The third man

by Graham Greene

Paperback, 1999




New York : Penguin Books, 1999.


Sonewhere in shadowy post-war Vienna, where everyone has something to sell on the black market, lurks "the third man," who witnessed the murder of Harry Lime. The police don't care to investigate, but novelist Holly Martins is haunted by the death of his friend. He searches for the killer in this adaptation of the Graham Greene novel.

User reviews

LibraryThing member ctpress
Rollo Martin arrives in post-war Austria to meet his friend Harry Lime who has a job for him - the only problem: Lime has been fatally struck by a car and is being buried when Martin arrives. The police accuses Lime of being a black market operator - which Rollo refuse to believe. As Rollo investigate the "accident" strange and conflicting facts about the death appears. And Rollo needs to examine his own idealized picture of Lime - and Lime's girlfriend.

I like the feeling of suspense and mystery in a war-damaged city - it's not at all a typical Greene-novel - the characters are not fully fleshed out. It's told from the perspective of the police inspector, who narrates the story which is confusing at times, when the main character is Rollo.
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LibraryThing member mbmackay
The classic noir story. So short (
LibraryThing member mstrust
Rollo Martins has just arrived in post-war Vienna in time to learn that the friend who invited him, Harry Lime, has been killed in an accident and his funeral is that afternoon. Through his grief, Martins recognizes that there are an unusual number of strangers offering him money, a bed and help getting back home, but not a lot of believable information about the day Harry died. All these things make novelist Martins suspicious that Harry's death wasn't an accident.

A slim book, this noir story of espionage was written by Greene in order to give him a feel for his characters before writing the script for the movie of the same name. There are some changes between the two, but if you enjoyed the movie (which is why I bought this book), you'll enjoy reading what's going on inside Martins head as he slinks around looking for a killer.
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LibraryThing member Bookmarque
This was pretty good.
One thing that is interesting about this book and others of its genre (like Chandler’s Marlowe series) is the total lack of swearing. There is sex in this book and crime and violence, but they all seem to be somehow more deliberate and more serious because of how they are portrayed. It’s not violence for its sake or sex for its own sake. They’re included because they’re vital to the plot. The witness, who is killed because he told Martins that he saw a third man, is killed because he could damage the plot. Its more interesting that way and the whole story seems more serious because of it.… (more)
LibraryThing member Iambookish
I had never read anything by Mr. Greene before, but a request from a blogger I follow to honor his Grandmother with a reading of her favorite author had me picking this title up. I'm so glad I did because Greene is a spectacular author, and with his dozens of writings I will be able to read something by him for many years to come!… (more)
LibraryThing member Ameise1
I enjoyed the reading very much. I saw the film years ago and in 2011 I had a 'Third Man' tour in Vienna where I saw the places where the story was playing. On this tour I learned also how Vienna was devided for the Allies and how this worked. This was for the content of the book very informative.
It's a fast-paced and short reading and shows how in the aftermath of WWII people were creative to make money even though others had to die for it.… (more)
LibraryThing member shanklinmike
Very interesting to read the screenplay. The film with Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton stands as my all time favourite.
LibraryThing member amelish
How could I not love a book that ends with a manhunt in the Viennese sewer? Books commissioned with a screenplay in mind have a certain novelty too.
LibraryThing member Stbalbach
I've never seen the film and knew nothing of the story so had the nice position of reading this famous story tabula rasa. My impression is of a nice genre story, sort of what you'd expect from a typical noir from the 30s or 40s. I'm sure the film is better since it shows bombed out Vienna, smartly dressed men and women, old nightclubs from a former age, etc.. the book only hints at. The plot itself is somewhat predictable after you realize there is only one way for the story to go, the beginning is the best when there is still mystery. This is also my first Greene fiction, I'm glad to have read something finally, it's a short introduction.… (more)
LibraryThing member AliceAnna
Written after the screenplay, this short novel definitely conveys the feel of the movie. A good book, a great movie.
LibraryThing member grheault
Post-war Vienna, intrigue, military policing by the Allies (Russia, France, UK, and USA), black markets, and skanky characters. Harry's called his friend to visit, but shows up dead just as said friend arrives in Vienna. But none of it makes sense, and said friend spends the rest of the story being amateur detective. Odd structure, the narrator is the professional detective interviewing/narrating the amateur (Rollo Martins).… (more)
LibraryThing member Surfwench
Not a book really, but a story built around a screenplay. I understand the entire idea was sketched in one sentence upon a cocktail napkin. One of my favorite movies.
LibraryThing member markfinl
The book was good enough, but I was spoiled by having seen the movie first, the movie may be the best I have ever seen.
LibraryThing member figre
One of the greatest movie quotes of all times comes from “The Third Man” – “…In Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” In addition, the movie contains one of the greatest uses of a zither in a theme song. (Okay, that one is a pretty low bar.)

