The Last Word And Other Stories, by Graham Greene
Graham Greene was a writer who had a lot of stories, and this book does a good job at showing the wide variety of his work and his mastery at painting worthwhile and interesting situations. This book is certainly full of varied and interesting material and without question if you like the longer writings of Greene there are characters here that you would likely want to get to know better. I can think of about half a dozen of the stories that rank in the first rank of short stories as a whole, and they are varied to an extent that they demonstrate Greene’s skill as a writer with stories of all kinds. This is the sort of collection of stories that were not included in previous works that will make you laugh, or cry, or make you wonder what is going on to a great extent until the author finishes the story with some kind of dramatic turnabout that leaves the reader impressed and sometimes even genuinely surprised. There is a lot to like about this collection, not least the fact that one gets a dozen Greene stories in about 150 pages of reading, a high degree of bang for one’s buck.
The dozen stories included here are as follows. We begin with “The Last Word,” a compelling and dramatic story of the execution of the last pope and an authoritarian state confident that it has vanquished Christianity from existence. “The News In English” provides a dramatic tale of an English spy who escapes Nazi Germany and shows himself to be heroic, to the enjoyment of his wife but the disappointment of his mother. “The Moment Of Truth” provides a poignant tale of a man dying of cancer while being a lonely server at a beloved restaurant. “The Man Who Stole The Eiffel Tower” gives a compelling story of a dramatic and clever work in Paris by the narrator. “The Lieutenant Died Last” is a dramatic story of a cat-and-mouse game between German paratroopers taking over a quiet English village in World War II and a man avenging the death of his son in World War I who is determined to stop them. “A Branch Of The Service” shows the travails of a food critic turned spy that shows that even critics can have their time serving in espionage efforts. “An Old Man’s Memory” gives a story of terrorism in the Chunnel. “The Lottery Ticket” is a compelling story of naive Westerners dealing with corrupt Mexican politics and the danger of political labels. “The New House” tells an odd story of a man’s attempt to build an intriguing and strange house. “Work Not In Progress” provides an example of Greene’s writing that attempts to be suitable for little ones, and is certainly a humorous tale. “Murder For The Wrong Reasons” tells a noir story of a corrupt cop and a dead blackmailer and a tale of twisted love and hidden identities that deserves to be made into an awesome movie. Finally, “Appointment With The General” tells of a compelling interview between an ambiguous journalist with some personal problems and a general who dreams of death even as various factions seek to kill him for not turning to socialism or Communism fast enough for their tastes.
As one can readily imagine, there are a lot of different elements of Greene’s work that show themselves in these stories. As one might expect, politics, intrigue, and violence play a heavy role in these stories–often some or all of these at once. However, Greene’s deeper worth as a writer of classic literature springs from more than this. He shows himself deeply attentive to people and their personal struggles, and he has a firm grasp not only of surprising twists but also of character. This attention to character shows itself in dialogue, in the character’s thoughts and flashbacks and the way that Greene is able to provide compelling back stories for many of his protagonists, even in the form of short stories. Likewise, a few of the stories play on the author’s interest in religion, which serves as a compelling reminder of Greene’s larger cultural importance, in that he considered the fate of Christianity in the modern world to be a subject worthy of a noir tale of intrigue and violence, showing how even without political power religion has the way of inspiring doubts among those who hold civil authority and who cannot help but wonder if there is some secret truth that defies all of their attempts to coerce the world into their own liking. This is definitely a great, if eclectic series of stories.