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July 21, 2009

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Finish Graham Greene's long-lost novel

A LONG-LOST, unfinished Graham Greene novel is being serialized in an American magazine this month, and the editor may invite readers to complete it.

"The Empty Chair," comprising five chapters and around 22,000 words, is a murder mystery set in a country house, drawing comparisons with the champion of the rural English "whodunnit", Agatha Christie.

"It does have the ingredients of an Agatha Christie country house murder mystery, but (the story by) Graham Greene has a unique twist to it," said Andrew Gulli, managing editor of The Strand Magazine, which is printing the story. "The vivid characterization of Graham Greene is there," he said. "Although he wrote it when he was 22, it's clearly a work by Greene, the work of a mature writer."

The Empty Chair opens with Alice Lady Perriham, an actress who married into the aristocracy who was "exquisitely conscious of looking no more than 35," hosting a house party.

Her guests discover the body of Richard Groves, who one character describes as "a dark, surly, underhand brute," with a knife in his chest.

The manuscript, 22,000 words long and written in 1926, was discovered last year by Greene scholar Francois Gallix from the University of Texas.

Gallix said the incomplete story came at an important stage in British novelist Greene's life, because in 1926 he converted to Roman Catholicism and started working as a subeditor at the Times newspaper in London.

And according to his biographer, it was also the year he decided he would try to become a successful author.

The Strand will publish one chapter each in the next five quarterly issues, and is considering holding a competition to complete the story.

"Whatever happens, we want to make sure the estate of Graham Greene is happy with that," Gulli said.

Greene is best known for novels including "Brighton Rock," "The Heart of the Matter," "The Power and the Glory" and "The Quiet American."

The Strand magazine, which focuses on mystery fiction, featured work by Greene, Christie, Rudyard Kipling and Arthur Conan Doyle among others when it was published in Britain from 1891 to 1950.

Falling circulation and rising costs following World War II forced it to close, but it was revived in the US in 1998. It recently published an unearthed story by Mark Twain as well as a lost P.G. Wodehouse story.


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