Gun for Sale

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
A Gun for Sale
First edition
Author Graham Greene
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Publisher William Heinemann
Publication date
Media type Hardcover (first edition)
OCLC 59545065

A Gun For Sale is a 1936 novel by Graham Greene about a criminal called Raven, a man dedicated to ugly deeds. When he is paid for killing the Minister of War with stolen notes, he becomes a man on the run. Tracking down the agent who double-crossed him, and eluding the police simultaneously, he becomes both the hunter and the hunted.

The novel prefigures Greene's later, more famous, work, Brighton Rock where Pinkie Brown's killing of Hale sets the events of the novel in motion in much the same way that Raven's assassination of the Minister of War sows the seeds for conflict in A Gun For Sale.

Plot summary[edit]

Raven, an English assassin, is hired to kill a government minister in a European country (in fact Czechoslovakia), an act calculated to provoke a European war. Returning to London, he is paid off in cash by his contact, who uses the false name of "Cholmondely". However, when Raven starts spending them, discovers the notes were stolen. Furious at being cheated, and hunted by the police who think he was the thief, without a ticket he follows "Cholmondeley" onto a train going to Nottwich.

Also travelling on the train to start work in a pantomime is the chorus girl Anne Crowder, the fiancée of Mather, the detective leading the hunt for Raven. At Nottwich, Raven uses Anne's ticket to get off the station and, since she has recognised him, takes her to an empty house to kill her. Escaping, she does not report what has happened, out of sympathy for Raven, but goes to the theatre to work. There she is asked out to dinner by one of the backers, Davis, who is "Cholmondely". After dinner he takes her to a house where, when he realizes that she knows about his involvement with Raven, he smothers her, though he does not kill her.

The owner of the house helps herself to Anne's smart monogrammed handbag and next day is seen with it in the street by Raven, who forces his way into the house and finds Anne weak but still alive. She agrees to co-operate with him, since both want Davis/Chommondely dead, and he takes her to a hideout he has found. While in hiding, they discuss Raven's murder of the government minister, and Raven also talks to Anne about his childhood, and the difficult circumstances in which he discovered his mother's suicide—details that will anticipate Raven's own death, and the imagery the novel utilizes to depict his final moments.[1] In the night it is surrounded by police, led by Jimmy Mather, and Anne decoys them so that Raven can escape. But Raven still has to shoot and wound a policeman in order to escape. However, there is gas drill practise in preparation for war and everyone, except Raven, is wearing a gas-mask. Raven, therefore forces a student participating in a rag to undress and give him his clothes, along with his gas-mask. Disguised as a student participating in the rag stunt, he spots Davis in the street, without a gas-mask, and fines him for charity. Davis says he has no cash and will pay him in his office. Going there, Raven discovers it is the headquarters of a giant steel company that will profit hugely from a war and that the boss is Sir Marcus, a corrupt Jewish industrialist. Upon discovering that Marcus is Davis/Cholmondely's boss Raven takes him at gunpoint up to the suite of Sir Marcus. After explaining his reasons, he kills both men and is himself shot dead by police who have surrounded the building.


  • Raven—a cold-hearted assassin for hire. Raven's father was hanged for murder and his mother committed suicide by cutting her throat. Raven then lived in a home for orphans. He has grown-up in extreme poverty and is highly sensitive about his harelip.
  • Jimmy Mather— a police detective trailing Raven. His brother committed suicide and he found his body. Mather joined the police for the stability its routine provides.
  • Anne Crowder—a chorus girl engaged to Mather, and who is used by Raven as a shield. The two develop a fragile friendship, though in the end she betrays him. The novel ends with Anne and Mather planning marriage,
  • Willie Davis (pseudonym,Cholmondeley) —a grossly sensual man employed by Sir Marcus, who betrays Raven by paying him with stolen bank notes. Anne helps Raven get revenge upon him.
  • Sir Marcus, a very old, corrupt, Jewish, steel tycoon, who is responsible for hiring Raven to assassinate the Minister. He hopes that this will cause another world war and lead to huge profits.
  • Saunders—a decent police detective with a heavy stammer. He is Mather's loyal protégé who plays a vital role in the novel's climax.


  • An unnamed Central European capital, meant to be Prague,[2] where the old politician and his secretary are murdered by Raven.
  • London, where Raven is paid off by Cholmondeley,[3] where Anne has lodgings but cannot find work, and where Mather is based at Scotland Yard.
  • Nottwich, a fictional version of Nottingham,[4] site of the steel works where Sir Marcus lives in a penthouse, where Anne gets a job in the pantomime, and where Raven goes to find and kill Cholmondeley.

Publication history and adaptations[edit]

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. Several film and television adaptations have been made: a 1942 film version transposed to wartime California starred Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake under the U.S. title This Gun for Hire, a Turkish adaptation (Günes Dogmasin) was made in 1961, and an Italian television mini-series, Una pistola in vendita, followed in 1970. The 1942 film was remade in 1957 under the title Short Cut to Hell and as a TV movie in 1991 starring Robert Wagner.


  1. ^ Fluet, Lisa, "Hit Man Modernism," in Bad Modernisms Durham: Duke University Press, 2006
  2. ^ Greene, Graham. A Gun For Sale. Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1963. p5
  3. ^ Greene, Graham. A Gun For Sale. Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1963. p12
  4. ^ Greene, Graham. A Gun For Sale. Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1963. p40