cover image The Quest for Graham Greene: A Biography

The Quest for Graham Greene: A Biography

W. J. West. St. Martin's Press, $24.95 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-312-18161-1

Despite the three-volume biography on which Norman Sherry is still engaged, there always seems something new to be discovered about Greene (1904-1991), a most secretive novelist. West (Orwell: The Lost Writings) has made his share of finds in his modestly scaled book. Perhaps chief among them is that Greene spent the latter part of his life in France not because he was weary of London, but because a tax shelter scam in which he had become innocently involved led the British tax authorities to insist on his exile. According to West, an English lawyer and financier named Tom Roe, along with actor George Sanders and the backing of Mafia people in Hollywood, concocted a fraudulent scheme that eventually embroiled not only Greene but also Charlie Chaplin and Noel Coward. West has also done extensive digging into Greene's Catholicism, finding that he moved in a group of congenial Catholics from early in his life, and that his Communism (he was a Party member for a time at Oxford), far from being antithetical to his religion, complemented it. The complex relationship with British spy Kim Philby is also better elucidated here than anywhere else, and the charges of anti-Semitism leveled at Greene are effectively demolished. West's book, while hardly the last word, is a painstaking and revealing piece of work that adds insights of value to the voluminous Greene file. Photos. (Feb.)