THE END OF THE AFFAIR a couple of years ago, in which I learnt that Graham Greene has a lot of issues with God. BRIGHTON ROCK is an earlier work, for me less successful, but still jam packed with Catholic anxiety.
It tells the story of a seventeen year old called Pinkie, who kills a man, and then has to keep on killing other people to keep it secret: "Christ! he thought. Have I got to massacre the world?"
Pinkie is something of a sociopath, so the murdering doesn't worry him except as an inconvenience. What concerns him more is that he also has to marry a young girl to ensure she can't testify against him, and he finds the idea of sex deeply repellent. His strange little sixteen year old wife agrees to marry him, though she regards a city hall wedding as - actually, literally, a mortal sin. It's quite interesting how free your life can be once you have committed a mortal sin. I guess I've probably committed lots of mortal sins, but it's not the same if you don't believe in them.
Eventually Pinkie is brought to justice by a middle aged woman who hunts him down on the basic assumption that good ought to triumph. She is in an odd detective, particularly it seems to Greene, who is always on about her cleavage. Try this: "Her big breasts, which had never suckled a child of her own, felt a merciless compassion." Very odd. I'd be willing to bet a large sum that no one reading that sentence could possibly doubt the gender of its author. She has a fantastic general principle in life though, often repeated, and which I really enjoy: "The world is a good place, as long you don't weaken." Wise advice.
All ends reasonably well, even for the strange little bride, who is comforted by her priest with the reflection that "You cannot conceive, nor can I, of the appalling strangeness of the mercy of god." And with that cheerful reflection, the relatively happy ending is upon us.