It's always wonderful to pick up a sharp, crisp novel that also happens to be written originally in English after some time spent slogging through weighty works in translation, but there's something especially excellent when that novel happens to be by Graham Greene. Not that I think Greene is necessarily the best example of English prose, but I do think his style displays of the kind of economy and compression (slang, dialogue, perfect pointillistic rhythm) that makes a reader appreciate the joys of his native tongue. People who enjoy the "mature" Graham Greene at the expense of this book are really missing out on the pulpy noir-y fun(?) that drips darkly off of pretty much every scene here. (I, for one, don't like Greene as much when he's ponderous and philosophical - The Quiet American has moments of brilliance but on the whole it drags and drags.) The opening scene line / scene / chapter is just so propulsive; Coetzee's intro doesn't get a lot right (and expresses his strange fascination with trying to find "Hitler types" in every work of pre-WWII lit, including Robert Walser) but he does zero in on the influence of cinema on Greene's early work, particularly the use of quick visual cuts to establish a world in three or four sentences. The cumulative picture of pre WWII Brighton is bleak and irresistible, all candy and knives and unending sexual dissatisfaction.
The one knock on the book is that the Catholic stuff is laid on quite thick and doesn't always seem to fit w/ the larger story. You can feel Greene trying for a little more resonance than maybe this lean book can handle. Sometimes it makes the plight of all these desperate people (small-time gangsters and the innocent girls who love them and get murdered as a reward) seem more resonant than your average noir mystery, but other times it just seems forced. Probably 4.5 stars, regardless. Def. recommended.