In post-war Vienna, Graham Greene’s struggling novelist Rollo Martins, arrives to visit old friend Harry Lime. But something has happened to Harry, and Martins is soon drawn into a web of intrigue and drug-dealing as he tries to uncover the truth.
The Fallen Idol is the tale of a boy left in the care of Baines the butler and his mean-spirited wife, while the lad’s parents are off on holiday. But finding himself captivated by the servant’s talk of exotic places, the boy is forced into making a difficult decision when he becomes an unwilling witness to a tragedy.
The Third Man was never intended to be published, and was originally written as the basis for the movie Carol Reed wanted to make. Apart from a handful of subtle differences, the story is very similar to the film and it’s easy to see why Greene accepted the few changes Reed insisted upon in the finished movie. As a narrative, it is nevertheless a fascinating example of Greene’s clever use of language, though I was more impressed with the quality of the writing in the short story The Fallen Idol, which, conversely, the author claimed he had always thought impossible to recreate as a movie. Written as The Basement Room, the story builds tension in an understated but intelligent manner as the boy hero becomes entangled in the stories spun by his butler.
Of the two tales, The Fallen Idol is by far the more interesting in its use of language, imagery and joint themes of betrayal and loss of innocence. Essential reading for fans of one of Britain’s finest writers.