Commentary Part 1
The protagonist is a 17-year-old called Pinkie. He is the leader of a small group of criminals who extort protection money from the Brighton bookmakers. His predecessor, a character called Kite, was murdered by a rival mob, 'Colleoni's mob'. It might seem strange that, given that the other members of the gang - Spicer, Cubbitt and Dallow - are both older and have been members for longer, that young Pinkie should have inherited the leadership. It becomes clear, however that he is the natural leader. He is more intelligent, more ruthless and more ambitious than the other three are. The book is about his ambition.
Pinkie is the central character but the story opens through the eyes of another character. Charles Hale, who calls himself 'Fred', works for a newspaper, the Daily Messenger, as the 'Kolley Kibber'. He tours seaside resorts like Southend and Brighton where he patrols a certain pre-set route, discreetly leaving cards along the way. Those that find his cards win a small prize (10 shillings) from the newspaper and those that recognize him and present themselves to him with a copy of the Daily Messenger in their hand with the words 'You are Mr. Kolley Kibber. I claim the Daily Messenger Prize' win a larger prize (10 guineas). Pinkie's mob wishes to murder him. The reason for this is never made entirely clear but he seems to have been connected with the murder of Kite.
'Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him' (5). The first chapter describes the last few hours of Hale's life. These hours are spent fretfully following the schedule prescribed by his paper for the Kolley Kibber. They are hours of mounting anxiety, confident at first and desperate at last. It is a chapter in which Greene sets the 'gangland' scene of Brighton, a curious and not altogether convincing atmosphere of an underworld stirring beneath the unsuspecting feet of hordes of dull suburban weekenders.
Hale knows that Pinkie and his gang want to murder him. He does not resign himself to death. He is too afraid - the casual cry of 'Razors' by a salesman cuts through the humdrum noise of a busy Brighton afternoon - and he is too proud, 'But the old desperate pride persisted, a pride of intellect. He was scare sick, but he told himself, "I'm not going to die"' (12). He formulates a plan. He must find a companion, a girl. Pinkie and his mob cannot murder him with witnesses around. He tries the sea-front where single girls lounge in deck chairs waiting to be picked up. He has little luck. With his ink-stained fingers and terrified restlessness, he is unlikely to find someone. His one success is botched by the arrival of Pinkie.
Fleeing from Pinkie, he finally gives up any attempt to keep to the schedule that his job prescribes. He relinquishes his professional pride to fear. He finds comfort in a lady called Ida. She is motherly, takes pity on Hale and she seems to provide for him the security that Hale needs. They stick together but Ida leaves Hale for a fateful five minutes to go to the lavatory. She returns to find him gone.
Hale is dead. The rest of the story is told through the eyes of his killer, Pinkie and his avenger, Ida. Chapter Two is seen through Pinkie's eyes, described as 'slatey eyes... touched with an annihilating eternity from which he had come and to which he went' (20). The gang regroups after Hale's murder in a restaurant. Spicer has no appetite. 'He'd better have an appetite', the Boy (Pinkie) replies as his men reassemble 'like children before his ageless eyes' (23). They have been disposing of Hale's body and arranging an alibi. Spicer was responsible for distributing his cards along the Kolley Kibber's route as evidence that he died after two o'clock - i.e. after the murder actually took place. He tells Pinkie that he left one under the tablecloth of a restaurant called 'Snow's'.
Pinkie is worried that Spicer might have been seeing leaving the card in Snow's. Spicer refuses to return to retrieve the card so Pinkie goes instead. He finds the table at which Spicer sat and is caught by the waitress, a young girl called Rose, in the act of looking for the card. The card is not there. Rose admits that she found the card and, among other things, that she has a very good memory for faces. She noticed that the man that left the card did not look anything like the picture of the Kolley Kibber - the picture of Hale - that was published in the Daily Messenger. She is a liability. Her evidence could destroy the alibi that Pinkie and his gang have constructed. Pinkie leaves Snow's, unsure of how to deal with her: '"I'll be seeing you," the Boy said. "You an' me have things in common."'(28).
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