Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
Opening sentence: “Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.”
I grew up in Brighton and remember reading this book at school, being caught up in the excitement of actually studying a famous novel that was set in my home town. I think it is probably compulsory to read Brighton Rock at school if you grow up within 10 miles of the famous pebbly beach. As an adult, I decided to revisit it and was really surprised by the level of violence portrayed and how darkly twisted the plot is. For whatever reason, this was not the version I remember writing essays about!
In Brighton Rock, Greene gives us a truly memorable murderer – 17 year old, baby-faced Pinkie Brown: The youngest member of a criminal gang, but also their leader. He is a ruthless, sinister sociopath, who is often described as an ‘anti-hero’. It’s true – there is not much to like about his character, but he is intensely compelling.
Set in the 1930s, a newspaper reporter, Hale, goes to Brighton for a work assignment, but he knows this town is Pinkie’s domain and (as the fantastic opening sentence states) knows Pinkie wants to murder him. Hale had previously written an article that betrayed the former leader of Pinkie’s gang, so Pinkie wants his revenge. As with every good crime tale, an adversary is needed, step forward Ida Arnold. After consoling a terrified Hale, she is the unexpected force of justice that makes it her mission to expose Pinkie for what he is and ensure he doesn’t keep getting away with his crimes.
Believe it or not, there is also a romantic sub-plot (of sorts). Pinkie marries the sweet and innocent waitress Rose, who is the opposite of him in every way. Not knowing his true nature, she is drawn to his charisma, but it’s fair to say that Pinkie’s motives for the marriage are not as pure.
Throughout the book, the suspense never lets up and the pace, right up to the thrilling climax, is just perfect. Even if you (as I assume is the case for most people reading this!) are not from, or have never been to Brighton, this is still an exceptionally powerful read. A crime thriller that ticks all the boxes.