” ‘I get the impression that neither of you trusts the other. Why are you friends?’ ‘I told you – not friends. It’s a game. A serious game – like chess or backgammon. We swap pieces – unimportant pieces – though of course everything in a sense can lead to something important. For his friends or mine.”
This is the last novel published during Greene’s lifetime. I don’t know whether it is the last he wrote, but this is one of the more absurd stories he has concocted.
(From here on there be SPOILERS.)
The story begins with the main character, Victor Baxter, being taken from his boarding school by a stranger. The stranger persuades Victor (with little effort) to stay with a women named Liza in London. Later Victor’s father discovers his son’s whereabouts but does not appear to care too much about the strange abduction.
Anyway, Victor grows up being cared for by the woman in London and the stranger who “abducted” him from boarding school when he was twelve years old. He refers to the stranger as the Captain. The Captain teaches Victor at home as sending Victor to school would expose the strange setup of Victor’s home life to the authorities. Over time, the Captain is absent from the “family” but it remains unclear what keeps the Captain away – all that is known is that he is involved in some criminal and some shady business which eventually takes him to South America.
Victor follows him.
And from this point on, The Captain and the Enemy reads almost like a re-writing of Our Man in Havana, except that this story is bleaker and Greene does not use comedy to veil the sad and contemptuous effects of the espionage business. Instead, he uses absurdity in the form of a movie monster this time to show the love and closeness between the main characters:
“We have both been a burden to him. And then King Kong came back into my mind and the words he had used to me then when I watched the King with his burden – a burden which kicked him so hard that I wondered why he didn’t drop her into the street below: ‘He loves her, boy, can’t you understand that?’ Perhaps I have never understood the nature of love. Perhaps … I wish I had seen him once more or that I hadn’t lied to him at the beginning.”
And true to Greene’s style, he uses this private joke, the trust, the knowledge of the familiar between Victor, Liza, and the Captain as the Achilles’ heel that will seal their fate:
“He touched the papers piled on his desk as though the mere feel of them might convey some answer to his question and then he spoke his thoughts aloud: ‘King Kong. It haunts me that name King Kong. King Kong is the only clue we have. Could he be a name in some elementary book code which is all they would have trusted to an amateur like that? A character in Shakespeare perhaps. Some famous line that even the gringos would recognize. Well, the boy’s gone. He can do no harm to us. All the same … how I would like to break that code of his. King Kong.’ “
4* (out of 5*)