Unfortunately, neither of these is contained in this book. Oh well, we must all try to forge ahead somehow. And this book makes that forging ahead an easy thing to do. It is a fast, entertaining read which tells the story of Rollo Martins’ arrival in post-war Vienna to visit his friend Harry Lime who, when Rollo arrives, is dead. There follows the tale of Rollo striving to solve the murder local authorities have declared an accident.

If you have seen the movie, then you have seen part of the book. But only part of it. This is actually a book that was never meant to be a book. In fact, as Graham Greene describes it, the story is really just a treatment meant to be turned into a movie. So you will see differences. (For example, no cuckoo clock quote.) But that should not be a deterrent. I am not normally a reader of “thrillers” (or whatever genre this book might be considered), so I cannot expound on the relative merit of this book to others of its kind. But I can expound on the fact that this is a good story you will most likely enjoy.
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LibraryThing member Kristelh
My second TBR Takedown book was a goodie. Graham Greene's The Third Man which he wrote for a screen play. I had the kindle version which included photo's, copies of writer's notes for the film and video segments of the film.

It starts off in February, in Vienna. I didn't realize that Vienna was divided into sections for English, American, French and Russian. It is a postwar, crime story. Harry Lime is dead and Rollo Martin, Western story writer, has come to Vienna to see his friend in time to attend the funeral.

Graham Greene tells us in the beginning of the story that the movie is better, that he wrote the story to help guide him in helping with the film production. The film was produced by Carol Reed. It stars Joseph Cotten, Valli, Orson Welles, and Trevor Howard. The atmospheric use of black-and-white expressionist cinematography by Robert Krasker, with harsh lighting and distorted "Dutch angle" camera technique, is a major feature of The Third Man. Combined with the iconic theme music, seedy locations and acclaimed performances from the cast, the style evokes the atmosphere of an exhausted, cynical, post-war Vienna at the start of the Cold War. (Very apt description by Wikipedia).

Some points from the book. The main character besides Harry Lime the dead guy is Rollo Martin. Rollo is impetuous and Martin is thoughtful so Rollo Martin is a some of each. Martin has learned that he shouldn't mix his drinks (Rollo tends to have several women on the string) and Martin has decided that he shouldn't mix his drinks anymore. Other parts that I come to expect include the occasional Catholic reference.

Achievements: Guardian 1000 (Crime), 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006 Edition),
Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time - UK Crime Writers' Association (72). The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time Mystery Writers of America (48).

It was a quick read. Rating is a bit off as the film has corrupted my impression of the book. 4.2
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LibraryThing member RicDay
Classic Greene, this should qualify as one of the best books written after the movie script. Oh, and the movie introduced me to the zither!
LibraryThing member Quickpint
Reading this after a very long break from Graham Greene made me wonder if the author has been terribly overrated. I'd be curious to revist his greatest works now. This is short and diverting, but continues to reach for some wider literary awareness, and fails. This only dissipates the tension and atmosphere of what could be a very tight, claustrophobic book (like I remember Brighton Rock being). I wonder if Greene was executing someone else's idea with this novella? EDIT TO ADD: I have just discovered that Greene claimed he never intended this novella to be read by the public and it was to serve as a treatment for the screenplay only. This exuses a lot, but it makes it even more puzzling in a way - why all these lazy literary riffs on the difference between high/low culture? The bit where Western-writer Rollo Martin is continually mistaken for a literary author, for example? I dunno. Perhaps in essence this is halfway to Coen Brothers material, and I like them a lot. I dunno, I remain a bit disappointed by what The Third Man could have been.… (more)
LibraryThing member browner56
Graham Greene was a prolific writer whose best work has stood the test of time. He liked to divide his fiction between novels with serious themes (The Heart of the Matter, The Power and the Glory, The Quiet American) and lighter fare that he labeled as “entertainments” (Travels With My Aunt, Our Man In Havana). Whatever the form, I have always found his writing to be compelling and frequently brilliant.

