A Gun for Sale

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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 assassination of Kite, the Colleoni's rival mob boss, 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 hitman, 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 Cholmondely but, when he 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. Travelling on the train to start a job in a show is Anne, 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 reports to her job and is asked out to dinner by one of the backers, who is Cholmondely. After dinner he takes her to a house where, when she resists him, he smothers her and hides her body.

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 Cholmondely dead, and he takes her to a hideout he has found. In the night it is surrounded by police, led by Mather, and Anne decoys them so Raven can escape. Disguising himself as a student on a rag stunt, he spots Cholmondely in the street and fines him for charity. Cholmondely 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 from a war and that the boss is Sir Marcus. Recognising the name as that of the man who wanted the Czech politician dead, Raven takes Cholmondely 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 with an unseen decency and a personal sense of justice. He is extremely sensitive about his harelip.
  • Mather—stalwart police detective trailing Raven, with many of the same characteristics. He joined the police for a stability in routine.
  • Anne—a chorus girl engaged to Mather who is used by Raven as a shield. The two develop a fragile friendship that may or may not be real.
  • Cholmondeley a.k.a. Davis—a grossly sensual man who acts as agent for a corrupt steel tycoon, Sir Marcus, and later betrays Raven. Anne tries to help Raven get revenge upon him.
  • 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,[1] where the old politician and his secretary are murdered by Raven.
  • London, where Raven is paid off by Cholmondeley,[2] where Anne has lodgings but cannot find work, and where Mather is based at Scotland Yard.
  • Nottwich, a fictional version of Nottingham,[3] 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. ^ Greene, Graham. A Gun For Sale. Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1963. p5
  2. ^ Greene, Graham. A Gun For Sale. Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1963. p12
  3. ^ Greene, Graham. A Gun For Sale. Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1963. p40