It begins with one of the best opening lines in fiction, and ends with one of the best closing lines. In between, Greene reveals a seamy, dark underside to 1930s Brighton, where behind the facade seen by holidaymakers and racegoers the bookmakers are in thrall to razor gangs offering protection. Hale, the seedy journalist who dominates the early pages, soon emerges as merely incidental; Pinkie, a seventeen year old gang leader, is the central character, leading those around him deeper into his own downward spiral of evil. Greene never reveals how Pinkie knows Hale; but Hale's fear of the boy is clearly drawn, and like Hale himself, you realise the inevitability of his murder, and of the consequences that unfold thereafter.
Tremendous charcterisation of most of the main players - Pinkie is frighteningly nasty, the more so for his total lack of conscience; Rose, his weak-minded girl, is also entirely convincing, as is Hale, the catalyst for the story as it unfolds. I would have wished Greene could have done more with Spicer particularly, perhaps also Dallow and Colleoni, and I'm a little less convinced by Ida Arnold and her motivation for getting involved to the point of being Pinkie's nemesis.
Pinkie himself, though, is one of fiction's great characters, and perhaps merits a better demise than Greene gives him here. But in spite of these minor reservations, this is a tremendous book, still relevant now even after the slums that gave birth to these characters have been taken off the Brighton landscape, and still able to disturb the reader by picturing what humanity is capable of becoming in the absence of conscience.