As one of his entertainments, the novella The Third Man has an interesting history. Greene wrote the story as the preliminary treatment of a screenplay for a film of the same name, although the book did not actually appear in print until after the movie came out. In fact, Greene himself thought that film version of the story (for which he also received a co-screenwriter credit) was much better than the novella. Regardless, it still works as a stand-alone book and entertaining it definitely is.

The story is set in a post-World War II Vienna that is split into four zones by occupying forces. There is a thriving black-market economy to fill the gaps for shortages in goods ranging from food to tires to medicine. Rollo Martins has come to town at the request of his life-long friend Harry Lime, but arrives just in time for a funeral. Lime, it seems, was the victim of a random car accident, although Martins refuses to accept the situation at face value and pursues the truth at whatever the personal cost happens to be. He soon learns the truth—which involves an unnamed third man who witnessed the apparent accident—which changes everything.

While it does not rank among the best of the author’s considerable catalog of work, The Third Man is nevertheless an atmospheric and highly satisfying reading experience. Greene was equally adept at writing both serious novels as well as thrillers and this novella should be included near the top of the latter category. It is also much shorter in length than most of the author’s other work, which makes it a brief commitment for which the reader will be well rewarded.… (more)
LibraryThing member larryking1
The Third Man in my estimation is one of the greatest films in cinematic history; it was a role that the usually over-rated Orson Welles was born to play. And, because the author of its screenplay, Graham Greene is one of my 'greats,' it stands to reason that I would get around to reading this novella. I will not go into its plot except to note that Greene's signature motif, the betrayal of faith again looms large. What needs mentioning is that this novel should never have been written! Greene was assigned to write its screenplay, and to give his scenario a measure of depth, he wrote a precis of sorts, a back story, to give him a means to infuse his characters with layers of complexity. When the movie became both a hit and a classic, his background material was fleshed into this exceptional novel. One oddity: one line, not in the book, by Wells' Harry Lime, "You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock," was an add-lib! Also, one last note, that will NOT be a spoiler, is that the book and the film's endings are completely different: one is a 'happy' ending and the other is one of complete and total devestation! I know the ending that I like! Will you?… (more)
LibraryThing member soraxtm
Not really a novel per se according to him. Not as meaty as The power and the Glory or Our Man In Havana.
LibraryThing member br77rino
A great little detective story set in Vienna during its sharing by the four Allied forces: America, Britain, France and Russia. In the preface Greene says the movie is better, but I disagree. Well worthwhile.
LibraryThing member Stevil2001
"What about views on the American novel?"
     "I don't read them," Martins said.

Even though this is probably a novella, I knew I wanted to teach it in my class on The Modern Novel. Like many novels I am obsessed with, it is itself about novels: the protagonist is Rollo Martins, a writer of paperback westerns who discovers that actual conflicts between good and evil are not so much like the ones he writes about every day. As a result, there's a lot of meditation here on knowledge: how do we know things and where does our knowledge come from? I see a lot of resonance between The Third Man and the later Justine; I guess it's no coincidence I read them in the same course as an undergraduate, or I taught them together myself.

