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The Confidential Agent: An Entertainment Paperback – April 30, 1981

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--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews


“In a class by himself... the ultimate chronicler of 20th-century man’s consciousness and anxiety.” – William Golding --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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In a small continental country civil war is raging. Once a lecturer in medieval French, now a confidential agent, D is a scarred stranger in a seemingly casual England, sent on a mission to buy coal. Initially, this seems to be a matter of straightforward negotiation, but soon, implicated in murder, accused of possessing false documents and theft, held responsible for the death of a young woman, D becomes a hunted man. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (April 30, 1981)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140018956
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140018950
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1 x 5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,492,931 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
When D., an agent from an unnamed country, presumably Spain, arrives in England on a mission to buy coal for his side in a civil war, he discovers that L., an agent for the other side, is also there for the same reason. Coal is now as valuable in his country as gold, and whoever obtains it is likely to win the war. With ambassadors, government officials, and agents constantly changing sides and selling each other out, D. is unable to trust anyone. Formerly a professor of medieval French and an expert in the Song of Roland, D.'s world has been shattered. In the past two years, his wife has been killed, and he's been buried alive, tortured, and jailed. Soon he meets an attractive, young Englishwoman, is implicated in the deaths of two people, has his credentials stolen, and ends up on the run from both the police and his own compatriots.

Published in 1939, this is one of Greene's most exciting "entertainments." A thriller of the first order, this novel also deals with big themes, not religious conflicts of his major novels, but the idea of justice, as a good man finds himself hunted for his political allegiances and learns that his own survival and that of his country depend upon his willingness to kill his enemies. A formal, courtly scholar, D. has discovered war is not glamorous, as it is in the Song of Roland, that innocent people are killed, and that survival is not a matter of divine intervention as much as it is a result of forethought and cleverness.

Told entirely from D.'s perspective, presumably the "right" perspective in Greene's mind, the reader sees D. as less heroic than he might be and the villains as less villainous. D. is well developed and realistic, however, and he wrestles with issues as his readers might.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By HORAK on January 12, 2008
Format: Paperback
Here is what the author says about his novel:
"`The Confidential Agent' was written in six weeks in 1938 after my return from Mexico. The Spanish Civil War furnished the background...I was struggling then through `The Power and the Glory', but there was no money in the book as far as I could foresee. Certainly my wife and two children would not be able to live on one unsaleable I determined to write another "entertainment" as quickly as possible in the mornings, while I ground on slowly with `The Power and the Glory' in the afternoons.
The opening scene between two rival agents on the cross-channel steamer--I called them D. and L. because I did not wish to localize their conflict--was all I had in mind, and a certain vague ambition to create something legendary out of a contemporary thriller: the hunted man who becomes in turn the hunter, the peaceful man who turns at bay, the man who has learned to love justice by suffering injustice. But what the legend was to be about in modern terms I had no idea.
I fell back for the first and last time in my life on Benzedrine. For six weeks I started each day with a tablet, and renewed the dose at midday. Each day I sat down to work with no idea of what turn the plot might take and each morning I wrote, with the automatism of a planchette, two thousand words instead of my usual stint of five hundred words. In the afternoons `The Power and the Glory' proceeded towards its end at the same leaden pace, unaffected by the sprightly young thing who was so quickly overtaking it.
`The Confidential Agent' is one of the few books of mine which I have cared to reread--perhaps because it is not really one of mine. It was as though I were ghosting for another man. D.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jack Cade on September 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Graham Greene wrote this book in I think 1939--it is one of his best. The backdrop is The Spanish Civil War (though never mentioned) an agent for the Spanish Republic comes to England to try and buy coal--I won't giveaway the plot. Greene uses his "thriller" to explore the questions of loyalty betrayal--faith commitment revenge--a whole series of moral problems that preoccupied him the rest of his life. Though Greene is a man of the Left there are no slogans or pat answers in thi book.
He wrote it in 6 weeks while working on Brighton Rock--quite something!
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Format: Unknown Binding
The Confidential Agent

A foreign government has sent agent D. to England on a confidential mission, alone. D. is to buy coal at a fair price now with a bonus promised later. But the other side has sent their agent to foil D. in accomplishing his mission. The story tells about D.'s adventures on his trip to London. Greene's "subtle characterization and accomplished craftsmanship" result in a slow-paced story. It is the dialogue that moves the story along. D.'s mistake allows his enemy to search his coat and take his notebook of schedules. When he arrives at his hotel he learns of an appointment at a language school. The language teacher is his contact. D. seemed to be surrounded by enemies, or people he could not trust. D. learns of a new danger from a beggar in the street.

D. sleeps that night, then leaves to meet Lord Benditch and negotiate a sale. He meets someone on his walk there. At the meeting he found he could not complete the sale. Then things get worse: a dead body was found. The police come for D. but he manages to escape. D. changes his appearance. D. has failed at his mission; the other side made a better offer. [Greene creates a comedy from the travel of D. and K. This highlights the tragedy of this story.] K. tells what happened. D. continues to hide from the authorities.

D. travels to the coal mining town. If his side can't get the coal he will try to prevent the other side from getting it. His appeal falls short, and he must escape again. D. gets unexpected help. But D. is finally arrested and jailed. The police can't make the charges stick due to a lack of identification by eyewitnesses. D. finds he has some friends, and is released on bail. But he must be smuggled out of the country that night. The publicity over this has accomplished D.'s mission: the coal contract was canceled. There is a surprise at the ending. [Is it believable to you?]
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