“We never get accustomed to being less important to other people than they are to us.”
Greene was asked by film producer Alexander Korda to write a screenplay for a movie, directed by Carol Reed. The story was to take place in post-war Vienna, which was occupied by four main powers: the Americans, the British, the Russians and the French. Greene already had a story in mind and was enthusiastic. As he liked to flesh out the characters before starting on the screenplay, he wrote it out as a story and it turned out to be short novel I have here in front of me.
Rollo Martins is a writer of pulp westerns. He is invited by his longtime friend Harry Lime to join him in Vienna. But when he arrives there, he learns that his friend has died in a car accident. To his amazement, he is told that Lime was under investigation from the police for black-market dealing. Martins can't believe the Harry Lime he knew, could ever be a criminal, so he starts an investigation of his own. He is absolutely certain Lime was framed and murdered. According to the official statement, two men were with Lime when he died, but Martins is able to find a witness who saw there was a third man involved. But then that witness is murdered...
As always, Greene is fabulous at creating atmosphere - in this case the paranoid atmosphere of occupied Vienna. And although this might not be Greene's best book (a bit let down by the odd point of view, in my opinion), there are some unforgettable chapters here. The scenes in the Ferris wheel and in the baroque Vienna sewers, for instance, show exactly how good Greene was at making an Unforgettable Personality out of a character. One note of warning: if you're not familiar with the story yet, whatever you do: don't read the introduction first, as it gives away all of the plot.
Also part of this book is "The Fallen Idol", a short story about a young boy who witnesses someone he absolutely admires commit murder. Another great story about morality.
Author: Graham Greene
Title: The Third Man and The Fallen Idol
Publisher: Vintage, London
Year: 2005 (orig. 1949 and 1939)
Number of pages: 130 p.