Martins's emotional knowledge conflicts with the well-researched factual knowledge of Cab Calloway. Martins says, "I don't suppose anyone knows Harry [Lime] the way I do," causing Calloway to meditate, "I thought of the thick file of agents' reports in my office, each claiming the same thing" (27). Martins means 'as well as I do,' but there's a second sense you could take it in: that Martins's way of knowing Lime is distinct from all other ways of knowing Lime, and two pages later, Calloway thinks, "It was odd how like the Lime he knew was to the Lime I knew: it was only that he looked at Lime's image from a different angle or in a different light" (29). Martins is always meeting people whose views of Lime conflict with his, and he doesn't know how to deal with this. Lime's girlfriend Anna suggests to Martins, "There are always so many things one doesn’t know about a person, even a person one loves—good things, bad things. We have to leave plenty of room for them.… [S]top making people in your image. Harry was real. He wasn’t just your hero and my lover. He was Harry. He was in a racket. He did bad things. What about it? He was the man we knew.… [A] man doesn’t alter because you find out more about him. He’s still the same man" (114-15).

Some would say that the detective story—especially in its quintessential, Sherlock Holmes style—suggests that truth is a findable, achievable, objective phenomenon, but that’s not what’s up in The Third Man: all truth is mediated, through time, through personality, and we can never have access to the whole thing. Anna argues this is okay, but Martins seems to believe it’s something to be mourned. And, indeed, Martins doesn't solve his epistemological dilemma by reconciling or even acknowledging his way of knowing was unsophisticated; rather, he kills Lime, allowing him to return to his old paperback-style worldview. Lime threatened it, but Lime has been destroyed.

A subplot concerns Crabbin, a literary snob who accidentally invites Martins (whose pen name is "Buck Dexter") to speak to his literary society instead of the literary novelist he meant to bring (Benjamin Dexter). It's a source of good jokes, but it means more; Calloway closes the novel with a reflection on Crabbin, of all people: "Poor Crabbin. Poor all of us when you come to think of it" (157). No one is ever who you think they are. The story is mediated through Calloway to make sure we get this, to make sure we understand that the world is vastly more complicated than we can ever understand. Most of the characters in The Third Man, like Crabbin and Anna, know that they do not have the world solved, that any way of understanding life is only a fiction-- except for the one who writes fiction.

What a strange world unknown to most of us lies under our feet.
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LibraryThing member Crazymamie
This was great on audio, narrated by Martin Jarvis. I have the special Kindle edition that has clips and stills from the film inserted into the text, and I followed along with that. When I finished up, I watched the film again, and it was full of fabulous. I had not realized that Greene was asked to write a screenplay specifically set in post WWII Vienna. He said he needed to write a novella first in order to flesh out the characters, so that is what he did. When they filmed it, they changed some major things, but Greene was a part of all the discussion. He and the director disagreed on the ending, so the book has a completely different ending than the film. When Greene saw the finished film, he said that the director was right, and that the film has the stronger ending.… (more)
LibraryThing member LizzySiddal
An entertainment from Greene does what it says “on the tin”. Entertain! A solid 3.5 stars.
LibraryThing member forsanolim
Rollo Martins arrives in Vienna shortly after the end of World War II, when the city is divided into four occupation zones. He has come to take up his old friend Harry Lime's offer of a job, but he arrives instead just in time to attend Lime's funeral. Martins is told that Lime's death was an accidental car crash, but Martins soon decides that this story seems suspect and begins to investigate further.

I have a bit of a history with this story. I speak fluent German and studied abroad in college in Vienna, where I absolutely fell in love with the city and have wonderful memories associated with it. While on our trip, the professors organizing the study abroad took us to (I believe, if memory/Google serves me correctly) the Burg Kino to watch the film version of The Third Man, after which we went on a tour of the Vienna sewer system. This is just to say that, going into this book, I knew both the story and the city in which it's set decently well, and my view of the book's merits (as such) is probably not the most objective one.

Greene's preface states that "The Third Man was never written to be read but only to be seen." To be completely honest, I do think that this story is better seen than read. The edition of the book that I read was an updated ebook celebrating the release of a restored version of the film, and it was really interesting in that it had short video clips from the movie interspersed with the text, as well as the entire screenplay as an appendix. The clips were great for evoking the mood of the film, but in all honesty, the writing itself felt pretty sparse, and I found this book a bit less suspenseful/dramatic than how I remember the film. I'm glad I read it, as it was fun to return to this world and this city, but I think this might be a rare occasion where I'd recommend the film over the book (or at least definitely in addition to the book).
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