Brighton Rock by Graham Greene,
read by Samuel West
I listened to this and took it as a kind of thriller. From the first, we know who was killed, and by whom, and pretty much why. In fact, much of the book is a study of the murderer, Pinkie, who, at the ripe old age of sixteen, has taken over a small gang in Brighton after the original boss was killed in an earlier novel, Gun For Sale. Covering up the one murder leads to other murders. However, his thought about the young girl Rose, another potential witness, is not to murder her but to marry her so that she cannot be compelled to give evidence against him. He makes her believe he loves her. It helps that, as Catholics, and coming from impoverished backgrounds, they share a culture. They understand each other.
Against them is Ida Arnold. The victim, aware that he is being stalked, latches onto Ida in the hope that his pursuers will avoid making their move while there is a witness present. His death, when it comes, seems natural, but Ida becomes suspicious. Besides this, her own zest for life leads her to want to speak up for the dead.
When Ida is first introduced, she seems to be one of those female characters who are just there to decorate a scene and have no real function in the story. However, something about her made me wish that she was the main character, the detective. I was a bit surprised when it turned out that she was. On the other hand, is she really a hero, or just a careless do-gooder? For instance, in the end, she assumes that Rose will be comforted by her loving parents. The reader knows, though, that Rose’s parents are not loving: They pretty much sold her to Pinkie. Wondering about these things, I checked some reviews online. One suggested that Greene hated Ida, that for him she was the evil element in the story, as evidenced by the constant mention of the heaviness of her breasts. That surprised me; I’d interpreted these references to her breasts as matronly, a mother-of-the-world figure. It was also suggested that Greene preferred characters who would commit a mortal sin, eg murder, than those who didn’t take a side in the battle of Heaven and Hell. That sounds like a particularly sick notion when considered in the context of Pinkie’s comfort with committing murder but terror of sex, as against Ida’s ease with sex although it’s always a disappointment to her.
Although it’s possible that Ida has not saved the lives she thought she saved, I’d like to read more detective stories with an Ida-like character as the lead.