For Arthur Rowe the charity fête was a trip back to childhood, to innocence, a welcome chance to escape the terror of the Blitz, to forget twenty years of his past and a murder. Then he guesses the weight of the cake, and from that moment on he’s a hunted man, the target of shadowy killers, on the run and struggling to remember and to find the truth.
For those of you who like a bit of paranoia and deception in your literature, you can’t go far wrong with this novel. This short and pacy read is partly reminiscent of John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps but goes much deeper into the human aspect such events evoke..
Arthur, our accidental protagonist is a mind estranged from the world, struggling to comprehend the seismic changes around him as well as his past actions.
His turmoil of an ordinary individual tortured by his inner demons, coupled with the usual struggles of a lonely man. One just trying to get along, reveals a vulnerable side which has you rooting for the type of chap he is.
This layered character is the everyman, a real human with which each reader can see themselves in his place and empathise with. His struggles living through the Blitz, at the heart of wartime England just trying to survive and keep same…yet at the same time way out of his depth is a familiar feeling to all of us at some point.
What starts off as a gentle read quickly becomes an intricate tale with lots of questions and loose ends that beg to be tied up. Starting at a fete, it all feels very nostalgic and British, guessing the weight of the cake is practically a national pastime over here. Things quickly become serious and mysterious though, giving us a classic innocent man hunted scenario albeit one that also focuses more on themes such as identity and guilt in the past.
There is a mixture of ingredients here combining to make for a wonderful adventure,there is the chicanery of the plotting, the thrill of the chase as well as the psychology of a human mind still dealing with a terrible action of the past. Along with such books as Ninety Eighty Four, the presence of certain shadowy forces are an eerie nod to such agencies that are in operation around the world today. It makes the claustrophobia both realistic and palpable throughout.
It’s all here: surveillance, secret forces at work, the murky underworld of espionage, conspiracies and one innocent man powerless against the faceless might of the unknown but undoubtedly powerful hidden machine. Betrayal, lies, sinister folk aplenty hidden in the shadows and often behind a veneer of respectability. This is definitely a book for the dark Autumn nights.
Being my first Graham Greene book, I am mightily impressed and feel the book deserves to be more well-known than it is, the strength of the writing and strong characters make this a dark but satisfying read. Set to the backdrop of World War II, this is classic writing combining the right amount of action with introspective examination of character and of life.